Thursday, November 30, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thatched cottages and Autumn colours

After a brief trip to an English cottage via the blogosphere we're back in Japan to look at thatched cottages Nihon style. For the final part of our trip to Northern Japan we visited Takayama, a lovely town tucked away in the mountains. Traditionally, houses in this area were built with thatched roofs made to withstand the heavy snowfalls in the winter. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful houses were destroyed in the 1960's to make way for a dam, however a small number were taken apart and rebuilt at the Hida Folk Village (a bit like the Ulster American Folk Park!) just outside Takayama. There you'll be able have a peak inside 19 of these houses that are beautifully maintained and give you a glimpse of the way life was in rural Japan up until the mid 20th century. I particularly enjoyed looking at the marvellous array of sleighs they used to nip around in, they looked great craic. We visited the valley in the early morning to avoid the onslaught of Japanese tour guides, who always seem to wield large megaphones and umbrellas to keep their groups in tow. Visiting at this time was a wise idea as a lovely soft mist enveloped the area and showed the Autumn leaves in all their splendour. I'll leave the pictures to do the rest of the talking.

The red, golds and yellows of the trees were really breathtaking and everything seemed so calm, bright and peaceful.

Finally, a rare picture of us to prove that Martin and I really do live in Japan and that we really do visit all these places.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Goodbye little house

After many months, sleepless nights and a few tears too we have finally sold our little cottage and the new owner moved in on Monday. Although we are really happy to have sold it we are a little sad too as it was our first house, the house we lived in when we got married and we have many, many fond memories of it. Even though Martin was away most of the week working in Germany I never felt lonely living there and I always felt that the house had a really happy feel to it. We spent a lot of time decorating our home and to our friends we became known as the DIY King and Queen, as a result we often had many a stand up row in Homebase over "Farrow & Ball" paint colours and other such frivolities. Like the incident in Homebase where I failed to understand why we couldn't just fix a floating shelf to the stud wall in our kitchen to hold a ton of cookery books.

Here are some pictures of no.95 and a few of our memories to share, I hope you enjoy them.

When I looked at the picture above I had a really good laugh remembering the day we bought the enamel jug you can see on the worktop. Whilst on holiday in Cornwall we decided to hire some bikes and cycle fron Wadebridge to Padstow, which is only a 12 mile round trip and very pleasant. Unfortunately, I was not the accomplished cyclist then that I am now and we had a few hairy moments along the way. At one point I heard a surge of cyclists coming behind me and looked back to see how many there were and whether I should pull in. I needn't have bothered as my looking back caused me to swerve and I ended up in a heap in the ditch. Up front Martin heard a scream and looked behind to see me laughing my head off with a bicycle lying on top of me.

We got to Padstow at lunch time and as we were a little tired we decided to take a seat on a park bench and admire the view of the harbour. After our rest we got up, walked around the village, did some shopping (where I bought the big enamel jug) and stopped for a Cornish pastie. In hindsight Martin remembered a group of people laughing at me but he thought nothing of at the time. It's a really pretty little place so Martin decided to take a picture of me in front of the harbour. Here is the picture.

After this picture was taken I turned around and Martin told me that there were big brown horizontal stripes on the back of my top. I checked Martin and he also had the same brown stripes on the back of his top. We'd sat on a freshly painted park bench! I swear we nearly wet ourselves laughing.

It turns out that the painters had gone off for lunch and conveniently forgot to put up a sign. We tied our tops around our waists and got ready to cycle home but the jug wouldn't fit in Martin's backpack so we had to tie it to the straps. I will never forget the sight of Martin cycling all the way back to Wadebridge with this huge enamel milk jug swinging from side to side.

We spent lots and lots of time painting our house and as you can see from the pictures every room had exposed studwork. (In my ignorance of listed buildings when we first viewed the house I asked the owners if they did the studwork themselves and I was met with very strange looks. Oops.) I think we kept the masking tape industry in business for that year alone. On average we used six rolls of masking tape in each room. I'm amazed Martin and his Dad didn't break their necks when they redid the hallway - it was masking tape hell!

Our first and only Christmas there was a very happy and cosy one. As I came down the stairs on Christmas morning I heard the crackle of the fire, smelt the turkey in the oven and smiled at the twinkle of the fairy lights in the dining room. All this excitement caused me to miss the last three steps of the stairs so I slid down them hurting my bum really, really badly. Martin had to help me to the sofa where I spent the rest of the morning reading while Martin cooked the dinner. (All wives out there this is an excellent idea to get out of cooking on Christmas day - the bum was fine by the end of the day.)

I can't believe we ate that much food, Martin has just looked at this and said "that was some feed". I think it is impossible to cook a Christmas dinner just for two and we were eating turkey and ham for weeks. Seriously, we were. However, we would really appreciate a slice of ham like that now.

Since our house was so small every piece of furniture we bought had to be measured exactly right. We had been on the hunt for a pair of leather armchairs for the living room for a long time and I found some on the internet that looked and sounded like they would have fitted perfectly. They arrived... and they were huge, the internet had given the wrong measurements and since they couldn't be returned that day we had to live with them for two months until they could be sent back. They were so big they actually cast a shadow all over the room and sucked all the light out of it. Of course if they were scratched or marked we wouldn't get our money back so I spent the next two months living in fear anytime anyone sat down on them. Fortunately, we found the ones shown above and they were perfect for sitting and reading a paper on.

During our 18 months there we had lots of weekend guests who came to sleep in our little spare bedroom with the "not quite double but not quite single either" bed, it was 4ft wide. I always enjoyed the fondue nights with Stuart and Marianne, lazy Sunday mornings with Anne and Paul and lots of Balderdash with Steve and Louisa. Jimmy, I'm sure you remember the time Martin spent all afternoon cutting and measuring the end panel for the kitchen cupboard only for it to be cut way too short! Boy, did we laugh, unfortunately Martin was not so amused.

I know it might sound cliched but it is all these wonderful memories and experiences that make a house a home.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the road again

Following a few days of sightseeing around Hiroshima we packed up the car and headed north towards the Japanese Alps. 450 miles and a gazillion tunnels later we arrived in Kanazawa. The top sights to see in Kanazawa are the Kenrokuen gardens (one of the top three in Japan), the castle and the old Geisha and Samurai districts. Kanazawa is a really beautiful, cosmopolitan city and I wish we had more time to spend there, it actually felt really European with lots of lovely little boutiques, museums and coffee houses to wile away the hours in.

One of the best things about Kanazawa was visiting the Ninja Temple,it's the only one of its kind in Japan and from the outside looks like an ordinary temple, but lurking inside were secret hiding places for the guards and a donation box which also functioned as a pit trap. It was so cool and well worth the guided tour even though it was in Japanese. It actually has nothing to do with Ninjas and more to do with Samurais but so called "Ninja" because of all its tricks. Those Samurais were really sneaky, they managed to build all these nifty little tunnels, concealed doors and even hid an entire fourth floor inside the temple. When you go down the stairs you can even see the secret space where guards with long, menacing spears waited to jab the legs of intruders through the paper screens between the steps. On the fourth floor was the suicide room where the Lord would disembowel himself if the temple was overun by enemies, once you shut the door it could not be opened from the inside so I guess your time was really up.

Four is a very unlucky number in Japan as it is very similar to the Japanese word for death. Hence the suicide room on the fourth floor consisting of four tatami mats. Many hotels in Japan even skip out the number four in their rooms. As luck would have it Martin and I live on the fourth floor of our apartment block, there are two apartments on each floor and the one next to ours was empty for the last year - I wonder why?! Anyway, armed with the luck of the Irish and a bottle of holy water we've always been very happy in apartment 401.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The McCloskey's in Japan

As Therese mentioned, Mum and Dad came to visit us in Japan. After a mammoth plane journey via London and Dubai they were tired and jet lagged, but soon recovered to enjoy two weeks of sightseeing across Japan. First up were the "must see" sights of Hiroshima, namely the Peace Memorial Park, the old town of Takehara and Miyajima Island, home of the famous Torii gate.

We also visited our favourite noodle shop in Takehara, home of the famous soba noodles served on a hot roof tile (previously featured on this and other blogs!). Mum and Dad bravely tried all the Japanese cuisine we encountered on the holiday but I don't think either sashimi, sushi or tofu will be making it on to the menu in Limavady.

Takehara is a lovely little place to go for lunch and wander around the streets popping into all the little craft and antique shops.

After a few days in Hiroshima we then set off on our road trip to the Japanese Alps.

Long time, no blog...

Dear Readers,
In case you were wondering where we've been over the past few weeks Martin's parents came to visit so we've been really busy entertaining, eating out and taking in all that Japan has to offer. We have lots of lovely pictures to post so instead of doing one marathon blog we'll be posting lots of mini blogs over the next few days.

Speaking of marathons, Martin and I ran the Hiroshima Peace Marathon last week. Before you fall to the ground in shock it is a marathon in name only, Martin ran the 10km and I ran the 5km. It may not be 26 miles but considering that this time last year we couldn't run the length of ourselves I think we did well. In case you are interested Martin ran the 10km in 57mins and I ran the 5km in 29mins! Woo Hoo!

It is good to be back and I apologise to our faithful readers who have been checking regularly for updates and are probably fed up looking at that picture of me and the green bullet.
Love T,xx

Ps. I hope you enjoy the pictures, we saw some beautiful sights while we were away.