Guns and Frocks

Loving Delta and the Bannermen since 1987

Red meat on Fridays

Friday 21 March 2008

I’m just back from dinner. Calvin and I went to a restaurant under the hotel called Wakkoku, which was recommended by the Guide for the quality of its Kobe beef.

We were seated at a bench, directly in front of the long rectangular hotplate where our meal was cooked. Next to us we had small bowls of vinegar and soy sauce.

I started with smoked salmon, served with capers on a bed of lightly pickled onion. Calvin had tongue. (Delicious. I broke my skeletal-muscle-only rule to try it.) We ate our entrees while watching the chef lightly fry huge slices of garlic, carefully creating two small piles. He placed the garlic on large plates, which sat on the hotplate in front of us. Then he added small piles of salt, pepper and mustard.

We ate a light salad while the chef brought out two 250 gram slices of Kobe beef, amazingly geometrical, and marbled with fat. He cut off the fatty ends, and then cut two-thirds of the rest into slices and carefully fried each surface.

We dipped these slices in pepper or in a mixture of mustard and soy sauce. They were rich, juicy and fatty — by far the most delicious meat I have ever eaten.

Then he used the molten beef fat to lightly fry pieces of tofu,  eggplant, carrot and radish. He served these to us, and  added some of the pieces of fat themselves (oh my god!), and then the rest of the beef, and then bean shoots mixed with the rest of the pieces of fat. Calvin was defeated by the richness of it all, but I made it all the way to the end. So much delicious meat.

That was when I remembered Good Friday. Tomorrow and Sunday: penance and self-mortification. I’ll get back to you after that.

Easter among the Shintoists

Thursday 20 March 2008

I’m writing this post from the top floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kobe. We arrived here yesterday afternoon, and after about five minutes of conversation, Calvin had us upgraded to Vice-Emperor Status, which means a massive room and free access to endless free drinks in the Ambassador Club Deity Lounge. He’s my absolute hero.

It's an overcast day and we're looking over the city of Kobe: mountains on the left, lots of multi-storey buildings clustered together, and just visible in the background on the right is the sea.
View from the hotel room window in Kobe

I met Calvin at Tokyo Airport, after a horrid long-haul flight from London to Tokyo. There was to be no sleeping on this flight, thanks to the many children around me, and the confined economy-class seating. But the inflight entertainment was spectacular: I watched hours of cartoons and sitcoms, episodes of Torchwood, and, for the very first time, This is Spinal Tap. No one ever told me that Patrick Macnee was in it.

Dinner last night was hampered a bit by our complete inability to communicate with the staff in the restaurant. Buying train tickets this morning was hampered by our relative inability to communicate with the staff at the railway station. We’ve picked our restaurant for dinner tonight, and are hoping for a menu with pictures on it. Although we’re pretty sure that most waiters in Kobe will understand the word beef.

Caught the tourist bus around Kobe today, visited a beautiful Shinto temple, wandered slack-jawed around a six-storey electronics shop and climbed the hill behind the city on a scary cable-car thing.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Koyasan, where we’ll be staying in a Buddhist temple for two days. I’m guessing that opportunities for beef, beer and wi-fi will be limited, so I don’t expect to be blogging again until after the weekend.

Strike three

Wednesday 19 March 2008

I had a bit of a ceramics day yesterday. There were no trains running, and I was reluctant to attempt the buses, so I was restricted to places within easy walking distance of the hotel. Fortunately, that included the National Archaelogical Museum and the Kerameikos.

I had visited the museum the day before, but by the time I reached the pottery collection on the top floor, I had pretty much had enough. I briefly walked through all the rooms in reverse chronological order, only stopping to look at the occasional pretty or unusual piece.

This time I had a few hours to walk through the whole collection, in order. And I was glad I did. Everything was very clearly described and explained, and there were beautiful examples of the different techniques and types of vessels. By the end, I knew a lot more than I had when I arrived.

More souvlaki for lunch, and then the last of the archaeological sites on my list. The Kerameikos was where a lot of the pottery was made, and although the ruins are now little more than square brick outlines, there is a small museum there with more pottery and grave markers. I wandered around for a while, marvelling at the tortoises and the flowers, looking up at the Acropolis, and trying to imagine Athens 2500 years ago.

On my way back to the hotel, I started to notice ominous signs on the telegraph poles. Brightly coloured signs, prominently featuring the word apergía and the date March 19. I went back to my local pub and decided to have an early night and not to worry too much about it.

Of course, I couldn’t sleep. I’ve had a fun few weeks travelling on my own, but I’m really looking forward to travelling in Japan with Calvin. It was like Christmas Eve: I couldn’t sleep till nearly midnight, and I was wide awake at 4.30 am.

And good thing too. The signs were advertising a general strike in protest at the changes to pensions the Greek government is planning to bring in tomorrow. When I checked out at 5.30, hoping to get to the airport in time for my flight at 8.55, the reception guy said that there would be no buses or trains or taxis today.

But 5.30 in the morning was early enough for the strike not to have kicked in yet, and I managed to get a cab to the airport, for only a couple of euros less than the cost of the previous night at the hotel. After spending a couple of hours wrestling with the ancient Windows machines in Athens Airport’s crappy first-class lounge (darling!), I’m now in the air about three hours from Heathrow, where I catch my flight to Tokyo.

Strike two

Monday 17 March 2008

Today is my last day in Athens, and my last day in Europe. I’m leaving tomorrow morning at 9 am to fly to Tokyo via London, where I’ll meet up with Calvin.

Yesterday was another beautiful day, hot and sunny: for the first time, I shed the jacket completely. I decided to head up to the Acropolis again. This time I started with the excavations on the south side and the Theatre of Dionysus. Then up to the Acropolis itself.

It was still spectacular. It was Monday, and entry was no longer free, so it was less crowded. I took a couple more pictures, but basically just tried to memorise the place as much as I could. This time I noticed that from the Erichtheion you could see the Ancient Agora and its amazingly intact temple of Hephaistos. I also saw a lump of rock nearby which people were clambering on, and suspected that I knew what it must be. I headed towards the exit.

Before I got there, I ran into the American students again. They’d been having fun, and were getting ready to leave the next day.

The lump of rock had a plaque on it quoting the chapter of the Book of Acts where Saint Paul preaches to the Greeks about a God previously unknown to them. This was the Areopagus. I wandered up, marvelling at its slipperiness and wondering if there were as many beer bottles there in Paul’s day. I saw the American students again, but climbed down before they saw me: it would have been ridiculous to say goodbye to them for a fourth time.

Closeup of a bronze plaque set into a stone surface. The plaque is inscribed with Greek capital letters.

I went through the Ancient Agora, and walked around the temple of Hephaistos. They have little tortoises here, like the one that killed Aeschylus. I emerged from the agora into a fabulously cool street, full of roadside cafes where attractive young people were playing backgammon and drinking that scary frothy Greek coffee. I vaguely decided to come back and eat here that night.

Souvlaki for lunch: the best thing I’ve eaten since Italy. Then the National Archaeological Museum for the afternoon. Had a happy time looking at all that gold Schliemann dug up in Mycenae, and spent quite a while looking at the Neolithic artifacts. By the time I reached the  fantastic ceramics rooms on the top floor, my knees and ankles had had enough, and I didn’t do more than a cursory tour.

It was dark and overcast when I left the museum, but not yet time for dinner, so I walked back to the cafes near the Ancient Agora. It was quite dark when I got there, and the bookshop I’d spotted earlier had no books in English, and it was too dark to read at any of the cafes anyway, so I decided to head back. Not before seeing the Acropolis all magnificently lit up, though. I tried to take a photo, but it was dark and the camera’s a Sony, which means that I can’t work out how to change any of its settings.

There was a notice at Thissio station, which looked like it said there would be a train strike for the next 36 hours. When I got to Omonia station, there was an English announcement that confirmed it.

So, no trains today. I can’t face the buses, frankly, and so I’m stuck doing things within walking distance. That might mean another trip to the Archaeological Museum to take a proper look at the pottery and a trip to the Kerameikos. Or it might mean dicking around on the internet and drinking at the pub next to the hotel. Let’s see, shall we?

The Athens photos are up

Sunday 16 March 2008

I don’t have time to write a long post right now, but I just wanted to say that I’ve uploaded my photos from today’s sightseeing tour of Athens, including my first ever trip to the Acropolis.

Normal whinging about the vicissitudes of overseas travel will resume as soon as possible.