The RSPB held its Big Garden Birdwatch at the weekend, so I spent a fun hour on Sunday morning, looking out the kitchen window.
What a funny old year 2016 has been…I’m not even going to talk about what’s been going on in the rest of the world, but in my little world it felt like a very long year indeed; many other friends and family seem to have felt the same way too. Nothing bad has happened, in fact there have been many opportunities, particularly at work – they’ve just been quite challenging. One thing in particular is that in September I started a part-time course through work. It’s a certificate course at undergraduate level, in Petroleum Data Management – which is what I do, but after this I’ll have something official that says so 🙂 It’s been going well, but of course it does take up quite a bit of time in the evenings and weekends. It finishes in May, so more regular blogging and knitting will resume soon.
In the meantime we did get up to other things through the year:
An amazing honeymoon in Japan – did I mention there were cherry blossoms…?
Creating a nice sitting space in the garden, and enjoying some lovely blooms and wild visitors
Visits to catch up with friends and family in London, Perth, and Jersey, plus visits from them to Aberdeen too. There was also a brilliantly timed coincidence when I was on a work trip to London, where I stayed on with my brother for the weekend and managed to surprise my parents who were in London for a short visit!
(It turns out I’m rubbish at taking photos of people…)
A lovely holiday in Cornwall with my brother and sister in-law.
We rounded off the year with a wonderful holiday in KL in December, meeting my new niece (her parents prefer not to have photos posted, but I assure you, without bias, she is the cutest thing ever), catching up with friends and family (including a friend I hadn’t seen in 12 years!) and a short trip to Vietnam over New Year.
There was some knitting as well, mainly for babies at work (while my poor friend’s birthday scarf is still coming along very slowly and belatedly). Somehow I haven’t knitted or sewn anything for my own niece – I think there was some anxiety over failure to finish in time for visiting so I resorted to buying stuff. But I think now the ‘new baby’ pressure is over I can make things for her at a more leisurely pace (in larger sizes of course, at the rate I go!).
So, plans for this year? Gareth’s brother will be getting married, which will be our summer highlight. Aside from that, finish course; take more photos (of people too); blog/knit/sew/read more…and not worry if I don’t!
A few years ago Gareth spent some time in Penzance for a work project, and as he’d enjoyed it there we’d always said we’d go down together for a holiday. So in August we finally did have a summer holiday there.
There was lots to see and do!
We also arranged to do a spot of sea fishing – I’d never done this before, but I did alright, apart from some tangling on the seabed and with another person’s line a couple of times…
I caught 2 pollock, and my brother caught a pollock and a couple of mackerel. It was very exciting, but I found it quite tiring on the shoulders! Gareth cooked the fish for dinner – extra yummy for being caught ourselves!
And we visited the Poldark Mine (its actual name!). It’s a well preserved 18th Century mine, and is where all the underground scenes for the BBC Poldark series were filmed. That aside, we really enjoyed the tour inside the mine and wandering through the indoor museum displays – a real slice of history.
In Kyoto too there was, of course, so much amazing food to enjoy! On our first evening here we stumbled upon a tiny little teppanyaki place, with one quiet chef and one friendly waitress. Here we got to try a Southern Japanese special: okonomiyaki. This is a sort of savoury yam-based pancake/omelette, filled with pretty much anything, griddled to golden-brown perfection, and topped with special sauce and plenty of bonito flakes.
The restaurant was very welcoming and also keen on remembering their visitors from around the world, so we joined their map. I don’t even remember the name; it felt like a magical sort of place that wouldn’t be there in the morning – off elsewhere to feed some other hungry tourists and warm their hearts.
One afternoon we had a cooking lesson which started with a walk round Nishiki Market, with our guide pointing out lots of exciting ingredients, and the sellers offering us some tasters as well. We bought some of the ingredients we needed later, and all four of us in the tour group had a go at asking for an item at each shop (after much training from the guide).
Top: Pickle shop; Japanese cucumbers pickled in sake lees (yeast residue after brewing)
Bottom: Dried bonito tuna (shave your own flakes during cooking); Different
grades types of miso paste.
Then over to the cultural centre where we got straight into our cooking lesson. Here are the ingredients for the sushi roll – the trickiest bit is making the rolled omelette, but we all succeeded!
Rice; crab stick, shiitake mushroom, gourd, cucumber; rolled omelette; the final rolled sushi, ready to be sliced.
The cooking lesson was held at the same WAK Japan cultural centre where we had the tea ceremony, so it was lovely to see Yukiko-san again and be taught by her. She explained that UNESCO has awarded the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage to washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine. It was lovely to try this, and it was actually quite straightforward with a little experience and knowledge of the ingredients.
On our final evening in Japan we had a bit of a blowout, at an unassuming office block which turned out to house several large restaurants.
We had a ‘stairway’ of sashimi, tried horse meat (which was really very tasty!), had fantastic sushi and meat skewers, and rounded it all off with a matcha green tea medley of panacotta, ice cream, and kit kat.
And all too quickly, our trip was over. We were off to the airport the next morning, and back home in no time. And then we had all the fun of unpacking, and going through our souvenirs and photos. What a wonderful honeymoon we had, full of astounding discoveries, lovely little gems of experiences, stories and images from childhood come alive, and wonderful new memories for both of us. It was just perfect.
They roam freely around the park, and the shrine and temple grounds, and people can buy special ‘deer crackers’ which can be safely fed to them. They’re technically wild, but they’re pretty docile if unthreatened and have become quite used to humans, and especially to being fed.
The first set of deer we met were a rather brazen bunch. They were hanging out right by the cracker stall, and started coming up and reaching for the crackers as soon as we came out near them – we foolish tourists had our crackers out in the open. I may have squealed a little and given up all my crackers at this point…
We headed off to visit our first temple, Todaiji. This is said to be the world’s biggest wooden building, housing the world’s biggest bronze Buddha sculpture. It really was very impressive, but it’s difficult to get a sense of scale in the photos.
There are many more temples, shrines, and museums in and around the park complex, but it’s quite a huge area to cover on foot, so we’d picked out the main places we wanted to visit. On our way out we had another go at feeding the deer.This time we were a little more savvy: when we bought the crackers we put them in our bag immediately, and walked a little further away to find less demanding deer.
Success! A far more cordial interaction. The ones here even did a bit of ‘bowing’ – sometimes if you bow at the deer they sort of bob their heads up and down, which they seem to have learnt that the humans like and give them crackers for.
Starting out as a fort in the 1300s, it was developed and extended over the years into a vast castle complex, and has remained in its present design from the 1600s. It is considered one of Japan’s finest and most beautiful castles. It is even more stunning with the cherry trees in full blossom, but that period was over by the time we visited. We were still very lucky to have seen the castle at all, as it had been closed for five years of renovation work and only reopened last year.
Beauty aside, it has many highly defensive features, such as a wide moat, many little holes for archers to shoot out of, stone throwing platforms, warrior’s passages for quick access through the castle, and, cunningly, not only a very long path leading up to the main keep, but a confusing maze of a path, which often goes back on itself. An approaching army would certainly lose the element of surprise, and potentially be ambushed themselves if they tried to launch an attack here.
We then went across to the Koko-en garden next to the castle. This beautiful garden is a modern creation in traditional Japanese style. We spent a long time strolling through and admiring each section of it before heading back to Kyoto.