Monday, October 28, 2013

Japan: Arrival in Tokyo and Bus Trip to Karuizawa.

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town
is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world."
~Freya Stark

Remember when I went to Italy with the Salt Lake Vocal Artists? Well, I went on tour again. This time to Japan!

I had never been to Asia prior to this, so I was really looking forward to it. In many ways I felt very much at home because so much of they way they do things reminds me of my life in San Francisco. But, of course, there were a lot of new sights and new discoveries.

Flying Delta route SLC-PDX-NRT (hooray for racking up SkyMiles!), we departed Salt Lake City at 11am on Thursday, October 10th and arrived in Tokyo on Friday October 11th at about 5pm. Yeah... we basically skipped a day.

I was a little sad too board our plane from Portland to Tokyo to find that there were no individual entertainment screens, like there usually are and were advertised for this flight. Since I planned to sleep, it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was a little sad. The plane clearly was an older plane.

As soon as we passed through Customs in the Tokyo-Narita airport, we went to the ATM to get some Yen since Sawako and Shimaco, our guides, told us that it was a three-day weekend and a lot of the businesses where we were going wouldn't take card. I also took the opportunity to buy a box of Pocky, a water bottle, and a couple postcards and stamps. I even wrote out those postcards. After asking the lady at the airport shop if she could put them in the mail for me, I quickly learned that post boxes are hard to find and no one will do it for you. (Those postcards never got mailed the entire trip.)

This is me, looking not half bad for having traveled to the future. 
Finally, when we all had a chance to retrieve some Yen from the ATM, we boarded our bus to Tokyo. Apparently, the Tokyo-Narita airport is actually quite a distance outside of Tokyo and on a Friday night in rush-hour traffic, it took us quite awhile to get there.

Our destination was the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, where they had a plated dinner of salisbury steak awaiting us. All I wanted to do was go to bed. I was so tired. Much to our surprise (and delight) all the rooms were single rooms. I think we were all happy to just go back to our room, strip our clothes off and fall into bed (on the hard rice pillow).

You may notice the bathroom looks slightly different in these photos. That's because over the course of the week, we stayed at the NYC two different times and so I had two different rooms with virtually the same layout, but slight differences. Oh, and don't mind my laundry hanging up in that photo. Also, the combined bed/bathroom photo is not two photos together. That is the wall. The room was that small, but just big enough.

Did you catch that one must step UP to get into the bathroom? That's how every bathroom in every hotel we stayed in was like. It's about a six or seven inch step up off the floor.

I was so afraid that I'd be too jet-lagged to wake up in the morning, so I slept with the curtains and window open and also set the alarm on the 70s-era console next to my bed. To my surprise, I woke up about every hour from midnight on. We also experience an earthquake, about 5.0 on the Richter scale, at some point in the night. (Again, a reason I felt "at home.")

Finally at about 3:30am, I decided I was up for good and I'd take some pictures of my view. I totally do not know how to use the settings on my camera, but I stumbled on a night vision one. It was totally dark outside, as evidenced by the photo above. The two following were taken after I found the night-time setting.

When the sun started to rise, I was still wide awake and just about fully re-packed. We were heading out to Karuizawa that morning.

After what seemed like a mile walking with all our luggage to meet the bus, down several flights of stairs, we found that the bus couldn't load there and we had to walk all the way back to where we began. We certainly got a workout that first morning in Tokyo, and we even beat the bus back

That morning on the bus, Sawako passed out our breakfast, which was a foreshadow of many of the meals to come: Sandwiches. :) I think the Festival was trying to be very accommodating to us sandwich-eating-Americans, as well as, keep the cost of feeding us to a reasonable amount. But we had SO many tiny sandwiches the whole trip.

The sandwiches were actually pretty good that morning and seeing water bottles in foreign languages is always fun. That was one really great thing about the Festival feeding us: they kept us very well hydrated with water bottles available all the time. It was really great.

As we wound our way around Tokyo and out of the city, it was fun to see things that are distinctly Japanese.

Hondas. (Especially the Honda Fit, like mine!)

Bikes and more bikes.

Gardens in the middle of the city.

And interesting freeway structures. Oh... and did you realize that in Japan they drive on the left side of the road? I didn't remember until I got there.)

Interestingly, the countryside of Japan looks very much to me like the countryside of the U.S. or anywhere in Europe. Fields and fields.

Something that is distinctly Japanese, in my experience, are their rest stops along the highways. They are like full-on food, grocery, and souvenir strip malls.

The rest stops really are fabulous!

I was furiously trying to memorize that last of my music. We had 25 pieces in our repertoire and it was really difficult to get it all memorized this time. But luckily, I had a beautiful view to watch out the window also.

 And finally we arrived in Karuizawa! More on the Festival and the beautiful town of Karuizawa next!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Home Project: Recovering the Dining Room Chairs.

‎"Your goals, minus your doubts, equal your reality."
~Ralph Marston

So, as you likely know, I bought a home about a year and a half ago now. After living in one bedroom with a little bit of storage space for the majority of my adult life, I found I had a lot of space to fill and a lot of projects to do. Luckily, thanks to a few family members, I have several pieces of furniture to fill that space.

I haven't documented most of my projects, but I think I will start so I can keep a record of them. I like to be able to look back at my accomplishments on days when I'm feeling like a loser. It helps to ease the depression and worthlessness I talked about a few posts earlier, which sometimes still creeps in.

Back in July, I recovered the dining room chairs that I purchased off of classifieds. Six "French antique" chairs for $100. Not bad. I don't know if they are really French antiques (doubt it, since the word antique is too often thrown around carelessly), but I do think they are lovely.

Not only was the fabric, which the previous owners chose to recover them in, not my style but the recovering job was awful. The fabric was loose and bunchy around the edges. Underneath the ugly plaid fabric is the original mauve colored velveteen. I chose to leave that on to maintain the integrity of the shape.

Whether they are actually antique or not, they are definitely old as evidenced by the spring mechanism here.

First, I had took the plaid fabric off. I started by loosening all the staples with a flat-head screwdriver.

 Then, I pulled them out with pliers.

Wow. That was a lot of hard work pulling those staples out... there were hundreds in all six chair seats!

Loosely measuring against the old piece of ugly plaid, I cut the new fabric, a red, turquoise, peach, green, and navy paisley print on a light cream background, which I got for 60% off the original price thanks to a Memorial Day weekend sale at Hancock Fabrics.

I pulled the fabric tight on the back and the front of the seat and stapled. Then on the sides. I don't have any pictures, since I was alone when I did this, but I had to be very careful around the corners of the back and the rounded corners of the front of the seat, to ensure that the fabric was laying as smoothly as possible and there were no folds. They turned out really nicely and I cut of any excess fabric so it wouldn't hang down beneath the chair, once I put the seat back in place.

You can see the original pink/mauve velveteen in the photo below. The new paisley fabric is pretty smooth. I saw a couple velvet-like fabrics that I liked, but I knew that I would want something that one's bottom could slide easily on and off, so you wouldn't feel stuck to the chair as you were attempting to scoot your chair in.

And tada... before and after:

Funny, but after I got the new fabric in place, I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I'm getting used to it now and think it fits well and complements the style of the chairs. The little teal/turquoise matches the rug and the red is pulled in from other red pieces in the room. The best thing is that if I decide sometime down the road that I want a different look, it's a pretty easy change. But I like it for now.

P.S. Does anyone recognize the table? It's the dining room table I grew up eating on. My mom graciously saved it for me to use when I moved in. And if you look closely at one end in the reflection of the light, you can even see my name slightly "carved" into the table from when I was doing homework as a child, pressing hard with my pencil as I wrote my name in the upper right-hand corner. When Grandpa and Mom refinished the table nearly 20 years ago, Grandpa wouldn't let Mom sand that part out. Memories. :)