Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Look out Australia! Here I come!

Just checking in. I haven't blogged much here lately. There hasn't been a lot to say. My friends threw me a lovely temakizushi (hand-rolled sushi) party for my birthday. I finished work for the school year and am now on holidays. I've been madly procrastinating getting ready to go away tomorrow. Don't get me wrong - I've been busy, just doing the less important (but way more fun) things in preparation for this trip like making a new travel documents folder and new jewellery to wear. I haven't started packing yet.

It's funny, if you spoke to me a few days ago I would have told you how I couldn't wait to get out of this country. I hated this last winter. I was so cold all the time, I got sick a number of times and everything around me was grey. I got terribly down and had no interest in the things I normally love. The only thing that perked me up was chocolate and donuts and I could not get enough of them.

Now, the days are suddenly warm, the plum blossoms are out, the cherry soon to follow, the sun is shining and I'm in love with Japan again. I'm fully of energy (well as full as energy as I ever get) and have been up until 2am most nights busy making things. I suspect I may actually get homesick while I'm away. Coming from Brisbane, where this isn't a great change in the weather over the year, until living in Japan, I had never realised how dramatically my long-term mood can be affected by the seasons.

But cherry blossoms or not, tomorrow I'm off to Australia, I'll be hopping in with the Easter Bunny. I have a long list of people I can't wait to see and foods that I can't wait to eat. I'm looking forward to being surrounded by English.

See you when I get back!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Mie Photo Break

A few photos I took in Toba and Ise last weekend....

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Heavenly Stay

A hotel tucked in among the trees on the oceans edge, a room the size of my entire apartment, no sound except for the lapping of waves and bird calls, sea hawks circling above, at night no lights except for the odd ship on the horizon, a morning sit on a beach we had all to ourselves.. you really wouldn't think I was talking about Japan!

We had the most wonderful weekend away! We tripped down to Mie Prefecture with the intention of visiting Ise Shrine with some friends on Sunday. Rather than stay the Saturday night in Ise itself, my friend suggested we check out Toba. I'm so glad she did!

The city of Toba wasn't terribly exciting. If your into touristy stuff, there is an aquarium, a pearl divers island and a ferry that goes around the bay. We were satisfied by a bit of a stroll around the town and a yummy lunch of fresh seafood.

The hotel we'd booked into, Thalassa Shima, was about 20 minutes by shuttle bus from the city. To wait in, the hotel had a private lounge at the bus station. Right from that moment, we got hints of the high quality experience were were going to get. Stepping over the threshold we were transported into a different world. One side of the door was your typical grimy waiting area, on the other, a subtle scent of flowers, smiling, perfectly groomed staff, well decorated room, free herbal teas brewing in glass pots and calming music. An oasis in the concrete jungle.

Our first, very pleasant surprise was, as it was by birthday and we were also celebrating our wedding anniversary, we had been upgraded to the deluxe room. The extremely helpful bellhop took us to our large room and shyly chatted to us about his stay at the Gold Coast. Once he had run us through the different features of the room, showed us the free drinks in the mini bar, he left us to drink in the view. From our twin beds (yes, an indication that we were indeed still in Japan), we had a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean patch-worked with dark coloured seaweed beds and dotted with tree covered islands. Rather than the usual cheap hotel toiletries, in the bathroom we were greeted by the hotel's original algae soap and mineral salts as well as good quality shampoos, conditioners and facial cleansers.

The rest of the hotel was just as wonderful. We relaxed in the cafe-by-day, bar-by-night drinking tea from fine bone china (Nikko brand, the Noritake was in the hotel rooms), savouring the cheesecake, enjoying the smoked salmon on seaweed bread and delighting further in the view. The pool area was expansive and on my first dip I was happy to find that it was warm salt water. The ocean view, continued as the theme, as it did throughout the entire hotel. On Sunday morning, we strolled around the walking course, a track through the trees with occasional glimpses of the ocean and eventually down onto the beach. A large piece of driftwood made the perfect bench as we took in the sounds of nothing other than the sea hawks cry above and the lapping of waves.

And then there was dinner....

We both chose the LOHAS menu, made with local produce. Each course was one delicious experience after the next. We ate;

Marinated squid with anchovy sauce (the squid was so tender!)

Seaweed soup flavoured with ginger (this had a side of the sweetest prawns I've ever eaten)

Sauteed sweetbread and green scallop with caramelized burdock root (I have to confess, I gave my sweetbread to Wayne, I'm not an offal fan. The scallop, was also really sweet and almost melted in my mouth)

Pan-fried local fish flavoured seaweed with simmered clam (the fish was hobo, or Red Gurnard in English and was flavoursome dark? fish)

Roasted wild duck with spring vegetables

Seaweed flavour French bread with Olive oil (the bread may not sound so appealing, but I can assure you, with the rich flavours of the other foods, it was great, we ate so much of it at dinner. At breakfast however, I found it too strong)

Desert - I had the white chocolate dessert, very fine sheets of mint-flavoured white chocolate topped with succulent strawberries in white chocolate sauce, stacked in three layers accompanied with ice cream and a raspberry mouse, raspberries and sauce. Wayne had the lime ice cream cake thing (sorry, I was too busy savouring my dessert to take to much notice his dessert that I am allergic too). What made the dessert even more special were the chocolate plaques that they were served with; on my plate one that said "Happy Birthday" and a second that in Japanese said something along the lines of "Congratulations on your Wedding Anniversary". Wayne also was given the wedding anniversary one.

Thinking that after that dinner, there was no way we could fit more in, we discovered homemade cookies and chocolates had been left for us in our room. Breakfast was another treat, an extensive buffet with many delicious foods to choose from.

Our only regret of the weekend was that we weren't there for longer.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Where I Spent My Weekend and Where I Wish I Still Was...

The view from our hotel balcony yesterday.... will blog soon...