Searching for Cherry Blossoms in Hiraizumi, Japan

The end of the cherry blossom ‘season’ depends on the weather and the part of Japan you visit.

On   Hanami literally means “watching blossoms,” and a major event throughout Japan.   There is a web site that follows the progress of the blooms from the south to the northern regions.  This is a festival time that locals will spend time admiring the blossoms and walking beneath the trees.  

I had an image in my mind that there would be a forest of flowering trees and pedals falling like snow.    There are parts of Japan that have this, but by a warm April the peak blossom locations had moved north.
The amazing staff at the central Tokyo train station, who I visited multiple times, gave me some suggestions where I would find Cherry Blossoms in April.   They suggested I travel North.  Since I wished to avoid any towns that would require a bus (no signs on buses in more remote cities) I decided to visit a small town north of Sendai,       Hiraizumi is an additional train ride with a short transfer via local train.  The travel office in Sendai gave me the time schedule and information on where to change trains.   Again I was the only non local on any of the trains.  The short commuter train ride was filled with students returning from school.    Again, I was the only ‘tourist’.

Hiraizumi:   The train station is located on one of the main streets and a short walk to the start of what I call, the avenue of Cherry Blossoms.   There is a tourist office in the station and the staff tried to answer my questions.   One staff member hurried out of the office after a quick discussion with her co worker.
Shortly after her departure,  I turned to greet the new arrival.   To say I was surprised is an understatement.    Sam Sloan works in the city and is often called to the station to help English speakers.

Thank you for all your assistance.

Sam is from Alaska and was kind to answer my questions on how did you find this town and what is it like living here.

With my map and directions I set off to walk the avenue lined with Cherry Blossoms.

The path starts at a steep incline that did not deter the experienced climbers.   There are many interesting places to stop as well as overlooks so you can pace yourself to the top.
There is a large, modern  museum on the route.  Unfortunately everything was described  in Japanese.  There were ancient pieces of art, scrolls etc.   Small and larger building are along the path.  You can visit shrines, obtain a fortune and leave it on a special rack if you decide it is not an auspicious fortune.

Climbing the path to the Konjikido is a lovely hike, steep in some areas with several interesting buildings to visit.   the Konjikido is a hall completely covered in gold. It dates back to 1124 and stands inside another building for protection. Photography of the Konjikido is prohibited so there are no photos of the gold temple.   The following photos are from the Visit Japan web site.

The path is not always smooth

There was far more to see that my limited time did not allow me to experience while in Hiraizumi.     Returning to Japan may always offer new experiences.

Visiting the Biltmore House at Christmas

Solo travel on Christmas and Thanksgiving in the USA 
can leave you hungry.

Unlike summer or fall national holidays which are peak vacation times, Christmas and Thanksgiving often find travelers close to home.   Stores and restaurants close early and the familiar casual restaurants that are prevalent in the USA are not available.

My trip to Myrtle Beach, NC last year was a shock when you could only find coffee at the few open gas stations and one star bucks with a very long line.   Dinner posed the same problem.   The few restaurants were over crowded and not ‘solo friendly’.      Happily a massive Chinese restaurant was open and full!

So this year I selected Asheville, North Carolina for my holiday adventure.   From previous visits I knew it was a pedestrian friendly city with many downtown hotels.   But I made a BIG mistake.   Always pick a hotel with a full service restaurant!  Even fast food restaurants closed early…..plan ahead.

Nevertheless, a visit to Asheville for Christmas included a visit to the massive Biltmore estate and ground are.well worth the trip.

Christmas in the mountains to visit the Biltmore House 

You will find far more information and facts at the Biltmore House site, I shall only share a solo visitors’ experience at a very popular site in Asheville, North Carolina.

Approach the mansion from expansive lawn

Wikipedia has a great detailed description of the largest primate home in the USA with more than 250 rooms and 40+ bathrooms on over ‘8,000’ acres.   Even the winter views of the mountains and expansive grounds were captivating.   However, I was here to see the building.   Not the usual tourist goal, but after visiting many outstanding palaces and museums in Europe,  the comparison to this massive property would be interesting.

My favorite room is the palm court just off the entrance hall
The building construction (to me) is as interesting as the decor.  Through this fascinating ceiling and support beams you can view wonderful grotesques many with unique expressions.
Try to remember to look up so you dont miss the details
The multi story stair case, according to a docent, was designed so women descending would not show their ankles
The massive dining room is said to seat up to 64 guests

 The public rooms designed for entertaining, were wonderful without the ‘gold’ covering you find in other palaces or billionaire condos.

                    Special guests may have been assigned to the larger rooms with private baths:

The library holds a portion of the collection

Billiard Room
The owners suite

Mrs. Vanderbilt’s rooms

Although additional tours will show you the roof or servants portion of the home you can see a great deal in the basement:  kitchens, laundry, bowling alley, indoor heated pool, gym and underground halls and back staircases on the general house tour.
After walking over a mile and dogging the crowds attempting to photograph some of the rooms,  I opted for a visit to the stable shops, cafes and the gardens.  One of the red coat (guest helpers) told me about 6k visitors came one day this week!

                                                 The views from the terraces and most of the rooms are captivating.
Exterior of building
Vanderbilt toured Europe for ideas for his ‘masterpiece’.
This part of the home reminds me of the Bovolo staircase in Venice.
The front lawn!
A view from the conservatory up to the house
Consider a two day visit so you can include the outlying villages that require a short drive from the main house.
You can hike the many trails on the property and although I saw people with bikes the roads within the estate are narrow and without bike lanes or any walking trails.  
This was a disappointment since you can not walk from the property to the other parts of the estate.   However there are several cafes and restaurants adjacent to the main house and much of the area is flat and easy to navigate.  (note:  I only saw an elevator to the second floor of the house so inquire if you need these services) 
And of course more carvings:

After walking over a mile and dogging the crowds attempting to photograph some of the rooms,  I opted for a visit to the stable shops, cafes and the gardens.

Additional architectural carvings:

A Thankful Village in the Cotswolds, UK

While on a HF Holiday walk in the UK, 
our walk guide mentioned the village of Upper Slaughter was one of the Thankful Villages

I always search for something new, anything I have never read about or been told and this was totally new.  My guide for this walk
mentioned ‘thankful villages‘ which prompted a search for more information.  The title was coined by the writer Arthur Mee in his 1930’s book, “Enchanted Land”.  

Some of the paths are well marked while other you may just follow the worn path in the field
During WW I and WW II the United Kingdom suffered staggering losses of service men and women.  War memorials to those who gave everything for the wars are in most towns and cities in Britain.
                        The rolling pastures and field on the way to Upper Slaughter.

Upper Slaughter does NOT have a war memorial.  All the service men and women from this village returned after the war qualifying Upper Slaughter as a thankful village

St Peters Church, Upper Slaughter

The village was quiet.  Perhaps the rain kept everyone, except the hikers, inside.   The church was open and other visitors were exploring.  There was a table with bottles of water and shoe laces for sale if hikers were in need.   Such a quiet, peaceful spot.

My visit was over Remembrance weekend.  There was a parade and ceremony in Bourton on the Water but Upper Slaughter had no celebration. 

An article in British Heritage stated there were more than 16,000 villages in Britain but only 53 had all their soldiers return from the WWI.   Doubly tankful villages, all soldiers returned from WW I and WW II, only number 14, and Upper Slaughter is included.

The Village may not have strong cell phone signals or just enjoys this tradition.

                      I hope to return one sunny day for outstanding blue sky photos!

HF Holidays have a large assortment of walks that show a solo traveler more English towns and villages.  

Have you visited a thankful Village?   Share your visit in the message section, remember it must be in English please.   Advertisements can not me posted.


How to Beat Loneliness When Traveling Alone by Mapping Megan

          Solo Travel is not always lonely travel

Another great post by Mapping Megan that I am happy to share with you:

Solo travel is an incredible, life changing experience, and I look back on my experiences as a solo traveler with extreme fondness. But like anything in life, travel has its ups and downs, and one particular experience that you’re also likely to encounter is loneliness.
Each of us is likely to experience loneliness in everyday life, but we rarely expect it when we’re traveling. Or for those of us who do expect it, the terrifying thought is what keeps you from getting on the plane.
And when the feeling inevitably creeps in, we feel uncomfortable talking about it, almost like it’s ungrateful to feel lonely while you’re on the trip of a lifetime.
I’ve heard travelers say things like they shouldn’t feel lonely because they’re in Paris. Or who wants to hear from a friend who is struggling with depression while vacationing on a gorgeous beach?
But it’s time to put an end to the notion that exciting cities or lovely scenery act as a magical force-field to loneliness, because it’s not true. Acknowledging that you’re allowed to feel lonely when you’re traveling is extremely important, because it then empowers you to beat it.
And you can beat it. There’s even an app!
Read the story here:  

Solo on a HF Walking Tour in the Cotswolds, UK: mud, rain and great photo opportunity

Outside the wonderful city of London there are amazing treasures to explore.   Last Spring I spent a few days on the Isle of Wight at a country home  with HF Holidays.

This fall, when there was an opportunity to spend a HF Holiday weekend in the Cotswolds at Burton on the WaterI signed up for my last fall weekend in the UK.  

A quintessential village often called the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ can be reached by train from Oxford to Morton on Marsh and a short bus ride to the center of the village.  

Harrington House, the HF property is a short walk from the bus stop in the center of town.  

The river Windrush runs through the charming center of town.     There are walking paths along the waterfront with benches, several cafes and overnight accommodations.  During the day it can be busy with tour buses stopping for a few hours.  At night the village is quiet.  

On this weekend HF holidays offered several walks from basic,  about 3 miles to a longer walk of nearly 10 miles.

I had been training for 6 weeks trying to walk 5 to 8 miles a day but NOTHING prepared me for the ‘easy walk‘ I joined the first day.
Rain and mud does not cancel a walk.  With a bagged lunch supplied by HF (a great assortment of sandwich or salad, fruit, nuts, snacks etc) my small group of 3 followed our experienced leader towards Upper and Lower Slaughter.     

Our excellent walk guide knew a great deal about the history of the area and the two villages we visited and even the type of sheep we passed.

This story is best told in photos.  Most of the weekend was cold, wet and grey but that did NOT deter the UK walkers.    There were only 3 solo travelers and I was the only non British guest.  And everyone seemed to be an accomplished walker.

A short walk outside the town we found the path to the Slaughters.
Beyond this point we were in the lush, green fields, sheep pastures and muddy tracks that did not discourage the locals from spirited dog walks.  

Not long into our walk we came to the first movie set village with stone cottages, an old water wheel mill and a country shop.  Here we stopped for a coffee and the only WC stop on the walk.

Further on, the next smaller village had the distinction of being a 
‘thankful village’.    There will be a separate story on what a ‘thankful village is’.

The walk was very fast paced.    The other walkers were not interested in taking countless photos of the amazing views so I often fell behind.    
As the path crossed from one pasture to another there were gates to keep the livestock from escaping.     The newer gates were a simple metal turnstile but several of the older gates were still constructed of wood.   
Warning:   Wet, moss covered wood is VERY slippery as I found out.    Slamming into one of these gates may leave you with a terrible bruise.   Just glad it did not break my leg!

The golden stone used in the buildings in the Cotswolds is almost a yellow.   On a sunny day the light reflection would be spectacular.     I shall look for a future ‘walk’ for photographers.

Three of the delightful guests who were very welcoming and kind enough to explain the British only stories or terms that I did not understand.      There were others who were part of groups that also were welcoming to a solo travelers if you are outgoing.

The second day of walking was an independent day.   With a damaged leg I was limited to what I could do and on Sunday there are NO BUSES and only taxis with advanced booking.     I did find a local who offered tours but she was fully booked.  On my next visit I will be sure to book in advance.
So glad the tea rooms were open.  The British do understand tea and cakes.

Contact HF Holidays for there many walking events in the UK and abroad.    As a solo traveler I recommend enjoying a 3, 5 or 7 day event.   This is a great value for room/board/walks and a good break during one of my 3 month trips.    The HF booking staff was very helpful to find a booking that worked with the only weekends I was in the UK.  The house staff was equal to the 4 star hotels I have stayed in and willing to answer questions and offer suggestions.

And I must include a comment on the food:  Breakfast and dinner is served in the dining room and guests may sit wherever they choose.   You indicate in the morning what main course and desert you prefer so that there is minimal waste in the kitchen.

The meals were wonderful.  You could have a full English breakfast or just toast and cereal.  Dinner was a 3 course event and gave me an opportunity to try Britsh food I would not cook at home.  The only item I shall not repeat is a sticky pudding.


Monday to Friday: 9am-7pm

Weekends & Bank Holidays: 9am-1pm
Find the best number to call here

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8732 1220 Fax: +44 (0) 20 8732 1240
Address:  HF Holidays Limited
Catalyst House
720 Centennial Court
Centennial Park
United Kingdom

All the photos and opions in this story are my own.

Charleston, SC: Ansonborough Inn

A former warehouse, now a wonderful 
Boutique Inn:  Ansonborough Inn
Located in the historic area of Charleston, SC
  21 Hasell Street, Charleston, SC 29401
When possible and affordable, I search for unusual places to stay:   a university room, an AirStream                       trailor at the beach, a lodge in Yellowstone or Shenandoah National Park.

The four star Ansonborough Inn is a lovely surprise.    Dark wood interior leads you to the soaring atrium with glass ceiling.    Today, the hotel is decorated for Christmas and the lights are a lvoely addition to the lobby.

The Anson Pub is a warm and friendly spot to relax and enjoy a beverage.
The roof top deck has a great view of the city and the waterfront.
In better weather this is a great place to enjoy the sunset.

The rooms are extra large with ’25 foot ceilings’ from 450 to 750 square feet’.

The room has a Keurig coffe maker, a microwave and refrigerator.   Across the street is a 24hr Harris Teeters grocery store if you wish to supplement the complementary beverages and cookies.

The Inn offers all the amenties:  business center, wifi, fitness center, on-site parking, afternoon wine and cheese reception and an extensive contenental breakfast.

Contact Information
tel:  843 723 1655
21 Hasell Street
Charleston, SC 29401

Walk into a base camp in Viet Nam……………..

I hear a helicopter landing and an announcement from the watch tower

Visitors to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum outside of Charleston, South Carolina, come to explore the battleships, aircraft on site and interactive displays that can keep you busy for hours.

The USS Yorktown is a massive aircraft carrier that draws large crowds but my visit was to experience the recently opened Viet Nam exhibit.

As most of the crowd rushed across the bridge to see a war ship, I took the small path to the left towards a blue wall.     As you get closer you recognize the display.   There are dog tags representing all the men from South Carolina who gave everything during the war.

The exhibit is an up close opportunity to see and often touch the aircraft and equipment as well as the sounds that soldiers in the field experienced every day.

           A large quonset hut houses displays, a time line of the war and a theater showing video                                                          interviews from  men and women who served.

   Once you exit the ‘hut’ you are in a recreation of the “US Navy Advanced Tactical Support Base and a US Marine Corps Artillery Firebase during the Tet Offensive, 1968”.1

A patrol boat that patrolled the rivers in Viet Nam
A look into a PX
The medical tent was a sober view of the immediate care prior to a patient evacuated to a hospital 

The exhibit is not a Disney production but the audio as you walk through the tunnel or listen to the sounds of a huey landing in the camp, projects you into the real life experience.

The watch towner announce ‘incoming’
You can climb aboard a med-evac helicopter 

                     The interior was a somber reminder of the pain and death that was part of every day.

The mess tent

Volunteer tour guides and docents are available at scheuduled times.    In addition to the Yorktown the USS Laffey, Submarien USS Clamagore are docked here.  Visitors can visit the Medal of Honor Museum, Apollo 8 mission exhibit and the Cold War submarine memorial.

Contact Information:
40 Patriots Point Road
Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
843 884 2727

1.  Park brochure

HF Holidays walking tour to visit the Isle of Wight, for a solo traveler

Freshwater Bay house, photo from HF Holidays web site
View from the Freshwater Bay country house with HF Holidays
Isle of Wight, UK
On my third attempt to visit this island, only a 40 minute ferry ride from Lymington or a faster hydrofoil from Southampton, I was determined to spend a few days here with the HF Holidays group at one of their country houses.  A secondary benefit was visiting Lymington and attending the weekly market.

I would be staying at Freshwater Bay house as an ‘independent walker’, not part of the organized walks offered daily.  Although I thought I was a walker, I quickly found out that I would be outpaced by 80+ year old’s who could go 6hr on a daily hike!  Later in this post you will see the ‘simple walk to Yarmouth” that proved that daily walks around a city was not sufficient training for this adventure.

I had several goals for my visit to the Isle of Wight:
1.   to finally visit Osbourn House see photos of exterior here
2.   to visit the town of Yarmouth and villages that are linked by a handy ‘island bus system’
3.   to experience a full board stay in a hotel.

With so many topics I have divided this post into segments so you can skip topics of no interest to you.

The Freshwater Bay House:

HF Holiday arranged a taxi/van service to pick up the ferry passengers joining the week long walks.   There was also a weekend festival in Yarmouth and made the transfer a little hectic!

After a quick check in at FBH we were served  afternoon tea.    This was my first opportunity to see who might be traveling solo on this ‘vacation’.    There seemed to be a large number of couples and some groups all traveling together.   Many of the guests had stayed with HFH before and knew the routine.

The views from the hotel are wonderful.  There is a path along the caulk cliffs that are only a few feet from a bone shattering fall to the beach so we were told to pay attention on an ‘introductory’ walk before dinner.   Only 4 attendees so I was not hopeful to find many solo travelers. 

The house has several large lounges and sitting areas for any guests to use:   cards, board games, reading or chatting with other guests.  There is also a full bar

The dining room:   Large round tables are more inviting for guest to meet other travelers.
There was a couple traveling on a bed and breakfast plan and had their own table.

As a solo traveler eating with strangers is not easy for me but if you sit next to someone and say hello you just hope they don’t tell you “You cant sit here, I am saving it’.     HFH  had a great policy that as you enter there is an employee who will happily seat you at a table. 

The bedrooms have been updated and feature new baths.   There is excellent wifi service in the rooms and I read that some rooms have ocean view.   Above if a double room and very spacious.

There are other activities for guests when you are not out on a hike.  The property has a large heated pool, some lawn games and extensive gardens.

The property is also a short walk to what I was told the only or last thatched roof church.  The next morning after breakfast, I set off to explore.   I would have enjoyed visiting during the wedding they had earlier in the day.
How lucky that the church was open and visitors were welcome to look around

Add caption
I have seen individual seat cushions in many churches in the UK.
Do the church members each needle point a cushion based on a specific pattern?

         From here I proceeded to the smallest book store and best cake/tea café on the same road.

It was very fortunate that there was ONE map of the Freshwater Bay area to purchase here or I would have wasted all day looking for the foot path!

Next my short hike to Yarmouth that took me ALL day and visiting Osbourn house!

Please return next week for the rest of the story.

Some places in London shared by a Local

Christine’s Corner  

While on the Isle of Wight for a HF Holiday country house walk, I met a lovely woman
at the breakfast table one morning.   Most of the guests were British (I was the only American) and
I chatted with Christine about suggestions for places to visit in London that are not featured in most travel books.    
Below are a few of her suggestions.   As a London resident I hope she will continue to share unique places to add to my yearly visit to London.

Bunhill Fields Cemetery – burial place of Daniel Defoe, William Blake and others.
Abney Park Cemetery – burial place of William Booth. Lots of community activities take place here. Near to Stoke Newington Church Street – lots of nice shops and restaurants.

Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath – stately home bequeathed to the country, managed by English Heritage. Art gallery includes works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, among many others. Very nice cafe, beautiful vista from the house and, of course, walks on the Heath.

Wilton’s Music Hall – rescued from dereliction- is now a theatre with bars and a cafe (not an actual music hall though!). Near to ‘Battle of Cable Street’ mural depicting locals taking on Oswald Mosley’s  Union of Fascists in the 1930s. Also near to Jack the Ripper museum – a bit grim but very moving biographical information on the victims.

All Hallows by the Tower – very interesting crypt. Also quite near to the above.

St Olave’s Church – very close to above. Samuel Pepys worshipped here. Both churches near to the Tower of London.

Where to Eat
Turkish Restaurants Green Lanes Harringay – lovely cheap fresh food, many restaurants to choose from. Nearest tube Manor House, Piccadilly Line.

Zedel – very reasonably priced, beautiful, art deco restaurant with street cafe, cabaret and American Bar. Bang in the middle of Piccadilly.

Thank you Christine, I look forward to many more posts
More on the HF Holiday stay soon.

Tea House Japanese Style

On the grounds of a large park south of Kyoto 
(a short trip on the train) there is a 
traditional tea house.

On earlier business trips to Japan I had attended a ‘tea ceremony’ for tourists.  But this was a building in a garden without signage.
this would be a new experience and I was the ONLY non Japanese patron.
Peeking through the doorway I questioned if this tea house was open to the public
I was greeted pleasantly by an attendant and show an ‘English’ version of the offerings.
You pay before entering for the type of tea (hot or cold) you wish to order.
Many of the visitors to the park on this Sunday wore their traditional kimonos.
I left my shoes at the entrance in a cubical supplied for guests.
The building was much larger than I expected from the entrance.  
The perfect garden is on display from the glassed in room where we all were seated

                There were many tatami rooms in this tea house and the largest overlooked the garden.

The tea room was large and open.  A platform covered most of the room and was covered with a thick tatami mat.   There was NO seating so a westerner not accustomed to sitting on their knees for a long period of time might have a problem.

I had never tried cold, green tea so I selected this and one of the bean sweets offered.  It was delivered with a glass of water on a tray for each visitor.

As I sipped the smooth, cold tea and sampled the bean sweet, a light rain started.
The sound was very tranquil and soothing.    I could easily see why someone would visit a tea house instead of the local fast food dispenser.

I must mention some other observations:    I expected this to be a very quiet event.  This was not the case.  There were only 6 or 8 other clients.  There were no other solo visitors.   The two women seen in the photo above sat and chatted with each other and took photos of each other.*  This is something I witnessed in the park.   EVERYONE took photos of themselves or each other.
The group of four however, were very boisterous and spoke in loud voices.  This surprised me.  But again this was a totally Japanese experience and perhaps it was more authentic than other tourist stops.

Finally I will admit that within a few minutes my muscles were screaming ‘where is a chair?”.  Even leaning against a wall did not eliminate all the pain.     Sitting in front of a computer for months before the trip did not prepare me for the Japanese way.

* photos of the back of your head:  I have read that the nape of the neck is an area of beauty and certainly many of the hair styles worn with a kimono highlights the back of your head.

I do not remember the cost of tea but it was not over $20.00 per person.

Kyoto Japan, a simple tea bowl

Kyoto, Japan  2016
Japan is well known for hand made items that are simple yet beautiful.   Walking the streets of each town vs taking a tour bus allows me to stop and see both local stores and small treasure troves of local life.
I stopped at the doorway of a small, dark store that sold tea bowls, tea pots and other ceramic items.
I met the owner of the shop who was just as happy to sell me a small, inexpensive tea bowl as one of the tea posts priced at over $600!    We could not talk with each other because I do not speak Japanese, but a smile goes a long way.
Simple displays highlight each piece for style or color.

My single bowl was very carefully wrapped.  The owner knew I was a traveler and took extra care to wrap the bowl in bubble wrap.       I found the tatami platform he worked at (after removing his shoes)  so Japanese!
Just down the street was another ceramic shop.     This shop featured tables of items by price.  An interesting alternative approach.

NY Cheese cake beware there is competiton

The Uncle Testu location in Sydney, Australia
Who is Uncle Tetsu?   
I thought Italian cheese cake was the historic best
Walking in Sydney, Australian I found a crowd outside of a restaurant or was it a store?    The line was similar to a group waiting to enter a club or a major sale in a high end store.   All ages and all sizes.
They are lining up for the opportunity to purchase ONE cheesecake.
I had to do some research to find out WHY this cheesecake was so popular
$17.99 for a smallish cheese cake.  Not too expensive but how does ONE person eat an entire cheesecake?    There were  no alternatives to purchase a slice or 1/2.

The space is not that large to produce hundreds of cakes but there is a well trained army of workers, each with an assigned task:  from cutting butter into slabs,mixing batter or pouring into pans.

History of Uncle Tetsu Cheese Cake  I have found online since I could not speak with any of the employees here, they were all behind glass!   see

“Helping in his parents ‘sweets business’ since the age of 5, Tetsu worked in the food industry for decades.   Among other restaurants and bakeries  Uncle Tetsu created cheesecake in Hakata.  The article notes that Tetsu started to use an Australian cheese to bake his cakes.”    Perhaps this is why the line in Sydney was so long!

“The cakes are described as super soft, rich and flavorful”.

Their web site lists location in Toronto so I may have another opportunity to try one…

Have you had this Japanese cheesecake?

Street Art in Melbourne, Australia

Stories on the people I met and the places I found at each stop will follow but the photos may show you what words do not…………
Melbourne, Australia
A large city with many different areas within the city.  Three days were not enough to see more than a small portion of the city.
A rainy day was perfect to walk the alleys and see the street art.
How do the artists paint such LARGE formats from the perspective from the street?
There was so much more to see.
I could not obtain confirmation but was told, shoes over the wires originally marked a spot for street transactions

Where can you travel that has a 1/2 hour time zone difference?

Arriving today in Adelaide I looked at the terminal clock twice.  Then at my watch.

The one hour flight left at noon and arrived at 1:30.

Did I take the correct flight?

Was the flight 1/2 hour delayed?

No.  Adelaide, Australia is 1/2 ahead of Melbourne, Australia.

This is weird

People you meet on the road: Sydney Australia

Music with noodles

A shop window, a street corner performer, a monument are often ‘stop and see’ moments on a trip.

On a cross street in central Sydney I stopped to look around when I heard violin music!

The only doorway was for a noodle restaurant.
Inside an older man dressed as an employee (he may have owned the restaurant)  stood playing music.

I waited until he finished the piece, smiled and walked on.   But a few steps later I returned to film this basic video from the sidewalk.  

For the few moments people passed by the doorway they STOPPED looking at their phones, stopped talking and often smiled.  

Such a simple gift of music may have changed someone’s mood that day, it changed mine.

Never Leave Home without…….

Everyone packs what they ‘think’ the will need or can’t live without for a month or longer.

Over the years there are a few items that are always in my bag.

1.  Zip Ties or you may call them plastic ties

They come in all sizes and lengths.  You can find them at hardware stores, the dollar store and Home Depot.

I carry a few in all sizes.   Best use is to:
1.  attach your luggage tag to your bag.  Often tags have buckle closures and are easily removed
2.  lock you suitcase (use a thin tie).   You MUST have a scissors or even a nail clipper will work, to cut the tie when you want to get into your suitcase  (this can work with a purse but annoying if you need something quickly
3.  secure your bag to an overhead rack on the train or bus.   This will prevent someone from a grab and run.
4.  my BEST use of plastic ties was when i lost the button to my pants at an airport in Italy.   There were no stores in the airport.  I did not have a belt.   So, attaching several ties together I made a belt for myself.  This gave me time to get into town and look for a button replacement (another story ref:  how difficult this was)
Again, this is a situation when you want to use the WC, you need scissors!

Standard silver tape or one of the many fashion printed tapes available

2. Duct Tape:

Easy to pack flat once you remove the cardboard center this magic tape has repaired a shoe when a trip on a cobblestone tore some of the sole off my shoe.  I was in a small town and it took some time to find a cobbler.   Actually there are only a few I know of in my city I live in.

Duck tape can repair a tear in a suitcase
Use as a link remover since I often take only dark colors with me on any trip.
I have not tried this but you can tape your bag to an overhead rack if you plan to nap while traveling.  Just remember the scissors when you plan to alight!

3. Color copy of my passport:
Hotels still ask for your passport when checking in.  I now can give them a copy so I don’t have to remember to pick up my passport later in the day.   I have ONLY had a problem with this idea when checking into a convent hotel in Italy where they wanted to see the original.  

4.  Back up pair of eyeglasses and eyeglass repair tools
If you wear glasses to read anything as I do, you know how important this is.  I bring a copy of my prescription in the event I find really ‘cool frames’ that I might want to purchase.
After breaking the frames on my glasses last year and finding no ‘fix while you wait’ facilities in Florence, Italy, I always carry a back up pair.
And the repair kit will let you replace any lost screws.  On one occasion I did have a piece replaced at an optical store.   Lovely shop in Sorrento near Piazza Tasso.  When I asked the cost, he didn’t want any payment!  Wow.  For repairs in Florence there is a shop near the corner of Piazza Santa Croce (to the left facing the church) with a lovely couple who may have worked there for decades.   He has a work shop where repairs are made but NOT on the weekends.

4.  Small sewing kit and spare button.    Not always easy to find in a new town.

What are your NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT items?

*note:  I found the larger supermarkets in Italy often carried a number of items that might be helpful to a traveler.

London: Following Charles Dickens

I wanted to walk into a Charles Dickens novel and Context Travel  generously offered to show me this part of London on their Charles Dickens walking tour

The Old Bell bar

I met my Context tour guide at The Old Bell bar on Fleet Street.  Dating back 300 years, the pub was rebuilt after the Great fire of London and is exactly what I think a pub should be.

A very rainy day did not dampen the enthusiasm of my amazing guide and we were soon off to our first stop 
The Brides Church.

Tucked behind this entrance is a shady, quiet courtyard.

As often happens while exploring a city, you can stumble upon the entrance to amazing places, small treasures tucked away from the main traffic.  

St Bride’s Church on Fleet street, also known as The Journalist’s Church, has been the location of a church for centuries.  From the long history, as described by my guide and found on the church’s web site, I learned that St. Bride’s is “know worldwide as the ‘journalists’ Church, a spiritual home to all who work in the media.”

The Brides Church is also know as the Journalists’ Church

Below this quiet oasis is remnants of Roman pavement and visitors are welcome to explore the narrow passage way with artifacts and original walls exposed.

Guides at the palaces, cathedrals and famous houses in London never fail to amaze me with the centuries of history they can share.   

We stopped at the Old Curiosity Shop only to find it closed and now selling shoes.   Over the centuries the building has listed to the side a little.  It is under a protective order so shall  remain a wonderful reminder to the story Charles Dickens wrote and Little Nell and her grandfather.

Peering in the windows you can see wood floors, low ceilings, small doorways.  

The Streets Dickens Walked
Most of the streets and alleys that Dickens wrote about have been replaced with office buildings and modern architecture.   But a few small streets or narrow lanes still remain.

I was surprised to learn Dickens spent time as a law clerk in London  and our tour visited many of the Inns of Court in London.   The heavy rain may have kept the clerks and solicitors inside.  All the courtyards were empty and quiet.   I wonder if you can see wigged and robed barristers traveling too and from at other times?

The Inns of Court in London, professional associations that English barristers join,function as offices, libraries training and sometimes dining facilities for barristers. 1

The British system is far different than that of the USA and it may take a bit-of-a-study to understand the Inn’s concept.   A tour of  the Inns alone would share a rich history of legal London.


Fountain Court in the center of Middle Temple


  • White and red roses, symbol of the two sides in the Wars of the Roses
  •  was outside one of the dining halls
Middle Temple hall
We also visited The Temple Church.   If you saw The Da Vinci Code you may recognize the Temple Church.  The 800 year old church was built by the Knights Templar.  According to church web site “the order of crusading monks were founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century.”
The domed portion of the Temple Church is modeled after the domed Church of the Rock in Jerusalem.
The dome over the round part of the church

The round portion of the church has a wonderful group of carved stone faces, each with an original expression.


There is a wonderful collection of stone faces around the circular part of the church  See more photos here.

My thanks to Context Travel London for this wonderful complementary tour.  

All photos are the property of Mature Solo Travel 2016

1from Wickipdia as referenced