May 2016 - March 2015

Only a year since the last update. I have been on a 5 year update cycle.

Partially it is because in the past year I've had more time off from work. I'm working about 6 months a year in the past 3 years. Coincidentally my non work periods have been in the summers. Completely unplanned I can assure you...

Since last March the major events in our lives have been:

Obviously Greg's health has been the drumbeat of our lives over the past year. We'd thought we could retire early in 2016 but his health situation requires that we not stray far from the physicians and treatment centers until it is established that the malignancy is either destroyed or well enough under control such that significant additional therapy is not necessary. Lana's health insurance is one of the underpinning of our family finances. Without it we would only have Medicare and Veterans Health Insurance to pay for the cancer therapies Greg needs. I'm laying this out for you because not only is it the reality we face but it might be useful to know the situation when the time comes for you to face this situation. Hopefully that will never happen.

With the Grim Reaper shackled for the moment I will relate the good times and fun we've experienced.

the Idaho river trip in early July 2015 was one of the best whitewater experiences I've ever had. We ran the Class III - IV sections of the Lochsa river located in northern Idaho. I've never experienced more intense white water. Here is a link that will explain the run and the challenges:

We ran all the difficult drops including Castle Creek and Lochsa Falls. Fourteen Class IV drops in 12 miles kept us entirely focused. Justin at the oars and the rest of us with paddles helping him we negotiated some of the most challenging whitewater that you can find anywhere. It's not just two or three difficult drops, it's coming at you every bend in the river for over two hours. Fortunately we had a clean run with no one out of the raft or a flip.

In October Lana and I departed Seattle for Sarajevo, Bosnia via Istanbul, Turkey flying on Turkish Airlines. In Sarajevo we met our German friend, Sacha and his Bosnian lady friend Lara. Sascha is working with the Red Cross to bring clothing and other needed supplies to Bosnian kids and their families. Still suffering from the Yugoslavian civil war the Bosnians welcome the material support from the rest of Europe especially Germany. We enjoyed Sarajevo's interesting culture which is nearly a toss up between Muslim and Christian heritages,a blend of two radically different religious concepts but co-existing peacefully and mutually supportive in many ways. It is an example of how two radically different cultures can live in peace in the same city even leveraging the differences to achieve a more complex and attractive way of living. In the US, New York, San Francisco and a few other cities have this multi-culti situation showing that it is possible to peacefully co-exist even to thrive with folks who do not share your religious beliefs. In Sarajevo, the dichotomy between the Muslim and Christian zones is so defined that there is a physical line drawn across the market square separating the Muslim and Christian sides. Nevertheless, folks from both sects can be seen shopping at each others businesses without any issues.

In order to understand why such things matter it is necessary to understand the religious and political history of the region. The Balkans which include Bosnia have been the geographical and political frontier between Asia and Europe since the beginning of European civilization starting with the Greek and Persian empires. The Balkans have been one of the flash points in conflicts between the Muslims and Christians. The Ottoman Turks invaded Bulgaria in 1352 AD and continued to move up the Balkan peninsula for the next 331 years until the Austrians stopped them at the battle of Vienna in 1683. During the period of Ottoman occupation fundamental changes occurred in the cultures of the occupied Christian states including Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Hungary. Montenegro, Bosnia and the modern state of Kosovo were part of Serbia during this period. The Ottomans accommodated the existence of the Christian religion in many ways allowing the inhabitants of the region to continue to practice their belief system such that the two religions co-existed as they do even today.
Here's what Lonely Planet has to say about Sarajevo:

Sarajevo - Lonely Planet

After 2 days in Sarajevo we flew to Podgoritsa, capitol of Montenegro where we met our dear German friend, Eckhard Schmidt. Eckhard is the co-owner of the building where we have our apartment in Utjeha, Montenegro. He and a friend from the area developed the apartment building for the purpose of their retirement. During the course of the construction I was able to invest in the project with the purchase of one apartment having approximately 24.2 square meters (217.8 square feet) floor area. It is a studio arrangement with a spacious balcony providing mountain and sea views. Large enough for a couple with children or two friendly couples who wish to spend a relaxing week or more near the seaside village of Utjeha. Access to the waterfront is a downhill 15 minute walk, a little long on the return. Along the way to the beach there is a small grocery and a very good bakery where each morning one can fetch a fresh baguette or tasty pastries. The village of Utjeha provides a selection of informal beach front eateries, souvenir shops and bars. One rather grand restaurant sits higher on the bluff above the beach where one can indulge in good food and great sea views. Of course seafood is the specialty. The town beach is mostly pebbles mixed with sand so having beach sandals is recommended unless your feet are conditioned to the stony surface. For sun bathing there are several vendors who will accommodate your needs with beach chairs and chaise lounges. The walk back up the hill to the apartment qualifies for your daily exercise quota. If you are too tired to walk back Eckhard can be called to pick you up for the return trip.

Next stop was Belgrade, Serbia. Eckhard drove us to the Podgoritsa airport. Podgoritsa is about one hour's drive from Utjeha. The airport at Belgrade is larger than Podgoritsa's airport but still really modest in comparison to the airports that most of us are familiar with in the US. One or two baggage carousels not ten or twenty, ten check-in counters not forty or fifty. In any case the quality of air travel in the Balkans is every bit as good as we experience in the US and the folks who serve you are competent and friendly, not something you could always say about service here in the US now.

Arriving late in the afternoon in Belgrade we checked into our luxury suite that Lana found on line. Not a hotel but a private apartment it was pleasantly opulent and way beyond what we expected. A suite actually with three rooms, a bedroom, fully equipped kitchen and a living room with all the items you would expect to find in a 5 star hotel. The view of the city was impressive. Keep in mind that Belgrade was bombed by NATO in the mid 90's. No evidence of that there now.

The next morning we explored the inner city. Had breakfast at the Hotel Moskva which features pastries delicacies in the traditional, classic French style and just about anything you could imagine to order including bacon and eggs with toast ala American. The wait service, mostly men, speaking perfect English were so professional and accommodating that I almost wept to know that his kind of service still exited on the earth. And all this in Serbia, a county that was considered an ethnic ogre by the US and the NATO countries only ten years before. Who would have guessed?

Lot's to see in Belgrade. Unfortunately we only had time for a town walk that took us to the Kalemegdan fortress overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. From the ramparts one can see the city sprawl along the Danube. The famous Stambol Gate is located on the fortress grounds as well as the Kalemegdan citadel and a military museum. On our return walk we past through the Stari Grad (old town center) on our way to our luxury apartment. Did you know that Nicola Tesla is buried here? A museum that displays his many inventions and other curiosities is also here. Unfortunately we didn't have time to look at it. Lonely Planet has some excellent information on this city and here is their link:

Belgrade - Lonely Planet

From Belgrade we returned to Seattle via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. The trip was delightfully uneventful as you want air travel to be. Turkish Airlines has been a consistent thumbs up for us providing excellent service, food and refreshments and they have been on time which is more than a lot of air carriers can claim these days.

Following our Balkan trip Greg had a follow-up PSA test in November that showed an essentially nil prostate specific antigen level. This is a good result because it indicates that the presence of the cancer cells from the prostate tumor have been greatly reduced or even eliminated altogether. This test is currently the gold standard for determining prostate cancer presence. The test has been criticized by some experts as being used as the basis for radical treatments that may not have been necessary but at this time there is no other test that provides more detailed information as to the level of aggressiveness of the malignancy. Prostate cancers have various levels of aggressiveness from very slow growth to extremely fast growth. If the PSA shows significant activity (level 4 or above) it is recommended that a needle biopsy be performed in which samples are taken from the prostate to be evaluated by a trained oncologist who can score the tumor's aggressiveness using what is called a Gleason number. The higher the Gleason number the more aggressive the malignancy. My Gleason number was a 7 which indicates an aggressive tumor although not the most aggressive.  My score indicated that a prostatectomy was justified i.e. complete removal of the prostate gland.  This operation was performed at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle on August 20, 2015. My recovery began while I was an in-patient for 5 days and continues for perhaps another year while the internal tissues mend. At this time I am fairly back to normal and fortunately have regained nearly 100% control of my urinary function which is one of the side effects of the operation. There are others that I will spare you the details of but you can check them out on line if you need to know more.

Having gotten well enough to travel we flew down to our time share apartment in Los Cabos, Mexico over the Christmas holiday break. We'd not been there for several years and never over the Christmas week so it was fun and relaxing to return and see how things were going at the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort. Here's a link that shows the resort and provides lot's of information on its features:

Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort

We didn't do much except relax that week although we did explore the local super market where we found the items we needed were mostly easily identified with our limited Spanish and some bi-lingual labeling on various items. Produce really doesn't need much translation since their lettuce looks a lot like ours etc. We were prompted to cook for ourselves since we had a fully equipped kitchen in our apartment and the prices at the resort restaurants were pretty high. We only ate two meals in the restaurants. It was fun cooking. I especially like the process and Lana appreciates my efforts.

We did drive out to Todos Santos on the Pacific Coast one day to visit the town where we had met Stephanie and her partner several years ago. The town is still much the same, a few improvements on the main streets but still has that "authentic" Mexican look with the locals attending church all dressed up and the tourists wandering around looking for souvenirs and a place to have a bite to eat and your beverage of choice. The hotel there is definitely a must see for its rustic charm and really excellent food and beverages. Here's what Lonely Planet has to say about Todos Santos:

Todos Santos - Lonely Planet

The return trip on Alaska Airlines was pleasant. They seem to have put customer service up a notch or two based on our flying experiences with them lately. You can actually look at the food they serve and not gag now. And the flight attendants seem to have a more cheerful attitude than they did several years ago. Maybe they raised their wages or gave them more time off. Anyhow it seems to be working.

In March Lana was promoted to Senior Technician, the highest level at her company, Seattle Genetics, for laboratory technicians. The promotion included a nice raise and a larger bonus, and it put her in the position of being considered for a Scientist Level position as the next step in her career. Becoming a scientist has been her long term goal since she began working in the US shortly after we were married in 1997. Since she has probably 15 more years left in her career it is quite likely that she will achieve her goal before retirement.

Mid March Greg began a therapy program intended to reduce the probability of any remaining prostate cancer that was not removed by the surgery to metasticise (grow and spread) into other parts of his body. The therapy consists of a combination of hormone adjustment to reduce the level of testosterone which is known to promote prostate cancer growth and radiation therapy which disrupts the DNA of cells such that they cannot reproduce. Hormone therapy is very simple and non-invasive wherein a bead of the substance that affects hormones is injected under the skin in the abdominal area. Takes only a few minutes and is painless. The side effects are several but the most prevalent is hot flashes, especially during the sleeping hours. Other side effects can include of libido, weight gain and feelings of fatigue. So far only the hot flashes have been noticed.

Just in time for our two week vacation, Greg's contract ended the third week of April. Companies who employ contractors seldom let the contractor take time off. Many times notifying the boss that you want time off is like asking him/her to lay you off. Better to be laid off than quit since drawing unemployment compensation is not usually awarded to folks who quit jobs. In this case it may not have applied as the work load had been declining steadily for several weeks. Being out of work has ceased to be a worry for me. Given the challenges of my upcoming radiation therapy that requires driving into Seattle each day, the lay off was not a real disappointment. Finding a job in a few months after the therapy is done will give me something to look forward to. I don't do well mentally sitting around the house or trying to play retirement buddy with my retired friends. When I have a beer with them I can sense that they sometimes wish they had something more to do with themselves than hang out at the local pub. Working at retirement is not the way I want to spend the last years. When the time comes for me to leave I want it to be because some critical part of my being stopped working, not because I was bored to death or couldn't remember my own name.

Japan and Indonesia are a long way from Seattle (8 time zones to Tokyo, 10 to Bali) even if you are flying at 500 mph.The flight to our first destination, Japan, involved a direct flight to Taiwan and a transfer flight to Tokyo. Total elapsed time was about twenty-two hours including a four hour layover at Taipei. Nevertheless the trip is worth it. There's no place even close to Japan regards the beautiful cheery trees, Buddhist and Shinto temples, the impeccable transportation infrastructure, and the amazing organized life style that the Japanese have created on their island nation. They're not perfect but close to perfection in nearly all aspects of what are considered modern urban ideals such as public awareness of acceptable personal conduct, clean environments, effective recycling, and the social responsibility of each citizen. There is no trash along the streets, no graffiti, and very few indigents in the usual downtown locations. And they seem relaxed and happy with their situation. We witnessed no examples of rude behavior or dangerous driving practices there. If you like natural beauty, order, efficient living conditions and extremely polite strangers you will like this country.

Our first city to visit in Japan was Nikko. We arrived there after spending one night at an Airbnb near the Tokyo Nerita Airport. Scott, the owner of the BnB met us at the airport. He helped us right away to convert our Japan Rail travel vouchers into Japan Rail travel passes while we were still in the airport. He also helped us find an ATM where we withdrew some Yen and then took us to his place about 20 minutes away. Scott is an America who has lived the past 41 years with his Japanese wife Noriko, at her family's property near Tokyo. Her family owns quite a large area of land having been a farming family for generations. Owning land in Japan indicates the potential for great wealth since Japan has not much habitable land due to the rugged, volcanic geography of the islands. The total population of Japan lives on 13% of the land area. Their house sits next to the structure where we stayed which was essentially another house with one bedroom, living and dining room, kitchen and bathroom/toilet. They call it Guest house Kibara. The name comes from the nearby village. Next to our place sat an ancient structure dating 500 years back to Japan's medieval period. The ancient building was apparently a kind of fortress with extremely think walls and only two windows at the second level, one on either end of the building. Heavy wooden doors with wrought iron hinges and locks were formidable protection for the inhabitants. Our place was much more modern having several large windows and air conditioning, a high tech bathroom with an electic bidet and a tub/shower with ample hot water. The Airbnb deal came with breakfast. Noriko layed on a sumptuous, western style meal including a large helping of scrambled eggs, accompanied by steamed fresh veggies, sausage links with katsup, toast & coissants, jam, fresh fruit, and very good coffee and tea. Following breakfast we packed and still had time to wander around their beautiful grounds. The first thing we noticed was the bamboo forest. Nothing quite like that in the US that we've seen with large bamboo trees maybe six inches in diameter or more. There were azelias and rhododendrons very much the same as what we have in the Pacific NW. We noticed a familiar gound cover plant (weed) exactly like ones we have here. It has a particularly spicy taste and goes well in leaf salads. Their property is on a level grade above several other houses and fields so we could see quite a lot of the neighborhood that was comprised of well built homes and large vegetable gardens and also some rice paddies. This is located about 20 minutes from the Nerita International Airport. If you are planning a trip to Japan and need accommodations near the Nerita Airport in Tokyo here is the link for Scott and Noriko's Airbnb accommodation:

Scott & Noriko's Airbnb

He took us to the nearest train station where we caught a Japan Rail commuter train into Tokyo central station. There we boarded the Shinkansen bullet train heading north towards Utsunomiya where we transferred to a local train for the final leg to Nikko. The bullet trains are one of Japan's most notable technical achievements. Here's a link that provides a bit of history:


All things considered, these fast trains are more user friendly than flying between the cities in Japan. No check-in, no baggage limitations, no TSA, much less ambient noise, much more leg room, huge windows with something to see outside, very clean WCs with lots of space, snack carts with reasonably priced items, and just so much more space to move around in than even a wide body airplane. And Japan Rail's safety record is nearly perfect, much safer statistically than most airlines. In fact throughout its 51 year operating history there has never been a single passenger fatality attributable to the Shinkansen. Hard to beat that performance.

Arriving on time in
Utsunomiya, we transferred to the local train to Nikko. Quite a different venue from the Shinkansen. The local JR train is much more like the European commuter trains that provide transportation within the cities and towns. Bench seats, strap hangers, much more ambient noise, and fewer WCs but still getting the folks to where they want to go safely.

Nikko is the end of the train line so no worries of missing the station. In fact the town is served by two train lines, Japan Rail and a private line. Not sure why but Japan has several private train lines as well as the national line, Japan Rail. They seem to co-exist and compete peacefully. During our time there we only rode on the JR lines as we had purchased travel passes. These were really a good deal and eliminated a lot of time buying tickets for our many rides. We did have to purchase subway tickets in Tokyo because the subway is not part of JR.

Once in Nikko we looked for our hotel. Didn't have to look far as it was located about 100 meters from the train station in the center of town. The hotel looked better in the photos than in reality. It was a fairly shabby older building. The check-in desk was located at the back of a really tacky looking little restaurant. We never saw anyone eat there the two days we spent in Nikko. We certainly didn't. The desk clerk was accommodating and friendly but hardly spoke a word of English. This is really unusual for a Japanese hotel in a major tourist center. Our room was on the 10th floor. Thank God the hotel had an elevator that worked. The room itself was just as dark and shabby as the rest of the hotel, definitely a candidate for a full renovation. The bed was ok but the condition of the furniture and fixtures was right out of skid road. How it ever got a 3 star rating baffles me. Later we came to find out that the hotel was not Japanese owned.... We discovered this when we ventured into the Asian Grill next door looking for something other than noodles and rice for dinner. The grill featured dishes that were definitely not Japanese cuisine. The main attraction was their beef steak dishes. Getting a decent steak in the typical Japanese restaurant is not possible since only special steak restaurants serve grilled beef except in traditional dishes such as sukiyaki which uses thinly sliced beef fried in a skillet.... not going to satisfy the need for a thick T-bone or New York Strip. Cuts of beef vary all over the world apparently because we found the same challenges in Europe. In Germany for example it is possible to get a typical American cut from certain steak restaurants especially in large cities where many tourists are dining. But get out of the big cities and into the countryside and finding your favorite rib eye will be a challenge. A cow's a cow you say, why the problem finding familiar cuts? Apparently the American beef culture just hasn't penetrated countries where eating beef is considered either a delicacy or a sin (if you are Hindu) or cooking a steak over a charcoal fire is considered barbaric or whatever. The closest we could find to an American steak in Italy was a cut called "entrecote" which is somewhere between a sirloin and a porterhouse. So be prepared for the beef challenge if you venture out of the US/Canada into the rest of the world. Perhaps Australia has similar cuts but since we haven't visited that country yet we can't say for sure. In New Zealand I would order lamb chops and skip the beef. But I digress....

The Asian Grill is owned by Bangledeshies, one of whom spoke excellent English. That explains the non-Japanese menu. The hotel hotel is also owned by Bengledeshies. That may explain the overall condition of the building and the rooms. Lack of money could also be a factor although the location in the middle of town next to the train stations is rather prime. We concluded that it's more likely a matter of cultural standards regards hotel accommodations than an issue of funds, but never having visited Bangladesh we are making an assumption.... only that.

We arrived Nikko late in the afternoon and a bit weary from hauling our bags along the side walk from the train station. Not really enough time to launch a tour of anything except the immediate area near the hotel that included several restaurants, souvenir shops, convenience stores etc. Decided to visit the tourist center in the private train station across the street from the hotel. Lot's of good information there with really helpful clerks who spoke English. We decided to buy bus tickets for a ride up the mountain to Lake Chuzenji which was formed when Mt. Nanti, Japan's sacred volcano, erupted and blocked the stream carrying the runoff from the surrounding mountains. Here's a link:

Lake Chuzenji

My dad took me fishing here in 1951 while we lived in Tokyo. He had been assigned to the Tokyo Ordnance Depot that was supporting the US Forces during the Korean War. He had returned from Korea after serving a year there in Pusan. I had dim recollections of the fishing trip and remembered a little about an old wooden hotel where we stayed. After we arrived by bus we looked for this hotel without success in the village, Chuzenjiko Onsen, that sits on the lake shore near the outflow stream where I believe we fished. A short distance downstream from the lake is a hot spring and a little further the Kegon Waterfall. Here is the link:

Kegon Waterfall

On the bus ride back to Nikko we got off at the stop nearest the Toshogu Shrine, Japan's most ornately decorated structure. The shrine sits among several other shrines built by various leaders during Japan's medieval period. Before hiking up the hill side to the shrines we looked at the famous Shinkyo Bridge, a classic wooden structure from the medieval period. The following links provide good photos and the story of each point of interest:

Toshogu Shrine

Shinkyo Bridge

The climb to the shrines during the mid afternoon heat pretty much finished us off for that day. We had arrived in Nikko during one of Japan's national holiday weeks so the places to see were packed with Japanese visitors. The wait line for tickets at the Toshogu Shrine was long enough to discourage a visit that day. We decided to head back to our hotel, have a bite somewhere along the way and freshen up. That evening we explored the local food store where we found an amazing selection of fresh sea food along with many products of which we had no way of knowing the contents. We did of course see familiar items like Coke, chips, and many other western products. Prices were not as high as we had expected. We bought several snacks for the next day. Since we'd eaten on the walk back from the shrines we decided to make an early to bed routine after taking showers in the shared bathroom at the hotel.

During the evening a new guest arrived in the adjacent room. The next morning we arose with plans to visit the Toshogu Shrine before departing Nikko. Of course the sun had disappeared and been replaced by a steady downpour. Lana had noticed the night before that the new guest had left some toiletries in the shared shower room including some special skin creams and other body care lotions. We speculated the our new guest was a gal..... we were wrong. On her way to the shared toilet she entered the connecting hallway in time to get a good look at the bare bottom of our new guest. A moment earlier and she would have gotten a full monty view.  He was tall, young and nicely shaped according to her report. Nothing like a pleasant surprise first thing in the morning.

Off we went in a taxi to visit the Toshogu Shrine in the pouring rain. Lana had a umbrella. I had only my water resistant parka having not packed an umbrella. Guess who got soaked?  But not before seeing the shrine which even in the downpour was worth getting wet for. Just now way to describe the many features that the Japanese wood carvers and painters created on the structures. It must have taken a huge amount of time and effort to decorate the buildings. The link for this shrine appears above and provides a much better description through the photos than I could ever present in words. The shogun's crypt is located at the highest elevation of the shrine. His remains are held by a cylindrical iron casket about the size of a 55 gallon drum. It is mounted vertically between two supports as is shown in the photos in the shrine link. To view the crypt one must ascend several flights of stone stairs. We were both breathing pretty hard by the time we finally arrived. It must have taken quite an effort to lift this structure to it position especially since it was done well before modern machinery was invented. The trip back down was a bit tedious since there were no hand rails and the stairs were covered with rain water. A fall could have been very serious. I'm surprised that the Japanese have not required hand rails at this site. Surely there have been accidents.

During the walk back to our hotel the sun came out lifting our spirits. We managed to find a small cafe where we had a bite before arriving back at the hotel. Once there we changed our wet clothes and packed to leave for the trip to Kyoto. We boarded the local train back to 
Utsunomiya where we transferred to the Shinkansen to Tokyo. After a pleasant hour and a half ride we arrived at the central Tokyo station where we transferred to another bullet train for the trip south. By this time we were getting pretty confident with the JR system and noticed how well their staff spoke English. This was critical since there is usually some confusion when transferring in a new station to a line you have never traveled on before. But we managed it well, even arriving in time at the new line to catch an earlier train than we had booked seat reservations on. As it turned out, there were no problems traveling without seat reservations. In every case we managed to find seats together in the cars that had open seating.

Arriving in Kyoto mid afternoon, we decided to take a taxi to the Airbnb apartment Lana had found that was located within walking distance of several points of interest considered to be of exceptional beauty and a shopping district located on the way to one of the more famous shrines. Here are links to the places we visited:

Heian Shrine

Yasaka Gion Shrine

Maruyama Park

Chionin Temple

The Airbnb apartment we rented was compact, well organized, clean, and very functional. It was situated along one of the recommended walking tour routes shown on our visitor's map. There were four tour routes on the map and we were only able to finish one of them in the 3 days we spent in Kyoto. But even so we came away feeling like we had seen as much as we could handle and still have time to enjoy ourselves, cook our meals for the most part and chat about the things we'd seen each day. There are something like 1600 temples and shrines in this city. No way anyone is going to visit them all in 3 days. So we just did what we could with the time we had. Near our apartment were several convenience stores not unlike those found in the US except that most of the products were of Japanese origin. Still it was not too difficult to figure out what we needed so we stocked up on the basics for most of our meals. One way to keep down costs is to prepare some of your own meals if your apartment is equipped with a kitchen. And you can get creative using new ingredients when you can't find exactly the supplies you use at home. We did eat at a few local cafes and restaurants. The selections were all tasty and about what you would expect if you have eaten in Japanese places in the US. The prices were not particularly steep as we had been led to expect. Our last day we were hoping to eat at a Japanese steak house. We located one along the walking route as we were returning to our apartment. They were closed as it was mid afternoon so we jotted down the phone number and called them after we returned to our place. Yes, the had open reservations. So we made one for that evening.  Then we got to thinking about the menu and prices.... Turns out the cheapest menu item as about $200 per person.... needless to say we didn't eat steak that evening.

The next morning we hailed a cab and headed to the train station to board the Shinkansen for Tokyo. By now we were feeling very confident about traveling by train. Although we had seat reservations we boarded an earlier train so got to Tokyo an hour earlier than planned. Arriving at the central Tokyo station we had to find the local train to get to our hotel which was just a bit north of the Imperial Gardens. Following directions Lana had from the hotel site we managed to get off at the correct stop. Now it was a challenge to actually find this hotel since it was located on a side street about 200 meters from the train station. I guarded the bags while she reconnoitered the surrounding streets. Eventually she found the hotel but it took quite a long time even with a hand held GPS. The hotel was really quite nice, grand even and very new. Our room was quiet and elegant. Tastefully decorated in a modern but solid blend of finished wood cabinets and closets accompanied by a kitchenette with granite counter, stainless steel sink, microwave, two burner induction stove top and even a washer/dryer. The bathroom/toilet was high tech Japanese with an electric bidet/toilet and stall/tub shower. The beds were just right for me. I like them firm. Lana likes them softer. Says it fits her curves better. We could have enjoyed staying at this place for a week or more. Just relaxed for the rest of the day after finding a small cafe not far from the hotel where we had an early dinner.

The next morning we got up early to visit the Fish Market, one of the highly recommended tourist sites in Tokyo. What we didn't realize was getting up early meant getting up at 3 am. So we arrived at the Fish Market around 9 am too late to view the auction. Seems they start the auction around 5 am and only 60 people are admitted to watch. People actually queue at 4 am to get in this place.

Tokyo Fish Market

Next we used the subway to take us near the Imperial Palace Gardens. We lucked out and found a tourist info center just near the subway exit that provided maps, and folks who spoke English. The Imperial Palace is only open to the public twice a year. Our visit didn't correspond to either of these days so we could view it from across the moat that surrounds the inner grounds. We were able to see the famous bridges, Meganebashi and
Nijubashi, that lead to the Emperor's private residence.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Then we walked several hundred meters to the East Gardens to see the gardens and the ruins of the Edo Castle that was built by the Tokugawa dynasty in the early 1600's when Tokyo was then called Edo. Edo became the political center of Japan even though the capital remained in Kyoto until the Meiji restoration moved it to Tokyo in 1868. For those of you who have viewed the movie, Last Samurai, the plot is based on the struggle between the new imperial family, the Meiji, and the samurai who were still pledged in fealty to the Tokugawa Shogun. The involvement of US cavalry officers in the struggle occurred when Captain Nathan Algren (played by Tom Cruise) was hired by the Japanese Emperor to train his army in the use of modern weapons.

Massive would be the best description of the East Gardens. The Imperial Gardens are to Tokyo what Central Park is to New York. Acre after acre of well attended grounds, trimmed hedges, pathways, ponds, even sections of woods left more or less in the plain state of nature. The ruins of Edo Castle are now an elevated foundation of granite blocks with stone stairs ways leading to the summit. From there one has a great 360 degree view of the city and the Imperial Palace Gardens. The castle was a wooden pagoda, the highest in Japan at the time. It burned 19 years after construction and was never rebuilt.

We departed Tokyo by air for Bali from Haneda Airport. Tokyo has two. The feeling was that we'd only just seen a miniscule number of interesting places in the country. Overwhelmed was really the case. So much history, art and beauty in this country. No wonder the Japanese are so proud of their history and their culture.

Arriving in Bali just after midnight, we were met by Rai, our house keeper/maintainer, guy. Having leased a traditional style Balinese house in the capital city of Denpassar the past August we depend on Rai to keep the place clean and take care of the koi pond and grounds. He also serves as our driver. The house is located about 20 minutes drive from the airport on a quiet dead end street. We were attracted to this place because of its charming traditional appearance and the space it has with two stories, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, separate dining and living rooms and a separate kitchen and utility room.

Bali House

The first time we visited Bali in July 2015 we spent most of the time touring the island and getting familiar with the places of interest. Here's a link that shows many of them:

Bali Sights - Lonely Planet

As you see from the link Bali has a primarily Hindu culture. This makes it different from most of the other Indonesian islands which tend to be mostly a Muslim culture. We are still very ignorant of the Hindu way of life but from the little we have learned they have many, many religious events/celebrations and they seem to be very big on family, with several generations living together in a family complex that can include its own family shrine.
One of the first things we noticed was the road traffic. Driving on the left side as is the custom there, the challenges for a person driving their own car is to avoid the myriad motor scooters that constantly stream by in back, in front and sometimes on both sides of your car. Like a swarm of bees they move down the road zigging and zagging between lanes (actually no one really stays in a lane) while they avoid each other and the cars and trucks that all share the same roadway. Chaos defined you might think but in the two weeks we spend in Bali we never saw an accident, and we spent a lot of time being driven around. The normal rules of the road that work in the US and Europe don't work here. The paramount rule in Bali is to give way when necessary and avoid contact at all costs. Right of way is traded back and forth as is needed to get everyone down the road. Might still makes right in some cases as large vehicles like buses and trucks will push the limits at times but no one we saw got angry or made and gestures that would construe road rage.

Summarizing Bali at this point I'd have to say that it is one of the most easy going places I've ever experienced. The pace is moderated not only by the generally accommodating attitude of the people but also by their extreme friendliness and Hindu values. The climate may also play a part as it is tropical encouraging a moderate pace of life with frequent breaks to escape from the direct sun and humidity.

This time in Bali we did not spend time seeing the sights rather we concentrated on improving the house which needs some remodeling of the the bathrooms and other paint and patch work inside. I'll spare you the details but we managed to make some big visual improvements in the week we had with a tube of Spackle, putty knife, tile gout and touch up paint. We also cleaned out quite a number of derelict items in the kitchen and closets. The junk man got a lot of business that week. We went shopping several times to buy  basics for cooking and other kitchen accessories and acquired a couple fans to help move the air around inside the house and kitchen. We are inveterate fixers. Must be in our genes. Of course we are looking forward to the time when we can come there and live comfortably in retirement enjoying the house and its amenities.

In mid May my radiation therapy began just after our return from Asia. This procedure is more involved than the hormone therapy as it requires a daily session at the hospital in which gamma rays are focused on the likely location of any remaining malignant cells. The time involved is only minutes and the procedure is painless but the logistics of driving into the heart of Seattle each day are challenging. Of course if one had a job downtown it would be the same commute. The radiation therapy takes seven weeks during which doses of radiation are applied five days a week. Fortunately everyone involved gets the weekends off. So far no side effects have appeared but I'm only half way through the program.

The 4th of July holiday will find Lana, Anya and I driving to Banff, Alberta for a 3 day visit. We decided to drive instead of flying so as to see the beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery along the way and to save some $$. More on that trip in the next update.

Banff National Park

Mid July Greg, Ryan and Justin and some friends will float the Hells Canyon section of the Snake River. The Snake is the state line between Oregon and Idaho and Washington and Idaho along the Idaho panhandle. It's a class III - IV run with a several powerful rapids and great sandy beach camping. Fun in the sun is the rule for this trip.

Hells Canyon - AWA


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