Friday, March 24, 2017

Ethiopia: Visiting Lucy

So I sat in this taxi, in the middle of Ethiopian traffic. I'm listening to this deejay from the radio talking about Pakistan"s pink taxi hitting the road tomorrow. They would be driven by women. They're intended to be an all-women taxi for women. This, to counter sexual harassment incidents.
To me that was significant because I just came from the Ethiopian National Museum to see Lucy.
Now, of all the "artifacts" that would have to tell a story about the "transition" of man from a tree-climbing, stooping primate into that of the upright, walking Homo sapiens, it had to be a woman. But of course! :)

It was an interesting visit at the museum, made more so because of the guide there. I had always wondered what makes Lucy so special. And he was right there, facing us and asking the question loudly. He then said that because of all the artifacts ever found, hers simply has more "pieces." Pieces, that yielded more information, weaving a more intricate story. Right then and there I felt more affinity towards her. After all, I love to tell stories too.

Lucy was/is the in-between, the link that resolves the disconnect. And how powerful is that? That it had to be a woman evokes in me a lot of mixed emotions. Come to think of it, women, throughout history have consistently demonstrated that they play a very significant role. That they've yielded power, in the same way that men did. And yet, somewhere a long the way, women have been subjugated. Silenced. Made mute. 

Oh, I'm not about to strike a debate about feminism. Nor, do I wish to start a fight with the supposedly-enemy (men). I just find Lucy's story so mind boggling. I looked at her, bones and all, lying there, so quiet. And yet, every bit and pieces of her, every bone, and every cracks in them weave such a powerful story about the history of the modern human being.

As we walked through the other parts of the museum, our guise took us to this imposing photo of what is said to be a depiction of the modern man's great, great ancestor. He pointed and said, "Look, meet your grandfather. He is asking where you've been!" Then he added, "You had to get a visa to get here, right? But here's your ancestor. You are, in every aspect, Ethiopian." That made me smile.
Where have I been? I've been everywhere. Blessed enough to have had lots of opportunities to move around and in the process make a contribution in my own little way as well. I am the modern Lucy, brave enough to stand upright and inch my way bit by bit towards the fulfillment of my dreams. Thank you, God.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Istanbul: Of Blue, Pink and Reddish Hue

The German Fountain.  Credits: RABolo.
Our second day in Istanbul was devoted on spending time on the mosques.  We've wanted to visit it on our first day but as it turned out, we had a lazy start and the Grand Bazaar took most of our time.  We made our way to Sultanamhet Square, this time opting to walk towards the Kabatas metro point from our hotel.  It was still quite early so the square was basically deserted when we arrived.  We did not have any breakfast so we made a quick stop at a bagel stall and grabbed some. I was tickled pink by it.  It was so European -- grabbing a bagel. Back home, one would go through a drive thru and get fast food for breakfast. Yeah so "Americanized."  Either that or it's  more Filipino version of stopping by a tapsilog place, which offer something most Filipinos love -- everything fried -- rice, meat and egg :)
The Egyptian and the
 Constantinope Obelisks.
With bagel in hand, we made our way to the center of the square.  By then, a group of tourist had already arrived.  We found them with a guide surrounding what looked like a gazebo.  Both Leah and I do not really know what it is but since it seemed like to attract a lot of tourist,  we took photos of it as well.  From research though, it turned out to be the German Fountain which was a gift from the German Emperor, Wilhelm II in 1901.

We inched our way next to the Egyptian Obelisk, the serpent pillar and the Constantinople walled obelisk.  Leah and I had a hard time getting the go-pro positioned on our desired angles.  We were laughing the whole time.  It did not help as well that the sun was glaring down on us.  It was difficult to peer through it's screen or that of Leah's phone.  The photos turned out great though.

Inside Sultan Ahmet Camii.  Impressive interiors.
Photo credit: RABolo

Blue Mosque.  We got momentarily disoriented but we followed some tourists and soon found ourselves in front of Sultan Ahmet Camii or in loose translation, the "Blue mosque."  We had to pass by the side entrance, wear scarves over our head and remove our shoes.  We were given plastics with which to wrap them with and bring inside.

The mosque is splendid even from the outside but inside, it is even more spectacular.  It's enormous, with the ceiling rising so far up.  The details of the ceiling were amazing.  Leah and I spent some time inside, taking pictures. At one point, I spent some quiet time in one corner.  At this time, a lot of tourists are coming in.  We rested a bit and then after a while we left.  We took a few more photos outside and then moved on.  

Magnificent Hagia Sofiya (Credit: RBolo)

Hagia Sophia, (that Great Pink Structure) was next on our list of places to visit that day.  It is just across the square from where Ahmet Camii is. So we did not have to walk far.  The square was really nice though, with fountains and well landscaped gardens.  It was a good place to just sit and people watch or be lost in introspection.  If I'd have time in my hands, I would have loved to do just that.  We spent some time taking pictures and even some short videos. It was fun.
Credit: Ley Orig
On our way to Hagia, we passed by a Turkish ice cream stall.  Leah and I are both amused noting the usual antics of the vendor handing out the ice cream to the one buying with an aid of a stick.  Then, hastily taking it back as the ice cream, incredulously, is still attached to the stick.  It must really be that "sticky" (pun intended).  Anyhow, we thought about buying, looked at the price and then decided to pass it up this time. We wanted to save time as well, wanting to have enough to spend inside Hagia.  And true enough, it was a good decision.  There simply was much to see inside.

Yup, the door is a work of wonder in itself. But the interiors are even more majestic (I actually had to think a while before being able to come up with the word.  Awesome, doesn't' seem ti cover it.)  It was the main altar with its imposing calligraphy that took my breath away. So much so that upon reaching the hotel, I immediately googled what they meant. 

I find it fascinating, noting the church's history, how it once had been a Greek Orthodox Christian church.  It then became a Roman Catholic church before it was transformed into an Ottoman mosque. It's latter history explains why the interiors of the church was littered with a lot of Christian artifacts and mosaics. Some of them were obliterated when it became a mosque but is now on display. Time had its toll but what's left tells a story of former glory.

The altar viewed from the second floor where 3 of t4 calligraphy
can be seen, along with Mama Mary and baby Jesus 
on the central arch (credit: RBolo)
The altar was a fascinating mix of its history.  Apart from the calligraphy, one can also see the markings of it's Christian past.  Right in the middle, on the dome itself, is a mosaic of Mariam and the child Jesus.  This "combined" representation took my breath away.  I found myself quietly reflecting how the walls of this great structure have seen so much history.  And I am not naive (despite my persistence to cling on positive wistfulness) to know that those histories are not exactly just "holy" and "peaceful."  Further research back in the hotel revealed as much.  I felt humbled by it all.  Everything about Hagia is larger than life itself, in figurative sense.

I took a lot of photos but I risk of flooding this page with a lot of them and my OC self certainly hating how haphazardly the pictures are arranged.  It was quite difficult to choose.  This picture was of the main dome which bears the Islamic calligraphy that expounds, "God is the light of the universe."  Imagine that.  If that won't take your breath away, I don't know what will.  Historians claim that it might have been superimposed on an image of Christ as Pantocrator (see wiki on Hagia).

The main dome bearing the Islamic calligraphy that expounds, "God 
as the light of the universe." Imagine that. Breath-taking.  Historians
claim that it must have originally depicted Christ as Pantocrator  (wikipedia). 
Credit: RBolo.  

We went back down to the ground floor although we lingered a bit on the upper floors where most of the mosaics can be found.  I took a fascination of the many windows there and took several photos (one I posted in my instragram account).  The light and shadows were quite dramatic, which actually made me reflect on the light and darkness those walls might have witnessed.

Credit: Ley Orig

At the ground floor, we paused a bit by the wishing pillar with the hole in it.  One is supposed to make a wish while sticking one's thumb inside the hole.  After which, one attempts to turn ones hand in a clock-wise manner.  One is supposed to have her dreams come true if s/he manage to make a perfect circle in one quick swoop, without removing one's thumb.

The Basilica Cistern. 
Basilica Cistern.    After a late lunch, we went immediately in search of Medusa's head.  Two of the same are said to be found inside this old water reservoir.  We paid the entrance fee, followed directions and descended the steps.  The reddish hue that seems to permeate the entire place lent drama to everything.  The floor to ceiling pillars holding everything together arranged in rows and bathe in a reddish glow was an awesome sight to behold.  It was an architectural marvel, especially when one thinks about how the cistern was the ancient city's water system before.
One of the Medusa heads

I was excited to see the two Medusa heads.  Those articles that I've read about it did not give a conclusive reason as to why they were there. It can be recalled however that in ancient times, Medusa heads are said to ward off evil.  When one looks into her eyes, they would turn to stone.  Some even said this is where the concept of "evil eye" comes from but that had to be validated.

The heads were huge.  The funny thing was that one was inverted, serving as a base to one of the pillars.  Another was lying on its side.  Neither was upright, which added more to the puzzle. How come not even one was upright?

At the intersection
People-watching.  We exited the cistern and found ourselves back to the square, facing Hagia.  We sat there for some time, just drinking up everything, looking at people passing by.  One of the reasons too was I was waiting for the metro which showcased both Messi and Ronaldo on one of its "trains" which was funny.  But after some time I finally managed to get a good shot.

The square was an interesting place to be in.  It was good to be in the middle of those that represents an ancient time and seeing all that the modern world had to offer -- the metro and the touristy double-decker bus as examples.  Istanbul is a touristic place so you get to see a good mixture of people from everywhere -- some Asians, Orientals and what-have-you's.  I loved Istanbul. It's one place I see myself living in quite happily.  I definitely would not mind going back.
A really nice structure adjacent to Hagia

It took a while but managed to take a shot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Istanbul: Grand Bazzar

"There is not that country that I visited
 I haven't fallen in love with, 
whether it was for 10 minutes or 10 years - Anonymous."

Photo credit: @leyorig
With Istanbul, it definitely lasted more than 10 minutes.  The fact that Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia, coupled with a very rich history, make it all that hard to resist its charm and mystique. Now, tell me, what is not to love?

Before Sunrise.  Leah and I arrived, separately a day earlier, at late afternoon.  After about 10 years or so, we saw each other again -- at the immigration queue :)  She's been based in Singapore for the past few years and we've never really gotten around to catching each other when she's in country or when I am.  When we saw each other, we exchanged a hug and bantered on as if we've never really been apart.  We joked and remarked how it's quite surreal that we both had to travel all the way to Turkey just to reconnect.

Immigration and airport was a breeze.  We had a bit of a misadventure though with the cab we hailed.  The driver is not familiar with our hotel.  He knew the location but never been to the hotel itself. We had to go around in circles and at one point, we had to stop to ask directions from the locals.  Leah and I were surprised to have our hotel’s receptionist show up.   It turned out our driver called him up.  All the while we were thinking he is calling a friend for directions.  It turned out, he got hold of the number of the hotel and called the receptionist himself for directions.  And even then, apparently, our driver still did not manage to locate the hotel.

The receptionist, fully suited up, turned to us and said the driver could not seem to follow directions and that we had to cover the rest of the way on foot.  It was a bit funny having to tail behind him, looking dashing and formal in his suit, while he was wheeling two of our biggest suitcases on both hands. 

Vegging out.  Dinner was a simple affair at some hole-in-the-wall resto.  I thought it would be difficult to look for a vegetarian meal since most of my friends who've been to Turkey would always recommend their supposedly, very tasty kebab.  Good thing there were some fried vegetable tempura similar to our Filipino's "ukoy."  That, some plain rice and ayran (yogurt drink), completed my meal.  

Some snag. After dinner, we stopped by LC Waikiki and Koton (two Turkish brands I loved back in Erbil) and bought the stuff we needed. It was cold.  Something we did not anticipate at all.  The tour agency told us Ephesus would be hot and so we packed accordingly.  I left all my winter/spring stuff in Erbil.  I was even wearing open sandals and shivering the whole time we made our way out in the streets. And so we bought what we needed.

We went back to the hotel soon after.  We encountered some guy harassing us while we were very near at our hotel.  We chose to ignore him but he still kept at it until a man from a nearby bar shouted to him something like, "Stop it, okay? They are not like your usual."  What he meant by that, I have no idea.  I was just grateful that he stopped right away.  I was feeling indignant, actually but I knew fighting back might only invite more trouble.  

We got busy right away when we got back to the hotel.  We unpacked and took out some stuff we would be bringing for the Ephesus and Pamukkale trip.

Fast Forward Two Days After: While true enough that Selcuk (Ephesus) and Pamukkale was hot (another blog entry on the Ephesus trip), when we arrived back at Ataturk Domestic Airport, we were met with a cold blast of air.  We had to wait awhile for our pick up ride and so we were practically shivering in the cold.  

Photo credit: @leyorig
The Palace Courtyard Suite.  We had to pick up our luggage from the hotel we stayed in last.  After that we went straight away to Four Seasons Bosphorus, at the European side of Istanbul.  And we did not just stay in a regular room. We were given the Palace Courtyard Suite which faced the hotel's grand entrance.  

The room was.. amazing... (could not even cover it... maybe splendid? magnanimous?) It was huge, with (more than) high ceilings and all.  It was a twin suite, with Leah and I getting one huge bed each.  What I loved most about it though was the bathroom en-suite.  It's a room in itself with bath and shower and huge dressing mirrors, complete with Bulgari bath essentials... If only I was not too eager to see most of what Istanbul had to offer, it was a perfect place for a staycation -- just spending all day being lazy -- perhaps reading a book from the bed to it's huge bath tub. (I told you everything was huge!) 

We got welcome treats as well: some backlava (of course) and some sweets.  What more can one ask for?

It was truly a blessing.  I'm not very picky with hotel rooms as one is usually up and about anyway during the day.  I just want them really clean and smell nice.  But yeah, staying in five star accommodations is really something.  Who am I to refuse? 

Grabbed from/ credit goes to:
Owing to the fact I could not find my photos for this particular leg of the trip.
Getting Around... Eer... Lost?  We lazed around on our first day, waking up late.  Taking cue from the front desk, we hailed a taxi to take us to the nearest metro station -- Kabatas.  Along the way, we saw a lot of people walking and figured we would do the same in the succeeding days.  

It took us a while to figure out the ticket booth as everything was in Turkish.  A traffic officer helped us figure it out.  So, armed with just a map, our metro tickets, and a sense of adventure, off we went.  It was Grand Bazaar for the day and perhaps squeeze in a place of worship if we have enough time.  

Since we did not have breakfast, Leah and I decided to stop by a resto to eat first.  There were a lot of hawkers or those whose only job is to call out to customers to come and eat at their restos.  We got approached by one who was quite forceful which turned us off completely.  We then opted to just go towards the entrance to the Grand Bazaar.  There we settled in one of the restos that sell kebab and the like.  They have a vegetarian dish so it was better for me.  The funny thing was that it turned out that the "caller" was married to a Filipina who lives in Buhangin, Davao City.  Imagine that. He had been to the Philippines twice already.  He can't believe either that we were Filipina's.  He was working so he could not really talk to us for long.  However, he made us promise to stop by again the next day to which we gave a noncommittal answer.   

Now, Webster dictionary has this for the "simple" definition of the word. "grand," --"involving or including many people or things; very large in scope; intended to have an important or impressive result."  True enough, there were a looooot of people... and the place is huuuuge!  As to the "impressive result," it came after 2 hours of browsing -- I got lost!

Blame it on my being stingy with cash.  As usual, I just brought enough (it is never enough) to make sure I can limit my purchase to just the things that I really wanted.  Having bought two turkish lamps, some souvenir plates and what not's, I had to go look for an ATM.  I found the purse that my niece, Tunga asked me to buy but ran out of cash.  The owner of the shop was kind enough to direct me to the nearest one which was just around the corner.  It turned out however that it does not dispense for Cirrus cards (mine is).  So I looked for another one that would, thinking I could still find my way back.  Big mistake.  I managed to get some money but soon found myself turning from corner to corner as if navigating a "grand" maze.  When I found myself in some kind of an inner courtyard with some tea shops twice, I knew I was really lost. 

I did not panic nor got scared.  I grew weary, however, thinking of how I would have to catch the metro alone and then walk from there.  I then let my rational mind take over.  I retraced my steps and by instinct, sought out a way to bring me back to the main alley/vein at the centre of the bazaar.  I managed to find it.  I then tried to retrace mine and Leah's steps as we went from shop to shop earlier.  I ended getting lost again so I made my way back again to the main alley.  

I got a text from Leah by then, asking where I was.  Thank God, for mobile roaming (albeit costly).  I told her I was lost.  I got two text from her giving me the name of the shop and the alley number.  I gave it to the police there who gave me directions (count five alleys from here then turn left).   The funny thing was I stopped in a small shop selling some women's stuff for help too.  I asked him for direction but he could not help me.  He then made a sale's pitch which made me laugh.  I told him pointedly, I would want to find my way back to my friend first. 

I trudged on and lo and behold, the corner began to look familiar.  I recognised the shop where I bought the plates from.  Looking up ahead, I saw Leah and the shop owner waving at me.  Leah had this big grin on her face.  I was laughing as well.  The shop owner very kindly offered me water hahaha!  And then after I paid for the two purses, he offered to give us some tea.  It was really cute.  There were these guys bearing trays of teas going around, asking shops if they want some tea.  The shop owner called one and then he offered us Turkish tea served in the familiar, minute istikan I have come to love back in Iraq.

It was quite late when we finish so we decided to just call it a day and do the mosque visits the next day.  We walked towards the nearest metro station, the whole time, soaking up the entire atmosphere.  Istanbul streets are lovely.


Thursday, June 09, 2016

At Mary's House

Mary's House, Ephesus (Photo credit: Leah Orig)
I remember sitting at the back pew, feeling grateful to have made it in time.  I rushed from the office, not wanting to miss Mass.  It's the feast of Mary Immaculate, our barangay's (village) patron and as I listened to Archbishop's homily, found out that she's the entire country's as well.

I listened as Archbishop expounded on the significance of the occasion and why it is considered a Holy Day of Obligation.  When he started talking about Ephesus and made reference to the house where St. John brought Mary after Jesus' death, I was intrigued.  I remember telling myself, I will go there one day.

Now, Turkey is such a long way from home.  I don't know when I'd eventually get to go and how.  I just knew I wanted to.  I've always wanted to go to Istanbul.  Hearing about Ephesus then, made the going even more appealing.

When I sat there on 8th December of 2014, I never imagined being "deployed" to Iraq in just a few months from then -- an "arrangement" that made it a lot easier for the Ephesus dream to happen.

When I found myself sitting at the Turkish Embassy in Erbil waiting for my visa application, I was brought back to that moment sitting at the back pew and could not believe I was finally taking steps to making it a reality. It felt surreal.

It took three tries (I even got assisted by a friend on my second one.  However, I made some mistake in my online application so the three hours sitting there and waiting was actually for nothing).  But yes, eventually, I did get one just three days away of my scheduled flight.

Before Sunrise in Istanbul.  Leah and I arrived separately a day earlier, at late afternoon so we practically just spent the night.  We did some last minute shopping for necessities but went right back to the hotel after.  We had to sort out our luggage – choose the few things we will be bringing with us for an overnight in Kusadasi and two days around Izmir and Pamukkale.  Both being OC, it took some time but we slept since we were both tired from rushing last minute things at work before taking our leave.

Off to Izmir.  Our call time was at 5:00 AM and the tour guide was very prompt.  We still had time to grab some breakfast at the airport but soon enough, we found ourselves in Izmir.  The ride to Selcuk centre took around 15 minutes. 

Visit to Mary’s House on Mother’s Day. Yup, it was amazing how everything worked out.  On our way to Selcuk, I greeted Mama and Mama Fely for the occasion and told them how grateful I was to be finding myself on our way to visit Mama Mary’s place on this very special day.  I felt overwhelmed from it all. 

We toured Ephesus, Temple of Artemis and went to some ceramic and carpet shops.  Ephesus was amazing (an entry later on it alone) but I felt as if everything was building up for the very reason why I wanted to be at Izmir. 

And there we were.  The energy of the place was amazing.  I was overwhelmed with unexplainable emotion.  I felt choked by it.  Our guide told us we were lucky to have come when it wasn’t yet at the height of tourist season.  We were able to enter Mary’s house quickly.  She said the queue could have taken us hours. 

The minute I step foot inside the house, the tears came.  I don’t know what they were for, really.  Must be a mixture of gratitude, disbelief that I really made it… or it was simply the energy of the place.  It’s so tangible it felt like I could touch this energy if I would stretch out my hand and grope for it. 

I knelt down to pray and I could not stop crying.  There were no special prayers of requests, only thanksgiving.  Being there was already a privilege.  And without question, my life is a demonstration of countless blessings.  I feel so awed by it all.  I felt sorry that we did not have enough time so we could stay longer.  I would have wanted more time to pray, to reflect and drink up the energy of the place. 

Leaving a part of me behind.  We had to stay a bit to wait for one of our companions.  There were only three of us on that tour -- Leah, myself and Yvette, a Cuban doctor on a solo tour -- and our guide, Nafia.  

I sat there, imagining how Mary must have spent her last days there.  On our ride to our hotel and the days that ensued, the visit was still very much on my mind.  The place is amazing, up on a mountain.  It felt isolated and yet comforting at the same time.  I wondered how in that place Mary could have come to terms with her grief and everything she had went through -- seeing Christ ridiculed, suffered and crucified.  I’m a mother myself and I could imagine how painful everything must have been. How can you live with that?  How do you heal from all of that?  And the house must have played significantly in the shaping of early Christianity.  No wonder the energy of the place.  

I remember being emotional as well sitting outside Bayon Temple in Cambodia.  However, the rawness I felt while in Mary's house hit me at my very core.  It felt as if it was so close to my truth. 

As we exited the house, our guide, Nafia pointed out to me a glass case with several things in it.  She told me it is where "donated" personal articles are kept.  Without hesitation I unchained my silver bracelet, a recent acquisition and favorite.  It has a small, quaint luggage as one of it's charms.  I loved it because it represented my love for travel.  I usually have a hard time putting it on or removing it.  Yet, in one swift click at the lock, it quickly fell to my hand and then I handed it to Nafia.  I said I wanted to leave it there.  It's not much in terms of value but it represents a part of who I am and my leaving it there symbolizes my leaving a part of me to remain there.  

I don't know whether I would still have a chance to travel there.  I would love to go back and perhaps, this time, spend a longer time.  So yes, I've definitely left a part of me in Ephesus.  Not just my heart but perhaps a little chunk of who I am.  I know, I've also taken a bit of Ephesus -- of Mary's house in particular -- and lodged it in my heart... 

Thank you, God for the wonderful opportunity and for shaping everything up so beautifully.   

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rainy, Foggy Road Travel in Picturesque Kurdistan

It's a long, six-hour drive from Kalar to Erbil and yet for the most part I would be wide awake just staring at the landscapes before me.  And it changes dramatically.  From Kalar, it would be some undulating hills, broken up now and then with a few valleys here and there.

Then slowly, the mountains would leap at you, starting from Dabardikan. It somewhat evens when you reach Sulaymaniyah.  Then you would reach Dukan and the mountains would again begin to appear on the horizon.

Kurdistan is beautiful.  I know I would miss it when the time would come for me to leave.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Kappabashi Street: Every Foodie's Oz

With the prodding of our new friend, we hopped on to the minibus that passed by Ueno to go to Kappabashi Street. It was a good thing that Jeanette speaks Nihonggo and they were able to converse quite well.

Reaching Kappabashi, Tokyo Skytree greeted us from the horizon. We thought that was where we were heading when soon enough the street shops caught our attention. From pots and pans to replica of different plated restaurant dishes, they have everything. The street itself had so much character. There was one building with a chef's bust on top and another one with a stack of giant cups and saucers.

The highlight of the visit however was googling over sushi replica fridge magnets and being amazed about how life-like they were.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Ueno Park (Covering Tokyo on Foot)

The sakura trees along Shinobazu pond at Ueno Park  
When one speaks of Tokyo, what readily comes to mind is a picture of serene pagodas in the midst of trees, rendered golden reddish because of their autumn leaves.  That, and bullet trains.  We experienced those alright.  What I did not anticipate, however, is that we would be doing a lot of walking.

We had a quite a full-day itinerary for the day, wanting to cover as much as we can. (By "full", it reads: Ueno Park, Asakusa, Tokyo Skytree, Akihabara, Tokyo  Tower... All in one day!)  While we did not expect it, a lot of literal "leg work" was required.  I think I lost a couple of kilos with all the walking we did.  I'm not complaining though. If anything, I truly enjoyed it and there were instances wherein I opted to do so instead of taking the easy way of just hailing a cab. After a while, it gets tiring though.  

Reason for all the walking: (1) our hostel is far from the "nearest" train station.  (While it's good to be quite far from the hustle and the bustle, the amount of time spent on walking to and from might be something worth considering as well, for future travels.  So how about half-way?); (2) While the Tokyo trail system is very much efficient, the connecting stations we had for most -- if not all -- of the places we've visited are quite at a distance from each other; and lastly, (3) what appears close and in sight might actually translate to 20 minute or so of walking as in the case of the Tokyo Tower experience, but more of that later.  

Ate Tata in one of the stores
at Fabric Street
Walking Begins: Fabric Street.  First order of the day was dropping by the bank (at the corner of our hostel block) to have some dollar notes exchanged to yen.  The personnel were very welcoming but it took some time before all of us got served. 

Since, our hostel is along Fabric Street, there are a lot of shops on both sides.  So from the bank, we did some shop hopping and bought a few things along the way.  Some good finds were winter capes at 100 yen. That's like around 40 pesos.  They were good buys considering they were brand new and the material is good. (Yup, folks, there are inexpensive finds in Japan.  Not everything is expensive as what readily thinks. In terms of food and accommodations though, these are really expensive.)

Ah! Puzzle for the day!

Finding the Right Station.  Figuring out the right train station took some time.  It did not help that the "train map" appeared to be a complicated criss-crossing of differently-colored lines.  Each color represents, well, a train line or route.

Our destination for the day starts with Ueno Park. Looking at the map we found out that the line that plies there do not pass through our station (much to our dismay).  We needed to take a train to the next station where we could catch one that does.

Walk we did.  A lot!
Lower right photo: Err... Ate, you lost? :)
Walking Part Two: From Train Stop to Next Station.  So off we went.  Once we got off the train, we found out that we had to look for the "Ueno" train station. It wasn't that easy. We had yo weave ourselves through one tunnel to the next in the subway.  At one point we thought we were already lost. 

Day Pass.  When we finally found it, we proceeded to get a day pass in view of the jam-packed itinerary we intended to cover that day.  It was better to do so since it would mean saving a lot in terms of the fare.  Before we knew it, we're off to Ueno Park and were tingling with anticipation.  

Finally, at Ueno Park.  It's either we made a mistake in reading which correct (a.k.a nearest) train station to jump off, or that's just  how it is -- the points of interests are really located at a distance from the train stations (there were other instances that it wasn't the case at all) -- thus the need to cover such long distances on foot.  But it was so worth it.  Ueno park is beautiful.  I've read about how it's most stunning during sakura season but in autumn, it was splendid as well.
Bendento Temple

There were a lot of points of interest there: different museums, temples and  a zoo.  We spent most of our time around the picturesque Shinobazu pond.  The pathway around it was dotted with sakura trees in its glorious autumn colors.  The Bendento Temple (pagoda) is at one side of the pond as well. We took turns getting our photos taken with it as the background.

At the west side of the pond is a facility that rents out paddle boats.  Our "young adults" rented one and enjoyed some time paddling to the farthest section of the pond and back.

Toshogu Shrine.  There were two other temples we visited inside Ueno.  One was picturesque Toshogu Shrine.  Something funny happened with the olds though when we went there. Outside the temple we saw some kind of a water fountain with dippers.  We watched as the temple visitors before us took turn getting water from the fountain, wash their hands and face and then "drink" from the dipper.  The ever curious Mama Fely and Mama looked on as several others followed suit.

Huli ka! Mama Fely just about to take a drink :)
Probably thinking that they finally got it after observing quite a handful, they then proceeded to the water fountain.  As they've seen, they got the dipper, got some water and then first washed their hands.  Next, Mama Fely and Mama washed their face.  After that, they drank the water.  Ate Gaga, followed suit.  Then lo and behold, an old Japanese man approached us and told us they shouldn't have drank the water.  He showed them that they ought to have just washed their mouth and then spit the water. Hahahaha! Imagine that!  I was beside myself in amusement.  Bless them and I sure love them but yeah it was really funny.  Good thing I followed my intuition. Funny or not, I think it's one of the highlights of the trip (There's another one also involving Mama Fely and the very hi-tech public toilet but that's a different entry altogether.).  And yeah, since I am so cautious, I would be some boring grandma someday with very little amusing experience to relay to my grandchildren :)

As I said, Toshugu Shrine is picturesque.  We had lots of pictures from there.  We saw some visitors say a prayer by the entrance of the temple and then rang the bell.  The olds did the same.  Bless them :)

  Barely seen at the left, next to the red door is the temple's rope connected to a bell.
 People ring this bell after saying a prayer.  Or so it would seem that way.  
Kiyomizu Kannon Temple. Another highlight for me was the visit to Kiyomizu Kannon Temple.  The temple's architecture wasn't the one that attracted me though.  It's beautiful though. Only, what caught my eye was the prayer boards that I stumbled upon by its entrance.  While I could not read most of them as they are in Japanese, there were a few written in English.  And one in particular made me smile (see right photo).  I sincerely hoped that she got her wish, if she had not changed her mind at some point in her life yet.

It made me want to write my own wish too.  I wondered what that would be though.  Maybe around being able to travel some more and of course for the children.  I wish for them to have a full, promising future ahead of them.  I wish that they would grow up to be kind persons, making a good contribution to our country and to the society and community they would find themselves in.

We spent so much time in Ueno that it would seem we would only be able to cover that for that day and perhaps a few other attractions.  But lo and behold, we were up and about well into the night and managed to go to all of the places we've planned for that day.

Remember the old man I mentioned by the water fountain?  He toured us a bit and even took us to Kappabashi Street which was not part of our itinerary. It was a good thing too because the place was absolutely delightful and should not be missed while in Tokyo.  He probably pitied us and made sure we would be doing things right on our next stop ;)  More of Kappabashi in my next entry.  Here's sharing some more of the photos that we had while at Ueno.

 Photo at the left showed a food stall inside the park that sell fried squid and other seafoods.  He was delightful to watch and I would have wanted to linger a bit.  The other photo was of one of the restaurants we've passed while walking towards the park from the train station.  It was actually mechanical.  The chopsticks with the noodles would move up and down, dipping into the bowl.  Only in Japan, huh?

Here's Ate Tata with the paddle boats in the background.  We had several photos taken over here while we wait for the kids to finish with their ride across the pond.

Here's all the other prayer boards :) I wish I was able to buy one and scribbled my wishes as well.  The temple was close though at that time. These boards had to be bought from there.

Mama outside Toshogu Shrine

I could stay here an entire day. It was just so peaceful.  I fancy just whiling the time away writing or simply reading a book.

Mama Fely in one of the benches by the lotus pond.  A tourist guide book relayed how the pond looks splendid in the summer with the lotus flowers blooming.

Catching the bus for Kappabashi Street :)