Food pilgrims: Easter in the Eastern Townships

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“I need to leave the city this weekend, for at least two nights”, I say to my husband, completely aware that I sound like a very demanding, and annoying, wife. “I need greenery and open spaces and cute wee cafes with home-baking.”

For these requirements, Sutton was a dream come true.

Only an hour and half south east of Montreal, Sutton is a small village in the Eastern Cantons attached to the well-known ski resort Mont Sutton. While the mountain was still open for spring skiers (although with the weather hitting 18 degrees on Saturday, I’m sure they must have been in shorts and t-shirt), the village has much more to give than being a seasonal tourist resort. The rue Principale is lined with fancy gift shops, second hand and antique furniture stores, bakeries, an unbelievable chocolate shop and two of its own micro-breweries, as well as restaurants and hotels. Plus, if you like Quebec wine, it is also surrounded by vineyards and is a great place to come for tastings in the summer.

We got a last minute booking at Gite Vert le Mont B&B, a beautiful old house run by a lovely lady who knows how to make the most delicious tea and pancakes in the morning. We arrived after work on the Friday night and got a seat at A L’Abordage Microbrasserie. I got a light, hoppy, American Wheat Ale, pleasingly named the White Flamingo, while Hugo went for the “Marmite”, a black IPA with a chocolately taste. Quebec really knows how to do beer extremely well.

That evening, the Montreal Canadiens (also known as the Habs) were playing the New York Rangers and the hockey was on in the background at the Brasserie. Once we’d finished eating, we settled in to watch the end of the game, which turned out to be a belter. Even I, with my minimal grasp of what “good” hockey looks like, could tell that the Habs were really faffing about. Our fellow beer-drinkers were letting out a lot of groans and shouts of “chaaaaaaaalisssssse”, a Quebecois swearword that I often translate in my head as “ohhhh shitballs” or “for fuck’s sake”.  But then, with 15 seconds to spare, they scored for a tie. The place went nuts.

“Une autre biere Flamingo, merci!”. This was going to be an excellent break.

*

“That is quite a walking stick you’ve got there. You look like a pilgrim”, I was told, in French, by a fellow hiker on the trail up to Lac Spruce.

I stared blankly at her as I try to translate, while Hugo caught my eye and burst out laughing. The stick in question is something he had pulled out of the snow a couple of hours earlier. It’s gnarled and flaking shreds of bark and it has twisted roots still attached to the top. I had to nab it from him because the ground is still covered in snow and I was slipping around all morning. It looks like something that the set designers on Lord of the Rights might have rejected.

From then on, every time we walk past someone, he turned and looked at me, knowing I am self-conscious about this stupid stick and waiting for someone to say something else. I  grimaced, swallowing a giggle.

I was glad for the stick though. There was still about three feet of snow on the path. The forest is full of the steady drip drip drip of snow melting in the sunshine. At one point, Hugo’s leg disappears through half melted snow, trapping him up to his hips. On the way back down, he slipped and fell flat on his stomach on a steep section of the path and slid about 20 feet town the hill like a penguin. The saved this pilgrim such embarrassment.

*

After this morning exertion, which we had embarked on to burn off a delicious three course breakfast (homemade compote with yoghurt, french toast with bacon doused in maple syrup, toast with home-made apple butter and elderberry jam, locally made apple juice and perfectly made tea), we obviously needed to restore our energy levels with some lunch. Cue La Rumeur Affamée, a delicatessen, cheesemongers and bakery all rolled into one, where I picked up a scrumptious brie, apple and fig compote roll. This was followed by a mandatory trip to Chocolaterie Muriel for an Easter treat. The scent of chocolate sweeps you inside the door and I had visions of myself waking up in the window display the next morning like the Mayor in the film Chocolat.

We stopped at all the plaques dotted around the village to read about Sutton’s history. A particular feature were the buildings that survived the Fire of 1898, that destroyed a majority of the village. The place has retained a lot of its old-fashioned charm, with what I think of as a New England feel – white-washed wooden buildings with colourful doors and shutters, box-like churches with pointed spires, and tree-lined streets.

During a scout around the antique, gift and second hand shops, I couldn’t resist buying a book published in 1911 called “The New Home Speaker: A Book of Entertainment for Home, School and Church, For Young and Old, For All Occasions”. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t satire; that people seriously read this guide on entertaining at home, for those long nights in without Netflix. There is an hilarious first chapter on “Physical Development” that gives you a crash course in elocution and proper posture and sitting. Here is one of the exercises recommended for “Relaxing exercises for the hand:”

1. Military position.

2. Lean the body forward and dip the tips of the fingers into an imaginary basin of water.

3. Shake the water off violently.

(Repeat twenty times)

I mean, I could not have made that up.

*

That was not all Sutton had to give, oh no. After a delicious afternoon nap (I blame strenuous walk but I concede it could also have been indulgent inputs), we were to be found at a 5 à 7 at Le Plesant Hotel et Cafe, sipping on a red wine and an espresso martini, listening to the Almut Ellinghaus’s Jazz Trio. The local group – a female singer with a silky, old-time treble voice, a pianist and a trumpeter, all superb –  were excellent scat singers. Lo and behold, we were a bit peckish after the nap, so also got a sharing platter of olives, feta cheese and artichokes.

After this, one last eating and drinking inspired activity was left on our list: a visit to Sutton Bouerie. Situated in what looks like a giant barn by the river, it was a chilled night for beer tasting and chatting about how much it would cost to buy one of the houses down the road (by UK prices, it will probably break your heart to know that for about £300,000 you could basically buy a mansion). Beer-wise, the Double IPA really hit the spot.

Sauntering back home as the rain began to fall, Hugo and I pondered over what kind of jobs we would be able to get if we were able to move to Sutton permanently. I would certainly need to be doing more exercise to live here and I would probably have to earn more in order to pay for my new (over)eating regimen.

Do you think they have an opening for an international affairs researcher in the local think tank? No, I thought not…

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Canada sings from a different song sheet on international assistance

Loonie

The Canadian Government’s 2017 federal budget forgoes increasing contributions to international assistance, despite widespread calls for change.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s second budget sets out no new measures for bolstering Canada’s support for international aid and humanitarian assistance.

The budget, released on 23 March, repeats commitments to double Canadian money for programmes on sexual and reproductive health and rights for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, as well as a pledge to contribute up to 600 military personnel to United Nations peace operations.

The budget also launches the Development Finance Institution with $300 million – a promise originally set out in the 2015 budget – that will use taxpayer dollars to bolster investments in sustainable development from the private sector, stopping gaps in areas where alternative financing is scarce.

However, the Government has delayed further announcements about its approach to international assistance until the publication of a new policy framework based on the findings on a comprehensive aid review undertaken in 2016. No new money has been announced to support the implementation of this new framework.

The lack of additional funding has left Canadian civil society organisations disappointed.

“The Government says it wants to improve Canada’s reputation as a global leader among its peers – and reach the most in need, in particular women and girls”, says Julia Sánchez, President-CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, which brings together the voices of Canadian civil society organisations, “[w]ith Budget 2017, Canada falls short on one key metric: the broad and significant financial commitment necessary to achieve this objective”.

Canada’s development spending has plateaued over the past decade and while the 2016 budget announced a modest increase, the Government is far from reaching the global target of contributing 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to international assistance.

Canada currently spends an estimated 0.26% of GNI on development spending and the Trudeau Government has given little support to the idea that they should put the country on track to reaching the international target in the next decade. This is despite recommendations from both the Parliamentary standing committees on Foreign Affairs and International Development and on Finance that the Government should aim to spend 0.35% of GNI on official development assistance by 2020 and set out a roadmap to reach 0.7% by 2030.

In a recent analysis by Robert Greenhill and Celine Wadhera on OpenCanada.org, the authors argued that Canada was “worse than a laggard” in comparison with its OECD peers, providing 40% less than the average G7 country.

When Canadian aid spending is put into context, the lack of additional funding becomes all the more striking. The UN estimates that 20 million people are currently facing starvation due to conflict and instability in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and north-eastern Nigeria, in addition to the some 60 million people currently displaced by conflict globally. Emergency aid from UN member states has failed to keep pace with demand. As of February 2017, the UN Coordinated Appeals has received just 7% of these funding needs, leaving a $21 billion funding gap.

To compound the funding difficulties, the new US Administration has put forward plans in its 2017 budget to slash funding for UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, in addition  to pulling money out of peace operations.

“Effective international assistance has positive system-wide effects that benefit Canada,” write Greenhill and Wadhera, “[i]t enhances global prosperity, stability and security. It builds ‘global public goods’ such as human rights, health systems, and peace. It helps reduce ‘global public bads’ such as crime, terrorism and infectious diseases.”

The 2017 federal budget suggests that the Canadian Government is on a different page.

Photo credit: bgilliard

 

 

 

 

Une bonne petite tasse de thé

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Canadians are doing tea all wrong and it breaks my heart.

« Il n’y a rien mieux qu’une bonne tasse de thé. Quand on se sent triste, ça nous réchauffe le cœur, quand on se sent contente, ça réjouisse avec nous. »

(“There is nothing better than a good cup of tea. When you are feeling down, it lifts you up, when you are happy, it helps you celebrate.”)

These were the wise words of my Quebecoise grandmother-in-law at Christmas this year, both of us stooped over a steaming cup of milky tea. As a Brit, I couldn’t agree more. A comforting cup of tea is often the thing I look forward to when I am struggling to get up in the morning, it’s the thing I turn too when I’ve had good news, bad news, news of any sort, when a friend arrives, I offer them a cup, when they leave, I make myself a cup. I love a good cup of tea.

And while the sentiment seems to be shared here in Canada, I never feel like more of a foreigner than when I am ordering a cup of tea here.

At home, ordering a cup of tea is so easy. You know your expectations will be met. In a bog standard place, you will usually receive a teapot with a bag of Tetley or similar English breakfast, a wee milk jug and a cup (ideally with saucer but not necessary all the time).

Here, any number of things can go wrong, even in above average places. They will ask you “what kind of tea”, as though tea is a recipe as opposed to a specific thing. They might give you a tea bag floating in a cup of hot water (forgivable but lacks the ceremony of a teapot). They might give you no milk at all (what alien land is this?), little plastic UHT milk pod (urgh), steamed milk in a small jug on the side (sacrilege), or even offer cream (soul-destroying). And that is saying nothing of Canada’s grotesque daily over-use of earl grey as the black tea of choice.

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TF is this? 

From being a soothing pleasure, that cup of tea becomes a reminder of everywhere you are not and everyone you are not with. Their unholy suggestion of trying their new “apple crumble earl grey” makes you want to give them a full on crying-face  (see exhibit “A” below). The vision of steamed milk burns your soul.

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Exhibit “A”.

No-one does it right. But I just smile and say “thank you” because I am too polite and downcast to ask for it the way I want it and don’t want to seem like a dick.

After living abroad for so many years, I have mostly overcome homesickness. Still, the process of tea-drinking here is the one thing that still punctures me right through the heart. While they might feel like they are just doing tea “differently”, the snarky, negative (ie, homesick) version of me thinks that they are just doing it wrong. So, so wrong.

There are only two options: convert everyone in the whole country or shut up and live with it. Now that I’ve got this out of my system, I feel I would probably make more friends here if I chose the latter option.

I feel overwrought after writing this. I think I might need a cup of… oh fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

 

 

How to survive a Montreal winter

screenshot-8When winter starts at Hallow’een and lasts until after Easter, you’ve got to have some good coping mechanisms to save you from getting cabin fever. Averaging a balmy -10 degrees centigrade, the wind chill here can burn your face off and leave your toes rolling about in the bottom of your socks, leaving you with little trotter-like stumps for feet (am I joking though?).

Unlike a Scottish winter, snow is always thick on the ground here and in the cities they have this amazing system that picks up all the snow and takes it away to a big snow mountain outside the city. It sounds dreamy and I’ve always wanted to visit but most people here don’t think it is much of a big deal. What you are left with on the streets is either sheets of ice on the pavement, allowing you to show off your new figure skating skills in public, or piles of salt, which gradually eat through all of your best boots.

My advice for surviving is: fuck it all and go outside!

I know, it sounds crazy. You are thinking: “but it’s -22 outside and I am going to freeze solid and die like those poor helicopter pilots who try to save the Queen in the Day After Tomorrow”.

But in all seriousness, it is worth it. There are, however, some steps you need to take before you are courageous enough to take the icy plunge.

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Still too much skin showing

STEP ONE: Leave your sense of style inside.

Style and fashion have no place in the negatives. You can have a fun bobbly hat if you want, but it will probably get in the way when you need to put your big furry hood up against being snow-blasted in a blizzard.

Buy weather appropriate clothing and actually wear it.This is one of the harder steps for me. Classy and warm winter clothes are really expensive, so I just make do with pretty lame and warm winter clothes, which in turn makes me feel sad. Sometimes I forget that feeling warm can be better than feeling classy but the wind chill outside is always there to remind me what a dumbass I am.

STEP TWO: Find an outdoor activity you enjoy.

I have had the privilege of trying a huge variety of sports while growing up and in adulthood and have come to find that I am completely mediocre, verging on below average, at all of them. I stay away from team sports so as not to let anyone but myself down.

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Nothing better than an empty cross country track to fall on without witnesses.

Being an enthusiast for life, however, these shortcomings have never stopped me going it alone. In winter, I gracelessly slipper along cross-country ski paths and do excellent imitations of Bambi on the skating rinks in the city. These outings become a lifeline in winter.

What is more, Montreal is one of the greenest cities I’ve ever lived in. Parc Mont-Royal, or “the mountain” as most people call it, is a beautiful forest-covered hill (definitely not an actual mountain) right in the middle of the city. You can cross-country ski up the meandering main path, or take the bus up and explore the ski and snow-shoe trails in the forest at the top.

Even if your sport is the occasional sledging extravaganza (sledging is on another level here), get out there and soak up the snow in your weather-appropriate gear!

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Or just ski in the street when there is a big snow fall!

STEP THREE: Partake in Quebec’s wintry traditions.

Igloofest. An outdoor rave in the Old Port held throughout January and Feburary, i.e., the coldest months of the year. The beers can be frozen like slushies but they also sell hot chocolate laced with drambuie. Put on your least sexy winter wrappings and get down there and dance!

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I did not make this one. (Photo credit: Jo Del Corro)

… Is of course, what I would say if I were still 24 and could be bothered. But this year, Hugo and I planned to go two weekends in a row and ended up ditching because the magic 8 ball said “outlook not good” and “try again later” every time we asked. (It did respond “without a doubt” when we asked it if we should eat pudding chomeur, a classic Quebecois sponge cake doused in syrup, mmmm).

I admit, sometimes, it’s just nice to stay in, watch the snow fall with a cup of tea and exclaim loudly and frequently to your exasperated husband: “WOW, just LOOK at all that snow! Look at it!”. The important thing is to glory in the wintry-ness.

 

 

 

 

Les retrouvailles

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My new home!

Landing in Montreal was weird. I’ve moved to this leafy, vibrant city twice before. This third move comes after a four year hiatus. I loved living here the other times, but it is a difficult transition. Suddenly, from being on top of the world, the cool travellers who live each day as it comes, we were unemployed and homeless locals starting life from scratch. Plus, I had forgotten about 90% of my french so I speak like the most boring 10 year old in the world.

However, we had a list of stuff to do and got straight to it. In the first week we managed to find a flat and go on the ritual trip to Ikea to buy the minimum amount of furniture possible.

I unpacked all 5 of my pieces of clothing and bought winter boots. I emptied my rucksack from travelling, scraping out the half-forgotten detritus of the trip: a rumpled straw hat, a ticket for the Trans-Mongolian, anti-sickness pills, a horseshoe thrown from a farm horse in Bagan, a cocktail of sand from Jordan, Sri Lanka, Bali and Vietnam. It already feels distant but these things, pieces of rubbish, prove to me that it did actually happen.

It is now job searching time. I’ve become a professional networker with over-ambitious business cards that I basically throw at people as I enter and leave a room. They flutter in the air behind me like confetti wherever I go. There is a grand total of one job I am qualified to apply to on the market at the minute so am having to be imaginative. I’ve got my elevator pitch down to a 1 minute solo performance and I am that creepy person who connects with you on LinkedIn in less than five hours after meeting you.

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It’s all turned a bit topsy turvy

Montreal has transitioned from its early bright autumn – with leaves glowing bright reds, yellows and oranges – into it’s later, rainy, dark and blustery version of this season.Cue Game of Thrones reference to the imminent onset of winter.

 

Beautiful, beery, British Colombia

Oh, Canada! Our last country on the “big trip” and Vancouver was our second-last stop before the trip turned into the “big move” to Montreal.

It felt good to be back in a familiar setting. Hugo got a bit overexcited when we went to the supermarket for the first time and bought loads of his most favourite Canadian treats. I bemoaned the terrible cheese selection in the supermarket. Hugo finally got a hair cut and trimmed his beard, which had begun to take over his face. We caught up with friends and spent rainy days inside playing Settlers of Catan or watching films. It was super chilled.

In Canada, every province has a motto printed on its license plates. While “Beautiful British Colombia” isn’t as sweet as “Friendly Manitoba” or as poetic as Quebec’s “Je me souviens”, (“I remember”, a reference to a poem about french heritage), it certainly hits the nail on the head.

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The end of a long trip

Yeast Van and delicious downtown 

Vancouver is a stunning city. The open ocean and the Rockie Mountains are never far away, even when you are in the middle of the city. It’s heavily built up in the centre but the skyscrapers are glassy and bright, making it feel airy and spacious. It reminded me a lot of Hong Kong and apparently a lot of the construction was done by the same investors and companies.

We were lucky enough to be able to house-sit for a friend of a friend, complete with adorable but painfully shy black cat. It was such a joy to have an apartment to live in after the confines of our tiny room in Tokyo, that only had space for a single bed and then a roll-out futon that took up the entire floor. We stayed in East Vancouver, also known as East Van and sometimes, Yeast Van, due to the collection of independent breweries that have popped up across the area.

My friend and our local guide for the week, Danielle, took us on a whirlwind tour of these breweries one night. We had “beer flights” at each of the four establishments we visited, meaning we ended up tasting about 24 beers in total. There are no photos available for that evening.

We also went for a three course brunch that started with waffles and ended with banana cake, ate the best cheese toastie ever, had fantastic fresh sushi, drank superb coffee, tasted more beer, scoffed down some authentic fish and chips, tasted candied salmon, went to a wine and nibbles party at Hugo’s friend’s place, drank delicious BC wines and went for the most epic, five course Canadian Thanksgiving dinner at Danielle’s uncle’s house, who happens to be a chef by profession.

In short, we ate and drank. Very well. And a lot.

Walking it off

Given the amount of input, it was only natural that we should be getting rid of some of the excess energy by making the most of the surroundings.

After the aforementioned three course brunch, we went for a walk around Stanley Park, the biggest urban park in the world. It sits out in the bay, surrounded by the ocean – the residents of Vancouver are so lucky to have such a beautiful place to relax!

We also did two hikes – one extremely steep one up the “sea to summit” trail in Squamish, that had us scrambling through steep autumnal forests and clinging on to cliffs to get up to a beautiful view point with a cafe at the top. Chips and a beer were necessary before we cheated and got the cable-car back down.

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One of the vistas on the Diez Vistas trail

The second hike took us past Port Moody to the East and up Diez Vistas, a rather loooong but stunning 15km trail that took us quickly up a big mountain and then slowly down and round a lovely lake.

I feel like we only scratched the surface of what Vancouver had to offer! The week was over so fast and it was soon time for our last stop on the “big trip”… onwards to Montreal!

Big in Japan

Actually, I felt pretty small in Japan. It is massive and there is so much to see. We concentrated on Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Tokyo. Each place gave us a very different little taste of life in Japan.

Living like a local

One great thing about going to Japan was getting to see my good friend Anna, who had been living there for a couple of months. She provided the best accommodation possible for our rainy week in Kyoto – a traditional house with paper walls and tatami flooring. It was a wonderful little place with the strangest layout ever; I kept getting lost trying to find the bathroom, even though there were only really four rooms in the place.

The highlight of this little house was the bath. A traditional Japanese bath is small, square and really deep, so although you have to sit up in it rather than lie down, your body is totally submerged in water. Even better was the element that kept the water hot – press a couple of buttons beside the tub and you could rack up the temperature in the bath to 43 degrees Celsius. It kept speaking in Japanese and could have been saying “you are going to boil yourself like a lobster if you keep heating your bath this way” but I didn’t care.

Then you get out and put on a yukata and chill out listening to the rain pattering on the roof and drink some Japanese tea, or a wee dram of whisky. Heaven.

All you can eat…but be quick about it!

Oh the food! Japanese food is quite something. I’d never really had ramen before but boy, did I make up for it while we were in Japan. Rather than taking your order at your table, before you go into the restaurant, you choose and pay for your food at a vending machine at the door, then give the slip to the servers behind the bar.

We also had a lot of gyoza (like dumplings) and okonomyaki, which is basically a japanese omlette. Sometimes, they even let you make it yourself on a flatplate in the middle of the table.

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Get in my belly!

I am embarrassed to say that while I did enjoy the sushi, I actually preferred Vancouver sushi(!). Gone where the cucumber and avocado rolls and tempura, instead there was just fish, fish and more fish with increasingly bizarre textures. I wonder if the Japanese go to Italy and are disappointed by the pizzas? Nevertheless, there were some cool places to eat it: Anna took us to a 100Yen Sushi place where you paid by the plate and got to play a video game for every five plates you ate. Winners got little toys like you get at Burger King. It was ace.

They are not into long, slow, amicable meals in Japan though. It was in and out, sometimes without even being able to sit with those you came with if you were more than two people. Lots of people eat alone, particularly in Tokyo; everyone concentrating heavily on slurping their ramen up as quickly as possible.

Let loose

Entertainment in Japan is not difficult to find. A six hour session of Karaoke for Anna’s birthday left us hoarse and exhausted but it was absolutely hilarious. Unlike in the UK, where karaoke is a terrifying affair where you have to sing to a bar full of people, in Japan you just get a sweaty little room to yourself with unlimited soft drinks, including hot chocolate. You can sit there and belt out whatever you like to your heart’s content, without judgement.

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No high scores here

There are also arcades are on every corner, particularly in Tokyo. Businessmen in suits the same age as my dad go in there after work and get high scores on guitar hero. I had a shot on a couple of games, which were fun. Call me a cranky old lady but the lights and noise in the arcade were enough to bring on a migraine and I could never stay in there long.

Gateway to enlightenment

Our one rain-free day in Kyoto saw us get up early, grab a pair of bicycles and do some intense temple tramping. We visited the Golden Pavilion, arriving before the place had even opened. We waited with a crowd of fellow visitors outside and the scraping of the wooden lock behind the massive gates heralded the beginning of a busy but zen-like day.

We followed this with a visit to the Ryoanji temple rock garden, very zen.

Then we went to Kyoto’s crown jewel, the Fashimi-Inari Shrine, with its millions of vermillion gates snaking up a forested mountain. It was much MUCH bigger than we expected and, not a couple that gives up on anything once we have begun, ended up walking for hours to the top of the mountain. The crowds soon thinned out and we were tramping up endless uneven stone stairs, marveling at all the shrines we walked past, that were all guarded by stone foxes, the Fushimi diety.

A shy Fuji-san

Unfortunately, Mount Fuji was shrouded in rain clouds the entire time we were in the little town of Kawaguchico, so all we saw was a tiny patch of the volcano peeping out from time to time.

Rather than mope about in the rain, we spent a large part of our “hiking day” in a local onsen.  I basically had the female pools to myself, much to my relief, as Japanese tradition dictates that you must be completely naked throughout your spa experience. I spent a good two hours alternating between hot and cold pools, letting the rain patter on my head in one of the rocky pool outside.

Walking until your legs fall off

Tokyo was so massive. I walked around it for days and days while Hugo was doing a little bit of work-related things an internet cafe where he got all-you-can-eat ice cream.

I walked all over some of the major districts. Shinjuku for a sushi-on-a-conveyor-belt lunch. Then walking, walking, walking all the way down to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, which is surrounded by a massive, lush, old forest. It felt like walking into the Forbidden Forest.  The streets are busy but SO quiet. It is a bit weird, no bustle like in London with conversations going on everywhere. Most people are alone or if they are talking together, they keep their voices down. Then I went to Harajuku – a huge contrast to the forest, with busy alleyways full of kiosks selling gigantic ice cream covered crepes that everyone was eating.

Once Hugo was free, we walked over to the shrine where his karate master was buried. It was a nice moment, standing there surrounded by marble tombs and stray cats.

Two weeks in Japan passed really fast. I felt a little preoccupied by the last few days in Tokyo – our next stop was going to be so far east, it would be west. Time to leave Asia and move to Canada!