Seville, Spain – historic bullring

Statue of bullfighter_newThe Real Maestranza bullring is a landmark in Seville and in Spanish bullfighting.

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With its impressive Baroque facade, one of the bullring’s most unique features is the slightly oval shape of the ring. This 18th century arena can hold 14,000.

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Above the matador’s entrance to the ring is seating for the Royal family.

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Heading down to the stables… there are no bulls, horses, or bull fights this time of year.

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The Chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Caridad, where matadors pray before entering the ring.

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Quick sketch I did from a poster.

 

The Real Maestranza bullring has a small and interesting museum where we learned more about the world of bullfighting through the exhibitions of costumes, photographs, posters, and paintings. Our guide explained that bull fighting has historically been controversial in Spain, and was banned in Barcelona a few years ago.

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Finishing up our tour early evening, we went for a walk around that area. Walking around Seville is a pleasure – a feast for the eyes.

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Historic tower along the riverfront.

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Residential area across the river.
Residential area across the river.
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Temptations abound…
Carefully wrapping up our chosen chocolates.
Carefully wrapping up our chosen chocolates.

The Quiet Traveler

The page of notes I created in my journal.

I am an introvert. Recently completing the Myers-Briggs personality test confirmed my thoughts, and reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking deepened my understanding.

The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs personality test. Cain defines introverts as those who prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak. At the other end of the spectrum, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.

Everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse Introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related (Myers & Briggs Foundation). Viewing these terms as opposite ends of the spectrum it makes sense that many of us spend time somewhere in between. I may spend more time on the introversion side but I can enjoy a good party and the overall high energy… I just do it my way, by spending more time with people having one-on-one conversations.

So how does being an introvert relate to my love of travel…

Flying solo for me is all about solitary time. I like to sit on the aisle where I feel there is some breathing space, and where I can get up without bothering anyone. Reading material, journal, things to do are always in my carry-on bag.

Road trips are a favorite of mine. Jay and I love having the time together without distractions. Often I drive and he reads to me, or we listen to a book on tape together. We talk, take turns napping, listen to music, research where we will stay and eat as we approach our destination.

Lately, we find ourselves choosing to spend more time in one place. Last January we spent a month in San Miguel de Allende. Experiencing the breadth of the city and all the various activities that go on there.

Slow travel, like slow food, gives us time to savor and process at a comfortable pace.

Another favorite book of mine is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s bestseller FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. His comment on the book Quiet ~ Finally someone has exposed the feet of clay of the extraversion industry. It is a wonder it took so long. Those who value a quiet, reflective life will feel a burden lifting from their shoulders as they read Susan Cain’s eloquent and well documented paean to introversion — and will no longer feel guilty or inferior for having made the better choice!

As Mahatma Ghandi said,  In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Travel Journaling ~ Commiting

Try a cartoon or quilt like approach to remembering each day.

On a recent trip to VA, DC and MD I decided to do a quilt or comic strip like approach to recording our journey. A shorter, busier trip, this was my way of capturing the memories.

In Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler by Lavinia Spaulding she writes, “Everyone is capable of great discipline; most of us simply don’t realize it because we’re far more capable of great procrastination”. If you want a rewarding journal experience, you must commit to a schedule.

Getting behind in a travel journal is deadly. We have all been there. The benefit of writing about an experience soon after it occurs is that you maintain the immediacy of your emotions, your senses (the smells, colors, textures, sounds, etc.) in essence – the details. Waiting to write about something can lead to writing that is more general in its description, an overview, or worse, not writing at all. We become overwhelmed, and as Lavinia says, “Soon you’ve passed through too many magical places and befriended too many kindred wanderers to imagine sitting down to record every detail. Where would you even begin?”.

Travel offers a great chance for change. Routines, habits, schedules, responsibilities are left behind. We can be and do whatever we want. And often time is there for the taking – waiting for a plane to load, relaxing on a town square bench, sitting on a train… luxurious moments of solitude, there for us to savor and delight in.

You might start small with comfortable blocks of time. In cultivating the muscle of writing and/or sketching in your journal the important thing is to do it regularly. Daily is best. Maybe 5 minutes a day. Whatever. But open your journal and make a mark. Lavinia suggests opening our journal a few times a day – to jot down an email address, a quote. Her idea is the more we open our journals, the less intimidating and heavy is our association with writing or sketching.

Capturing the highlights of each day kept me connected to my journal.

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I began by making a note of the day’s highlights each night before bed or first thing in the morning. This kept me connected to my journal and I did it in a spiral to add to the creative element and make it fun. With this simple exercise I opened the door to more involved writing and drawing. Many afternoons found me sitting cross-legged on the bed in our sunny bedroom, relaxing and writing or drawing in my book.

My journal/sketchbook is a little over half full. As corny as this sounds I feel a real sense of pride when I say that. This could be the first book I fill. That is my intent!

For more thoughts from me and Lavinia read my post on Travel Journaling ~ the best journal.

Springtime in Kyoto, Japan

April 2007 found us in Tokyo and Kyoto for 10 days… I tagged along on a business trip of Jay’s. Here are some notes and impressions I jotted down at the time… this blog covers Kyoto.

Sketch with watercolor of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan
Watercolor of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Springtime in Kyoto… showers of cherry blossoms. There is a happiness, a festive feeling associated with the blossoms as they fly through the air, some attaching to our jackets… a sense of the seasons… time passing.

Our overnight visit to Kyoto begins with the Shinkansen – the bullet train. Japan is where regular, high-speed railways began, and in 140 minutes we are transported from Tokyo, the bustling capitol of Japan, to the relatively quiet, historic city of Kyoto. At the recommendation of a friend, we stay at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto –  a beautiful 15 story hotel above Kyoto station – centrally located and convenient for our one night stay.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto is an integral part of the architecturally striking masterpiece, the JR Kyoto Station Building, which also includes a department store, museum, musical theater, and a vast underground shopping mall. For art lovers, the elegant Hotel Granvia is home to over 1000 pieces of stunning art based on the theme of “The Contrast of Modern and Traditional Art”. The artwork of Kyoto-based artists, some of the most famous in Japan, is prominently featured among the paintings, sculptures, and industrial art on display and accentuated by photographs adorning the guest rooms.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto, JR Kyoto Station
The Hotel Granvia is an integral part of the architecturally striking JR Kyoto Station Building

Our treasured guide for this first whirlwind experience of Kyoto is Old Kyoto – A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants and Inns by Diane Durston. The author lived in Kyoto for 18 years and has compiled a very personal guide to Kyoto’s elegant past that can still be found if you are interested and willing to explore the city’s narrow, quiet side streets.

One of the pages I have turned down in Durston’s book is for the restaurant Takasebune whose lunch special is tempura. Located near the Takasegawa Canal and named after the flat boats that used to carry merchandise up the canal, Takasebune is a small family restaurant. Our “tempura teishoku” includes a generous bowl of miso soup, rice, pickles, and a basket of crisply batter-fried tempura shrimp, fish and vegetables. As recommended by Durston we dine at the tiny counter in front where we can watch all the culinary activity. Feeling like giants in this small historical space we are served a delicious, inexpensive lunch.

Takasebune known for crispy tempura and fine fish dishes
Traditional Takasebune is known for it's crispy tempura and fresh fish dishes
Cherry blossoms along a canal in Kyoto, Japan
Cherry blossoms along a canal in Kyoto, Japan

After lunch we continue our walk to Ippodo Tea which Durston says” has been perfuming the neighborhood for 140 years with the finest green tea from Uji, the most famous tea producing region in Japan, just south of Kyoto”. The smell draws us in as do the old timbers and old tea jars lining the wall. Helpful clerks will steep a sample cup of tea and guide you in your purchase.

Asahi-do Ceramics is easy to find, housed in a modern building on a main street. They offer the widest selection of Kiyomizu ceramics in Kyoto (ceramics made in the area below Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple). There are two types of Kiyomizu ceramics: porcelain and earthenware. Both types are thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel and decorated by hand. Lovely selection of ceramics displayed in a gallery setting.

Our final destination requires a cab to find and is well worth it. Aizen Kobo Indigo Textiles is on a narrow backstreet in the textile district of Kyoto. Master dyer Kenichi Utsuki still works in this 120-year-old building, where he was born and raised and where his father and grandfather worked as textile artisans as well. Today his shop is one of the only places in Kyoto where handwoven, hand-dyed, and hand-embroidered garments of hon-ai or real indigo are attainable.

The key to the rich blue that Japanese indigo and Aizen Kobo are famous for is in the microorganisms produced when the indigo plant is fermented. To keep these bacteria healthy and the dye potent, Kenichi must maintain it at an optimal temperature, and feed it a carefully calculated mixture of wheat-bran powder, limestone powder, ash lye and sake.

Getting the fermentation right takes about two weeks, after which the vat of indigo can be used to dye for a few months. Depending on the kind of material being dyed and the depth of color desired, an item must be dipped and then sun-dried between 20 and 50 times, a process that often takes months. This makes the appeal of chemical indigo dye pretty obvious: with chemical-based indigo, preparation takes less than an hour and one dipping usually does the trick.

Indigo textile dyeing at Aizen Kobo in Kyoto, Japan
Indigo textile dyeing at Aizen Kobo in Kyoto, Japan

Stimulated by the days experiences we arrive back at the hotel exhausted. I can’t walk another step. The hotel offers an array of dining possibilities and we choose a restaurant on the top floor with sweeping views of the city. After dinner, a great bath and lights out.

Modern technology meets traditional beauty in front of a Kyoto guesthouse
Modern technology meets traditional beauty in front of a Kyoto guesthouse

Our second and last day in Kyoto. We head out early, walking a route that takes us down the narrow and quiet side streets for a glimpse of Kyoto neighborhoods and daily life. For us walking is key… bringing all the senses to bear. We delight in seeing the vacuum sitting on the perfectly clean carpet in front of the idyllic garden area of a guesthouse, as we take in the pleasant aromas of tea brewing and cakes baking.

Cake making machine at a bakery in Kyoto, Japan
Cake making machine at a bakery in Kyoto, Japan

Nestled in the mountains of Western Honshu, Kyoto is known as Japan’s most beautiful city and is often called “the city of a thousand temples”. Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the emperor from 794 to 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Kyoto thus spent a millennium as the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion. During this time Kyoto accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines – built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. And Kyoto was one of the very few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombings during World War II.

Springtime colors in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan
Springtime colors in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan
Temples in Kyoto, Japan
Temples in Kyoto, Japan
Buddhist monk begging in Kyoto, Japan
Buddhist monk begging in Kyoto, Japan

After a morning of walking around the famous temples and beautiful gardens surrounding them, we find ourselves back on the Shinkansen, headed back to Tokyo and our flight back home.

Recommended Reading

Old Kyoto: The Updated Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns by Diana Durston

Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital by Judith Clancy

36 Hours in Kyoto, Japan a travel article by Jaime Gross at The New York TImes