A Taste Of Japan – Unusual Ways Not To Break The Budget

Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan

A shout stopped me halfway along the street. Behind me, on his bike, was the concierge from the ryokan; he had pedalled after me, worried I would get lost.

With family in tow, I was following his suggestions for breakfast. Considering the language barrier, he’d given remarkably precise directions, complete with a hand-drawn map ­– yet still he worried we might lose our way, and kept weaving his way behind us until we reached the restaurant safely. Then, with a smile and wave, he rode away, if not quite into the sunset, at least to be swallowed by the crowds.

Along with the map, the concierge had also written some suggestions ­– in Japanese – which I handed to the waitress. With a bow she led the four of us over to the ubiquitous vending machine and pressed a selection of buttons. Out came not a meal, but brass-coloured tokens. The waitress ushered us to our chairs with another bow, then disappeared into the kitchen with the tokens. Soon the meals appeared, steaming bowls with variations of noodles and vegetables – and mine with a raw egg cracked on top. I always seemed to get the meal with the raw egg – but then, there is little I won’t eat, at least once.

A restaurant in Koyasan, Japan
A restaurant in Koyasan, Japan

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In the Footsteps of St Francis

Both St Francis and his horse had their heads bowed. The metal of the statue felt cool beneath my hand. In the square below tourists arrived by the busload outside the Basilica Of St Francis, and the Franciscan friars charged with guiding the tours struggled to keep their herds together.

The grass around me shivered. Although St Francis was hearing the voice of God telling him to leave the Saracen war and return home, the sculpture could easily reflect the saint’s thoughts on seeing the chaos below him, so far removed from the Franciscan ideal.

I turned my back on the Basilica and headed uphill. Despite the crowds below me, the streets proved remarkably empty. With the town perched so high above the valley, every road winds uphill, and every turn offers a vista over terracotta rooftops to a countryside so classically beautiful as to be breathtaking. In the narrow alleyways where geraniums tumbled from the stone houses, the chaos fell away and the words of St Francis become tangible: pax et bonum, peace and goodwill.

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A Walk Through The Île St Louis, Paris

Paris
The tree lined quai of the Île St Louis
The tree lined quai of the Île St Louis

Every day I ventured down to a little supermarket on the Île St Louis. I never left empty-handed: a smoked chicken, some quail, or perhaps some cheese; yoghurt in its own ceramic pot, a bottle of red. Consisting of two aisles barely wide enough for two people to pass the place could hardly be classified as a supermarket, yet it was not a corner store, for in that small shop lay a wealth of offerings to put any supermarket to shame. The shop was simply the essence of the Île St Louis.

Paris is a city for walking. After visiting Notre Dame – and the delightful playground in the square Jean XXIII just behind the cathedral – stroll over the Pont St-Louis to the Île St Louis. (First take a brief detour to see the love-locks decorating the Pont de l’Archevêché. They keep returning, no matter how often the council removes them.) Once a swamp, the Île St Louis is now Paris’ most desired address. Known by the rest of Paris as ‘Louisiens’, many of the inhabitants rarely leave the island, not even to shop or do their banking. More ancient than the rest of Paris, many believe the island to be haunted – plus it boasts Paris’ best sorbet.

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Saigon: In The Footsteps Of Graham Greene

 

Saigon

 

Having spent a few years living in Saigon, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is in many ways his homage to this vibrant city.

Despite a somber tone coloured by the knowledge of what is to come, Greene’s love of Saigon and her people shines throughout the novel. Continue Reading →

The Dragon Of Halong

DSC_0757Dawn had barely touched the sky. I stood in the silence, trying to decide where the dragon had plunged into the sea. My boat drifted past islands and craggy cliffs born when the dragon of the gods, after gouging the mountains with his tail, plummeted into the sea. The foaming waves then rushed in to flood the devastation, creating Halong Bay.

Now these islands with their impossible peaks swim in a sea of emerald. Later that day I would find a floating village (complete with a school and a bar) hidden among the 3000 islands (or maybe 1500 islands, depending upon your sources). Elsewhere there are forgotten grottos, or islands with names such as The Two Hens or Tea Pot Island.

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The Day Of The Triffids – John Wyndham

writing pictures0003When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere. I felt that from the moment I woke… The way I came to miss the end of the world-well, the end of the world I had known for close on thirty years-was sheer accident: like a lot of survival, when you come to think of it.

From the opening sentence the reader knows they have entered a world which has quite literally changed overnight. Like other great dystopian novels such as 1984, this is not an alien world but our own, so familiar yet different, and it is this contrast which is so important to the effectiveness of the The Day Of The Triffids.

John Wyndham (John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris) published The Day Of The Triffids in 1951 to critical acclaim. A post-apocalyptic novel, it follows the rapid disintegration of society following a world-wide meteor shower which blinded all who saw it. With most of mankind now sightless, the world falls rapidly into decay, hastened by a subsequent unknown plague which rapidly kills those who are infected. All the while there is the ever lurking presence of the triffids, carnivorous plants with the ability to move, to kill – and to learn. Continue Reading →