South America Post 3 Cuba – Vinales and Bay of Pigs.

Leaving Havana we drove along the Malecon, the sweeping Atlantic seafront that once was home to the best hotels.

We stopped at Fusterdoria, a suburb where the Cuban artist Jose Fister decided to create a tribute to Anton Gaudi as a way to rejuvenate his impoverished village. The result is a Gaudiesque mosaic art park, and also, all the front walls of his neighbours properties are decorated by him too!

Driving west, the lack of cars became increasingly noticeable, even on the highways. Bikes, and ponies pulling carts were common sights. As were hitchhiker’s… loads of them. Whole families sometimes with no other way to get from A to B. Bizarrely, on the highway, there were spots where a sign suddenly reduced the speed limit from 100 kph to 60, often at bridges where hitchhiker’s waited in the shade. Frequently police lurked here, giving speeding tickets. At other spots, there were fake inspectors, trying to scam a fine from unsuspecting tourists.

Our next stop was Las Terrazas Biosphere reserve, a vast area of forested hills created after the revolution to provide homes for poor hill farmers. After the revolution in 1959, **** trees were planted and homes built. It is now a wonderful place, and a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

This tree is called the tourist tree because it is red and peels!!

We visited an old coffee plantation and saw some beautiful birds, including the Trogon, Cuba’s national bird.

A great lunch at Buenavista cafetal was followed by locally grown coffee at El cafe de Maria, overlooking the village, watching Emerald humming birds to our right, while Turkey Vultures landed on the grass to our left to scavenge the chicken feed!

A visit to an artisan paper maker was followed by a stop at a beautiful Orchid garden.

We drove on, finally reaching Vinales, a pretty village in the heart of Karst scenery… large, and rare outcrops of limestone rock forming dramatic hills, just as we had seen in Vietnam.

We also discover that here, we are as far from southern South America is as we are from London.

And we chose not to go for a ride on the bull!!

Being a communist country, Cubans have had little access to world news until recently, and have obviously been told a lot of things about how great their country is. So we are frequently told that things are the biggest in the world, the first in the world, the finest in the world. We weren’t sure if Tony was a bit upset that we had seen Karst scenery somwhere else!

Staying at Nenita’s bnb, we had a good supper, then walked into town where the main street was cordoned off for Saturday night festivities. There was a definite theme to all the stalls!

Night times are interesting here. Loud conversations, often accompanied by music, can go on into the small hours. Dogs bark whenever anyone comes close to their patch, and ignite a chain of barking up and down the street. Nearly everyone has chickens, which start crowing around 4.00 am. The room fridge gurgles and rattles, and the aircon or fan whirrs and clicks. And of course, there is the tiny, but dreaded sound of the whining mosquito. Walls and windows are thin and sound carries. Oh where are noise cancelling headphones when you need them? Chris of course sleeps blissfully through most of it. However I am never a good sleeper, and in the 5 days we have been away, have already finished 4 books on the kindle! Luckily, I’m usually quite awake the next day, even after just 4 or 5 hours sleep!

On Sunday, we explored the area, starting with a boat trip in some dramatic caves – Cueva del Indio.

Then we visited El plaque de Los Cimarrones, caves where escaping slaves would go to hide. Then to a huge (120 metres x 180 metres) outdoor mural depicting prehistoric life, in honour of all the fossils and early remains that have been found in this area.

All the while seeing local farmers driving their horse drawn carts, and using oxen to plough the fields.

Another super lunch at a local restaurant, La Carreta, (we had been warned that the food was not great in Cuba.. we beg to differ!)

Then to an organic farm, which grows fruit, vegetables and tobacco. We were taken through the whole process of cigar making. 90% of their leaves go to government factories, but they keep 10% to make beautiful handmade cigars.

The wrapping leaves are marinaded in lemon and honey, and the mouth end of the cigar is dipped in honey before you smoke it. Chris smoked one… well a little… he will bring the rest home for special occasions! With that beard he just needs a green uniform and he could join Che Guevara’s rebels!

A last walk into town for a light snack of some tapas at Olivos cafe….well ‘light snack’ just doesn’t exist here! The diet is heavily centred around rice and black beans, but there is meat and fish and loads of fresh fruit and veg.

The weather has been great 27 – 30 degrees but with a breeze. Very few mosquitos, but we still used our amazing bed net as it only takes one to cause havoc!

Tomorrow we head to southern Cuba, where the mosi count will increase, preparing us for what lies ahead in South America.

So, a 400km drive to the South through farmland and plantations to our first stop at Playa Largo. Tony, our guide is excellent company, providing an entertaining commentary of explanations of the things we are seeing, and funny stories. He is very knowledgeable, and proud of his country.

We have left the Atlantic coast and are now on the Caribbean Sea coast. Our knowledge of Cuban history was very limited, so we were interested to hear the Cuban version of the Bay of Pigs incident. After the revolution, many wealthy Americans lost their homes on Cuba. Eisenhower ordered a force of mercenaries, some of whom were Cuban themselves, to invade Cuba, landing at the Bay of Pigs, a quiet, undefended area. However there was a spy amongst them who got word to Castro. He moved army units down in secret and was ready for them. He himself rode in a tank, and claims to have fired the shot that sank the ship. Every town here has huge signs claiming ‘This was the first time Americans were defeated in the Americas’, or ‘The invaders only reached this point’.

It was over in 72 hours, and there are memorials everywhere to the Cuban people who died.

Castro never let on that it was a military operation. He claimed it was just the Cuban people rising up to defend their land. Interestingly, Kennedy did not support the invasion.

However it was enough for Castro and Russia to decide to bolster Cuba’s defences…with nuclear missiles which precipitated the Cuban missile crisis, where the world literally teetered on the brink of nuclear war.

Nowadays this an area for recreation, with good diving, and a gorgeous natural pool, 70m deep and full of fish.

And of course, time for another lunch… this time with local crab and lobster! We are not splashing out .. the meals are all included in the tour.

Chris had his first sight of the Caribbean sea, and Anne paddled in the Bay of Pigs. They have mass crab migrations here in breeding season, blocking the roads. The crabs are black and orange. We saw one, which was too fast for a photo! Wild pigs used to congregate here to eat them, which is what gave the bay it’s name.

Our final stop was in the Zapata forest where we met Orlando. A local man who led us into the forest, and with eyes like a hawk spotted birds where you would swear there was nothing. It was wonderful. The greatest prize was seeing a bee humming bird. The smallest bird in the world. Just 5cm long.

My favourite was the ridiculously pretty Tody.

Another great day.

Post 10 The very last days…Home via Austria, Switzerland and France!

Into a less visited, but stunning part of Switzerland, Appenzell, we stopped at a free riverside aire just outside town, and walked in. I used to live in Switzerland, so loved hearing the Cowbells!

Lovely painted buildings, some updated with a modern twist.

Appenzell is one of the older Swiss cantons, and still practice democracy in the old fashioned way. Once a year, since 1403, the community gather in the square. A church service and lunch are followed by 3 hours of voting on local issues. Men vote by raising hands or swords, women with their hands. (It is a little known fact that women in Switzerland were not able to vote at all until 1971!) Photo not mine!

Their shops also sell an alarming array of potential souvenirs! Crossbow anyone!

A lovely, peaceful night, then we treated ourselves to a cable car up to Hoher Kasten, with stunning views at the junction of 4 countries – Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Liechtenstein (and a very strong wind!).

We had coffee in the revolving restaurant . Chris nearly lost his hat!!

We drove past Lake Constance. The opposite shore is Freidrickshafen where Zeppelin airships were, and still are made. We were lucky enough to see one flying over the lake. On to beautiful Stein am Rhein, with the most beautiful decorated houses we have seen.

Finally, to Neuhausen, to see the Rhine falls. Not the highest, or widest, but with a phenomenal amount of water pouring over them each day – up to 600 cubic metres per second in spring spate.

From here, we pressed on across Germany and into France, to spend the night at a lovely free aire near Colmar, next to a pretty grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes!

Next morning, we did a self guided tour of pretty Colmar. The many timbered houses are 15th century, coming from a time when this was a very successful merchant centre.

The church contains a rare 15th century artwork , which was stolen in 1972, and then ‘found’ in 1979! Not exactly portable!!

Ten minutes drive up the vine clad hills into the Vosges mountains is Kayserberg. Also worth a stop. More beautiful houses, and a ruined hill fort with great views.

Crossing the Vosges, looking lovely in Autumn colours, we drove to Champagne country, near Rheims, making a special detour to the Lac du Der. We have wanted to visit here for many years because it is where a rather remarkable bird event happens. Each autumn. Literally thousands of Eurasian Crane fly in here as a stop on their way south for the winter. We were a few weeks early for the larģe numbers… but maybe a few had come early? The huge lake was showing the devastating effect of the Long, dry summer. The water was a long way off. But… what was that… a long skein of birds flying in. Could it be…. yes it was! Crane! In all we were privileged to see about 200 birds before we had to continue our journey.

Arriving at Champagne country, we found a super free aire right next to the river at Mareuil sur Ay. Champagne houses were everywhere, and we awoke to the heady aroma of fermenting grapes…hic!

Our last day was spent doing a lovely walk along the river, doing a large shop at Super U, and visiting the Champagne house of Canard Duchene.

Very interesting it was too. When Chris discovered that Champagne making is quite akin to beer brewing, and 1 vine = 1 bottle, he started to rethink his home brew plans! We also learned that the bottles need to be turned every day. A good bottle turner can turn 40,000 per day! The cellars were built in 1868. They are miles long, and have 11 million bottles stored. In World War 1 and 2, their chateau was destroyed, but many of the cellars were bricked up, so they were never discovered. I cannot drink wine, so Chris enjoyed both glasses!

Then a drive up to Avion, near Lens, just 1 hour from Calais passing through the Canadian war cemetery there. Very poignant.

A super, peaceful, free aire again provided by the village, meant a good nights sleep. Then a 1 hour misty drive to Calais and our P&O ferry home – excellent value for £58 using the Caravan and Motorhome Club discount.

Now… can we make it home in time for the Pub Quiz?

What a fantastic trip this has been. 3,500 miles. We hope you have enjoyed reading it. I will update it soon to list campsites.

P.S We did make it home for the pub quiz… and we won!!

Post 7 Waterfalls, waves and…Waterfalls!

Plus a few other things but I like the alliterative title! Heading north from Trogir, we stopped at the small coastal town of Sibenik. The old town is a warren of Venetian era alleys, stairways and churches.

If you could teleport a resident back here from 300 years ago he would probably recognise it immediately. In these towns we love to wander, and it is often the small details that catch my eye. Ancient carvings, or decoration above a doorway, indicating status or family links.

The tiny, kneeling figure is Marko, the town doctor and surgeon, who paid for this window in St Barbara’s church in 1419!

This stone trough at the foot of a wall, was a 14th century water bowl for dogs.

We discovered a 15th century monastery garden with a sweet cafe on the way up to the fortress.

The churches were lovely, especially the eastern orthodox church, and the richly decorated, 13th/14th century cathedral.

These carved heads date back to the 15th century! Some look so modern!

A good, free museum too, and a shoe shop with latest Italian solutions for the shorter lady..

Then we drove back to Skradin, to the sweet autocamp where we stayed a week ago. They remembered us! We were duly presented with a pomegranate because we came back!! An evening walk through the nice village, also revealed some battle scarred buildings at one end of town, as yet unrestored. Our reason for being here is to get an early boat up the river to see the Krka waterfalls before the crowds. We managed it, had a superlong walk, and the pictures speak for themselves.

A very early Hydroelectric plant was set up here, under the influence of famed local electrical genius Nikola Tesla, and nearby Sibenik had the first electric street lighting in Europe powered by AC (alternating current).

Chris took the opportunity to do some dead weight lift practice!

Next we drove to Lake Vrana, the largest natural lake in Croatia, encountering a croatian style traffic jam!

In winter, 100,000 coot call it home. Today, pygmy cormorant, and a stray spoonbill were our best spots. Next, Boris had an adventure, climbing the twisty lane up Mount Kamenjak, for incredible views over the coast and islands.

Mixed emotions here. A small chapel commemorates local people who were massacred here in various conflicts, while outside, the flag flew proudly to commemorate Croatian independence day.

The season is ending here, and many campsites are closing. Wild camping is illegal, but some people do it, using the great app Park4night. We had to resort to this at Zadar, using a former campsite on the waters edge. In fact we had a great sunset, and a peaceful night with the waves lapping a few feet from Boris!

Next day a visit to Zadar, an ancient trading port which had been colonised by Greeks, romans, slavs, Venetians, Hungarans, Austrians. It was heavily attacked in the recent war due to having 5 military bases. Now those same building house schools, university buildings and clinics! One modern restaurant facade hid an early christian church, which in turn had reused roman columns!

We did some shopping in a very modern supermarket, with an unmodern system for service. I had put 1 cucumber, 1 pepper, 4 tomatoes, 2 apples, 2 bananas, a courgette, an orange and some spring onions in my basket. Suddenly, 2 women came running towards me shouting. Firstly, every item had to go into a plastic bag. Separate bags. I protested at the use of plastic but was firmly told off! Then, one woman ran back and forth to the counters shouting a code number for each item. The other wrote it on a scrap of sticky paper and stuck it on the bag. This then was input at the till. But the lady at the till couldn’t read all the numbers… so she had to call the women over.. who ran back to the veg counter and shouted the number …aaaagh!!

Highlights of Zadar were the remains of the roman forum, and a lovely ancient glass museum. All the locally found glass was between 1800 and 2000 years old! Some undamaged, yet so delicate and ornate.

A stunning glass ‘pin’ from 3rd century AD.

Lastly, the lovely feature of Zadar was it’s new promenade, ending at the sea organ. Huge pipes have been laid on the sea bed. As the waves move in and out they play haunting tunes which constantly alter. Quite mesmerising to sit here and listen.

Next a drive inland, where autumn has arrived! We are heading to Plititze, and another huge waterfall system. We stay at the charming Kamp Bear…becauae bears and wolves live in this region. We are greeted with homemade Schnapps by the owner! Wow..quite a kick.

Again, an early start to beat the many tour buses that come here on day trips. It was busy in October… July and August would be hell. We were walking by 8.30 and had much of the first section to ourselves. It is a huge area of 16 lakes with waterfalls cascading down. We took route H which visits most of the lakes, and includes a boat ride down the longest lake. 6 miles in total, all beautiful.

Spot the people to get the scale!

Finally back to the coast to our final part of Croatia, the Istrian peninsula. Again, Boris’ wheels are nearly in the sea. Night night!

Post 3 Slovenia is gorgeous… it’s official!

A peaceful night at Camping Bled, and the luxury of excellent showers in very modern, heated washrooms! Then we set off to find the Vintgar Gorge walk. We recommend the circular walk, along the deep cut gorge, climb up through the forst to Katerina, and return along the side of Hom Hill with magnificent alpine views and cows with bells! Gorgeous.

Next we drove for 45 minutes, past local farms which have special racks, used for drying hay.

We went to the neighbouring, but more isolated, Lake Bohinj. Wow. This was stunning too. At the far end of the lake is the cable car to the Vogel ski area. We ascended to find Alpine scenery, and some gorgeous walks. A highlight was watching crossbills feeding in trees right next to us.

Back down in the cable car, we visited a tiny church of St Christopher, and marvelled at the clarity of the lake water, and the relections.

Then to our campsite, with a super pitch by the river, and a walk to town where Chris continued his healthy eating campaign with a very traditional supper of local sausage, sauerkraut and a delicious mashed potato with onion. This was accompanied by 2 very tasty (and strong) local ales! Slovenia likes craft beers!

Next day was an early start to walk the length of the lake, watching the mist rise as the sun burned it off. 4 miles at a brisk pace so that we could catch the ferry back. What a super morning.

The tiny village church was filled with astonishing paintings, some 600 years old!

A picnic lunch surrounded by glorious scenery, before driving to Ljubljana, the capital.

However I had spotted a comment that a village enroute, Radovljica, was worth a look! It was gorgeous, and the highlight was the museum of Apiculture. Beekeeping is a great tradition here, and the old wooden hives are still used. For 200 years, paintings were done on the ends of the hives, depicting religious, historical or comical scenes. They were gorgeous.

Next onto our camperstop near Ljubljana, where our neighbours were some cute piggies, goats and a kitten! A short bus ride into town, and we strolled through the charming streets of this delightful, miniature capital city, and visited the beautiful cathedral. Slovenia gained it’s independence in 1999, and is fiercely proud of it’s heritage. Slightly worried about the baker though!!! We enjoyed a super meal at Atelje before returning to Boris for another peaceful night.

We caught the first bus back into the city on Saturday morning for an excellent walking tour. The city chose a poet as the name of it’s main square, rather than a military leader or politician, as they value their language, and love over military actions. Nice!

The architecture is delightful. Baroque and Art Nouveau styles are much in evidence.

Much of the town was damaged in the 1895 earthquake, so Art nouveau was the style of the time!

Time to leave. But not before lunch in the square at the Beer and Burger Festival.

We timed our visit well!! No alcohol when driving here, but Chris buys a craft ale for later. The burgers were superb. Organic meat! We love this country.

Now a long drive southeast, into Croatia. Slovenian scenery was gorgeous all the way to the border. Croatia quickly became more rugged and wilder, especially as we crossed the mountains and headed towards the coast. We witnessed a gorgeous sunset, and then drove to a tiny campsite in Skradin, where Chris could at last drink his ale!

We are more than halfway to Dubrovnik, our next destination… and that involves a ferry ride for Boris

Post 1 Autumn in Europe

So, our first big Bimble in Boris this year saw us head across to Europe to explore some places completely new to us. After spending a good night on the carpark at the channel tunnel (we know how to live!), we caught the 6.20 shuttle and were on the road at Calais 40 minutes later. Just as well, because our goal was an 8 hour, 477 mile drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, on the Romantik strasse in Germany. That dealt with the worst of the driving in one hit.

The Romantik strasse runs from Wurzburg, south to Fussen, and was a concept promoted after WW2 to bring tourism back to Germany. It is so pretty, and Rothenburg is one of its northern gems. A Mediaeval town, perched high above the valley, it entranced us at every turn.

The parish church was interesting and is on one of the pilgrim routes to Compostela.

Another lovely feature was an exquisitely realised, bronze relief map of the town, captioned in braille so that visually impaired visitors could share in it’s beauty.

A big surprise was a huge Christmas museum, and some beautifully presented shop windows.

Spot the people to get an idea of scale!

Great restaurants too! Chris was happy with his beer, and decided to fully embrace the local cuisine.. wildboar sausages, red cabbage and apple and sauteed potatoes.

The walk back to our lovely campsite showed another view of the town.

What a great start to our hols!

PS They seem to have got recycling colourfully organised here!

Post 27 Deja Vu Dubai!

We arrived in Dubai at 7am (2am Japan time.) Excellent flight.. especially the incredible Japanese breakfast.

Chris stuck to croissants! In Dubai we were staying for 2 night’s in an Air BnB on the Palm belonging to Danna and Mike. Mike was our tour guide on day one, and we had booked another day with him to keep us awake! So we arrived at the apartment, did a quick change into shorts and set off, firstly to a bird watching area on the river, where there was a good variety of birds, including lots of flamingoes.

Then we headed to Abu Dhabi, another Emirate. En route we stopped at the Last exit services. Everything in Dubai must be different! This was a highway food stop with a difference. The main building, and all the food outlets were themed on Mad Max films. (Post apocalyptic fantasy which involved a lot of vehicle modification and cut throat survival!) It was eye opening!

The ladies washroom!!

Abu Dhabi is wealthier than Dubai, with more oil, and it was more elegant, with a less frenetic feel.

We first visited a heritage museum explaing how just 60 years ago this area was inhabited by fishermen and desert nomads!

A bit different now!

Then to the Emperor’s Palace Hotel.. originally built as a palace, and now one of the most beautiful deluxe hotels in the world. Real palm trees adorn the corridoors.. I’m wondering if there is room on the landing at home?!

We lived the life having “gold” coffee in the golden lounge! Sprinkled with 23 carat gold.

The skyscrapers are beautiful, and very individual. Apparently these 3 were used in a stunt in the film Fast and Furious!

The most glorious stop was the mosque. Built within the last 20 years, it was enormous, and astonishingly beautiful. Almost everything you see in the pictures is marble, including the inlays on the floor, walls and pillars, or glass. The chandeliers are huge and sparkle in the light. Breathtaking.

We ended the day with snacks at an ethiopian restaurant near the BnB!

Next day we explored alone using taxis and the metro. Uber worked well. We visited the falconry museum to discover the ancient use of falcons and the bond between man and bird. Alongside is the falcon souk, selling…. falcons! Along with every accessory you can imagine! They are highly prized and therefore well looked after.

Then back to the old town, and a snack at our favourite cafe from last time – The Arabian Tea House. Fab!

A walk through the souk,

then the metro to Ibn Batutta Mall where you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a different country, as each area is geographically themed!

Our day ended with a Middle Eastern buffet at Amaseena restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Awesome array of traditional food, with chef Rani to explain what each one contained and how it was cooked. Delicious.

Now we are at the airport, waiting for our flight home and wondering where the last 3 months has gone!!

Post 26 Last days in Japan

To reduce the driving the next day, we drove for an hour at night to a michi-no-eki that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere …what will we find when we wake up!… After a very cold night…around freezing we think, we awoke to find we were on a huge plain and next to a very wide river! Now off to the mountains! We chose a route that climbed up through the Kiso valley, following an ancient Shogun route from Tokyo to the plain. The area is known for its premium quality cypress trees. The cold climate means slow growth. They can take 100 years to reach maturity, but then the tree is tall, with dense, high quality timber. In the ‘olden’ days, this timber was reserved for high ranking persons… anyone else cutting down a tree was beheaded.. or for lopping a branch you lost a hand!

Part way up is a gorgeous village that has been preserved as it was. No TV masts etc!

We had a lovely walk here, and visited the old inn, which is still owned by the 25th generation of the family. A charming guide adopted us and took us from room to room explaining everything. The Emporer once came to visit for 30 minutes. They had a special high table built, with no nails, so that the Emporer would always be above everyone else.

Afterwards, the owner inscribed the table! He also had a toilet built specially for the Emporer… who never used it. So it has never been touched since!

She also explained the family seating positions around the fire. The children had the coldest, smokiest place, so that they could learn to cope with hardship and be ready to face anything in life. Guess who got the best place!!!

Then, we drove on, with tantalising views of the High Alps crowned with snow.

Our destination was Matsumoto and it’s beautiful castle, which would have towered proudly above the plain when it was built in….. The wooden construction of these castles is incredible, using wood like the cypress I mentioned before.

As dusk arrived, we sought out a small restaurant in the town, Kyobashi-soba, which served special soba noodle soup with additions on the side!

Chris hit the sake! Although we did find a brewery but it was closing!

Then 40 minutes drive to our next overnight. Brrrrrr. Really cold tonight. SO glad of the duvet!

Next morning dawned crisp and we headed south to the 5 lakes area. As we drove, gradually Mt Fuji came into view. Wow, it is such an impressive mountain, and we are apparently lucky to have seen it, as it is often shrouded in cloud.

On arrival, our first stop was to be a challenge.

As someone who never gets undressed in front of anyone, has a very modest swimsuit with a skirt, and has spent her whole life avoiding communal changing rooms, this was right out of my comfort zone… but I was determined to do it.

We visited an Onsen. A hot spring bath complex. These are plentiful in Japan, but this one was special. It had a number of different baths, and some of them had a great view of Mt Fuji.

All the baths are between 38 and 42 degrees C. Some are indoors, some outside.

Now here is the rub… Onsen etiquette is strict. Men and women are segregated. Shoes in locker. Then you are given towels. Into the communal changing room where you strip off. Completely! Not a swimsuit or anything allowed. Then you wander into a communal washroom where you sit on a wooden stool and wash yourself thoroughly. Now you are ready to go to the pools. Each one hold between 4 and 8 people. They are landscaped, with rock seats, waterfalls etc. You can wander freely (and did I mention nakedly) between them! It was lovely to see groups of elderly ladies nattering in one pool, two mums and their little daughters in another, 3 teenagers giggling in a third. And I did it. I visited 6 pools. Chatted to several people… mainly in sign language! … and forgot my modesty. Would I do it again? Yes I would! No photos allowed…thankfully!

Next we set off for a walk by Lake Saiko. Did I say ‘by’? I meant UP a big hill onto a high ridge with views of Mt Fuji.

That evening we stayed at a great michi-no-eki beside lake Kawaguchiko. A search for food led us to , a traditional restaurant in a 300 year old building where we sat on the floor and grilled our own food. Beef, duck, boar, whole fish, huge shrimp, quail, squid and veg! Then they appeared with a small vat of veg and noodle soup. Scrumptious.

Next morning Easter Sunday. We did a lovely walk along the lakeside to a shrine, and then drove on to Lake Yamanakako which, despite the haze, looked great with Mt Fuji in the background.

Great use for stepladders!

Another walk here, then onto Hakone. Crossing the mountains we left sunny and hit low cloud. This area is known for parquetry… woodworking to create beautiful multi coloured wooden items, including puzzle boxes.

Supper was in a tiny cafe which served a local version of KFC called Karaage!! Delicious chicken marinaded in soy and herbs, crumbed, cooked, then served with cream cheese, salad and soup! Delicious.

The ferry boats on the lake were rather ornate!

Our night was spent up in the clouds, literally. The Hakone michi-no-eki was at quite high altitude and the clouds came down to meet us!

Next morning…sunny. Our last day, and we needed to sort out our bags, clean and tidy the van, and do a 3 hour drive to return it. We had hit on a cunning plan. We almost passed our airport – Haneda – so we dropped off all our luggage in lockers there, before returning the camper to its base… the opposite side of Tokyo! Then we took the train, with just 1 bag to carry instead of 4… we decided to bring our lovely duvet home! Lightly laden, we were able to stop in central Tokyo, at Ueno park, which we had only seen in the pouring rain! What a difference! The cherry blossom was coming out, and the park was packed with pip up food stalls, and thousands of people picnicking under the cherry trees.

We indulged in Cherry blossom ice cream and explored the park, finding shrines and pagodas.

We also had a strange experience. Our one regret was that we had not been able to visit Hiroshima, and see the peace park. It was just too far south. While in Ueno park, we followed a path that initially didn’t look very interesting. Suddenly we were at a shrine, with a stone dove, enclosing a flame. I will let you read the inscription.

The Origin of the ‘Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’

On August 6, 1945, US forces dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and another on Nagasaki on August 9 the same year, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in an instant. Even now, many survivors are still suffering from the damage.

Sometime later, Tatsuo Yamamoto went to Hiroshima in search of his uncle, and found a flame of the atomic bomb burning in the ruins of his uncle’s house. He brought it back to Hoshino-mura, his hometown in Fukuoka prefecture. He kept it burning in his house as a memento of his uncle and an expression of his resentment. But years went by, the meaning of the flame turned into a symbol of his desire for abolition of nuclear weapons and for peace. Hosino-mura village build a torch and transferred the flame to it on August 6, 1968. It has been keeping the flame ever since as the flame for peace, with the support of the villagers.

In 1990 it lit the flame here in this memorial and is kept burning.

We were very moved by this.

Leaving the park we caught the train and monorail to the airport. The queuing system was well organised!!

The airport had some interesting shops, and a cool zone with a giant scalectrix racetrack. So Chris and I played…and I won!

All the Mariokart training was worth it!! We found a great restaurant for our last meal in Japan. Turned out it was a Korean Bbq restaurant, which is ironic, because it was better than any meal we had in S Korea, except for the one in the Japanese restaurant!

Emirates don’t have a lounge here, so we could use the Japan Air one until our midnight flight. We were glad we had eaten, as the food choice was poor, but we took advantage of the showers! Shame they don’t have washing machines too! Now for our longest flight.. 11 hours to Dubai. Night night!