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Page history last edited by Phil Baraona 14 years, 9 months ago

Saturday, Oct 10

Today was a day for “hiking” in the hills around Nara. After breakfast at the ryokan (side note: breakfasts here have been very “Americanized.” Scrambled eggs. Forks instead of chopsticks. Nothing pickled in site.), we took the train to the Tenoji stop. After walking through a large covered arcade with all the usual kinds of shops, we began our “hike.” The first stop was a temple/shrine that was the headquarters for some new-ish sect of Buddhism (or the Shinto faith – is it horrible that I don’t know the difference?). Interesting enough, but I remain somewhat “templed out” after seeing so many yesterday.

Outside the temple, David brought some fresh fruit for everyone in the group to try: a ripe banana and a persimmon. This was the first time I had tried persimmon and it was fairly tasty. At this point, David and Eric decided it would be best to let the group split up so everyone could explore the area in their own way. We would all meet back at the ryokan for dinner at 8pm.

I ended up in a group with Mike L and Greg. We stopped for a snack before hitting the “trail.” I keep putting words like “hike” and “trail” in quotes because what we did today was closer to a walk through town than it was to a hike in the woods. Almost entirely paved roads/paths and we were never further than a quarter mile from some building or another.

I don’t mean to make this sound unenjoyable – it was actually extremely nice. At places, we climbed a short way up some hills and had nice views of the valley below. We went past several temples and shrines, but didn’t explore them too much due to the “templed out” problem mentioned above. There were several quaint little villages along the way that were really interesting to meander through. You could stop to buy fruit (mostly persimmons), ice cream and other food at various food stands along the way. Judging by the number of people we saw (almost all of them Japanese), this appears to be a very popular walk.

All of that was very nice, but my favorite part was walking through the crops that we passed along the way, especially the rice patties. Before this trip, I don’t think I had ever seen rice growing up close like this and it was interesting to do so. Our host at the first temple yesterday had actually shown us how to get the rice out of a plant from a field we passed on the way to the temple. This is the end of the growing season so some of patties had already been harvested and what remains was full-grown. The plants themselves kind of look like wheat and I took some pictures to capture what I saw.

We didn’t get completely through the route that had been laid out but, after four hours or so, we decided that we had seen enough and headed back to the train a few stops away from where we had started. We went into the center of Nara for a late lunch at Trattoria Piano – an Italian place just inside one of the shopping arcades. Decent enough food and, quite honestly, it was nice to have a little break from Japanese fare.

We spent the rest of the afternoon meandering through the streets of Nara, stopping to buy a few souvenirs along the way. When we got back to the ryokan, Robert had purchased two bottles of plum wine that he was sharing with the group. Tasty enough and a good way to transition into the evening. Dinner was at a Japanese place (surprise, surprise) across the street from the ryokan. To simplify matters, David and Eric had pre-ordered our meal. They certainly ordered more than enough. Just when we were feeling as if we couldn’t possibly eat another bite, more food would arrive. And we would eat it (especially Greg who seemed to take it as a personal challenge to finish everything brought to the table). Then more food would arrive. Finally, we just had to take most of the last wave of tempura back to the ryokan with us.

Since Samir is heading back to Boston tomorrow, David and Eric used this dinner as an opportunity for a “trip wrap-up” discussion. We went around the table and everyone described what they liked and what they might change about this trip. I think it’s safe to say everyone had a great time. Although some suggested a few minor tweaks, the response was overwhelmingly positive. From the sites we saw to how well the group got along to the transportation/lodging logistics, everyone seemed to feel the trip was really well done. And I agree. But it’s not over for me since I have a few more days in Tokyo after the rest of the group departs on Monday. Should be nice. I capped the evening off by having a beer at the ryokan bar with Mike L and Greg.

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