Entries in Travel (606)
Japan in the summer is a very hot and humid affair. The area where I lived in central Honshu was pretty miserable in the summer months. The closest thing that I can liken the weather to would be someplace like Georgia in the U.S. You are probably thinking that wouldn't so bad but that is because people in Georgia use air conditioning. Not to say that there isn't air conditioning in Japan, it is just that they use it much more sparingly. By that I mean that if it was in the nineties outside my office would be cooled down to the low eighties. When you also factor in that I would walk to and from the train station and that the train was not air conditioned at all, I would pretty much spend every day a hot sweaty mess from June through September.
On the weekends when I would be traveling around it would be even worse since I spent even more time outside walking around. My saving grace through the summer heat was eating Japanese soft cream and eating it often.
Soft cream (ソフトクリーム, sofuto kuriimu) is a Japanese version of soft serve ice cream that is a little less sweet and more creamy than its American counterpart. I've never been a huge soft serve fan back at home, but part of that is that typically in the U.S. we only have chocolate, vanilla and swirl which is boring when you can have double chocolate chunk cherry ice cream. Soft cream is not only a bit richer than soft serve but also comes in a crazy variety of awesome flavors.
Through my anecdotal experience the most common soft cream flavor is green tea. Green tea (抹茶, matcha) is a very popular flavor for sweets in Japan. I didn't know this on my first business trip to Japan back in 2006 so being an American I thought that the pale green was mint. Haha! I got a cone and was quite surprised. Green tea has a bitter taste so it wasn't something that I immediately loved right off the bat, but green tea soft cream eventually became one of my favorites. The photo below on the left is a plain green tea soft cream cone while the one on the right is a float made with green tea soft cream. Yum!
I love trying fun flavors that I happen upon. Here's a photo of me eating a black sesame (黒ごま, kuro goma) soft cream on a rainy, April day in Yoshino. Just because I need soft cream in the summer doesn't mean I don't succumb to its charms in other seasons as well. The black sesame was super tasty but it turned my tongue black.
One of the most memorable soft cream stands that I stumbled upon was near Onuma Koen (大沼公園), a National Park in Hokkaido. It was blisteringly hot out and I couldn't resist all of the cute cone statues decorating the top of the stand.
Several unique flavors representing foods that Hokkaido is famous for in Japan were featured. Never one to pass up trying a new soft cream flavor I decided that I absolutely needed to eat the lavender before my hike in the park and then treat myself to the squid ink (イカ墨, ikasumi) soft cream after I was done. I loved them both! Also, please note that squid ink soft cream, like black sesame, will also turn your tongue black.
Moving from the northernmost prefecture, down to the southernmost, I also tried some great flavors during a weekend trip I took to Okinawa. Okinawa is well known in Japan for its pineapples so while I was there I just had to visit the adorably kitschy Nago Pineapple Park (you just can't beat an automated tour in a cartoon pineapple shaped car through pineapple fields). They had a pineapple soft cream sundae topped with fresh pineapple that was absolutely delicious. Although it isn't soft cream I also can't fail to mention my bitter melon Blue Seal ice cream cone. Blue Seal is a popular ice cream chain in Okinawa and bitter melon (ゴーヤー, goya in Okinawan; 苦瓜, nigauri in Japanese) is a common ingredient in Okinawan cuisine so I simply had to try it. It was definitely quite bitter with a little sweetness and although it was a bit unusual for me I really liked it.
As you may have noticed I could reminisce forever about all the different wonderful flavors of soft cream that I have had the pleasure of enjoying (purple sweet potato or cherry blossom, anyone?). I'll wrap this up by recommending that any visitors to Japan should definitely not pass up the opportunity to sample some local flavors of soft cream during your trip. You won't regret it!
Kruger National Park, South Africa
El Yunque Rainforest
Puerto Rico, United States
Treasure Island, Florida
I love red telephone boxes. Along with red post boxes and red double decker buses, they seem so quintessentially British to me as an American. Someday I would love to have one for my house. I'm not sure what I would do with it, but it would be really neat and a double decker bus is out of the question since it would be too tall for my garage.
Back in June 2005 while I was in London for a conference for work I ended up being on the BBC London News on the BBC1 television channel due my admiration for red telephone boxes. I love all things BBC, especially listening to the BBC World Report on the radio, so I was really excited.
On the last day of my conference the sessions ended at 1:30 pm so I decided to spend the afternoon sightseeing before meeting up with some friends at their flat for dinner. I planned ahead and brought a pair of flats and wore a t-shirt under my suit jacket so I could do a quick change and be on my way. Sometimes I am smart like that. Other times not so much. Like the day that I had off before the conference started when I decided to take a day trip to the Cotswolds and got lost walking in the countryside for a few hours resulting in terrible blisters and almost missing the last train back to London.
Anyway, back to the story at hand. One of the places I wanted to go to see that afternoon was St. Paul's Cathedral because when I was visiting in 2003 the front was undergoing restoration. On the cathedral grounds there was one of the old style red London telephone boxes so with me being me I couldn't help but take some photos.
The next thing I knew a BBC reporter, Karl Mercer, and his cameraman were asking me if I would mind if they taped me photographing the telephone box. They explained that they were doing a story about the traditional London telephone boxes for the evening news. There was a movement to reduce their numbers due to the rise in cell phone usage along with replacing some with more modern telephone boxes, however there were also people who felt they should be kept as part of the cultural heritage. The cameraman taped me taking photos from a few angles and Karl interviewed me about why I liked the traditional telephone boxes. They were really nice and even posed for a photo with me.
When I got to my friends' flat I asked if we could turn on BBC1, telling them the story of my adventure with the phone box. Sure enough, at a few minutes before seven the telephone box story aired with short clips of a variety of people they had filmed that day including the Lord Mayor and me (refered to as "Lisa from California.") I had been worried that I would come across sounding vapid on film but the story turned out well and now I can say I was on the BBC.
I figured that I couldn't end this post without mentioning the most interesting locale with a red telephone box that I have come across. This past November when I was visiting my sister on St. Thomas we spent some time in the BVI. As our boat pulled up to Marina Cay for us to have lunch, lo and behold, there was a red telephone box perched on the end of the dock. Not only is the phone still in working order, there is also a webcam focused on it so you can take a look at what is going on at the telephone box at any given time online.
Long live red telephone boxes!
Palm Beach, Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda