Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kyoto - a brief summary

Kyoto is probably rivaled by only a handful of places in this world, maybe Rome, Paris or Athens in terms of cultural and historical treasures. As the former capital of Japan for more than 1100 years, it is the place to go to meet Japan. It was also our first destination on our round the world trip, an introduction but also a test. I think it was a good start. We had a little over a week scheduled here. We spend 2 days on side trips to Himeji and Nara. We were lucky to find a very nice little house in the center of the city. The owner, Kazuya - a perfect host - let us check out at 8 pm, one extra day - the children spend it all in the house, but we got out to see some more. We broke the city in regions and covered it diligently. Several sites are in the centre of the city, but most of them are on the periphery, North and South, East and West.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Buddha's Nostril

Today we went to Nara. We bought tickets, we entered the station, found a conductor and asked him, through signs and Japanglish, which train should we take. I've learned Japanese once a week for three years almost twenty years ago and never practised since then. For the first days here I was almost lost. Beside thank you, good bye and excuse me everything seemed a long sound. After a week here I can recognize names of the stations and some other words that were long forgotten.

It is surreal traveling, being here, but separated. Everything is written in Japanese and in the important part something in English. It feels comfortable to find something that I can understand. Not being able to read eliberates me to observe. I may not know the semnification of the differences in the positions of Buddha, but I can see the people. They come looking around themselves, looking at the leaves that just start to turn reddish. At the water fountain they fill the cup with water and wash their left hand, and then the right one, and then they fill it for the third time to wash the handle, so the next person will have a clean cup to wash their troubles.

They walk and talk, buy their incense or their prayer that is written on a piece of wood tied with a red string. Or they write it on a piece of paper that they fold and tie it on a tree or a special stand.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto
At some temples they bow and as they say their wish they ring a bell, and throw some money in the big box, or they clap their hands, bow again and then continue their life. I like to see them in that moment of devotion.

I have to remind ourselves that these lovely gardens and pavilions are temples.

Kyoto- Golden Pavilion
 A week ago I was in JFK thirsting for a tree, even a fake one, or for some form of vegetation, and now I'm surrounded by little hills with streams that gather in ponds with colored fish. In the begginings the Japanese were animists and even when they adopted Buddhism they still believed in spirits in every form of life. They work every day to transform nature; they prune the fir trees needle by needle, make hedges from camelias. They sweep the leaves that have fallen during the night (imagine a leaf-blower in a temple).

But beyond words and language, we are here for the same reason: to admire... nature, patience, work, people, imagination, vision.

The largest wood building contains a seated Buddha. He sits on a lotus flower and every petal is inscribed with the same story of how things are inter-related and they affect each other in thousands ways.

 Behind Buddha there is a single tree column (as there are the others in the temple) and at its base is a hole the same dimensions as Buddha’s nostril. There was a long line of school children waiting to go through and our children joined them. It is said that if you manage to get through, you will reach enlightenment.

Our Days, Besides Traveling


The hardest part about traveling around the world is not the jet lag or the walking 5 miles a day or seeing Japanese temples over and over (most of them similar enough to be boring to those of us who are not fascinated by temples): it's being stuck with four other people, most of whom have wildly different ideas of what is interesting or not, what makes good music, how one should spend leisure time, etc.

So far, the basic idea has been the same: sleep on the wonderful tatami mats until whenever I wake up (6-7am), and then migrate downstairs to sit and read NaNoWriMo posts or plan the NaNoWriMo novel to save as much time as possible during November. Dad is usually awake at this time, either reading blogs or studying today's activities or reading the new Steve Jobs book that is out.

When everyone is downstairs, in the living/ dining room, and we've just settled down into the 'zone,' we realize that we should eat breakfast, and everything is swept up off the table for a breakfast of bread or packaged croissants, with large amounts of butter slathered on top, and a beverage: tea, coffee, milk, or orange juice are our current preferences (in order: Mom, Dad, Ioan/Ileana, Maria).

When breakfast is over, there is a hectic period in which children try to get back into the 'zone' and parents try to get as far away from the house as possible. We children are still not sure why adults exhibit this phenomenon.

Once we are on the street, walking towards our destination, we settle into a normal pace of walking— these paces may differ between people, so that someone is quite behind (either taking pictures or absorbing the scenery of red buckets and interesting sidewalk cracks) and someone is quite ahead.

At the stoplights, we generally group again for the next stretch of sidewalk. While this method of walking may seem wonderful, we have to work on it: not all countries are as 'civilized' as Japan, and we have to get used to walking in a close group for those 'uncivilized' countries where you can't leave your backpack alone for half a second.

Everyone else has already explained about the amazing destinations we have seen so far (my favorites are the gardens and roadside stands that offer free sweet tastings), so I'll pass over that— suffice it to say that whenever there is a long stretch of stairs or we stop to catch a breather/figure out where we're going, I'll run ahead and then sit down to read something on the iPod Touch. I've managed to read 2 books so far using this method. (Or the equivalent: I also used the time to plan the novel.)

When we get home, it's usually with 8 to 19,000 steps under our belts: the equivalent of 4 to 9.5 miles. By the time we get back, I anticipate terrible abdominal/upper body strength and legs of steel.

Once we get home, everyone either finds an electrical leisure item (read laptop, iPod Touch, iPad, Kindle, or nook), and begins writing, reading, or watching various things. This is our leisure time, we all seem to say, it is sacred.

Dinner tends to be rice (cooked in a wonderful invention dubbed rice cooker) and noodles with pork and something green. For dessert (which seems to be a welcome development of travel), ice cream or yatsuhashi— a Japanese sweet made of rice flour, shaped like a triangle, and stuffed with chestnut purée, sweet bean paste, chocolate, strawberry, banana (and the list goes ON…) or other delicious fillings. They're not sweet like American candy— rather, their taste is subtle— just sweet enough to satisfy the taste buds, but not sweet enough to make you want to eat something salty.

After dinner, we either take a bath or migrate back to the 'zone.'

Baths in Japan are something that should have pervaded the rest of the world. To the right of the entrance there is the toilet with a warmed toilet seat that, when flushed, turns on a sink that simultaneously fills the water basin and can be used to wash hands. While this isn't prevalent in all of Japan, it should be— super space-saver!

To the left there is the shower/bath. It is a folding door with insulation to make sure that no water escapes. As you go in, there is a small bench to the right, with a mirror and body wash, shampoo, and conditioner. There is also a small stool, usually on the floor. Just in front is the very deep bath tub. You turn on the bath tub so that it automatically fills itself to 80% with water of 113°F /45°C. As the bath tub is filling, you use the small shower head to wash— all soapy activity is done OUTSIDE the tub. I THINK you sit on the stool, but I'm not sure. Once you're all rinsed, you get into the tub and RELAX.

I tried to do this. It all worked fine up until I got in the tub. After less than five minutes of relaxation in the tub, I got bored. I'm sure this is a very rare problem, however— especially for those over 18.

After a bath, we'll all migrate upstairs— except for Dad, who has to sleep in the living room— he simply goes and gets his tatami mat and moves the table and then sleeps on the heated carpet.

The tatami mats are ridiculously comfortable— there are two (maybe three? layers— one hard(ish) one, and another sort of mattress. There is also a very downy comforter that is light as air and very warming. The pillow is small and dense. In short… paradise!

Once a Week: Blogging Japan

Blogging my thoughts here once a week. Currently, we are in Kyoto, Japan, and tomorrow we leave for Tokyo.

First thought:
I really, really don't want to do this. Why do I have to blog? I hate doing productive things. Why can't I just sleep and be lazy? Why did I have this terrible idea of going around the world? Why couldn't I have just let Mom and Dad do this for their retirement years? Why—

Why am I listening to this? What is this? Is this pop, or techno? No, it's not techno. Is this dance? What am I listening to?! WHY AM I LISTENING TO IT?!! Oh, it's called "Never be Alone", and yes, yes it is dance music.

Obviously this trip is a bad idea if I, the unswayable rock fan is listening to this stuff:!my-songs

It's actually kinda catchy....

Okay, you've seen the inside of my head and concluded there's nothing there. Moving on.

What exactly are you supposed to do when you blog...?

So, basically, as you'll have read from my parents' blogs, we've seen various temples, a few gardens, and Himeji castle. And another castle, but I've never really been good with names or important details like that. I remember one temple! It was dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and sake and merchants. Also, it was dedicated to foxes.

Oh, we've also seen a few pagodas and rock gardens. But I think the last one counts as just "gardens". I don't know about you, but I think of plants when I think "gardens".

I think I'm just going to tell you about our average day in Kyoto: we wake up, Maria and Dad are downstairs on their computers. I do... whatever it is I do. If I can, I try to use a computer. Lately, I've been working on my NaNoWriMo novel (will be explained in further detail later), which is a shock. As I've mentioned before, I... ah... dislike... *coughhatecough* doing productive things. Because we only have 2 computers, I don't always end up with one of them. One is Maria's, and she shares it with Ioan. The other is my mother's, which means I never get it. Because it's Mom's, and what's hers is Dad's (and vice versa), her computer is in constant use, and the worst part is, it's being used for something important, so my NaNoWriMo novel has to be worked on either in my head, on my iTouch, or on paper.

On an unrelated note, notice that before, when you first saw me change from the Courier font to Times, the latter seemed super-thin, while now it looks relatively normal-sized. Back to relevant things:

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in November every year, and was discovered by Maria in 2007. However, she forgot about it, so 2008 is her first year as a NaNoWriter. Basically, what you do is you write 50,000 words in 30 days. You can write more if you want, but if you write less, then you "lose" (nothing happens if you lose). If you reach the word goal, then YAY! YOU WIN (nothing happens if you win)! If you write 50,000 words, but you started before November, then the guilt monkeys will get you (nothing happens if the guilt monkeys get you).

As I was saying before, morning program. Maria and Dad are downstairs on their computers, I'll come and do my Facebook, deviantArt, eMail, YouTube, edit pictures, etc. If she hasn't come down already, then Mom comes down. Last to come is Ioan. Then Mom gets breakfast ready, and when it is, we eat. After eating, we figure out what's going on for the day. Where we're going, how long we're going, and all that. Later, we're going to ask the same questions, but it doesn't hurt to have at least a vague idea of what's going on.

When we get ready to go, we fill our water bottles, check our day packs, put on our Scott Vests, put on our shoes and go outside, where Mom sprays our arms with bugspray. This is unhelpful, as the bugs just bite our legs instead. Then we go on our way to whichever temple we're visiting that day.

On the way: Maria and Ioan goof off and do I-don't-exactly-know-what-because-1.-I-am-not-invited-2.-I-do-not-want-to-be-invited-because-it's-annoying-me. Mom and Dad walk and then...discuss...which way to take. This involves asking, "Which way? Left? Okay, let's go left." Then we kids go left and the parents turn right. We then hear, "Why are you going that way? We just said, 'No, wait, to the right!'" This results in many mutinous glances and dark mutterings. Other scenarios include but are not limited to: stopping and consulting various maps for extended periods of time, going ridiculously slow, going ridiculously fast, and getting lost. I'm sure we'll look back on these times and laugh. After many years. Probably while drunk.

Eventually we'll reach a bus stop, hop on a bus, and stay for varying amounts of stations. During this time, I will be listening to my iPod. There are at least 1,200 songs on my iPod, and yet I only listen to the same ones. This is probably around 50 at a time. The reasons for the other 1,150 is because I totally used to love Natasha Bedingfield, or I loved Lady GaGa last week! What if, when I'm done with this Trapt phase, I'll want to listen to her again, but can't because I took her music off? Thus the useless music accumulates.

(You may have a lovely suggestion for my problem: Sync more often. This is the part where I die laughing, and my last words are "Yeah. Right.")

However, I have lovely playlists. Comment if you want to see what I like other than Lady GaGa.

After we get off the bus, we do a lot of walking and eventually reach the first temple for today. There we will walk around, admire the architecture and the Buddhas, and do a lot of sitting. The reason for all the sitting is because Mom and Dad will have more "discussions" on which way to take. Mom will want to go this way, Dad will want to go that way, and standing up while this is going on will be regretted later. We usually just sit down while they go in one direction, say, "Why aren't you happy? I let you win! Okay, you want me to win? Then let's go my way!" They then proceed in that direction while the current "winner" says, "No! I feel terrible now! Let's go your way!" After 5 to 10 minutes, they'll decide on a direction, and I get to tell Maria and Ioan to get off their iTouches and start walking.

After the first temple, we proceed to the next. We then do more walking, admiring, and sitting. Return to step one and repeat.

Of course, at this point, you're wondering, "And you don't eat?!!" Of course we eat. If I wasn't here, we wouldn't eat at all. It'll be 1.30 and I'll start asking "When do we eat? After this we eat? Are we eating now? Why won't we eeeeeaaaat?" Dad maintains the opinion he doesn't need to eat. Maria is the same. Mom can wait until dinner. Ioan used to join in, but he betrayed me by learning to deal with the hunger pangs. This may or may not have been due to the fact that I, unlike him, have learned that ice cream is not critical to our continued existence.

Eventually we find a restaurant and eat, and afterwards, Dad complains about how much money was spent on food. Later, when we reach the next temple and he has to pay for the entrance tickets, I try not to complain of how much food we could've bought with the money spent on said tickets.

After we've finished with all the walking and all the temples, we manage to convince our parents to bring us back home, where we go to the computers and solve various things. We have dinner, discuss tomorrow or other things, and basically enjoy ourselves.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


 Kon nichi wa!

In the last few days we visited Kyoto on foot, visiting temples and shrines.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Best Day Ever

I wake up at 4 am and for a while I lie in bed imagining that I write about all that I hate about Japan. I cannot really find much, we've been here for a few days, still trying to adjust to the jet lag.

We arrived well, the 14 hours plane ride wasn't bad at all. The plane was to continue it's flight to Taipei, we were just a handful of people to disembark in Osaka. Siberia was awesome, I remember flying over Greenland in '96, it looked so gorgeous. Then flying over it a dozen more times, nothing but clouds. Seeing the ground, the immense expanse of snow and ice, magnificent. Very likely we'll never see it like that again. At immigration they were waiting for us, each one with it's own agent. The airport is fantastic, but we really didn't have time to explore it. The first challenge, finding an ATM that works with American cards. Then getting the train pass, finding the train, finding our host. The Kansai rail pass is a one time only choice for visitors to Japan, we chose to get it for two days in order to save one hundred dollars, and this means that on our second day, jet lag or not, we take a day trip to Himeji Castle.  It was a great introduction, the best and greatest castle in Japan, a nice garden that we visited right after that, free bikes in the city of Himeji, first experience trying to get food, first restaurant - just for the five of us and the cook.

Himeji Castle

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Himeji Castle

Ohayoo gozaimasu! Good morning!
I drink a cup of tea while admiring the interior garden.
 We take the train toward Himeji, where there is one of the oldest and best preserved medieval castle in Japan.
We pass the longest suspended bridge in the world.
Because we have to walk for a long distance, we rented bicycles. There is an escalator for them.

 The Castle is nicknamed "White Heron" because it looks like a heron taking flight and is painted white following a traditional Japanese method. It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu (the main character in "Shogun" by James Clavell) on the site of his mentor's castle (after he was the one who burned it and killed everybody in mentor's family). Like any medieval castle, it has plenty of fortifications.
The main gate has a lateral wall, used for throwing stones and shooting arrows.
The roads are narrow and zig-zagged.
The gate has a smaller gate in itself to controll the volume of enemies entering.

And everywhere, there are small windows for shooting arrows.

The only battle this castle had is the one with time. It is in renovation and we had the possibility to see up-close the walls and the roof.

Like any complicated thing, the castle is made of simple ones: rock, wood, string and earth (plus additives such as rice water, oil, etc.)

 It is to be commended that they are renovating it using traditional methods.

Interesting facts about the castle: it has an appearance of five levels, but has six (bummer for the enemy).

On every roof corner are fishes, to protect it from fire
The castle follows the natural curves of the land and so this granary is one of a kind in Japan with a curved form

Every shogun that had this castle added his seal, that can be seen at the tiles.

The building in which lived the women who took care of the princess was resembling a long hall with some lateral rooms. The difference between this and Versailles was in decorations. (in the picture you can see a little chair; in it sits Hayden, but he is invisible)

Every respectable castle has a moat.
From here we went to Koko-en, a botanical garden.
This man is pruning the tree needle by needle and trains the stems to grow gnarled

These women were going to a tea ceremony into the tea pavilion.

We can only presume the amount of work to have this kind of garden.
By this time we were really hungry. We found a ramen shop. The cook got out from behind the counter, taught us how to work the machine with many buttons and prices, printed our tickets, and then proceeded to boil the noodles and prepare our food. We still don't know what we ate, but I know that I had pork, with mushroom and sea-weeds and it was excellent.

We return to Kyoto and I am left to be the guardian, as they fall asleep almost as the train started to move.

It is 8:30 pm and I am very sleepy. Oyasumi nasai! Good night!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day One

It's now 10 pm and we are settled in the motel room. We were here before, Ileana didn't like the beds. We looked for something different and still ended up here. We took our chances with room 39 this time.
So this was the first day. It was exhausting. I imagined a slow, boring day until 1-2 pm when we'd go pick up the rental car and then leisurely drive toward the airport. No such thing. It turns out that putting the house on hold for a year is a pretty big business, cleaning everything, emptying all the cupboards, covering all the furniture, washing everything. Ileana had us all open the luggages, take everything out and then put it back, many questions and explanations and a few more problems to solve. We ended up leaving at 4.41 pm. Thanks to our best friends it all got done. Driving in the dark rain, away from home wasn't that much fun. We made it, we left and it's real and I don't even know how it feels.

Counting Down the Days


20: Realizing that we leave in 20 days. Going to the library and elementary school to invite the teachers and the library women to the party.

19: The destruction and scanning of the psychology textbook. The planning of the novel continues.

18: Boredom. Unproductivity

17: 17 days aren't enough. We leave too soon. I won't finish anything. There's so little time!

16: I have a plan and there's enough time to do everything. (Later that night: WE'RE LEAVING, YIPPEE!)

15: A normal day but a productive one. I read.

14: Church. Watched the Phantom of the Opera. 

13-4: Scanning guidebooks while watching movies, and reading between scanning rounds.

3, 2, 1: There isn't a free moment. We work from sun-up to sun down.

0: We're off. I still don't feel that we've left.

If I do have any sentiments, it's that we're going on a vacation to Japan.

We're in the car that we rented from the airport. Dan McCauley drove us to Elmira: thanks! It's a huge car, especially for us. I can actually sit in the back and type without my shoulders coming up to my ears.

This morning I woke up later than usual: at 6:30 instead of 5:30.
I came downstairs and started reading about schizophrenia. This is because I have a character in my NaNoWriMo novel (a kind of contest where peolpe try to write 50,000 words in November) who has this sort of disorder. I wanted to see what sorts of things I could put into the novel and what I couldn't to make it as realistic as possible.

By the time I finished that, the others came downstairs and the work began: moving the files I don't need around the world, deleting the files I don't need, period. Writing to the people in my writing group. Buying the music which we didn't get to buy until now.

And on top of all this, we had to pack up the entire house, too. We put sheets on all the surfaces. We unpacked and repacked the bags. We finished the food.

In short, by 4 something we said goodbye to the house and started towards the McCauley family. The girls were very happy that we had brought pistachios and two heavy-duty garbage bags full of clothes. The kids especially liked the car ("it's so CLEAN!"). Their parents took some pictures of us with the backpacks and in our Scottevests and then we set off with Dan towards Elmira.

When Dad said that we have too many bags (and we do: six backpacks and five winter coats), Dan laughed and said that he'd never in his life seen a family of five taking as few bags as us for a weekend, much less a fifteen months!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

See you

We're leaving. Mixed feelings.

Joy: we're going to live what we dreamt about
Sadness: our friends are not coming with us; they will follow our adventures but we will not be part of their  lives in the same way we have been.
Impatience: To get on the road, as a confirmation
Angst: How are we going to deal with the trials?
Protection: we are helping each other pass over the low points: it's just a form of dealing with the emotions
Giddiness: Look at what we're doing, hee hee!

 A stage in our lives is ending. Until now we followed the same steps as the majority of people: high-school, university, job, family, children. We have proof that it ends at every step: last day at work, packing the clothes and preparing the house (sheets all over the place like in "Great Expectations"), suspending services. The most difficult to finish is the food! I never believed Mihai when he told me that he could live comfortably for a month without buying food (while I was in vacation with the kids for two weeks). But as usual he was right: I gave away lots of bags, and even though the five of us eat three meals a day, the food is still there!

We said our good byes to the people we know. When we moved to the States (we have antecedents of straying from the majority's path) our friends visited us one by one (we all had little children) and our parents took us to the airport and encouraged us. Now, we had quite a few parties and we were the main subject. My heart is full of warm feelings, because I felt people's joy and care for us. We thank you all for your thoughts and wishes.

We're leaving... leaving every object, checking the house for the n-th time. We sit down for a while as Russians do, say a prayer, and lock up.
The road awaits us....

And as Grandfather Grigorie used to say: "We're crossing it in two!"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Good Bye Party

A lot of friends stopped over this evening to say good bye. Thank you so much. Taking time of their busy life they came over to see us, learn about our plans, see our little movie and wish us luck. Occasionally an emotional farewell, it was also great fun, ending with balloon fight and dancing. The children worked to put together a little exhibition, stuff we are taking with us, spread out on a table, books we read, and one of the bags ready to be tried on.
The Exhibition
Some of the paper books we used or will use during our trip

They also made it a "fun fund raising party" and we all thank our guests for their generous donations. A little disappointed that some of the people who confirmed their attendance didn't come, we'll get over it and move on with our last few days.

We have a few more things to take care of. A marathon of services at the church on Saturday and Sunday, a couple of lunches, fourteen hours of job time, a few phone calls to make, but besides this just passing the time and trying to relax. Maria spend the last week scanning a lot of the travel books. We sold Ileana's car and decided to keep mine. (A very old, run down Plymouth Voyager, now the doors won't open, the rust is falling by the side and it keeps raining in the car. But we love it and the engine still works.)

Amazon came up with the latest and smallest Kindle, Apple released their updated iTouch and iPhone models. It's funny how I planned this trip and picked the middle of October for departure, thinking that there will be new Kindles and iPhones in the fall. Unfortunately we cannot get the more fancy versions of Kindle touch or iPhone 4S, but happy with what just came out. The iPhone will arrive on October 14th, not much chance for error there, I hope Fedex will do its job. This will be Friday and as we leave on Sunday, there is no back up plan. We got the OneSim card and I'll report from the road on how it works. China Airlines changed the departure time on our flight, we will leave one hour earlier! When we'll arrive in Osaka that hour will matter a lot, it will take about two hours from the time we leave the airport till we get to the rented apartment.

So this is it. I started this blog 827 days ago, it was a crazy dream and now it's not. After spending thousands of hours researching this subject, I feel that we did the best we could, we learned a lot, we made hundreds of little or major decisions and now we are there. Seeing the children preparing for the party, taking it so seriously and being so proud of themselves and their parents it is priceless. They know how happy we are with them, but might not realize how special they are. Yet.