The Rookery

One of the downsides to taking a zillion photos while traveling is that you rarely find the time after your trip concludes to share them with the world in a comprehensive manner. I usually get to the point where I organize them and back them up, and then I think about how I’d like to share them online, and then I go back to work and get sucked back into my routine (which this year included a role change at my job), and before you know it, months have passed and you realize you never shared one thing. And a day comes where you find a wee bit of time, and you admit guilt on your public forum of choice (mea culpa, WordPress), and you prepare your images…and here we are! Finally giving this amazing building its due. To read more about all the people involved in the creation of the Rookery over the decades, click here: http://therookerybuilding.com/building-history.html

Although we learned about the building through the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust on our trip to Chicago late last summer, many others had a hand in making it spectacular inside. Here are some shots for your enjoyment.

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Holiday surprises – West Coast edition

In July I found out that Cirque du Soleil was opening their newest show, Kurios (which has a Steampunk theme), in LA around the holidays. The scheming began. I convinced Alex that we should have an “experience” in place of gifts this holiday season, and he – loving surprises as he does – wanted to know absolutely nothing about where we were going or what we were doing until the time came. I managed to keep the secret from July 27th until about 7:30am on the day of travel, when he made a comment about something before I was fully awake, and I replied with “yeah, we’ll do that in LA.” Best-case scenario, it would have been a secret for another 6-7 hours until we arrived at the airport…so I think I did pretty well considering how hard it is to keep secrets, especially when you’re excited about them.

We stayed at a precious little converted garage in a neighborhood only about 1 mile from LAX, which I’d never been through before. The garden was especially lovely.

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They also had great taste in decor – look at this nerdy graphic design poster about fonts!

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Inside the garage apartment were not one, not two, but THREE clues as to our weekend’s surprises. It was hard not to spill when Alex was asking me questions about Ojai (our second destination for the weekend), upon spotting the wall hanging and bookmark in the bathroom. Total coincidence. Also old postcards of the PCH right above the bed, and that trip north was on the docket.

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Saturday we got up and headed out to brunch. You know who is in LA the weekend before Christmas? NO ONE. We had zero wait and almost zero fellow diners for a Marina del Rey patio restaurant at 11am on a Saturday morning. And they had flights of beer in tiny mugs, so Alex kicked the day off with a round of IPAs, and nothing could have made him happier.

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We headed to the Getty so I could share one of my favorite places with him. The collection is great, and they had a cool show about daguerrotypes, but overall what I love about the Getty is the setting and the architecture and the gardens. And we had a perfect day for it.

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P.S. I want to go to college HERE, on the hill opposite the Getty. Such a view.

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No sooner did we head down the hill (on foot) and exit the parking garage, an unexpected rain started to fall. We would have been drenched if we’d been any slower. As it was we headed back “home” for a rest and enjoyed being lazy as the rain drummed on the roof of the garage. Next up, Cirque! We went off to the stadium. On the way we drove through a random neighborhood and saw one of the best lit holiday installations EVER. Why, yes, that is Santa flying off the rooftop, next to a ferris wheel and hot air balloon.

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We arrived and waited for the Grand Chapiteau to open.

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I had bought the tickets with my United Visa originally, so they gave us two certificates for free popcorn and drinks as a bonus. I had cancelled my card in the meantime, but Alex still had his, so we wound up scoring a picnic blanket (random giveaway) and being directed to a VIP lounge where they had free drinks (IPAs! Happy Alex!), appetizers, popcorn, salads…even some cheesecake at intermission. And it was empty – we found it by accident and I don’t think many Visa people knew about it! I found two families in line to buy concessions and gifted them our certificates.

The show was AMAZING. I actually splurged on great seats, since we were flying across the country to see it, so we had a wonderful view of all the amazingness. This is the one shot I took, before it started. So many gramophones on stage, adapted in bizarre ways!

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Sadly, it ended, and we had to leave. They honored everyone’s readjustment to the world at the exit.

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On Sunday morning we awoke to pale sunshine. I was delighted, because the previous afternoon’s rain would have ruined my midday plan to drive north on the PCH as far as we could on our way to Ojai. We hit the road, stopping at the Malibu Pier for brunch. The Yelp reviews said we’d wait about 45 minutes or more for Sunday brunch – we waited zero. There were a few people there, but it was pretty quiet.

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This happened. A hybrid of french toast and bread pudding with blackberries and a sprig of arugala. Mmmmmmm.

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Coincidentally, Alex’s company has an office in Malibu and it was about two blocks south of where we parked, so we strolled down for a peek. I’m sure there’s footage on their security cameras of him lurking around trying to peer in the windows. We continued north on the PCH, and decided to pull over at an especially scenic spot.

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Right around the bend from this rock is the Marine base, and it gets un-scenic pretty much instantly! We drove on to Ojai and headed straight for the winery/tasting room that our LA hosts had recommended.

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Then we had a late lunch (early dinner) at the Italian place that the bartender at the tasting room recommended. I’ve been watching what I eat pretty closely the last several weeks, and indulging in the homemade ravioli filled with squash and covered in browned butter/sage and parmesan was so delicious.

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We headed to our hotel, the Ojai Retreat. It was lovely. I felt a bit disappointed because it seems to me they overemphasized the quantity/quality of their outdoor installations (walking trail and gardens), but Alex had no prior expectations and loved it. And we did get a pretty sunset, though with the clouds it didn’t come near the legendary “pink moment” that all Ojai-aficionados rave about.

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We wrapped up our trip Monday with breakfast at the hotel, with a view over the mountains.

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We went to Bart’s Books (yes, the one featured on the bookmark in our LA AirBNB), and marvelled at the fact that 90% of the bookstore is basically outdoors! The few inside rooms are super creative – witness the book Christmas tree and the cookbooks in the historical kitchen.

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Then followed a quick visit to Ojai Olive Oil Co for a tasting and a stop at Ojai Beverage Co for lunch. More flights of IPAs were enjoyed. They’re so bitter, but they bring Alex so much joy… Then home to Austin late late, but totally worth it. All in all, I think the weekend was a total success!

 

 

Kyoto II

Our final morning in Kyoto we went to the famous Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, which is known for its iconic orange torii (gates). I loved it. Loved. It was one of my favorite places during our whole trip, even though it was mobbed with other tourists. We spent as long as we could there before returning to the hotel to check out and head to Osaka for our final night in Japan. All the gates!!

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After Tokyo, Kyoto felt quaint and picturesque. We walked almost everywhere, enjoyed the presence of street signs (Tokyo doesn’t believe in them, and it makes navigating interesting…), visited famous temples and smaller shrines tucked back in quiet neighborhood streets, ate Okonomiyaki (Alex may be its #1 fan), saw endless amounts of Japanese tourists in rented kimonos, and generally had a fantastic time. We mostly explored Higashiyama (northern and southern), on the eastern side of the river. There are a bunch of lovely temples and shrines in the hills on the edge of the city.

The first night we wandered up to Yasaka shrine and down Shijō-dori, one of the main shopping streets in Kyoto (also home to the Kabuki theatre). After seeing a poster advertising seasonal illuminations at one of the temples, we went to Kōdai-ji and had the luck to see it, along with its beautiful bamboo grove (yes, the LP cover suspect). It was a bit surreal to sit and watch a pseudo-laser lightshow accompanied with Philip Glass-esque music in such a unique environment. Walking home later we stumbled upon a tall pagoda, ethereally lit up in an empty street. As we discovered the following day, an empty street in Higashiyama is pretty hard to come by – impossible in daylight hours!

The next morning we started out at Sanjūsangen-dō, which is known for its lines upon lines (upon lines) of statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon. There are 1001 total, all Japanese cypress covered in gold leaf, most a bit dusty, but none the less impressive a sight as a result. We headed up into the hills above Higashiyama only to realize we’d made a premature turn and we were up in the cemetery district, amongst many Japanese relatives visting their dearly departed. Fascinating to see, but we were rather out of place. We redirected to visit the Kiyomizu-dera complex, which featured a traditional three-storied pagoda, a hall which is built on 12 meter high pillars and seems to hang mid-air, and a separate little shrine, Jishu shrine, dedicated to lovers. We stopped for lunch at a little udon noodle shop that has outdoor seating set up on the side of the park pathway in the shadow of the main hall, and then went back to see the Kōdai-ji temple in the light of day, as well as the big Buddha (Daibutsu) we’d glimpsed through the dark next door the previous night. We continued on through the Gion district and finished the night with a bus tour of the city that was intended to show off a series of illuminated monuments (this was the only true tour we did the whole trip…and the only disappointing travel experience we had the whole trip).

At all these places we saw some cherry trees just starting to burst into bloom – I can’t imagine how spectacular it must be when you are surrounded by full bloom at these temples. It must take your breath away. But even lacking that, I got some shots that show the beauty of the city and its holy sites.

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In the morning, full of (FULL OF) that unparalled breakfast, we headed to the hills to visit some shrines and temples. Everything was so green and alive and mossy and vibrant and fresh. At the last temple, we spotted through a veil of trees what looked like a pretty active cherry tree grove (in terms of blooms).
At first we couldn’t figure out how to get into it, and were desperately starting to consider illicit fence-jumping, but we saw people in there walking around like they belonged there, so we calmed down and persisted until we found an entrance. That little grove was a hidden piece of paradise! Small trees of all varieties and colors, with loads of blossoms. We’d seen scattered trees in bloom in Tokyo and Hakone, but this gathering of full-on blooming trees was amazing – probably what a lot of the country looked like in early April, after our trip ended. This was my “Sound of Music” moment, when I could throw my head back and throw my arms out and spin around in circles under the branches. The fact that only two other people showed their faces the entire time we were there, and that there was a quietly babbling brook nearby, and a neighboring grove of cedar trees, and a gentle rain of cherry blossom petals fell from the trees throughout… and that we didn’t know it existed until we accidentally found it…all that made it all the more private and special. A living illustration of “my happy place”. The pictures can’t entirely do it justice, but I’ll share some below, mixed in with shots of the beautiful landscape, shrines, and temples of Arashiyama.

Tokyo II

Originally we were unsure if we wanted to spend 2 full days in Hakone on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto. Then in my readings about Tokyo, I came across a reference to the twice yearly “dragon dance” at one of the most well-known temples there, and it happened to be on March 18th! Given the timing, I scheduled us two full days in Tokyo, followed by an overnight in Hakone, followed by an early return to Tokyo for one last afternoon so we could see the festival. It was also a great opportunity to explore another area of Tokyo, since it’s a big place and neighborhoods feel quite different.

We took the highway bus back to Tokyo from Hakone, departing from a fortuitous stop almost directly across the street from our hotel. We grabbed lunch near Shinjuku train station and decided to go straight to the neighborhood (Asakusa) where the festival was taking place so we wouldn’t miss the last dance of the day. Since we took advantage of our fancy Tokyo hotel to leave our bags there and travel light to Hakone, we didn’t have to worry about schlepping luggage around the festival (and it made all the transports referred to in my earlier post much easier to navigate!) The temple was mobbed with people, of course, visiting the famous Kaminarimon, inching along the pedestrian shopping street leading to the main temple building, and watching the dragon dance as it went by.

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Here’s some footage of the Dragon Dance!

After that we explored the surrounding neighborhood a bit. Two of my favorite elements were the intricate murals painted on the metal shutters (only visible when stores are closed) and the random “men” hanging out on the buildings.

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After we had our fill of festival crowds, we headed back to Ginza to revisit the stationery store from a couple of days before. We decided the opportunity was too good to let pass, and stocked up further on some “necessities”. Then we had dinner at a Kirin Brewery restaurant, headed back to our fancy Tokyo hotel, picked up our bags, headed back to Shinjuku station, and took the train to a metro stop close-ish to the hostel we planned to stay at that night. The place was also in Asakusa (like the festival), so we made a giant circle throughout the day! We grabbed a cab, whose driver wins for most honest cabbie ever, because when we couldn’t find the hostel (any of us) and drove in circles for a few minutes before successfully locating it on Alex’s Google Maps, he wouldn’t let me pay the full fare – only the amount we had reached at the time we started our hunt. The hostel was down a small alley and we were a bit wary, but the place was great, sparkling clean, our own little double room to ourselves, and the bathroom/shower – while shared – were always open, since only 2 rooms shared them.

The next morning we headed out early to walk through Ueno Park, and realized the neighborhood was perfectly nice – we just had the usual unease of arriving to a new place in the dark and having to travel down a dim alley with all our worldly possessions (at the moment, anyway). Everyone says Tokyo is so expensive, and it definitely CAN be, but with the info and reviews available on hotels.com, I found some great places to stay that were under $100. We didn’t even manage that two weeks ago in the suburbs of Tampa! All I’m saying is, don’t cross it off your list if you’re on a budget. You can make it work and have a lovely trip.

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It was a misty, rainy morning in Ueno Park, and when we entered we came to a long, long line of lanterns that must be wonderful at night. They were all woodblock prints – I’m pretty sure from Hiroshige’s Hundred Views of Edo – and I took photos of nearly all of them (gallery below).