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Day #14: Tokyo

After our late arrival, we slept in this morning until around 9am. We had breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant (Lavarock) using the conveniently provided vouchers for free breakfast thanks to my Marriott status. It’s a surprisingly good breakfast buffet w/ my personal favorites being the Asian specialities (steamed buns, dumplings, etc.) and delicious array of fruit.

Getting a somewhat late start to the day, not knowing the city well or how to navigate it, and recognizing the weather might be suboptimal (rain was likely most of the day), I planned for us to stay close to home today in order to get our bearings (how exactly to get to Disney tomorrow?), visit the gardens of the Imperial Palace, tour a couple of the nearby museums (as it happens we only made it to one), and generally just get a feel of the place and what’s around us.

The rain was generally steady but fairly light. It didn’t really pose a problem to our navigation. Although, I learned that when Columbia says “water resistant” about a jacket they mean “entirely and completely permeable in anything other than the lightest and briefest of rain showers.” Oh well. I bought an umbrella for around 500 yen (~$5) at the museum and retired my nearly worthless raincoat.

We first stopped at Tokyo station where I (eventually) figured out how to buy a train ticket from the automated machines and oriented myself to navigating to where we’d need to go. 😂 Although the language differences may make it seem disorienting at first, it’s really little different than dealing with London’s Paddington or Victoria stations at a big station in Japan, which has transport connections via subway, local and long distance rail, and buses.

Tokyo Station is also a wonder in terms of shopping (everything you need and many things you don’t) and eating (it has restaurants galore).

Emerson loved the kawaii (“cute”) merchandise on Character Street.

I, meanwhile, was mesmerized by the food.

We moved on to the Imperial Palace and its gardens, which provided a lot of green space that frankly none of us imagined to exist in central Tokyo:

Next, we visited the National Museum of Modern Art — Tokyo (MOMAT), which traces Japanese (and some Western) art history from the late 1800s through the present. I found two things especially fascinating:

First, the dialogue between East/West — we tend to think of the artistic influence of “Americans in Paris” in the early part of the 20th century and beyond, but their Japanese contemporaries were also there, which strongly influenced artistic expression here too:

Second, the artistic response to the Pacific War (WWII) and its aftermath — a rare, direct view into the psyche of the “other side” and of personal interest given my family’s history in the Pacific theatre during the war:

I didn’t see much hard-edged abstraction and/or minimalism by Japanese artists, but I was captivated by some of the more organic forms of Japanese abstract art:

After the museum, we continued to walk around the Imperial Palace. I’d hoped / thought about visiting the Craft Museum, but it was closed for some reason (changing exhibits, I believe). The structure was originally built in the Meiji Period, which introduced Western influences and rapid societal changes through the emperor’s explicit edict to search internationally for (and presumably apply) knowledge that might strengthen the empire.

Having lapped the grounds of the Imperial Palace, we wandered into the Ginza district, which is just south of our hotel. Like 5th Avenue in NYC or the Champs-Elysees in Paris, Chuo Dori in the Ginza is a premier shopping drag for international brands. We stopped in only a couple of shops to search for more kawaii items, as well as clothes at UNIQLO, for Emerson.

For dinner, we ate at Eggs ‘n Things, which seems to be a popular Japanese outpost of this Hawaiian restaurant. The highlights included my ahi poke rice bowl (perhaps the best version of that dish I’d ever eaten) and Libby’s Hawaiian fried rice (with Spam! — of course). The meal prices were surprisingly reasonable too….

Day #13: Dubai to Tokyo

This was really just a travel day with a departure from Dubai at 8:30am on an Emirates Boeing 777-200LR, arriving in Tokyo-Haneda around 10:30pm. Here’s our precise route as flown during the 9:20 flight:

A few items of interest…

We flew over the western end of the Himalayas. Since it was day time, nice weather, and the plane had a camera view on its belly, I was able to capture these interesting (to me) views:

Overall, the flight was pretty smooth, but we hit a couple of pockets of light to moderate turbulence. The last bit—about two hours out of Tokyo–made Emerson air sick (a first… though not unheard of for her on a plane or boat). I’ve been there, and I felt bad for her. But, she’s a trooper.

The food was exceptionally good for Economy class on this flight, especially the breakfast. Unfortunately, due to her illness, Emerson skipped the dinner (as did I out of solidarity, I suppose). So, she and I ended up eating (surprisingly good) Caesar salads from a 7-11 in the middle of night after checking into our hotel.

Immigration, baggage claim, customs, getting cash from the ATM, grabbing a taxi, and checking into the hotel were all pretty standard fare and done easily and efficiently. My sense was that we are off to a good start…

Day #12: Ras Al Khaimah

We started our day early–as I’m sure most folks do–at 7:30am with a camel ride.

If I’m honest, the experience was both kind of thrilling and mildly terrifying. Camels, as you can see, are in fact very tall animals. They also kind of lumber when they walk… at least that’s the sensation from atop. It’s equally clear that they’re very powerful animals and it’s difficult to not realize (read: dwell on the fact) that you’re only remaining atop of them by their willingness to allow it.

But, really, the most thrilling, terrifying, and unlikely to be forgotten aspect is in mounting and dismounting them. You see, camels don’t stand straight up with all four legs at worth. Instead, they raise their rear end first, lock those legs in place, and then proceed to raise their front legs to the standing position. The process is revered for sitting down. What that means, if you’re already on a camel, is that you’ll be subjected to suddenly sitting at a 45-degree slant while the animal changes position. And that, ladies and gentlemen, will cause ye olde sphincter to tighten mightily in the uninitiated.

Emerson and I were subjected to this procedure on the way up. Libby and Mom had something of a smaller and weaker camel, so they “boarded” via a small flight of stairs. On the way, Libby and Mom did get to experience the reverse process fully, as did I. Emerson, thankfully for her, was just picked up by one of the handlers as I lowered her down from the camel — much easier dismount. 😂

We were all grateful for the experience, but I probably wouldn’t ride a camel again, unless their was some greater purpose — especially since I’m unlikely to ever forget this experience.

After our camel ride, we ate the lovely breakfast at the hotel and then returned to our villa for a final swim in our pool.

I also went on a bike ride around the grounds, which is the other means of wheeled transportation outside of the buggies driven by the staff.

I was able to get a few close-up pictures of the oryx that are on the property:

We checked out of our hotel around noon. The staff was once again very warm and attentive… indeed, a bellhop recognized that the right, front tire of our rental car seemed to be low on air. So, after showing me this issue and asking permission, he took the car and filled up the tire for us. We all care away from the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Resort very impressed.

We drove back to Dubai (via the final, unvisited Emirate for Emerson: Um al-Quwain), had a late lunch at the City Centre Deira, and played video games there with Emerson at Magic Planet.

We then drove to our nearby hotel (Marriott Executive Suites Dubai Creek), checked-in, and dropped off our stuff. Mom and Emerson proceeded to our room, and Libby and I went to the airport (also nearby) to return the rental car.

Although, we were only staying in the hotel less than 12 hours, we weren’t wildly impressed. Our washer / dryer was broken (and known to be broken); so, they had to replace it. The air conditioning also didn’t cool well / properly IMHO. We weren’t roasting, but it wasn’t as pleasant as it could have been. Still, it was fine for our purposes as a brief respite close to the airport before leaving for Tokyo in the AM.

Day #11: Ras Al Khaimah

This morning we checked out of our hotel in Dubai and drove to Ras Al Khaimah via a slightly longer route than needed in order to visit the emirates of Fujairah and Ajman, as well as Sharjah (boosting Emerson’s country count).

Our destination was the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert Resort, which I picked because we wanted to visit all of the emirates and because it offered villas with private pools (a surprise treat for Emerson, who enjoyed a similar experience in Bali on our last trip around the world). Plus, the rate was rather good as the desert isn’t a wildly popular vacation spot in the summer (surprisingly, right?). 😂

In any case, I did little research and thinking about it beyond that — just a night, who cares?

As it happens, I accidentally picked a gem of a location. Our first sense of that was when we were greeted by camels on the road into the huge resort (over 1,100 acres).

Despite our early arrival, we were given an upgraded villa and able to check-in on arrival. We were whisked in a “buggy” (passenger golf cart) to our accommodations.

First impression: Wow!

Here are a few photos:

We spent the afternoon lounging around the villa, swimming, and enjoying a poolside lunch while watching birds visit the “cement pond” and animals (oryx and gazelle) wander by in the desert just beyond us.

Just before 5:30, we were picked up for the interactive owl and falcon demonstration. This was an included experience put on by the Ritz-Carlton, which enabled us all to learn about and hold the birds, as well as witness a demonstration of falconry.

After the demonstration, we headed to The Farmhouse for dinner. We opted for their “specialty,” which was barbecue, and we went for the shared sampler platter. It was decent enough, but we thought it a little odd (lamb and veal ribs; chicken sausage — no pork in this BBQ) and rather expensive for what it was. Although, it’s the only aspect of the Ritz-Carlton stay that didn’t seem like decent value for the money spent.

Overall, today was a great day and a nice change of pace to the trip.

Day #10: Abu Dhabi

Today we drove to Abu Dhabi to visit two sites: the spectacular Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

We started with the mosque (which Libby and I had visited previously), which I think can speak well enough for itself:

What one feels about this or any other religion, it’s difficult to believe the structure is anything but sublime.

Next, we went to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which we found to be in a kind of deserted (though building) area across from the main city area. There’s an interesting article in the New York Times on the museum that I highly recommend. The collection draws connections between cultures and time periods, and while it’s perhaps guilty of over simplification I think it strikes a cord in a way that’s not been done previously as well in my experience.

From the New York Times article:

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is banking on the theory that pointing out links among a wide variety of cultures will make all art feel more approachable to the global audience it hopes to attract. Once viewers gain the habit of spotting connections, they may come to accept that all cultures are equally valuable and personally relevant. That, at least, seems to be the thinking, and it makes sense.

And, I think it really works — it’s a triumph.

Let me share a few examples…

The common theme of motherhood from Europe, Asia, and Africa:

The direct line between these classical and neoclassical artworks:

The juxtaposition of Judaic, Islamic, and Christian texts and objects:

I could go on. It’s an encyclopedic museum:

But, the collection and exhibition also spoke to a global future and international themes of today:

Plus, the space itself is simply amazing…

The hour-long (or thereabouts) drive back to our hotel was uneventful.

For dinner tonight (since we didn’t want to wait until sunset to eat) we ordered pizza and salad to our suite from a local Italian restaurant called Massimo’s. It was both delicious and reasonably priced.

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