Wintry and Sundry

It’s been an eventful few months for us! The first excitement was my commencement ceremony… during which I was sick. Ridiculously deep-in-the-thick-of-a-cold sick, to where I stuffed my robe pockets with kleenex and surreptitiously wiped my nose throughout the ceremony (which I could barely hear, since my ears were congested). Despite all that, it was lovely and I’m so very glad I got to walk the stage, get hooded, and have my family watch!

StarrGradMosaic

And for extra fun, at the lovely graduation party (thanks to all the parents for their work on it) my mom-in-law had made a castle-shaped cake, which Alex decorated with Lego Batman figures. It doesn’t really get much geekier than that!

BatmanCastleCakeMosaic

Two days later, we threw our gear into suitcases and boarded a plane for Australia! We’d booked a week-long live-aboard scuba diving trip to celebrate our 12th anniversary, and it was splendid. We had a day in Sydney (thanks for the tour, Keith!) and a day on either end of the boat trip to walk around Cairns–which included snuggling a koala! (It’s legal in Queensland, where the koalas are small, but not in other provinces, where koala species are larger.)

AlexKoala

We were on Mike Ball’s Spoilsport, which is a lovely boat and offers open dive deck in the afternoons, so you can squeeze in extra dives if you’re good on air consumption. We dived the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef and saw lots of amazing hard corals, fish, and sharks (friendly ones). Steve’s Bommie was one of my favorite dive sites–gorgeous, an easy dive, and loads to see. Overall the diving was easier than the current-heavy diving we did in Thailand last year, and equally as gorgeous (though with a bit less visibility).

AustraliaMosaic

Next we set off for Japan, Alex’s graduation present to me (what an awesome hubby, right?). We exchanged Australia’s summer climate for a winter one (between two climates and suba diving, I don’t want to describe the mess of luggage we hauled across multiple airports). We had an amazing time exploring Tokyo by foot and subway, particularly loving the pop-culture-craziness of both Akihabara (the electronics district, geek-topia–or rather, otaku-topia) and Shibuya (a shopping area known for the largest pedestrian crossing in the world, yes, the one from Resident Evil, FF Tokyo Drift, and Lost in Translation). And oh, the FOOD: sushi, sashimi, ramen, rice balls, miso soup, tako yaki, karaage, and other scrumptious street food we couldn’t quite identify.

TokyoMosaic

I had no idea what a train culture Japan is until we were presented with so many options for getting around: bullet trains, regional trains, private trains, express trains, city trains, and–oh yes–subways! Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory should definitely visit Japan.

SheldonTrain1

We took a bullet train to Nikko to see the Toshogu Shrine (home of the “see/hear/speak no evil” monkey carving), and it was like stepping into the image of “Old Japan” of which I’d always dreamed. The path up to the shrine, which is in a mountainy area, is lined with mossy rocks and enormous cedars planted in the 1700s. It even started snowing while we were there, sealing it as one of the most picturesque places I’ve experienced. Being there made me realize that the aesthetic of Japanese prints wasn’t just a stylistic choice, but was heavily influenced by the actual geometric quality of the trees and mountains there.

We also spent a few days in Kyoto, where we enjoyed sesame cream coffee (YUM), the gorgeous Philosopher’s Walk, and merrily wandering along random narrow streets until we happened upon a tiny shrine or temple. We also visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which has thousands of vermillion torii (wooden gates) lining its paths, up the mountain, around a little lake, leading to many family shrines and red-bibbed fox statues (kitsune). (The shrine is featured in this lovely scene from Memoirs of a Geisha.)

SapporoCrate

After that three-week travel extravaganza (Travel-ganza? Extrava-trip?), we briefly touched down in Dallas for some unpacking, repacking, and general organization. Then we headed to NYC, where we’ve been for about two weeks, causing me to wake up each morning with a 5-second mental check of where we are: “Ukraine? No… Dallas? Heck, what country are we in? Hmm… Oh hey, are we in New York? Ah-ha!”

For Alex’s birthday, we went snowboarding upstate. And when I say “snowboarding,” I mean to say that Alex snowboarded, while I had two particularly stellar wipeouts (really, you should have seen them, it was impressive that all my limbs remained intact), and successfully swooshed down the beginner slope a few times. It was amazingly fun, although when my knees complained loudly for the next few days, I began to wonder if taking up such a sport in my mid-30s is perhaps not my brightest idea. I think I’ll stick with scuba diving!

And that, as Garrison Keillor would say, is all the news from Lake Wobegon.

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4 thoughts on “Wintry and Sundry

  1. Kathy says:

    Wow! Such wonderful trips! Thanks for sharing the itinerary, even though it made me extremely jealous.

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      Well, I’d have included more photos, but 1) I still need to edit all my Nikon shots, and 2) I dropped and broke my iPhone in the Tokyo fish market (AUGH)–I have a new one, but that but a damper in my snapshots for the rest of Japan. :/

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