A Travellerspoint blog

Honeymoon in Turkey

Exploring Istanbul

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View Honeymoon in Turkey on BryanG's travel map.

=====Welcome!==

If you are looking for wedding photos - check out my facebook photo gallery

Yep, finally getting the honeymoon blog up. We had a terrific time and took hundreds and hundreds of photos [only a fraction of which you will see here]. Turkey totally exceeded our expectations and we only scratched the surface, spending most of our 10 day trip in Istanbul with a short two day trip to Capadoccia in central Anatolia. Although the wedding was on October 24th, we decided to go home, settle back in, work a few more weeks, then head to Turkey around Thanksgiving. The crowds were light and the weather was terrific - couldn't have been better! Thank you to everyone who donated to our Honeymood Fund - we couldn't have done it without you!

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Hilary and I smiling broadly on our second day in country - its probably partially the jet lag...

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The skyline of Istanbul reflects the religious and cultural realities of the city, and Turkey, broadly - the vast majority of Turkey's 71 million inhabitants practice Sunni Islam. The skyline is quite dramatic with the domes and minarets of various Mosques throughout.

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We flew from DC to Frankfurt, then on to Istanbul

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The interior of the temple of Baghdad inside the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. The Sultan had it constructed to celebrate the conquering of Baghdad in 1639. Too bad all we got was a trillion in debt and a library in Waco...

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Detail of tile in the Royal Harem in the Topkapi Palace. The place was covered in these

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Small markets down side streets in Istanbul were full of fresh produce

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The neighborhood around the Galata Tower in Beyoglu felt like Paris - full of cute cafes, boutiques, and artistic graffiti

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The Grand Bazaar - a covered market that has been the site of such commerce since 1451 - was full of interesting shops. Many of them were obvious tourist traps, but Hilary found one that has an incredible selection of beautiful textiles at reasonable prices.

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There are scores of passages and thousands of shops in the Grand Bazaar, and most of ceilings are decorated in the Ottoman style

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Our first visit to the famous Baklavasi emporium Gulluoglu in Karakoy - amazing stuff

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Worth a vist or three when you go to Istanbul

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On special display at Gulluoglu when were were there - a sheet of Baklavasi in the likeness of our President

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Hilary nom, nom

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Istanbul's waterfront is quite lively with ferries arriving from and departing for the Asian side of the Bosporus every few minutes

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Istanbul is literally crawling with stray cats. They are everywhere. That said, didn't see a single rat the whole week...

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Hilary begins to tire after a long day of sightseeing. Here she swoons in front of the entrance to the Islamic Art Pavilion at the Archeological Museum.

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You may know the story of the Trojan War as told by Homer in the Iliad. But did you know that the ruins of Troy are just down the coast from Istanbul? Here is a reproduction of what the famous horse looked like in the museum. Kids can climb inside!

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An artists recreation of what the old section of Istanbul looked like when it was Constantinople - the Eastern Capital of the Roman Empire - from 306 - 1450 AD. It is amazing to see what the Byzantines built and what is left today. Our hotel is in a neighborhood in the lower right hand side of this map.

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The Courtyard of the Archeological Museum

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Hilary poses next to a statue near the entrance to the Archeological Museum

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In the Galata neighborhood - over in Beyoglu - there were lots of music stores

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In one store - selling all kinds of drums - an impromptu jam session was taking place

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Lots of mummies in the Archeological Museum - of all flavors - Hittite, greek, persian, etc.

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Hilary, still awed by the tile-work in the Topkapi Palace

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A view of the New Mosque near the Spice Bazaar as traffic heads for the Galata Bridge to Beyolu

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There are so many wonderful sweets and pastries in Turkey, but our food guide book sent us here for a special seasonal treat - Quince and turkish cream

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Hilary about to dig in

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One of the two underground trams that bring you up from the harbor level to the ridge that makes up Istanbul's old commercial section

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At the base of the Galata Bridge are these brightly lit boats. We were not sure what they were at first until we got closer and realized that they were selling fish sandwiches. Hilary tried one, but it had too many bones in it, even for a fish lover...

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Close up of one of the fish sandwich boats

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Seating for the sandwich joint

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A shop selling nothing but prayer beads - we picked some up for my Nephew John who loves beads.

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The Spice Bazaar near the Galata Bridge was packed at night. Here is just one of the deli-like stores selling everything you can imagine from honey to meats to cheeses.

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Another view of the Grand Bazaar (separate from the Spice Bazaar) with an image of Attaturk, the father of modern Turkey, overhead.

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Cheese shop in the Spice Bazaar

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Carts selling kestanes, or chestnuts, were everywhere in Istanbul

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A small vendor selling a Turkish form of Ceviche with the New Mosque in the background

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There was a small exhibit of ornately decorated Korans at the Islamic Museum that was well worth a visit. I love Islamic art - something about the colors and the geometric forms are pleasing to my eye.

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Gilded in gold with intricate designs - these were the most beautiful holy books I had ever seen
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In almost all cases the Korans were decorated with geometric designs
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Itsiklal Avenue up in Beyoglu - Istanbul's commerical/shopping area

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A nice view of the Haghia Sophia in the late afternoon. This amazing building - conceived as a church 1400 years ago - was also a Mosque during Ottoman times, but today is a museum. Some nice interior views later in the blog.

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One of the six minarets of the Blue Mosque. Our hotel was only a few blocks away, so we heard the call to prayer loud and clear.

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Interior of the Blue Mosque - This gorgeous building was my favorite of the trip. It is a working Mosque, but tourists are invited in between prayers.

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The blue dome of this Mosque was amazing, and hanging from it were hundreds, possibly thousands of wires to hold lights.

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The lush carpet in the Blue Mosque is nice and soft - better for praying! Note the familiar tulip motif of the Ottoman period.

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When we visited it was late afternoon and the sun was streaming in the stained glass windows

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Women were asked to cover their heads when entering the Mosque - Hilary makes a rather fetching Muslim, no?

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Antoher view of the domes and lighting. It looks distracting, but it didn't diminish the beauty of the place

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The courtyard of the Blue Mosque with one of the minarets

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This was taken from the roof deck of our hotel. The dome and towers you see are Haghia Sophia. The Blue Mosque is just to the left out of the frame. If you looked to the right you would see the Bosporus and Sea of Marmara shimmering beyond.

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Hilary in the underground cistern. This was a water source for the city during the Byzantine period. For hundreds of years it was lost and remained buried underground until it was found again. It is amazing how cities can perch on top of amazing treasures that people just forget about...

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There is not much ornamentation in the cistern, but a paid of Medusa colums are a must see.

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This interior of the Haghia Sophia is from the second floor looking South

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Hilary on the second level of the Haghia Sophia looking toward the great expanse of the building. Note the arabic script. For hundreds of years it was a church, the jewel of Byzantium, then it became a Mosque, then recently a museum. There is evidence of each of these periods throughout the building.

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The view from the Haghia Sophia to the Blue Mosque accross the plaza. It is amazing that two of the worlds greatest architectural treasures sit just a few hundred yards from each other.

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Antother view of the Blue Mosque from Haghia Sophia

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Apparently, in the 9th century a band of Vikings conquered the city. This graffiti on one of the Haghia Sophia's stones is marked "Halvdan".

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One of the many early Christian mosaics uncovered when the building became a museum. In Istanbul we saw many examples of Christian artworks that had been painted over when the Churches became Mosques. So glad they didn't take hammer and chisel to these mosaics.

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Can you tell which building is my favorite?

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The vast interior of Haghia Sophia with the chandeliers hanging far below and the morning sun streaming in above

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Interior - Haghia Sophia

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Numerous chandeliers seem to hover over the floor of the huge space

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From the floor level

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Hilary gives you a sense of how large these are, and how low...

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And how many there are!

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The interior of the dome of Haghia Sophia with the angels exposed by restoration

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They say this space is so large that the Statue of Liberty could do jumping jacks inside and not touch the dome or the sides

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A fish market along the Golden Horn - the Golden Horn is a river-like inlet in the Bosporus
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A view of the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent with the Galata Bridge in the foreground. On the top level of the bridge were streetcar tracks, a road, and a great big pedestrian walkway. Below were a number of fish restaurants with outdoor seating.

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Same view, further away

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Same view

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Hilary and Bryan enjoy some Turkish tea on board the Bosporus Cruise up to the Black Sea. Very comfortable.

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A view of the fort at the mouth of the Bosporus as it joins the Black Sea - an ancient choke point, for both trade and conquest

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The uniquitous Attaturk bust in the fishing village at the end of our cruise to the Black Sea. Hilary enjoys some chewey Turkish ice cream.

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Lunchtime up above the fort with the Bosporus in the background. Food was not very good, but the view!

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The fort at the mouth of the Bosporus

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The Black Sea - Russia and Ukraine beyond

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Even today this area is of great strategic importance and much of it was off-limits

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Hilary enjoys the voyage home

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The Bosporus was lined with Yalis, or summer homes. I suspect many of them inhabited full time now.

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A few of the older Ottoman Yalis with their characteristic architecture

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Lots of flags - a proud and nationalistic people the Turkish

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The Dolmabahçe Palace, just up the Bosporus from the older part of Istanbul, was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire.

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Many fishermen in Istanbul, some of them, like this fellow, seemed to be part-timers

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Rope shop

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Olives

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Small launches on the Golden Horn

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Hilary and I like to wander, and one afternoon we walked along the old Byzantine Wall and then through a poor neighborhood called Fatih.

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More livestock than one expects to find in a European Capital

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Fatih was pretty run down, even by Istanbul standards, but felt cheerful and safe

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Remnants of the thousand year old city wall

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Hilary poses in front of a long defunct Synagogue. The Ottomans were famously tolerant of religious diversity. Not sure why this one declined.

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The view from the top of the old Byzantine wall that runs all the way around the old part of the city

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Another view towards downtown - Hilary was quite nervous up here as there were not guard-rails

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A view of a house in Fatih that is literally disintegrating from neglect

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Modern tile work detail

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The mosaics at the Chora Church were amazing - also painted over instead of destroyed when the Church became a Mosque

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My photos don't do the Chora Church justice - these mosaics were amazing in their detail and vibrant colors

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A small nave, but lovely (double meaning, get it?)

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Just outside of the Chora Church is one of Istanbul's best restaurants called Asitane. This place was amazing - One of our top two most memorable meals in Turkey (the other was Thanksgiving Dinner in Cappadocia).

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Hilary prepares to enjoy her chestnut soup. The menu is based on various dishes served to the Sultan throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule. Its good to be the king.

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My appetizer, grilled Turkish cheese with sauted wild mushrooms

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My main dish - chicken with almonds and apricots. Simple, but sublime.

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Hilary's quince stuffed with rice and meat. Liked a stuffed pepper, but so much better as the quince adds sweetness.

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Happy already and she has not even attacked it yet!

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My dessert - house-made Halvasi. I love the store bought stuff, but this... like butter....
If you find yourself withing 1,000 miles of this place, do yourself a favor and stop in. Here is the website:
Asitane

We found a terrific food guidebook called "Istanbul Culinary Backstreets" that was worth its weight in gold. Its suggestions were terrific without exception. Their website is here: Istanbul Eats
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Hilary just couldn't stay away, and be were back to the Grand Bazaar for more gifts and treasures

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In a number of places in the Bazaar there were fonts for washing - either before prayer, or just after breakfast

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A nice view of the Istanbul Skyline from the Modern Art Museum

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View of a Mosque along the river near the Modern Art Museum

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Hilary and Bryan at the top of the Galata Tower - nice views!

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Galata tower views - For fans of Orhan Pamuk's novel "The Museum of Innocence", this is the neighborhood where Fusun's family lived

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Hilary with a view of the Topkapi Palace on the other side of the Golden Horn

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Karakoy and Galata Bridge

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As a major trade route, the Bosporus was almost always full of container traffic

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A view of the Galata Tower

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No shortage of outdoor cafes in Beyoglu

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Fish story in Beyoglu

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This shop was just around the corner from the main shopping street in Beyoglu - shoes, couture, and veggies!

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The Attaturk monument in Taksim Square - the main transit hub of the city.

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Hilary rides a fununcular - her favorite

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Tram Nerd

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The Blue Mosque by night

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Bryan enjoys a Turkish coffee after dinner. Mistake - was up late!

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Our "Honeymoon Suite" at the hotel in Sultanamet where we stayed the week.

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Hilary getting investment ideas

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A nice view of the Haghia Sophia in the late afternoon

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Modest muslim fashion - this dress shop was in a shopping area near the spice bazzar - mostly locals shop here, very few tourists

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The shopping area near the spice bazaar - Eminonu

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Head-scarfs can be high fashion!

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Not sure if this was specifically a wedding bed for sale, or if Turkish couples sleep in such things every night...

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So busy on Sunday you could hardly move

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Little outfits for kids to wear to their circumcision ceremonies - surreal.

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spices in the spice bazaar

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Elbow to elbow in the spice bazzar

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Roasted Corn, one Turkish Lire (about 65 cents)

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In some parts of town 75% of the women of all ages were wearing headscarfs, in others, like Beyoglu, almost none. This is a big political issue for a secular state like Turkey. Attaturk would likely be suprised if he wandered the streets of Istanbul today.

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Street art

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Hilary and the ubiquitious cup of Turkish tea

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Beautiful tile work in the Topkapi Palace

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Interior of the Harem at the Topkapi Palace

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Detail of the stone flooring in the kitchen area of the Topkapi Palace

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Kitchen area at Topkapi

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Hilary in the Topkapi Palace Library - she wants one too....

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The harem at the Palace was full of beautiful tile and stained glass

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Sunset over the Sea Of Marmara

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next stop - Cappadocia!

Posted by BryanG 18:58 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Kyoto in the Fall: Part Two

The Fushimi-Inari Shrine

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View Japan on BryanG's travel map.

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Just two train stops south-east of Kyoto Station at Inari Station, the Fushimi-Inari Shrine was just minutes from our hotel

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Hilary points out that in Japan, even train tickets come with their own little envelopes to keep them safe.

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There was almost nothing on this shrine in our guidebook, but Hilary had read something about it and it was easy to get to, so we decided to take a look. We were totally unprepared for how amazing this place was - totally different from other shrines in Kyoto. Not only was it visually stunning, but also included a nice long hike up the mountain - with a tea shop at the top!

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The entrance is just in front of the small train station, and leads you to the base of of the mountain before you climb

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Although there are more than 30,000 Shinto Shrines dedicated to Inari - the God of Rice, Sake, and cereal crops in general, this site in Kyoto is the most important. The image of the fox guards the shrine.

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The Tori Gates up the mountain are so numerous that sometimes they form long snaking tunnels

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If you like, you can purchase an offering for the shrine in the shape of a Fox - you can even decorate it yourself!

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The large Tori-Gates are inscribed with prayers and are sponsored by people in the community - mostly those in the sake business hoping for good fortune - but if your budget is more modest, you can purchase a little one.

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Hilary disappears into the tunnel of good Sake fortune - stay out of the light!

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As you get deeper into the shine, the steps go further up the mountain. We only did about half the whole hike which was about 10 kilometers long.

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Follow the orange path!

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These little bibbed foxes were everywhere

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About half way up the mountain, we stopped to take in the view - this is Kyoto from the southeast looking northwest

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Although we could have kept climbing and done the whole circuit, we decided to stop for some refreshment at the tea house.

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As you can see, we pretty much had the place to ourselves - one of the benefits of touring on a Tuesday!

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Hilary is very pleased that very soon she will have a snack!

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A bowl of Japanese green tea - Matcha, and a small sweet - I believe this was chestnut in keeping with the Fall season

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One of my favorite images - the bright celadon color of the tea punctuated by the bubbles created by the tea whisk

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A happy hiker!

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Exiting the shrine

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Although it had nothing to do with the Inari Shrine, I couldn't resist photographing this cool vending machine at the train station.

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How cool is this? There were so many cool vending machines in Japan - next time I will remember to photograph more of them!

Posted by BryanG 11:56 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Kyoto in the Fall: Part One

Temples, gardens, cartoons and donuts

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View Japan on BryanG's travel map.

I know these are old photos - taken during our trip to Japan last October - but I wanted to do them justice and upload them with proper descriptions - enjoy!

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A host of Anime characters welcome you to Kyoto on a large poster outside the brand-new Kyoto station

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After a wonderful few days in Hakone, we boarded a Shinkansen (bullet-train) for Kyoto, and in just a couple of hours, rolled into the large and ultra modern Kyoto Station. Although you wouldn't know it from the station, Kyoto is an ancient city and a well preserved cultural treasure. Established in 794, and before Tokyo (Edo) became the Capital in 1868, Kyoto itself was the Imperial Center of Japan. Kyoto is so well preserved because of the careful stewardship of the Japanese people, but also because it was one of the few cities in Japan that was not bombed in 1944-1945. For comparison purposes, military historians estimate that more than 50% of Tokyo was totally destroyed by U.S. bombing, and in one raid alone on March 10th, 1945, more than 100,000 civilians lost their lives in the bombing and ensuing conflagration.

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A temple and shrine map of Kyoto - note the -ji suffix denotes temple or shrine

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As you can see from the map above, the city is surrounded by hills and filled with temples and shrines. Granted, every Japanese city has its fair share of temples and shrines, but nothing like we saw in Kyoto. One is tempted to thing - oh, how many temples can you really visit? I mean, won't they all start to look alike? The answer, even for two sometimes jaded travelers, is a resounding NO! Hilary and I were amazed at how unique and interesting the sites in Kyoto were - each temple more beautiful than the last.

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Hilary poses out front of the Sanmon, or gateway to the Nanen-ji temple at the beginning of the famous "Philosopher's Walk"

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A map of Kyoto that highlights subway lines and other attractions in addition to the many shrines and temples

The city itself is very manageable, and is great for walking. We stayed in an ultra-modern hotel - the Granvia attached to Kyoto Station - but you can find charming traditional Ryokans throughout the city. Also, no surprise, we also ate well during our visit!

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Bryan out front of Nanzen-Ji

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Sanmon Gate at Nanzen-ji temple detail

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A glimpse of the interior of the Nanzen-in, or sub-temple that occupies the former location of Emperor Kameyama's Villa

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A statue at Ginkaku-ji

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A wood gong at Honen-in, a tiny little Jodo-sect temple up a steep hill off the "Philosopher's Walk"

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Also located at the Honen-in, an impressive Buddhist stone marker

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The Ginkaku-Ji, or "Silver Pavilion" was originally the mountain retreat of the Shogun Yoshimasa (1358-1408), and is considered a masterpiece of landscape design by those who know about such things. Hilary and I were most intrigued by the fact that the gardeners were sweeping the ground so that no single leaf was out of place

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A view of Kyoto from the hill above Ginkaku-ji

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Another view of Hilary at the Sanmon at Nanzen-ji - notice the Fall foliage just starting to change in late October

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While Hilary and I were oohing and ahhhing over all the fabulous Japanese Temple Architecture, most of the Japanese tourists were snapping photos of this aquaduct. Built in 1890, it was one of Meiji Japan's first wester water projects.

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More Japanese cartoon cuteness! Ka wa ee desu ne!

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Another view of the aquaduct

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One of our favorites, the Eikan-do temple houses a huge Buddha statue, and has beautiful wooden pathways and staircases

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A view of Kyoto from the pagoda at the top of the stairs of Eikan-do

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Ginkaku-ji entrance

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Part of the gardens at Ginkaku-ji

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A view of the huge and puzzling modern atrium of Kyoto Station

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More Cartoons!

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At the end of the station is a donut shop called "Mister Donut". Hands down, the best donuts I have ever had in my life. Yeah, I know, a bold statement...

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AND, the week we were there all donuts were on sale! Seriously, best donuts EVER!

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One of the cool parts of Eikan-do, made all the cooler by the fact that we had to take our shoes off and shuffle along in borrowed slippers

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Hilary pauses on a bridge in the Nanzen-in garden

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Another view of the interior space of the Nanzen-in

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Hilary does love Chickens...

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Eikan-ji Koi pond

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These carefully constructed sand structures in many of the temples were beautiful - all the more amazing that some of them were tiered and rose up a few feet above the pathways

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Next to the Eikan-ji was this lovely little Kindergarten filled with children playing. We peeked through the fence and chatted with some of them, but even though they were adorable, we didn't think it was appropriate to photograph them

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After a long day of Temple viewing, we retired to our hotel at Kyoto Station - very civilized...

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Good morning! Yep, a few more days in Kyoto, and we only scratched the surface in this blog posting - more to come!

Posted by BryanG 16:30 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Chincoteague and Assateague Islands

A Valentines Weekend Getaway

sunny 35 °F
View Chincoteague and Assateague Islands on BryanG's travel map.

After a week of record snowfall in the DC area and being trapped at home, Hilary and I took a budget Valentines Weekend trip to Chincoteague Island for a few days. We stayed in a Hampden Inn, swam in the indoor pool, and spend Sunday walking around Assateague Island. There are two islands BTW - Chincoteague, where the town is, and over a bridge, Assateague, which is the Wildlife Refuge.

As some of you may know, Chincoteague is where Marguerite Henry's famous children's book "Misty of Chincoteague" is set. I had never heard of it before going to out there, but apparently if you are an 8 year old girl you have read it. It is about wild ponies that live on Assateague Island, and once a year the herd is driven across the bay - forced to swim I guess - and then some of the healthy ones are sold off. I guess that is what they call culling the herd...

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A few of the wild ponies wandering along the road - don't touch! They look calm, but they will kill you as soon as look at you

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Assateague Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and has lovely large wetlands full of birds, long unspoiled coastline, and some wooded areas. Your tax money at work!

http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=51570

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Hilary scans the horizon for ponies

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A sighting in the distance!

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Ponies

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When we did come across a few on the road, Hilary kept her distance for fear of wild pony attacks

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Very scary!

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A few odd things on the island - one wonders what sort of event forced the Department of the Interior to erect such a sign

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There are a number of raised birding platforms

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The birds are much more interesting than the ponies - here is an Egret - one of my favorites

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After walking around the wetlands for a few hours, we emerged at a totally empty beach - gorgeous!

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What would a walk on the beach on Valentines Day be like without a heart? (even if it is 35 degrees and windy...)

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Finally, on our way back to the hotel, we couldn't resist a stop to visit the Top Hat Shrimp at the Shrimp Shack

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Well, thats it. If you have chance to get out to Chincoteague in the off-season, we highly recommend it! Its only four hours from DC, and the Hamden Inn is really inexpensive and very nice. And birds, oh my, the birds. I can only imagine what it is like in the Spring and Fall....

Posted by BryanG 19:04 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The Hakone Crater

A short trip to view Mt. Fuji, eat Black Eggs, and enjoy romantic bliss

sunny 68 °F
View Japan on BryanG's travel map.

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After a week in Tokyo we rolled our much-too-large American suitcases across Shinjuki to the Odakyu line and boarded the special "Romance Car" train for Hakone and Mt. Fuji beyond. The Odakyu line "Romance Car" is a special express that takes one from Shinjuku station all the way to the edge of the Hakone region. We bought a special package that allowed us to ride all the various conveyances of the area for two days - trains, cable cars, gondolas, fabulous pirate ships - you name it!

We had a reservation at a local Ryokan, or traditional Japanese Inn, and were looking forward to sitting in natural hot springs, eating a fabulous traditional Japanese Kaiseki meal, and sleeping on tatami mats.

After two days in Hakone, we jumped on the Shinkansen south to Kyoto, but first, more on our adventures at the crater!

Hakone is a hot springs and spa area quite close to Tokyo - about an hour and fifteen minutes by "Romance Car" - and is dotted with Ryokans, some of which have views of Mt. Fuji a few miles to the north. It has been a tourist area for hundreds of years and has a special place in the Japanese consciousness. Imagine an iconic natural wonder like Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon, but only and hour and a half outside of New York City - that is Hakone.

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Me in front of the Odakyu Romance car - very nice, but not much room for luggage - we were embarrassed by our HUGE bags - there were many raised eyebrows on the train

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One approaches the region from the sea (to the right on the map) where train lines loosely follow the old Tōkaidō (東海道) Road - the road that Samurai travelled on 500 years ago from Kyoto and Osaka to the Shogun's capital in Edo (now Tokyo). The Hakone region rises quickly from sea level to Mt. Hakone - about 4,000 feet - and then up to Mt. Fuji - 12,000 feet!

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This row of cedar trees outlines the old Tōkaidō Road between Odawara and Mishima on the southeast shore of Lake Ashino

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Hilary poses in front of the gondola which carried us up to the top of Mt. Hakone and gave us a view of Fuji San beyond

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A view of the crater edge itself. Hakone used to be a giant mountain like Mt. Fuji but a volcanic eruption long ago popped the top off of it. The hot springs in the area are the result of live volcanic activity on the ring of the old crater.

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Be careful!

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No skiing in Hakone, but they use the same equipment to get people around

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More artistic street plates in Hakone

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Hilary, looking fashionable, with the sacred mountain beyond

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There are lots of trains, cable cars, and ships to ride, sights to see, and interesting stuff to eat in Hakone!

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Right up at the top of Mt. Hakone, there are live steam vents creating a dramatic and sulphurous landscape

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The Cable Car takes tourists half way up the mountain

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At the top of the gondola, visitors gather where eggs are boiled in the sulphur pools - they are supposed to be good for you

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The egg dipper

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Although the eggs taste just like any you might cook at home, the sulphur gives them a very dramatic black color!

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Hilary enjoys her very first Volcanic Black Egg!

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Hilary and Bryan and Mt. Fuji

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Funny Japanese clothing

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Hilary loves, just loves, cable-based transportation of all kinds...

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Soft Cream and Mr. Fuji

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The picturesque Lake Ashino is traversed in... A PIRATE SHIP!

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Japanese Pirates, apparently

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A sacred Tori gate marks the location of a shrine on the banks of Lake Ashino

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More on the Pirate Ship

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When we were in Hakone, we stayed at a traditional Japanese Inn, or Ryokan. We did a great deal of research online, and ended up choosing the Ryokan Taiseikan.

http://www.taiseikan.co.jp/en/

We arrived and were wondering where the Inn was?

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Then it became clear that we had another funicular to ride!

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And this one we had all to ourselves!

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Quite steep down the the river and the Inn, and it was quite a ways down!

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Once we got down into the ravine, we got our first view of the Inn

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After walking along the river, we crossed a last bridge to the Inn

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The Ryokan was lovely inside, and when we arrived, there were five women in Kimonos in the lobby to greet us in unison. We removed our shoes and they were whisked away along with our luggage. We followed our porter down, down, down, to the riverside and our traditional Japanese tatami mat room. The Ryokan has beautiful large hot spring baths next to the river - one for men, another for women - but for obvious nudity reasons, I was prohibited from photographing them.

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The entrance to our room - the one large main room was for lounging, eating, and later when futons were unrolled, sleeping

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The view out of our tatami room

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A member of the Ryokan staff pours Hilary a cup of tea and offers her a moist towel

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Each of us was furnished with Japanese geta socks for the spa footwear

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Hilary and I in our yukatas, traditional robes worn by guests
in the ryokan

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Hilary in the private outdoor family bath. The rocks she's standing
on are hot! The tub is shaped like a wooden sake cup. Isn't she adorable?

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In addition to the lovely room and hot springs, the included in the cost of staying at a Ryokan (not a small amount, mind you) is a full traditional Kaiseki dinner and traditional Japanese breakfast. The dinner was so amazing, so diverse, so delicious and prepared with such care, that I took lots of photos. This won't surprise anyone who has read my other blogs - I seem to spend a third of my time taking pictures of things to eat... One of the benefits of having dinner served to you in your own private room is that when the kimono-clad woman excused herself after arranging each course (which included 3-5 individual dishes), we could snap away without being self-conscious. Finally, the meal ended with an extra special romantic surprise!

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Hilary has no idea that she is about to be presented with 27 different dishes over the next two hours...

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The first course - tiny dishes of pickles, ginko nuts and fish eggs - white tofu in the most amazing black sesame sauce

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Hilary enjoys a little bit of plum wine and her first course

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A clear soup with wild mushroom and a ground pork meatball

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The Sashimi course

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A slightly gelatinous soup with a fish dumpling

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This pot had a small sterno in it that cooked the small pieces of fish, squash, shiso and shrimp

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Hilary struggles a bit with hers - although improving, her chopstick skills are not yet expert

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My chopstick skills are pretty good - here I am eating fish eggs one at a time

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Tiny, perfectly cooked pieces of Wagyu beef and radishes

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One of the most simple, but beautifully presented dishes - a tiny pickled Japanese eggplant salad with chicken

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White rice, miso soup, pickles, a perfect musk melon slice, and tea

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Pickles, detail

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At the end of the meal, I slipped out the "stunt-ring" I had purchased at Isetan Department store in Shinjuku (a nice costume piece) a few days before, and asked Hilary to marry me. Since we were both already sitting on the floor, going down on one knee didn't really work, but I tried.... She said yes, thank goodness, but then said with great seriousness and concern... "but what if you die?" Not the response I expected, and I asked her to elaborate. She said she has seen a show on the Discovery Channel about a couple that were engaged to be married, but then while they were on a hike a log rolled down a hill and killed him... I assured her that I was a very skilled hiker and would never scramble below unstable hazards.

When we got back to Washington we went to the Tiny Jewell box and picked out a proper ring together.

Here is a photo of it off the designer's website:

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Designed by Alex Sepkus, the ring is gold with 14 naturally colored diamonds of various hues.

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Hilary's Stunt-ring

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After our meal, the attendant came in, cleared the table and set up our futon bed on the tatami mat. We spent the night tucked in with the sound of the river coursing just a few feet below our heads on the other side of a shoji screen.

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The future Mrs. Bryan V. Gibb prepares for her breakfast:

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So, after a dinner like that, one would expect a simple breakfast - nope. After a morning soak in the hot springs, the dishes started coming again...

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Rice, tofu, fish balls, miso...

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Me, still groggy - not used to just tea in the morning...

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Roasted fish in the morning - it was good, but I took some getting used to so early

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A parting shot of the river and our Ryokan. The little building just to the left of Hilary's head is where we slept.

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The Ryokan Taiseikan was an amazing experience - we recommend it highly!

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Finally, after a slow train ride down the mountain to Odawara station, we waited for our Shinkansen to Kyoto. This was an express that passed at high speed just before we boarded our own train. I love Japanese trains....

Next stop - KYOTO!

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Posted by BryanG 19:53 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Tokyo Drift

Adventures in the city of fast trains, soft serve, and tasty pig bits on a stick...

sunny 70 °F
View Japan on BryanG's travel map.

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A large lantern, or Chochin, at the entrance of the Senso-Ji temple in the Asakusa section of Tokyo.

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Its a long flight to Tokyo - 13 and a half hours in the air - and a 12 hour time difference.[b]

Hilary and I headed off to Japan in October for a long planned visit to Tokyo and Kyoto. Hilary is very interested in history, culture, food, textiles, and design, so has always wanted to visit Japan. As many of you know, I lived in Japan for five years as a kid, but had not been back in 23 years. Last year I stumbled upon a great deal on a flight to Japan, so we jumped on it and built a two week trip for October. We bought the tickets long before I was laid off, and over the Summer we were afraid we would have to cancel the trip, but then I got a great new job in September that allowed me to start right after our return. Apparently the Gods were smiling on our voyage!

We spent a week in Tokyo, then a few days in Hakone near Mt. Fuji before heading south to Kyoto. After about five days in Kyoto - not nearly enough time - we took the bullet train north to the airport near Tokyo and flew home.

Over all the trip was wonderful. After a typhoon blew through three days before our arrival, we enjoyed two weeks of perfect 70 degree weather, relatively uneventful transport, and the well known hospitality of the Japanese people. We ate well, shopped like crazy, and walked everywhere. And as you can see below (and will see in subsequent blog postings) too hundreds of photos. These are the best representations of what we ate, saw and experienced. Some of the photos were taken by me, some by Hilary. I won't identify the source of each, but know that the best ones were the result of Hilary's eye.

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This is the view from our hotel room in Shinjuku right over the train station. For those of you who saw the Bill Murray film "Lost in Translation", the hotel where he and Scarlett Johannsen stayed is on the left. The sky is not normally to blue, but Typhoon Melor blew through a few days before and cleaned the air. If those buildings were not there, you would have a perfect view of Mt. Fuji

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Hilary and Bryan on the Sumida River cruise in the southeast part of Tokyo. This view was semi-industrial, but boat rides are always fun! It dropped us off in the historic Asakusa district up river.

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A painted store gate in the Ichigaya section of Tokyo. The Japanese have a penchant for striking graphics - in art, popular culture, and even on mundane surfaces such as this

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We stayed in Shinjuku, just steps from the famous Kubuki-Cho nightlife district. Japanese have been partying down these alleys for hundreds of years. Although this part of town is considered one of the "toughest" in Japan, it was still cleaner and safer than any city in America by a factor of 10.

Japan is an amazing place. I won't go into detail about the history or cultural importance of this country - this is all well known to you - but I have to say, when you get off the plane, then onto a super-modern express train downtown, you start to realize that this place is VERY different from the United States or Europe. Sometimes it is familiar, but mostly it feels like another planet. A very crowded planet with fabulous food, an often breathtaking aesthetic, and populated with lots of very cute cartoon characters!

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Although we were on a budget, one of the best parts of our trip was the food. The Japanese love to eat, and the quality and variety of cuisine is really quite something. One of the most amazing places was the Isetan Department Store food hall, but alas, no photos allowed... I have interspersed photos of Hilary and I snacking all over tokyo...

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Hilary found the variety and design of Japan's street hardware fascinating. The first of many.

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A crowded shopping street near Ueno Park

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A traditional Noh mask at the National Museum

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Japan is an ultra-modern country with the most efficient train system in the world, the cleanest streets, and the most polite populace, but it is also a country of deep historical traditions, occasional social fissures, and for the past decade, a troubled economy. Although Japan is home to only 105 million people, it is the world's 2nd largest economy (for now). Two interesting statistics in this green age are: Japan owns 60% of the green-tech patents in the world and the Japanese use less than half as much energy per capita as Americans do.

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Harajuku station in Tokyo

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The Japanese are some of the physically healthiest people on earth and enjoy a national health system available to all . Next to the Icelanders and the Swedes, they have the best longevity too. Although the society is collectivist and crime rates are very low, suicide rates are among the highest in the industrialized world.

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Although the homeless are rarely seen in central Tokyo, after almost two decades of flat economic growth, their numbers have increased since I was here in 1987. This man was sleeping on the grounds of the Imperial Palace - the Emperor's front lawn...

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One can walk down a street in Tokyo that feels like a scene out of a science fiction movie - girls watching cartoons on cell phones; robots cleaning the sidewalk; 10 story high HD video screens; toilets that clean you automatically, then themselves; vending machines selling whisky, cell phones, french fries, pornography, fresh flowers... - then turn a corner and walk into a shrine that has been a place of worship for hundreds of years and see a woman, bamboo bucket in hand, cleaning the gravestones of her ancestors by hand as has been done since the time of Christopher Columbus.

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Shinjuku, near the station

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Detail, statues in Kabuki-Cho cemetery

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A shrine and cemetery in Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku

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As I said above, I had not been to Japan since 1987 when I graduated from the American School in Japan and went to college in Southern California. Hilary had never been. I remembered some Japanese, Hilary learned a tiny bit. Either way, Tokyo is a place where you do not need to speak Japanese - most of the train signs are in English, and the announcements are in English, Chinese AND Korean - BUT, if you speak a little Japanese, people really seem to appreciate it. The Japanese have an international reputation for politeness and quality customer service, and is it sure deserved. From the train conductor to the convenience store clerk to the retired Japanese businessman in line next to you - everyone was unswervingly hospitable. I must admit, it made my first visit to CVS in Washington upon my return a bit of a shock...

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The white gloved train conductor on the Tama line near the American School in Japan

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The Tokyo Subway and Train network is not only ultra-clean and efficient, but vast. The map above is just the close-in metro area.

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Some candid photos on the subway

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The famous fried shrimp creme sandwich at McDonalds

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Detail, Japanese Painting, the National Museum, Ueno Park

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The Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park - a site of Royal Ceremonies and daily weddings in Tokyo

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Detail, doorway, Meiji Shrine

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There was a small Ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging, at the Meiji Shrine on the day we visited

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Hilary at the Imperial Palace

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Fire!

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Consecrated Sake Barrels at the Meiji shrine

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After we recovered from Jet Lag and ventured out into the city, we took a river cruise up the Sumida River and visited the historic Asakusa district and the Senso-Ji temple. This large temple complex started as a simple statue of the Buddha in 645 AD and grew over the years. Shogun Tokugama Ieyasu granted the temple a large tract of land in the early 1600s and it only grew in popularity when the pleasure quarter was relocated nearby in the early 19th century. The temple did not survive the American bombing of Tokyo though, and all the buildings are historically accurate post-war recreations. We found a wonderful soba place, shopped for lots of gifts and burned some incense for the buddha....

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A view from the subway station near the Sumida River cruise dock

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Yum!

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The Hama Detached Imperial Gardens. Tucked between the Sumida River and urban Tokyo, these gardens are a lovely oasis in the city.

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In the river near the boat - a big Ray!

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Hilary disembarks from the river cruise

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Suntory Concert Hall - I am not exactly sure what that gold thing is supposed to be, but it is a pretty arresting building!

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A little guidebook recommended soba place near the shrine. Tiny, friendly and delicious!

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I had cold soba, Hilary had a hot pot of it in soup. Wonderful!

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A green tea latte at Starbucks

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Nakamise-dori - shopping heaven!

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The Hozo-Mon Gate

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There were so many shops on the Nakamise-dori selling sweets. This man was making fresh cookies by hand with a hot iron.

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Even the kids are stylish in Tokyo - check out the boots!

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The main entrance to the shrine

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Within the shrine is a large incense brazier. People gather to purify themselves. This fellow was purifying his dog...

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After visiting the shrine, we wandered over to Kappabashi, or Tokyo's wholesale restaurant supply area. I know, it doesn't sound that interesting, but when we arrived the street was closed off and they were celebrating "Kappabashi-Day" and had a Marching Band, Cheerleaders, food, and lots and lots of shops open late!

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The Keio University Band and Cheer Squad was out in force on Kappabashi Day!

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Anything you need for a restaurant, or your kitchen at home, could be purchased at a deep discount in Kappabashi

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Hilary poses next to a collection of soft cream signs... It has been a long day and I fear she is worn out!

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Traditional heavy iron cookware

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This entire shop was dedicated to fine Japanese cooking knives

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This craftsman is engraving a knife for a chef waiting by the counter

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One of the many shops full of interesting and cute Japanese collectibles. This is the owl section....

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Anyone who has been to Japan knows about the amazingly lifelike plastic food on display in many restaurants so you can see what the dish will look like. Kappabashi is where you go to get it!

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More plastic food!

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Speaking of food!

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Hilary thinks twice about purchasing Calpis

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One of the many Denny's in Tokyo

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Its almost too beautiful to eat, almost..

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Hilary bites into the juiciest Nashi (asian pear) of her life

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A donut that was seriously large, expensive and darn good...

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This is the local grocery store where we shopped every day when I lived in Tokyo more than 23 years ago - still there!

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Fish at the local Santoku grocery store

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Hilary prepares to picnic in Yoyogi Park

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Some of Isetan's prettiest bento box lunches

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More!

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And more!

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Plastic food!

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Our standard convenience store breakfast (with good coffee, of course...)

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A uniquely Japanese dish - Okonomiyaki - a sort of pancake mixed with ham, cabbage and egg, and then topped with mayo, sweet brown sauce, and bonito fish flakes that "dance" in the heat...

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Bryan enjoys a Japanese pastry filled with... a fried pork cutlet?

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The world's best french Macarons - available at Isetan of course...

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Note the fresh ginger and small grater so you can spice your soba at your table...

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Tucking into another meal of sublime soba in Ueno

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Cased meats everywhere!

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The Shakeys Pizza Parlor in Harajuku - the first place I ever got drunk, age 15.

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Another manhole cover...

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Hilary learns the hard way that Japanese vending machines dispense HOT coffee in a can

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A Japanese restaurant in Roppongi - catering mostly to tourists. Look familiar? The scene from Kill Bill, Vol.1 where Beatrix Kiddo dispatched the Crazy 88s was based on this place....

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The oddest looking thing - a loaf of bread, filled with an ice cream sundae - this is the plastic facsimile out front

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There were as many Halloween decorations in Tokyo as one finds in the U.S.

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Eating this sandwich will make you so very happy.

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One of the many puzzling billboards in Tokyo

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"Abu - Nai" or, "be careful of danger!"

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Cool

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Even the Buddha is taking precautions against the swine flu..

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More cuteness

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Even smoking on public sidewalks is prohibited in Tokyo - there are designated outdoor smoking zones

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The Giant Statue on the roof of the Ghibli Museum - dedicated to the work of Hayao Miyazaki. It is an amazing place, full of images and models of Totoro, Ponyo, My Giant, Princess Monoke, and Spirited Away...

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A visit to the American School in Japan [ASIJ], where I graduated in 1987

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The exterior of ASIJ - they have certainly smartened up the campus since I was there!

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The exterior of the Miyazaki Museum

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The cast information at the National Kabuki Theater

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Hilary on the train to Tama - the station near my old school

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Hilary - leave no strange Japanese ice cream treat un-tasted

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The National Kabuki Theater in the Ginza area of Tokyo

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Grave markers at Tama-Bochi, the largest cemetery in Japan

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In order to register a car in Tokyo, you have to provide proof that you have an off-street space to park it

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The exterior of the columbarium at Tama-Bochi - and odd thing to photograph, I know, but it was a fascinating design

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The interior of the columbarium. The ashes of the dearly departed are interred on various levels around a cone shaped fountain. Ethereal music plays in the background.

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Columbarium exterior

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A small neighborhood cemetery

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Some gas stations in Tokyo have pumps that come out of the ceiling!

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The road between Mitaka station and the Totoro museum is lined with helpful signs.

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Totoro waits for you and is ready to sell you a ticket!

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Playground statue - Tama

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Another bike / building shot

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The name of a fashionable Boutique in Shinjuku

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Hilary and I took a field trip out to my old high school to see a former teacher - John O'Leary. John taught me physical science, photography and physics. Yep. If you love or hate my photos, you have this man to blame...

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Coach Seavers - my high school football coach. Can you believe how good he looks these days? The man has not aged a day in 23 years...

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Midway through our week in Tokyo we got up early and headed down to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. The only thing more impressive than the size and variety of the place was how clean it was! Sure there were some places where fish guts piled up, but generally it was relatively free from fishy smells... Much of the best sushi fish that we eat in the United States actually comes through this market.

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These small vehicles were buzzing all around the market - if you didn't watch out, you would get smacked by one!

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It was so busy in fact, that Tsukiji has its own traffic cop!

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And this is after the busy time.

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One of the thousands of purveyors within the market itself

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We missed the tuna auction that takes place very early twice a week, but did get a chance to see the cutting of big frozen maguro!

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More big fish!

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Now that is a beautiful piece of tuna

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After our visit to the market, we wanted to have a sushi breakfast at one of the tiny shops adjacent to the market. While standing in line we befriended a retiree and his wife - the Iwamuras. He told me that now they live in the countryside near Mt. Fuji, but this shop was his favorite and he came here every time he was in Tokyo. Once we got inside, Mr. Iwamura made sure they took good care of us. It was simply the best sushi experience of our lives. A set menu of the freshest stuff. The chef made on piece at a time and set it before us on the bar. Almost everything we ate was in the sea just hours before.

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A tiny boutique in Harajuku

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The National Museum in Ueno Park had a small collection of arms and armor in addition to pottery, textiles, painting, and sculpture

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Clever playmobile ideas...

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Some of the subway stations in Tokyo have low barriers to keep people from falling on the tracks - why didn't we think of that?

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No photography allowed inside the Tokyo Sword museum, but you can imagine how cool it is!

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The famous Shinjuku fruit shop where one can buy gifts of $30 grapes, or perfect $100 melons

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The Boss knows coffee

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More perfect fruit. It was so beautiful, but I wonder how it tastes?

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Hilary enjoys a crepe in Harajuku

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Me

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Hilary

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Interior, the National Museum

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Tired? Yeah, we were too by the end of 8 days in Tokyo. That said, our next stop was the hot springs resort area of Hakone, and Mt. Fuji!

Posted by BryanG 19:45 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Markets, Art, Music and Dance

Exploring Ghana further afield

semi-overcast -17 °F
View Volunteer Trip to Ghana on BryanG's travel map.

"Only when you have crossed the river can you say the crocodile has a lump on his snout"
- Ashanti Proverb

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Although my primary purpose for being in Ghana in July was to teach at Senchi Ferry Methodist School each day, our group was free to explore on evenings and weekends. We spent most evenings eating and resting, but on weekends we formed into groups, hired cars or vans and hit the road!

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A dancer in New Akrade, Ghana performs on a stage at the outdoor community center

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I spent most of my time in the various towns I visited - Akosombo, Kumasi, Accra - wandering through twisting city streets and exploring markets selling everything from vegetables to textiles. That doesn't mean that I didn't get to explore museums and cultural sites, but to be honest, I found just wandering the streets and chatting with people at the market more interesting.

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Our first week a few of us headed 25 minutes by van north of Senchi to Akosombo and the local market. It only runs on Monday and Thursday, but is the primary shopping opportunity for people in the area. I had only been in Ghana for a few days, and found the Akosombo Marekt little overwealming - the crowds, mud, variety, the flies... In hindsight I am glad I started with this small regional market instead of plunging first into the swirl of Makola Market in Accra!

When I was in Ghana I always asked permission before photographing anyone, and initially had very little luck in getting people to agree. The more local language I learned and the more time I spend chatting with people BEFORE asking permission to photograph them, the better my conversion rate was. One time I asked a market woman if I could photograph her and she said "so you want to take my picture and take it back to America with you and leave me here? Why don't you just take me with you - that will be much better!" Touche!

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The approach to Akosombo Market - part of it was paved with permanent stalls, but most was muddy and informal

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A muddier view of the market - women in Ghana carry everything on their heads, regardless of bulk or weight

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Second hand clothing for sale - on closer inspection, much of it appears to be from North America

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A woman sells a common local delicacy - smoked fish caught in the nearby Volta River

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I found this tabloid poster wall interesting - a crowd was gathered around to see photos and read a bit about Michael Jackson - yep, even in the interior of Ghana it was a big story... Also depicted are shocking photos of the wealth and punishment of "Sakawa", or mobsters/con men who have become rich through organized crime

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Ghana is famous for many things - Kente Cloth, High-Life music, Ashanti Culture - and on a few occasions we were able to explore a little of each.

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Another shot of a dancer in New Akrade

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The Jr. High HIV club does a skit on how to avoid the dreaded disease - there was a whole assembly dedicated to music, dance and drama to further HIV/AIDS education

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The HIV Club Poetry contest!

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A Senchi Ferry student in traditional dress dances at the HIV Club assembly

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Our second weekend in Ghana a couple of us (Jeanne, India, Emily and I) hired a car and set out for the ancient Ashanti Capital of Kumasi. Although only about 150 miles away, because of the roads (occasionally excellent, but more frequently pot-holed or gravel) it took us close to six hours to get to our B&B in Kumasi.

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Our B&B in Kumasi, the Four Villages. Your home away from home in Kumasi!
http://www.fourvillages.com/

Even though it took a long time, I enjoyed the drive very much. There was so much to look at - the least being the diversity of the jungle sliding by, full of large and dramatic trees, the occasional baboon. What was most interesting were the glimpses into the life of local Ghanaians. Whenever we drove into a village we would slow way down to make our way over the ubiquitous "speed-bumps" and we all got a look at village life - the busy carrying, buying, selling and socializing that seemed to go on unabated all day and into the evening. As we drove accross the country from east to west we would drive through areas where different products where available for sale on the side of the road - bright orange palm oil in gallon plastic jugs in one area, sugar-cane in another, abundant fruit and vegetables in another.

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I am fascinated by the trees in Ghana - so many unfamiliar species, and so big!

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Cow Crossing - they had baboon crossings too, but I didn't get a photo

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Once we got into Kumasi the traffic thickened up and the hawkers started to appear at stop-lights. One could buy hot food, drinks, soap, you name it, and all from the window of your car!

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Kumasi is the center of the ancient Ashanti Kingdom, and although the Capital is Accra on the coast, Kumasi is described by many sources as the cultural capital of Ghana and the Akan people. The Ashanti Kingdom traces its roots to 1670, when a collection of local tribes banded together. Ashanti history invests a great deal of importance in the story of the "Golden Stool" which is the divinely inspired throne of this matrilineal society. The Ashanti were one of the few groups in Africa that put up a serious fight against European colonial powers.

The Ashanti Kingdom, which also fought wars with the Fante and Ga people of Ghana, had upwards of 100,000 soldiers, making it more powerful even that the Zulus of East Africa. From 1823 to 1900, the British fought four wars with the Ashanti and it was only in 1900 that the interior area around Kumasi was incorporated into the British Gold Coast colony. Bottom-line: the Ashanti were tough, and even in colonial times, the British never trained Ashanti warriors to join the British colonial army for fear they would apply their military skills and rebel. One of the most interesting places we visited in Kumasi was the Colonial Fort and Military museum which had everything from African weapons captured in the 19th century, British Colonial photographs, German, Japanese and Italian weapons captured around Africa during World War One and Two, and even an old Bradley tank left behind by the Americans!

We toured around Kumasi to explore "cultural sites", but I quickly slipped off on my own to explore Kejetia Market, which is touted as one of the largest in West Africa.

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On my way to the market, I made my way through various neighborhoods

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Although I only scraped the surface of Kejetia, I was able to get a sense of its scale on this quiet Sunday morning

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This woman was selling cooked eggs in spicy tomato sauce and found my attempt at Twi - her language - hilarious

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I am told one can buy just about anything at Kejetia Market, and I sure saw lots of stuff!

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In a poor country like Ghana very little is wasted - here used bike parts are for sale

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Motor-bike repair shop in the muslim quarter in Kumasi

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A cobbler if your sole is in need of some work

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The Sunday that I visited Kejetia most of what was for sale was food and produce

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This woman - named Ama - took some convincing, but I finally got her to smile

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This woman - also named Ama interestingly enough - was all smiles and giggles until it was time to shoot, then she posed in a rather serious manner. When I met her she had her box on her head, navigating the crowd, selling bread

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One evening after tutoring, we had the chance to visit a nearby bead factory (Cedi Beads) that designed and produced Krobo-style beads from recycled glass. Although an ancient art form utilizing various materials, in the past century, discarded beverage bottles have become the most common raw material at Cedi.

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Raw material

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An artisan prepares molds for liquid glass by "painting" them with colorizing agents

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Glass bottles are melted down and placed in molds to create beads

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After they are removed from the kiln, they are allowed to cool

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Another view of the kiln area

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After cooling, the beads are removed from the molds

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and polished in a stone basin

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Bead molds and finished beads on display

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A pile of the finished product - rough, but beautiful

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Traditional beads - painted with colorizing agents before being fired

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Plenty to buy in the gift shop!

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Some more delicate painted examples

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A view of the Akosombo Dam and Lake Volta beyond from the Volta Hotel

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The largest public works project in the history of this region, and a source of great national pride for the Ghanaian people is the Akosombo Dam. The dam was built in the early 1960s to power an American built aluminum smelter in nearby Tema, and opened in 1965 creating Lake Volta - the largest man-made lake in the world (8,500 sq/km). The lake covers 3.6% of the land in Ghana and required the resettlement of more than 80,000 people (some in nearby Senchi Ferry New Town). The damn is an internationally controversial subject - leftists would tell you that it is an example of neo-colonialism in that the majority of the project benefits foreign investors, a point of view with which I sympathize, but that said, the project might never been built otherwise. I have many opinions on foreign aid and investment in Africa - more pro-business than many of my comrades might expect - but I shall share these elsewhere...

Where was I? Oh yes - big dam, bigger lake, impressive powerplant, etc. A few of us went up one morning to take a tour. Later that weekend, Emily, Jeanne and I took a bout tour on Lake Volta itself.

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Maureen, India, Shirley and Maria pose with our guides on the dam itself - the southernmost tip of the lake in the background

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Looking down river from the top of the dam

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The turbines leading to the power-plant

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A view of the Dodi Princess docking on Dodi island on Lake Volta. Jeanne, Emily and I took a cruise one day. Not that much to see, but it nice to get out on the water.

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Dodi Island - one of the many in Lake Volta.

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I was surprised at how few boats there were on Lake Volta. I understand that it is restricted to those who live nearby, but in five hours I only saw three or four boats.

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Anne and Peggy pose near one of the entrances to the food portion of Makola Market

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On my last weekend in Ghana we all travelled to the Capital, Accra, for the day in order to catch our early morning flights home. We had a full afternoon to explore the city, and Anne, Peggy and I headed right for Makola Market. Billed as the biggest in West Africa. I couldn't tell if it was bigger or smaller than Kejeta Market in Kumasi, but since I spent at least four hours at Makola, it certainly seemed bigger.

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The crowds in the streets surrounding the market were crowded - not as crowded as say, Stanley Market in Hong Kong, but for Ghana, as busy as it gets!

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A woman sells two varieties of local peppers. One of the best things about Ghanaian food were the spices - hot and lively, but not too hot

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These are actually palm kernels. They are pressed to make palm oil, a local staple

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Fresh crabs

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Although the market area looks spacious enough, most of the action was down very narrow alleys or packed into vast collections of partially covered stalls.

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This fellow's shirt was too white for him to be a butcher - I suspect he just liked posing with entrails

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The African staple crop of cassava. It doesn't taste like much on its own - its like a very bland sweet potato - but serve it with a pepper sauce and subsistence never tasted so good!

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Two women take a break from grinding cassava flour. Note the t-shirt - from some goodwill box in Oregon all the way to Ghana...

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More snails - these ones were big, but not the biggest I saw

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Granted, that is Anne's petit hand, not mine, but it gives you a sense of scale

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The spice grinder

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Household goods of every description

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Small dried fish and shrimp

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Spices and other ingredients

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Bananas and more snails

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Newsstand at Makola Market

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A roasted grass-cutter. This West African delicacy is like cross between a beaver and a rat - quite expensive and much loved.

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A gregarious seller of pig's feet. From Jacksonville, Florida to Beijing, people seem to love their pigs feet....

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Anne and Peggy grew tired of Makola after about an hour, so we split up and I explored deeper into the clothing section on my own. It was amazing - hundreds upon hundreds of small stalls, all selling used clothing, much of it from North America. I was looking for some Obama in Ghana t-shirts, but since it was two weeks after his visit, I couldn't find any. A local guy, led me deep into the market - down back alleys, through underground sweatshops where men sweated over ancient sewing machines, and finally to one stall that still had the shirts I was looking for.

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Imagine this scene going on for hundreds of yards, twisting and turning, the ground under-foot soft with discarded rags

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I did find a few shops with new textiles, and in hindsight I wish I had bought some, but I was so dazed by the variety that I ended up buying almost nothing.

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Although not the Kente cloth that Ghana is most famous for, the selection of textiles was of very high quality

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Buttons galore!

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Finally, on the way to the airport, one of the hundreds of Welcome Obama billboards in Accra

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I had a wonderful time in Ghana and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in exploring Africa, but a bit nervous about how intense it might be. The people in Ghana - both in the capital and the countryside - are wonderful, and will go out of their way to welcome you and help you out if you have lost your way. Certainly a little tip is always a nice gesture, but is rarely, if ever, demanded (except at the airport).

The museums in Accra and Kumasi are limited, and this is not a big tourist country, but the countryside and the people make it worth the 12 hour flight from New York!

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My next stop? Hilary and I are off to Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto in October - look for the Japan blog in November!

Posted by BryanG 10:24 Archived in Ghana Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

School Bells Ring

Teaching in Senchi Ferry

semi-overcast 87 °F
View Volunteer Trip to Ghana on BryanG's travel map.

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Peter, Conscious, Doh, Shalom and Esther after tutoring

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“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

- Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and famous Ghanaian

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Although our team worked on multiple projects while in Ghana, most of us were placed in one of three schools in Senchi Ferry - Catholic, Bea Akoto, and Methodist. The denominational names are based on their founding years ago by missionary groups - they are now all part of the public system. From first to seventh grade, we were scattered throughout the community based on need and our preferences. I ended up working at the Methodist School, teaching 6th grade with Mr. Daniel Ankamah.

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Mr. Ankamah and Bryan

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Mr. Ankamah is a seasoned educator with 35 years of experience teaching in Ghana. He grew up in the region east of Lake Volta, near the border with Togo, but had been teaching in Senchi Ferry for years. Actually, our local group leader, Benjamin, was in Mr. Ankamah's class back in the 6th grade!

I was welcomed into his classroom, and taught all subjects to his sixth graders for three weeks. Mr. Ankamah was present most of the time in the classroom, but on occasion left to attend to other business. My situation was common, in that I was not filling a void in the school's teaching needs, but rather invited in to assist regular teachers already in place. The Global Volunteers model is based firmly on the concept that volunteers work with local partners and participate in a cultural exchange. Thus, none of us was supposed to be working alone. That said, some of our teachers were present less than others.

After the kids got used to me, and I them, I did my best to teach Math, English Grammar, Science, PE, and yes, Ghanaian Citizenship. Each class had a very detailed syllabus, so after studying this and available text-books, I was good to go!

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Hagga poses in front of Senchi Ferry Methodist School

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This is the classroom - tin roof, open to the outside on the sides, chalk board

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Classroom lighting provided by openings in the cinderblock walls

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Each student in Ghanaian public schools is required to wear a uniform, but school fees have been abolished in recent years. Thus any student with enough money for a uniform (about $4) can attend school. That said, there seemed to be lots of a la carte expenses the students had to pay. For example, at the end of the term, in order to take the exams that would secure or deny their promotion to the 7th grade, each student had to pay 20 peswas for the copying of their exam (20 cents).

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Christian and Emmanuel work on their Maths

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Victor stays behind during recess to complete his assignment

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I brought a stack of photos with me to share more about my life in the U.S. with my students. I then used these photos as prompts for a writing exercise. Here Eric writes a paragraph about the photo of my Nephew Jacob eating ice cream

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Gladys prepares to ring the bell (analog) for recess. Gladys was one of the students who was obviously hungry each day. Although very bright, she didn't have much energy. During recess I would share my Cliff-bars with her and she would perk right up.

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Diku relaxes on a bench during recess

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Mavis, Conscious and Abigail

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Priscilla learns to throw a frisbee during recess. I brought a frisbee and soccer ball with me for my students to enjoy. The school had only one ball for all 400 students.

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Catch!

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Helen during break

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The Library at Senchi Ferry Methodist School. The selection of books was very limited, but there were plans to install electricity and install a donated computer. Its a start!

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Patricia reads an old favorite

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After a snack, Gladys reads during library time - she is puzzling over the concept of "Igloo" (she has never experienced a temperature lower than 75 degrees, so her concept of ice is limited to the freezer at the local market).

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Gladys, Esther and Martha

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Another wing of the Methodist School

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I picked up a soccer ball at Target before leaving for Ghana, and I suspect it was the most popular thing I brought with me (including myself!)

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Who needs shoes - that is why they call it football!

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Moro and Diku

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Elijha

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Diku was about 15 and in the sixth grade, so he tended to dominate at recess

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Al-Haji, one of the few muslim students in my class, takes a shot on goal

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Karen, another volunteer on our team, teaches her 5th graders the Hokey-Pokey

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One morning as I arrived at school I saw what seemed like the entire student body in the main yard leaning over. I soon realized that they were "mowing" the lawn... with machettes. Apparently, they do this as a group now and then. And apparently, every kid in Ghana has their own machette (they call them cutlasses). And they can often be seen toting them to school. I am not sure why I was so fascinated by this. It was interesting to see students taking care of their school, but also funny to think that in the Untied States we expel kids for bringing toy guns to school, where in Ghana, kids are required to bring big, heavy, sharp cutlasses to class....

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The girls seemed especially good at it - I suspect they had lots of practice

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Eric mowing

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Hagga takes a break

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Some of our group worked on a construction project in the center of Senchi. The Library was a partnership between the community and Global Volunteers, and the July goal was to complete as much of the roof structure as possible.

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Benjamin, Emily and Samuel post in front of the Library

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Anne, India and Shirley take a break (while Brendan, Austin, Mark and Matt toil in the background!)

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Brendan provides the muscle

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Cleaning valuable tools

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Regardless of where we were working in the community, in the afternoons we all gathered in the yard at Senchi Methodist School for afternoon tutoring. We showed up on first day and were swarmed with kids eager to read and spend time with us. Benjamin, our group leader, did his best to limit our groups to three or four, but there were always extra kids hanging around wanting to join in. Although the afternoon program was designed specifically to help kids with their reading skills, I used the time for Math and Geography as well. I found that my 5th grade boys responded enthusiastically to competition, so I devised geography and math challenges where teams of boys would compete against each other and score points for finding a country on a map, calculating a math problem correctly, etc.

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Caleb, Tika and Moses read about Obama from a book on of our team-members brought along

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Nancy works with her girls on their reading

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Anne, Benjamin and Shirley at our tutoring session

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My guys swarm the map looking for Sri Lanka in one of my GEOGRAPHY CHALLENGES!

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Tika, Alfred, Caleb and Moses

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Miss Emily and three of her students. One day she was sick and couldn't come to tutoring and they cried all afternoon...

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Peggy, from San Bernadino, California, works with her group

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One of India's students walks her home after tutoring. Men and women of all ages hold hands in Ghana

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Even with the rough hewn building, the oppressive humidity and the lack of student foot-ware, sometimes, deep in a lesson about descriptive adjectives or translating fractions into decimals, I would forget that I was in Africa, 6,000 miles from home.... Then, I would be reminded...

There were lots of bats living in the rafters of the classroom - a fact that hardly elicited any notice from my students or co-teacher. The classroom is open to the outside all day, all night - if I was a bat I would live there too. One day, a particularly big one was up top and it shit on me while I was teaching. I was disturbed by this.

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A bat, minding his own business in the classroom rafters

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My students caught on to my annoyance and during recess they killed the offender and left it on my desk. I was horrified as where I am from, we are taught not to touch bats as they can harbor rabies. My students saw my horror and Akoto said: "don't worry Sah Bryan, it is dead, it will not feces on you anymore...." True enough. I guess I will need to do some more work on nouns and verbs though...

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Akoto and the Bat

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On a final note - I plan to continue my relationship with Global Volunteers and Senchi Ferry Methodist school. I hope to help support the school as best I can in the future. If you are interested in going to Ghana through Global Volunteers, I strongly recommend the program. If you would like to assist me in gathering supplies for the school or offering support in any way, please let me know. Even a little bit can help this community immensely!

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Greetings from Senchi Ferry Methodist School!

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Next time - exploring Ghana - Music, dance and markets!

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Posted by BryanG 05:35 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Akwaaba! (you are welcome)

First Impressions of Ghana and an introduction to Senchi Ferry

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View Volunteer Trip to Ghana on BryanG's travel map.

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Billboard in Makola Market, Accra, Ghana

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Now, that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people. ...
You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move.

- President Barak Obama, July 10, 2009, Accra, Ghana

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I arrived in Accra on the 4th of July after an 11 hour flight from JFK. I stepped off the plane into oppressive equatorial humidity and local jubilation at the prospect of Obama's visit the following week.

Although I was not in the Capital during the Presidential visit - I was about two hours away in a small community called Senchi Ferry on the Volta River - everywhere I went Ghanaians were buzzing. When people found out that I was an American they would perk up beyond their normal friendliness and tell me how happy they were that Obama was visiting Ghana and how important Ghana's friendship with the United States was. How refreshing!

Once, while I was wandering through Kumasi - Ghana's second largest city - I was surrounded by a crowd of children. When they found out I was from the United States, they started singing a locally popular song about Obama - see here for the studio version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L85YF0pyPH0

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Even my students, many of which had never seen the Atlantic Ocean (90 kilometers away) knew all about Obama

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Conscious, one of the students in my class, shows off his Obama chocolate candy

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But wait, why was I there? As many of you know, I was laid-off from my job in May and I received a modest severance. That and some savings gave me a little breathing room and I decided to explore volunteer opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa. A friend told me about Global Volunteers (http://www.globalvolunteers.org/) which had a program in Ghana in July. After ruminating on the idea for a day or two, I decided to make the trip. I spent much of June networking and sending out resumes, and on July 3rd, headed off to Ghana - first to the capital, Accra, then on to a small community called Senchi-Ferry.

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Downtown Senchi-Ferry one evening

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Global Volunteers runs year round projects around the world, and their work in Senchi-Ferry is focused on education, construction and medical services. Our team of 19 taught in local schools, helped in building a community library, and worked in area medical clinics. We were from all over the United States (and one Canadian) and some of our group had been on numerous Global Volunteer teams before. (Jeanne was up to 17 I believe!)

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Shalom and Jeanne after an afternoon tutoring session

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After an initial orientation session with our local leader Benjamin, we were formally introduced to the community chiefs and the next day we got to work. My job was to serve in one of the local schools - Senchi Methodist - where I taught sixth grade for three weeks (more on this later).

I organized my blog entries into this first one 1) an introduction and look at the community, 2) more detail about the school where I worked, and then 3) my explorations around Ghana - mostly in markets!

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One caveat - all of my blog entries are my own photos, observations and thoughts - they do not necessarily represent the opinions of Global Volunteers or any of my team-mates.

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My students from Senchi-Ferry Methodist School and I

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Me with the local Chiefs of Senchi-Ferry at our going away party at the end of our visit

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Senchi-Ferry

Ghana is a country of about 22 million people and is roughly the size of Oregon. Its neighbors are Togo, Benin and Nigeria to the east, The Ivory Coast to the west, and Burkina Faso to the north. It is a peaceful and stable country that was the first West African nation to achieve independence from England in 1957. Although seen as an African success story in recent years, Ghana is poor with a per-capita GDP of $2,480 in 2007 compared with $41,890 per head in the United States. 57% of Ghana's adult population is literate, and life expectancy is 60 years. For comparison, the literacy rate in the United States is 99.8% and life expectancy is 79 years.

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A few gentlemen in the community grab a lamb for me to photograph - yum!

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I was told that the conditions in Senchi-Ferry were average to slightly below average for Ghana, and that most of the residents were employed in subsistence farming as the primary source of their livelihood. They raise corn and cassava, gather snails and fruit in the jungle and raise goats and chickens around their homes. There is piped water in the community, and some homes have electricity, but very few. The school where I worked has no electricity, running water, or even walls - the classrooms were open to the outside.

Animals wander freely in Senchi, sometimes into class, but apparently at night they always go home - like house-cats. Some residents find work selling things at the market in nearly Akosombo, and some also work in local banana and pineapple plantations (owned by foreign interests and produced for export).

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Goats and chickens everywhere!

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Corn growing near Senchi

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Even though most Ghanaians are of modest means, I found the people to be friendly, welcoming, and overwhelmingly generous. It was truly eye-opening to meet people with so little, yet so intent on sharing what they did have with me.

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A woman in Senchi prepares Banku - a white yam that is a local staple

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We all walked from our guest house to our various work-sites each morning and passed through the community. I tried to learn as much of the local language (Twi) as I could. Even though almost all Ghanaians speak English, a little local language goes a long way and I was able to make many friends!

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Desmond greets me on my way back to the guest house where we stayed

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The Banana Plantation

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Organic Bananas protected from bugs with blue plastic

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The Pineapple Plantation

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Pineapples!

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Many structures in Senchi was constructed of earth bricks - this is a kitchen

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A commercial building being built in a traditional manner - earth bricks

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Another view of a local street

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A home we visited one afternoon

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A girl in Senchi selling her catch - a plate full of big snails!

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Close up of local snails

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The Eye Clinic in Senchi

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Our team, accompanied by many of our students, pay a visit to a local home

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One of my student's courtyard (Caleb) - main house, apartment, kitchen

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Caleb helps his grandmother make Fu Fu - a mash of yam, plantain and/or corn - that is a local staple

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Caleb cleans the kitchen

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Caleb poses proudly in front of his wash-room

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Two neighborhood kids play on the only piece of equipment at the school

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There were lizards everywhere in Senchi - this one was at least 10 inches long

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Another, small orange guy

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Emily, Benjamin and Samuel at the Library - one of the projects our team helped with

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Some local guys play checkers in the community common

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This guy was relaxing on a sand pile and I told him to hold up his cutlass and look tough...

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The main road in Senchi leads down to the Volta River, where there used to be a ferry about 40 years ago

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Down at the river's edge, a small Tilapia farm

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Down by the river, a burned out church awaits rebuilding - it has been waiting for decades

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Anne, Benjamin and Shirley pose after one of our afternoon tutoring sessions

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A couple of friends pose on their porch. I asked them what was for dinner and took a closer look.

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Now, before you freak out, know that many residents of Senchi would find our love of Pork distasteful - many consider pigs unclean. In Ghana, many rodents are a delicacy

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The local diet is consists mostly of corn, yam, plantains, and a little meat. This treat was captured earlier that day over by the Banana Plantation

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Moses, Caleb and Alfred take a break during our regular afternoon tutoring sessions

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I hope you enjoyed your haphazard tour of Senchi-Ferry, next time I will share more about my teaching in Senchi-Ferry!

Posted by BryanG 13:45 Archived in Ghana Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

The Inauguration of Barack Obama

T-minus one day

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Me in front of the swearing in location on Martin Luther King Day

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Well, the city is filling up with well dressed people and the skies are buzzing with helicopters, but the crowds have yet to become impossible. Hilary and I took a long walk on the Mall today to check out the place where the big concert took place yesterday and scope out the set up for the formal swearing in that takes place tomorrow. We decided to host a brunch at my place for 20 instead of heading down to the mall on Inauguration Day - I gave up two tickets in favor of a warm apartment, big TV, and no lines for the bathroom - but still wanted to check out the buzz downtown.

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Hilary in front of the Lincoln Memorial - where Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Obama and 450,000 spectators were yesterday. Note the reflecting pool is frozen!

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I was fascinated by the sheer number of porta-potties set up on the mall - there are literally THOUSANDS lining both sides!

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MSNBC was playing on the big video screens up and down the Mall today - note George and Laura waving good bye!

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Although there were no formal events on the Mall today, there were thousands of people gathered. There were small performances here and there - like this one by a boys choir from Kenya.

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The Smithsonian Institution main building, nicely framed by some of the ubiquitous porta-potties...

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The entrance to the exclusive portable studio MSNBC has set up right on the Mall

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Another shot of MSNBC's indoor, heated studio - where all of you will be tuned into tomorrow!

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Not everyone is ready to move on and focus on the future rather than the past!

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The West Front of the United States Capitol Building where tomorrow, in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the President Elect will be sworn in at 12:00 Noon.

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Have a GREAT day everyone!

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(update - the BIG day - January 20th)

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George W. Bush's helicopter flies past the Washington Monument on its way back to Texas after the Inauguration of Barack Obama - Bush's LAST flight

Posted by BryanG 15:01 Archived in USA Tagged events Comments (4)

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