December 7, 2015

Macbeth  Macbeth

I must admit I was genuinely looking forward to the latest movie production of Macbeth staring the amazing Michael Fassbender and the alluring Marion Gotillard.  The previews set the expectations high especially for such a classic play.  On the upside, the script was updated and streamlined which resulted in a nice smooth flow.  The momentum was crisp, the cinematography stunning.

On the down side, the musical score droned on and on, on top of the heavy Scottish accented Elizabethan dialog for the entire production making it quite difficult to hear or understand what was being said.

The battle scenes were incredible and haunting but brutally difficult to watch.  I could not tell who was who in the misty fog, but it was obvious battles of the era were unbelievably horrific.  It was painful to watch and I came away from the viewing depressed and disappointed.

Note:  I seem to be in the minority on my perspective as most of the critics are heaping enormous praise on this movie.  I regard myself as a big Shakespeare fan and have been since my 20s.  This one just didn’t work for me.  I’ll be very interested in your point of view if you decide to see this movie.

Rating 2 GlobesCreed


Up front, I have not been a fan of the “Rocky” franchise or Mr. Stallone and I waffled about seeing this film.  Just not my cup of tea.  But I heard good things about this boxing movie and decided to see it.  I’m glad we did.

Director Ryan Coogler put together a great production and excellent actors, most notably Sylvester Stallone from the Rocky franchise and Michael B Jordan from the excellent Fruitvale movie.

The story follows Jordan from a troubled young  man, jumping to his frustration as a young business professional, to his struggle to find fulfillment as a professional boxer when he discovers his real father was the famous boxer Apollo Creed (Rocky Balboa’s nemesis).  Stallone eventually becomes the coach and a major boxing event the climax of the movie.

Why this works is Stallone delivers one of the best performance of his career.  He is joined by the incredibly talented Michael B Jordan and a great script that blend in just the right amount of passion and conflict.  Bonus points for Phylicia Rashad’s cameo.

Rating 3 GlobesThe Wonders

The Wonders

This was an interesting movie.  It is set in a poor isolated area of Tuscany on a ramshackle farm where the production of honey is the only source of income.  The father is tough as nails with pangs of tenderness.  The wife, frustrated, resilient and tender.  Four unruly daughters, Gelsomina, the eldest 12 year old is charged with saving the family farm.  A young boy, a foster child, appears as extra help and income from the state.

Despite the challenges, there are spontaneous moments of joy and laughter from simple activities like a family outing to a swimming spot.  There is suddenly hope when a theatrical group hosting a competition for the best artisan products and the chance to win some money comes to town.

Everything changes when the foster child runs away, there is an accident with one of the children and the honey processing floods the barn…

I wanted to find something ‘wonder’ful here but instead it was awkward, uncomfortable, bordering on annoying.  The critics loved it.  I just cannot agree.

Italian and German with English Subtitles

Rating: 1 GlobeThe Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur

Pixar/Disney delivers a stunning animated film with delightful twists and turns with extraordinary attention to detail and just the right balance humor and action.  Prehistoric dinosaurs as farmers, humans as canines,  T-rex as cattlemen. Sounds goofy, and it was.  I laughed, I cried, I loved every moment.  Apparently so did the audience, age 3 to 83.

It is not as sophisticated as “UP” or “Inside Out” but it is every bit as rewarding.  There are ups and downs, and joy and sorrow, brilliantly woven together to a heartwarming finale.

Rating: 4 globes.

One Dozen of our favorite hotels around the world.

Note: Prices are approximate and vary on demand and accommodation selection.


Hotel Due Torri
Hotel Due Torri

We discovered this charming little hotel several years ago and fell in love with it.  It is on a little tiny one lane street in the center of old Rome within walking distance of most of Rome’s must see sites.  The rooms are compact but very serviceable with free Wi-Fi and a hearty breakfast included.  There are a handful of rooms with small balconies overlooking the rooftops of the neighborhood.

The owner and manager speak very good English and are very helpful recommending lots of local restaurants and shopping in the immediate area.  In fact, we enjoyed our last stay so much we have reservations for several days next year.  Reviews rank 3.9 of 5 stars.  Rates: 80 to 330 Euros.

Website: Hotel Due Torri

Beryl Country House, Wells, United KingdomBeryl Country House

This delightful house was built in 1842 and has been fully restored and updated with comfortable furnishing and antiques.  It sits on 13 acres of parkland including a walled Victorian garden.  There is also a pool opened from May to September depending on the weather.  There are 14 rooms to choose from, each with its own character.

Breakfast at Beryl is a traditional English breakfast with a menu of choices.  While dinner is not served, the hotel has a variety of suggested dinner options a short drive away.

Wells is famous for its Cathedral, its charming town and close proximity to other places of interest.  We suggest 2 or 3 nights in conjunction with other destination in the Somerset region.  Reviews rank 4 of 5 stars.  Rates 110 to 160 Euros.

Website: Beryl Country House

Courtyard Budapest City Center, Budapest, HungaryBudapest City Center

We just discovered this hotel this summer for 4 nights before boarding a river cruise to the Black Sea.  You might think it odd to recommend a Marriott property for a visit to an ancient capital, but this is a sleek, modern full service hotel with nice everything and it was surprisingly affordable for the quality.

It is in the center of Budapest making it well positioned for sightseeing.  Trams, buses and subway are all out the front door.  Rooms are generous in size, floor to ceiling glass, some rooms have balconies.  Other rooms face a large light well so bear that in mind when making reservations.  Reviews rank 5 of 5 stars.  Rates 90 to 184 Euros.

Website: Courtyard Budapest City Center

Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, PeruHotel Monasterio

Located next to the Cusco’s central square this hotel as you might guess, started as a monastery in 1592.  Make no mistake, this property was completely renovated into a luxury hotel boasting two restaurants, and a spa.  The 122 rooms and suites are both ancient and modern situated around the original courtyard.

It is in the Center of Cusco, a perfect location from which to explore this amazing colonial city before or after a visit to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.  It is a bit pricy but worth the splurge.  Note: some rooms come with extra oxygen pumped in.  The local coca tea also works well.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates $345 to $1200. USD.

Website: Belmond Hotel Monasterio

Park Hyatt Sydney, New South Wales, AustraliaPark-Hyatt-Sydney_jpg

I still remember our arrival to this hotel.  After a painfully long flight in coach (we were relatively novice travelers then), followed by a long ride from the airport to central Sydney, we checked in, made our way to our room, pulled back the drapes and wham, there was the Opera House in all its glory.  It consumes the entire field of vision.  It turns out the Park Hyatt is in a dynamite location directly across the harbor from the famous Opera House.

Located in the lively “Rocks” neighborhood, with its restaurants and shopping, directly adjacent to central Sydney.  This is a world class luxury property with oversized rooms, fine dining, rooftop pool, spa and free Wi-Fi.  As you might suspect, it is also pricy, but considering the journey to get there, what a great way to get oriented and rejuvenated.  Reviews rank 4.6 of 5 stars.  Rates $500 to $2200 USD.

Website: Park Hyatt Sydney

Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S., MexicoLos Cabos Westin

This resort is nestled in it’s own private cove with stunning modern architecture.  All rooms have stunning Sea of Cortez ocean views and balconies.  The resort has a beach club, all the water sports you can imagine, a huge spa, state of the art fitness center, numerous dining options, six golf courses nearby and close to the city center of San Jose del Cabo.

All that said, this resort was damaged by last year’s hurricane Odile.  The hotel has been undergoing extensive repairs and restoration since and is scheduled to re-open July 1, 2016.  We have been twice, first at the resort and later at the adjacent timeshares which have full access to the resort but with private spa, pool and fully equipped apartment.  We will go again.  Reviews rank 4.6 of 5 stars.  Rates: $208 to $3500. USD

Website: Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos

The Aubrey, Santiago, Chileaubrey

We stumbled on this small boutique hotel last year and spent New Years 2015 there.  The Hotel consists of two historic homes that were completely restored,  upgraded and expanded.  It manages to be intimate, authentic and original at the same time.  There are three room types but all rooms are unique with ultra modern bathrooms.  Some rooms have balconies or private terraces.  There are extensive exterior decks and lounges.  There is also a pool nestled on the edge of the hill.  The property is surrounded by foliage and flowers yet there is plenty of sunshine.

There is an extensive breakfast buffet along with eggs to order.  Tapas are available from the indoor/outdoor bar in the evening.  Beverage service is available on demand anytime.  Affordable massage service is available en suite or poolside.  The service is world class and the concierge among the best.

Central Santiago and all the main sights are walkable, but there is also safe public transportation.  Taxis are very affordable.  There are dozens of dining, shopping and entertainment venues in the immediate neighborhood.  Reviews rank 5 of 5 stars.  Rates $195 to 575. USD

Website: The Aubrey

Canal House, Amsterdam, Netherlandscanalhouse

This is truly a ‘unique to Amsterdam’ hotel made up of three traditional buildings (some dating back to the 1600s) adjacent to each other and merged into a unique luxury hotel.  It faces one of the inner canals making it ideally situated for exploring the City.  It is also walkable to the Central train station.  It includes breakfast and Wi-Fi., garden, terrace.  There are 23 rooms.  The staff is multilingual and service attentive.  It is like stepping back in time but with all the modern conveniences including room service.  We cannot wait to go back.  Good reason to go now, all the major museums and sights have been recently restored.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $345 to $750.  USD

Website: Canal House

Ravenswood Hall Hotel and Restaurant, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk,  UKravenswood

We discovered this wonderful gem of a hotel as a pre-North Atlantic cruise extension.  (Great suggestion if you are sailing in or out of Harwich, England.)  The origins of the 7 acre estate, surrounded by thick English woods and flora, date back to Henry VIII.  The hotel holds a variety of rooms, a lively pub/bar and an excellent restaurant.  When weather permits, there is a large pool, and equally large sun terrace and expansive lawns.

The hotel is close to Bury St. Edmunds which is a robust town with all manner of history and activities. The bucolic Suffolk region offers easy access to seaside villages and tranquil countryside.  Two, three or four nights would do nicely. Reviews rank 4 of 5 stars.  Rates: 125 to 175. British Pounds

Website: Ravens wood Hall Hotel and Restaurant

Tenuta Di Canonica, Todi, Umbria, ItalyTanuta di canonica

We fell in love with this estate home, with roman ruins as the foundation, over a decade ago.  It was transformed into a countryside hotel just outside the hill town of Todi in the region of Umbria.  Rooms vary from simple and quaint to opulent suites.  It retains so much character of its past but offers a warm inviting vibe that fosters lingering.  Much of its history was that of a farm house, today a hotel with a wonderful chef in the kitchen for savory dinners and delectable breakfasts on one of the many terraces.

And after a long day of exploring the countryside towns and villages, an awesome pool terrace with unspeakably beautiful vistas awaits.  We especially like to visit during the wild boar and truffle seasons (early fall).  This is a fav of ours.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $173 to $250 USD

Website: Tenuta Di Canonica

Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas Resort, Port Douglas, AustraliaSheraton Port Douglas Resort

This is a large, chic, upscale resort with all the bells and whistles you might expect. Two giant saltwater pools, several bars, restaurants but only one golf course.  Choice of rooms or villas.  Pool view, garden view, ocean view.

Best of all, this is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.  One of the best in the world.  We have been here twice and we are planning another visit in the next year or two.  Tons of active options: the Reef, Daintree Rainforest, Skyrail Cableway, helicopter rides, rafting, horse riding and on and on.  For this one, it is the whole package, hotel meets activity.  No doubt the reef is tops.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $220 to $1674. USD

Website: Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas Resort

Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes, Venice, ItalyHotel La Fenice

First, it’s in central Venice, steps away from St. Marks Square!  Next door to La Fenice Opera House, where you can ease drop on tonight’s performance rehearsals in the late morning or early afternoon.  It has a wonderful restaurant with a charming garden.

The rooms vary a lot but they all have incredible silk wall fabrics and classical period furniture with high ceilings and beautiful art.  Breakfast is included, great bar, room service, concierge and free WI-Fi.  Its a bargain by Venice standards.  Did you know Venice by night is uncrowded and just as beautiful as by day?!  Don’t forget the magic of hundreds of church bells ring simultaneously. Ah Venice.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $270 to $1200. USD

Website: Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes








November 30, 2015

Hunger Games Mockingjay part 2  Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2

The long awaited fourth film from the three book series starring Jennifer Lawrence, Julianna Moore, Donald Sutherland and Josh Hutcherson gets off to a great start with a new energy and focus on the series roots, absolute power corrupts and the character Katniss is the underdog symbol of hope.

Ultimately, the story defaults to a sputtering series of misfires including mutants, fire bombs, and intelligent boiling oil. The character development is equally flawed to the point where the viewers may come away from the theater with a yawn and a shrug as did our party of eight spanning ages 20+ to 83.

Perhaps expectations by the audience were just too high. Overall, as a body of work, the series will probably fall into the classics category. Collectively it should. Hunger Games 1 and 2 were groundbreaking. Three was a so so setup for the finale that turned out to be a big balloon that ran out of air, not unlike the love interests that seems to all but evaporate in this final episode.

Note: I was impressed how the late Philip Seymour Hoffman character as gamemaster survived the editing process with the clever use of a letter. Kudos to the Writers, Director and Producers.

Rating: 2 GlobesPeggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

This documentary film tries to explain the complex life, personality and passion for Peggy Guggenheim’s thirst and appreciation for the emerging Modern Art movement of the 20th Century. Now recognized globally as a priceless collection reflective of dozens of “then emerging” artists, this film zeros in on the life and times of Ms. Guggenheim herself; her childhood and life history unfold, her strengths and flaws all there for critical examination.

Having seen the collection in New York and Venice first hand, I sat mesmerized by her monumental achievement, how she accomplished her vision, and equally important, how she lived her life, her way, critics notwithstanding. I am so pleased she chose to share her life’s work with the world.

If you like modern art, if you like strong individuals with vision, if you respect out-of-the-box thinking, I cannot imagine not liking this story.

Rating: 4 GlobesLegend


First and foremost, Tom Hardy pulls off the almost impossible task of portraying both of the true to life leading character twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the notorious and ruthless crime bosses of East End, London of the 1960s. Add the exceptional cinematography and set production and I wondered why this film just didn’t work for me.

One, it took a while to differentiate one twin from the other. Two, these are not nice people and yet there is a huge effort for the audience to like them. Three, the violence is excessive and brutal then sandwiched with an attempt to legitimize their behaviors and actions.

On the bright side, Emily Browning’s role as Reggie’s love interest and wife gives a believable performance albeit a roller coaster ride. The sets are stunning. You feel like you are in the period. That’s great work but I still cannot recommend it, maybe pay per view…just make sure you are in the mood.

Rating: 1 Globe

November 24, 2015

 Secret Secret in Their Eyes

This was an interesting film about the homicide of the daughter of a policewomen played by Julia Roberts. Nicole Kidman gives a noteworthy performance as a District Attorney along with Chiwetel Ejiofor as an investigator. Interesting until it becomes confusing as it toggles back and forth in time to the point the viewer is lost as to what is happening or the context. I came away disappointed and frustrated.
Rating: 1 Globe


An exceptional journalism drama about the 2001 Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of systemic sexual abuse. Liev Shreiber, as editor-in-chief will likely garner Oscar chatter for his portrayal. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachael McAdams all deliver powerful performances as investigative reporters. Stanley Tucci is also a standout as an attorney.

True stories about real events can be an enormously difficult undertaking, especially for difficult subject matter and powerful institutions. This movie gets it right.
Rating: 4 Globes
__________________By the Sea

By The Sea

I was intrigued by the trailer for this movie. It was interesting in style and tone. Was it a romance, tragedy, mystery?

When we finally saw the movie this last weekend, the Mediterranean scenery and cinematography were an appealing hook. They had me in the opening scene with the iconic ’70s French convertible rambling along a barren stark coast. But that was the highlight.

Angelina Jolie’s moody brooding character was intriguing but annoying. Brad Pitt’s character was a stalled writer seeking inspiration for his next book. Of course he would be, he was pickled most of the time. But it was the extensive peep show they shared together of the young sexually active neighbors that was just plain creepy. By the time we learned why, I didn’t really care.
Rating: 1 Globe

November 17, 2015

 Specter  Spectre 007

The latest James Bond 007 spectacle does not disappoint. It is big, brawny, clever and relentless. Let’s start with the opening credits highlighted by the opening song sung by the incredible Sam Smith. Where do some of those notes come from? Look for an Oscar nomination for Best Song. But I digress.

The story line is dynamic. The cinematography is unbelievable, like you are on the set for the entire ride. More Oscar fodder here too. Plenty of bad guys, some really good bad guys. Christoph Waltz is at his best. And let’s not forget the requisite Bond girls, this time two and they are really good. All modes of transportation, virtually non-stop action with more twists and turns than the Hollywood freeway. Daniel Craig has never been better.

Rating: 4 GlobesTrumbo


Depending on your age, you may or may not recall the Hollywood Blacklist of suspected Communists from 1946 until 1960. In this film, Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter, and then the most highly compensated writer in the industry, is called before the “House Un-American Activities Committee” to testify before Congress as to his political beliefs and the beliefs of others in the entertainment industry. He refused, was held in contempt and was imprisoned for 11 months.

After his release, he was unable to find employment and was shunned by most everyone in the industry. He, and his associates, began writing scripts for low budget movie producers and finally authored a couple of Oscar winning scripts. Eventually, times changed and Mr. Trumbo was finally recognized for his tenacity and perseverance.
Bryan Cranston plays the lead character with zeal. Director Jay Roach carefully recreates the period and the political climate of the day. Helen Mirren’s portrayal as Hedda Harper alone is worth seeing this movie.

Rating: 4 GlobesBrooklyn


This is a classic immigrant story set in 1951 about a young Irish girl who journeys to America for a new life leaving her Mom and sister behind. The poor thing is at first naive and unhappy, lives in a boarding house with other Irish women and struggles as a salesclerk in a department store.

She meets a young Italian man at a dance, they fall in love… She gets a call one day and feels compelled to go back to Ireland. You can probably fill in the blanks so I won’t tell you anymore, but there is a reason it is called “Brooklyn”.

All that said, it is a beautifully crafted film. Just the right amount of everything. It is well acted,visually satisfying, just the right mix of angst and humor even though it logs in just over two hours.

Rating: 3 Globessuffragette


Set in England of the late 1930s, this is based on true events about the movement to win the women’s right to vote. What came as a surprise was how violent and oppressive the culture was in that period. While the movement spanned all socio-economic classes, this story has a focus toward the lower labor class and the huge challenges as a result.
Directed by Sarah Gavron, starring Helena Bottom Carter and an extraordinary Carey Mulligan. Meryl Steep has a brief appearance as Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement forced underground.

Overall, it was an interesting glimpse at history and a reminder of a very different time less than a hundred years ago. Tidbit Fact: woman in Switzerland didn’t get to vote until 1971!

Rating: 2 Globes

Steve Jobs

First, I must confess. I was not interested in seeing this movie. I saw the documentary shortly after Job’s death and chose not to see the rendition staring Ashton Kutcher because it just didn’t sound realistic. That said, after hearing good things about the current film and seeking a second movie on a double feature day thanks to rain, I acquiesced and I am so glad I did.

This was more like a play than a movie. Michael Fassbender is exceptional as Jobs. And a big surprise, Kate Winslet is almost as extraordinary as Job’s Marketing Director. It is the combination of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and the delivery by Fassbender and the rest of the cast that makes this movie great.

I will also admit, I did not like Mr. Jobs or the way he conducted himself. There can be no denying his deficiencies or his genius. There just might be another Oscar or two when the season comes around.

Rating: 4 Globes

November 1, 2015

     sicario Sicario

Sicario is a film about the war on drugs, specifically focused on Mexico and its biggest drug kingpin. What makes this story exciting is Benicio Del Toro as the Mexico “insider done wrong, hell bent on revenge” working with off-the-grid US undercover agencies? The pace of this film is intense and relentless thanks to Director Denis Villeneuve’s portrayal of drug war’s operating landscape. Great acting, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin are perfectly cast. Superb storytelling, but not always easy to watch (and not recommended for young children).
English and some Spanish with English subtitles.

Rating: 4 Globes

The Martian

If, like me, you thought you could figure out the whole movie from the previews, guess again. This was an amazing film, suspense filled story, another home run for Matt Damon, and another spectacle for Director Ridley Scott. As you probably know by now, the Matt Damon character is left behind and presumed dead by his fellow astronauts during a freak storm forced an emergency takeoff in order to avoid disaster. But it is the rest of what happens on Earth, space, and Mars that makes this story interesting. It gets a little weak at the end, granted. But overall, great fun movie to watch.

Rating: 4 Globes
________________________________bridge of spies

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks is once again at the top of his game. This movie was created as a throw back to so many great suspense espionage movies of the cold war era. There are more twists and turns than a pretzel. Secret Agents galore, US, German, Russian. Lots of angst and tension to make you squirm a bit but nothing over the top. Another good solid Oscar likely movie from Spielberg and team. Must see if you are a Hanks or spy movie fan.
Minimal German and Russian with English subtitles.
Rating: 4 Globes


This was are-enactment of the CBS 60 Minutes, Dan Rather story about President George W. Bush and his military service. The critics hated this film. Robert Redford stars as Rather along with Cate Blanchet as Mary Mapes as the news producer. I thought both performances were very good. I was also intrigued by the premise of the legions of conservative operatives running defense for the then President. “Me think you protest too much!”

Rating: 2 Globes

Labyrinth of Lies

This was a fascinating film about German society in the post WW2 1960s, less than 20 years since the war ended. A young prosecutor discovers a social pattern ignoring or overlooking the presence of former Nazi wartime criminals wholly integrated in German society. Against the then social tide, the young official was finally granted approval to investigate and ultimately prosecute 22 Germans in the 1963-65 Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. This is a true story, intelligently crafted and ultimately powerful and compelling. It is an incredible peek behind the curtain of history.

German with English Subtitles

Rating: 3 Globes


Never heard of this film? Well, it is not to be missed! It starts very confusing, then it takes on a quirky inquisitive quality. Ah, finally making a little sense, this is a different kind of reality for this mother and child. Then more and more information is revealed until you realize what the story is really all about. I won’t tell you here because it would ruin the disturbing discovery and possibly the rest of the movie. This is truly groundbreaking movie making and it will be interesting to see Hollywood’s reaction. Excellent performances especially from the 5 year old boy. Where did that depth come from? Seek this one out and see for yourself. I found myself thinking about this one long after the movie ended.

Rating: 4 Globes
_______________________________coming home

Coming Home

Here is another great film we almost missed. It has limited distribution and until very recently little visibility. It is a Sony Classics release and will probably only last a week or two depending on your local film market. Do seek it out. You will be rewarded with a peek into the China of the Mao era, and maybe something to think about.

It is a heart wrenching story about a young couple torn away from each, the husband to a labor camp, the wife, injured in an accident loses some of her memory. The husband is released toward the end of China’s Cultural Revolution only to discover his wife does not recognize him.
Mandarin with English Subtitles

Rating: 4 Globes

Japan 2015

Japan Water Front

Now that jet lag has subsided and I am in my right mind, please see my observations below. I hope you enjoy.

First, just a quick travel observation. We left Osaka, Japan yesterday, Thursday at about 4:30 PM. We landed, at 10:00 AM Thursday. So officially, we returned to the US six hours before we left! It is one of the International Date Line things that happen every time you cross the dateline.

Another Quick side bar. Our 8 year old nephew, William, knew we were traveling to Asia. His Dad explained to him where we were and how it was tomorrow there from the US. Since William and we were following the playoffs and it was a day ahead, William asked by text if we knew who won the Houston/NY game. Too funny!! Oh, to be 8 again. 😋

Impressions of Japan

Japan was a fascinating, strange, vaguely familiar place. Prior to this trip, we had only been to a few of Japan’s “cruise ports” for short day tours, mostly coastal sites of interest prior to this three week visit.

Now, my overarching observations. Japan is a big, first world country with all the benefits you would expect of a G7 world economic power.

Next, it is so clean, I could hardly believe it. And I mean everywhere!! Every street, every bus, cab, train, street car. Every restaurant, new, old, city, village. Every car, house, temple, office building, store. Every attraction, school, temple, shrine, park, tourist stop.

It is civilized. Everyone is polite. (well 99% but I do not want to be picky, unless you count fellow tourist/travelers. But that will be a future article.) Everything works and well! Hotel checkins were instant. Openings of anything, on time, every time. Same for closings. Taxis, buses, trains all on schedule EVERY time. It was almost uncanny. True fact: Japan’s train service last year, including their extensive high speed Bullet train, had an on time record within 36 seconds, yes I said seconds. Jaw dropping.

Bowing is a big thing. Mainly, three different bows. One for greeting (about 15 degrees), one for respect (about 30 degrees, as guests, we got a lot of those), and one for apologies (about 40-45 degrees). Bowing is so common, we found ourselves adding a small bow to every hello, goodbye or thank you.

Japan is not perfect. The first poke I’ll take is urban architecture. While there is an occasional superstar here and there, the country in general has the most boring, boxy, bunch of buildings I’ve seen anywhere. Yes, traditional housing and temples have their charm, but, they are squashed out by the endless boredom of concrete and glass office towers or apartment blocks with occasional attempts at some kind of architectural flare.

And now, (drumroll followed by the applause of my fellow travelers) FOOD. That one thing so many of us hit the road for! The sustenance of life and pleasure for the soul. It was general boring and mostly repetitive. This was somewhat a surprise for a country touting so many Michelin star restaurants. It was a big discovery to find the better restaurants cater to only to the wealthy and expense account crowd.

We made a few discoveries on our own but only a few. On the surprise front, on two different nights we ventured on our own for dinner, both nights the chef owners followed us outside afterwards and gave us full bows of thank you until we were out of sight. Humbling!!

Another surprise but over arching discovery we were not prepared for, was undercooked foods. Example: every egg, scrambled, fried or otherwise was half cooked or raw. I am not kidding. Same for bacon, sausage or even chicken, pork or beef. Bizarre!

You MUST eat rice! Every meal, every day, every day. We are not talking Uncle Ben’s here, or jasmine or basmati rice. We are talking full blown Japanese sticky short grain rice. And fish, sashimi (raw), sushi (also raw). At least one fish per each meal per day. The alternative was a life saving bowl of udon or ramen noodles served in a broth but often accompanied by vegetables and…some type of fish, shellfish and occasionally chicken or pork.

Personally, I love fish and sashimi/sushi are right up my alley but I must admit the rare pasta or pizza was devoured with delight.

On the highlight side.Architecture The countryside is very accessible everywhere and we were honored to be able to enjoy lots of it. The national parks and temples and shines and imperial palaces were amazing. The gardens are unlike any we have seen anywhere. In one park we saw gardeners plucking imperfect pine needles one by one and dropping them onto large tarps so as not to litter on the ground. Water features are an art form, stones and lanterns are messages, form and function are often the same. It was hard to come away from any such walk in a bad mood.

In ending, it must be said the people were amazing. Genuine, polite, helpful, forgiving, cheerful, focused. We met old folks still with a twinkle in the eye. Children, delightfully doing what children do, with glee in every action. Buddhist monks, going about their daily business, shepherding the poor and poor of spirit alike. Worker bees, working long hours and painful commutes in numbers that must be seen to be believed.

Japan is not perfect. It is still a male dominate society. Women are way behind on the equality front. This is slowly improving, so slowly. Tradition is paramount yet variety in all aspects of life seems to offer a crack in that armor. Time will tell.

Someday, I would like to see Japan again, in spring or in snow, maybe farther away from the urban centers. But for now, we’ve had enough and are pleased to be home and surrounded by all things familiar.


Japan Skyline