Monday, November 14, 2022

A bird encounter in Tokyo

I had a stroll by the bank of the Sumida River (the biggest river in Tokyo) just around the nightfall. I was walking over the bridge by the old fish market (now turned to a building site) when I stopped to look at the skyline. 

Then I spotted this big gray bird quietly standing still on a concrete slab. If you look carefully at the red markers in the picture, just in the middle of the middle row, you'll see the bird. I think it's a blue heron but could also be a crane, I always mix them up. 

In any case, the bird reminded me something like Japanese wood garvings or ink paintings where they stand motionless before catching their prey. I later saw two of them flying by over the skyline of Tokyo skyscrapers, it was pretty and impressive!

A "goofy" thing is that the water in the picture looks totally smooth. When walking, at one point I realised that there was some commotion and waves. Later I heard that there had been an earthquick around that time. I did't feel anything, but maybe that was it!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The flower that looks like a spout of a watering can

My travels this year have been characterised by the late blossom, there is been something of a "oh, I wish I had come ealier"-feeling. In the Azores, we were getting only a hew of their blue blossom
So today in Tokyo, I was wondering about the plants that were crowding the pond (Shinobazu pond in Ueno park). The remains of the flower look like a strainer, or a spout, of a watering can, you know the type?

It turns out that they are Lotus Flowers - or what's left of them. All what we saw was a thick mattres of green round leaves, with a diameter of some half a meter (so really big), floating above the surface of the water. 

Impressively, the "strainers of a watering can" were sticking out, sometimes some 50cm above the water. It appears that what looks like a "strainer" is actually a seed head of a lotus, thier pods. That's pretty cool to learn!!

The picture below is how it looks when flowers are in blossom. The pond has apparently been an inspiration for many pieces of art, like the wood garving from 1866 (that's why no highrisers appear in the pic!).

Friday, October 21, 2022

Sabbatical - remarks on hostels (traveling in the Azores)

After having toured a month in the Azores, my observation is that there seems to be quite a boom to create tourist accomodations. When walking around, you see little signes of "AL" on the houses which stands for Accomodation Local. 

Many are hostels or bed&breakfasts, but interestingly, they seem to gater to people with a bit more money and with many more demands than your average young backpackers. We stayed in quite a few, the best ones listed below (ordered by our dates, nothing else!):

In our rooms, we had a private bathroom, towels, etc. just like in a hotel. The bed linens were also of a very nice quality (much appreciated by me!!). And additionally, we were able to use a shared kitchen (a pic of Matt cooking at Mantaray Lodge while I'm chilling with a glas of wine :). There often were also laundry facilities which made travelling for a longer period of time very convenient.

We really liked these places! Maybe one factor was that we travelled outside of the main season, so fewer folks, but we also liked bumping into other travellers  in a very low-key way and share hints. 

Interetingly, many of these places were paying attention to their environmental engagement, for example, not promoting bottled water, making guests to recycle, and some even said to use environmentally friendly cleaning products. 

Hmm, a little remark about cleaning products. A smell that you cannot avoid in the Azores is bleach, there seems to be a serious overuse culture among the cleaning personel. You cannot avoid it when entering any type of accomodation from hotels to rural houses (sure it might account for enviromental damage of micro-cultures....).

And on top of bleach, there are often various notes of cockroach repellent, yack, with hues of humidity&mold. With such warm and humid year around temperature, there surely are many issues around. This is a hidden secret of Azores that one cannot read in travel guides ;)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Sabbatical - wine remarks from traveling in the Azores

Our travel started at the island of Pico which is the main wine producing island in Azores. Because of its unique volcanic land and hardly any humus to grow on, very early on after the island was settled the wine growing started (origins date back to the 15th century).

The vineyards look like nothing I've seen before. The plants grow in little corrals of maybe 5-10 m wide (locally called currais). They grow low, their brances are not supported and the grapes are small. There are 3 main varieties, all of them whites.

The volcanic rock (basalt) walls separate them from one another, there is some 80 000 km of stone walls on the island. Once you see it you believe it, they are really everywhere!!

The walls were built to protect the thousands of small, contiguous, rectangular plots (currais) from wind and seawater.

The quote is from Unesco's website as the vineyards are protected world heritage sites as an outstanding example of the adaptation of farming practices to a remote and challenging environment. I love how the humans can be innovative :) The picture shows a path going through one of the most famous vineyards around the village of Criação Velha

On Pico, there seems to be many small winemakers (this is of course a new phenomena), a few of which we got to taste, and two big ones: Azores Co-op and Azores Wine company. The co-op includes more than 250 small producers, whereas the latter is a bit more fancy.

As it happens, I got to taste some of the local goodies :) I don't have any tasting notes and I list below the bottles I was able to get my hands on. Only so few? you might say! The rarer ones were not readily available and many of them were quite expensive, even 20-30e at the store.

Azores Wine company, Pico:

Azores Co-op, Pico:

Whites from other producers:

Reds were nothing to write home about, sorry Azores!! Actually in many restaurants they had reds from the mainland, many from Alentejo, Dao, Douro.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Sabbatical - boots made for walking (traveling in the Azores)

After the Pico hike, and a few other small ones, I felt less motivated to do another hike at San Miguel, the last island I visited. There was no big urge, besides, my hiking boots got totally worn out after Pico. A good thing they took me up and back with no problem!! 

After summiting the the “Piquinho” (a small 70m volcanic cone), we took a break and I noticed that the sole was breaking up a bit. By the time we got down, the bottom layer of the sole was completely loose, but luckily, still hanging on from the front and the heel (see the one on my right hand). I was still able to wear them to the airport, but eventually, in one of the shoes, the sole broke off and was dragging badly.

On Terceira we did one more hike and I applied this ingenious hack to fix my shoe using shoe laces. Well, it didn't last very long, but long enough to enjoy a wet hike in awesomely strange green boggy marsh lands just outside Gruta do Natal

When a gobbler told me that he cannot fix them (because he does not have the right materials), my heart broke a bit. So the picture below is from the officially last hike with these well loved hiking shoes.  

I was sure I could try to clue them myself (with my expert knowledge of shoe making, por supuesto ;)) However, a dear friend had a word of wisdom and she convinced me that a new pair would be safer for my future hikes. After all, I don’t want to miss a summit because of a broken boot!!

So, with a bit of a heavy heart, I said good bye to my fidel companions of 13 years. They’ve taken me up Kilimanjaro (2009), Mulhacen (2016), Teide (2019) and countless other hikes. I bought them at Landers, Wyoming on a recommendation from Skipp's wife Diana. She had the same ones and she said, you'd love them. And I did, thank you for that!!

I already decided that I’m going to buy new ones from the same brand, I loved hiking in those boots. They were just right: the sole had good fraction so you didn’t have to worry about slipping or sliding. The soles are also thick and ridge enough so that you don’t feel any rocks or roots, and get a conformable gate on whatever surface. They were also the right size for hiking, I had enough toe room and in downhill, I never got black toenails. I hope my new Vasques boots will last me at least 13 years, if not even longer!!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Sabbatical - remarks from traveling in the Azores

Starting Day 10 in the Azores with a beautiful view on the Pico mountain, its silhouette is as bold as ever  with the little lava cone sticking up on the top - like a cherry decorating a cake.

It looks really harmless but the climb was excruciating, some 1150 m vertical climb in 3.8 km. It was a non-stop ascent and which is worst, non-stop decsent. My quads are still aching after tree days - pretty unheard of. I spent 3h10min going up and 3h20min coming down. 

At the end of the trail, we could already feel the weather changing and so it did, the tropical storm Guston made its way to the Pico island and the following day we got trenched. Which was not that bad for a day of rest and celebrating my birthday!



Sunday, June 21, 2020

Jumissa kotona: Sevilla päivä 99

Tänään kotona ollaan jumissa korkean lämpötilan takia: ennusteen mukaan 39 astetta klo kuudelta illalla. UV varoitus: 10. Omassa mittarissa ulkolämpötila on 36.6 astetta (sisä 28 :/).

Muuten päivää juhlistetaan tietysti juhannuksen takia, tänään on vuoden pisin päivä - täälläkin (päivän pituus: 14:44:32). Niin, ja ensimmäiset lennot saapuivat Sevillan lentokentälle aamulla sitten kolmeen kuukauteen.

Todellinen juhlahan on se, että poikkeustila on tänään loppunut. Se kesti 98 päivää, kaikkiaan  2351 tuntia. What a ride.

En ole koskaan varmaan syönyt niin paljon kotiruokaa päivittäin ja istunut Masan kanssa pöytään lounaalle sekä illalliselle. Siitä on myös todella pitkä aika, että en olisi matkustanut yli neljään kuukauteen esim. lentokoneella jonnekin (viimeinen lento 5.2.).

Poikkeustilan purku on ollut myös omansa. Eilen olimme terassilla tapaksella, pöytiä oli kaksi katukivetyksellä. Naureskelimme tarjoilijalle, joka toi lautasta pöytään maski leuanalla roikkuen ja pidellen juuri kiinni veitsen ja haarukan kahvoista, ennenkun tumppasi ne suoraan pihvin päälle kastikkeeseen (tapas: lomo al whiskey, jos mietititytti).

Aika näyttää, mitkä hygieniatoimet purevat. Yksi on tietysti, että varotoimia on pistetty voimaan, mutta toinen on, että miten hyvin ihmiset niitä osaavat ja voivat noudattaa!

ps. In Spain as a whole, there were 46,089 excess deaths over the period, a 38.8% increase from the expected number, based on historical trends (el Pais).