After my momentary setback involving Mayo Clinic, the CDC, and comparing my rash/hives/whoknowswhat with various photos and symptoms and diagnoses online, I said screw this, popped an antihistamine, and headed out for Kobe
. Training to Kobe meant a quick ride on a limited express train, a very happy change of pace from the local trains that circle around Osaka
's city center. If Tokyo's trains and subways are fast and seamless and the epitome of efficiency, Osaka's is the antithesis of said efficiency. I've come to relish and rely on Japan's high speed, low stress, get you where you need to go STAT phenomenon that is the bullet train.
Apparently these rules don't apply to Osaka, where I experienced my first delay (albeit something like four minutes), and frustratingly, at least one delay every day thereafter. That, and the city's internal train system is sloooooooow. Tortoises move faster. And there's no straight shot from A to B across the diameter; all trains run in a wide arching circle around the city's circumference. My stop is exactly due south of the main Osaka/Umeda stop; it takes DAYS to train all the way around the damn circle to connect to go anywhere from Osaka. All these rambles to say it took me nearly an hour to get to Osaka station; from Osaka it was fewer than twenty to Kobe. Mind boggling (and not the good kind).
The plan for the day was to stroll north of Kobe along the Kitano area, known for it's "foreign" Western-style houses.
Apparently this is a HUGE tourism draw for Japanese tourists. As you can imagine, tourists from Western countries show up and go "what's the big deal? I've seen billions of these babies." From there I was going to catch the cable car up the mountain for a view over the city, and walk down and find some interesting local grub as I wound my way back toward the station. Unfortunately for me, there was a typhoon YESTERDAY, which somehow meant that even though TODAY was bright and sunny and gorgeous, they weren't running the cable car.
-But the weather is nice.
-Was there any damage?
-And the forecast for today is perfect.
-Sooo, the reasoning is what, exactly?
[Enter polite smile and an apology.]
So, rather than check out the mountainside, I opted to stroll along yet ANOTHER shopping district (my third in as many days), poke through the whopping two blocks that is their Chinatown, and check out the harbor.
The shopping district was vastly disappointing, having just come from Osaka, where there is ten times the choice and variety and oddly, the prices are lower. Chinatown was fun until A, it became obvious that literally EVERY street vendor snack contained pork (I guess I should get used to that for my tour through China, ah?), and B, I blinked and I was at the end of it. The harbor was cool, but just something to "do" to fill up time.
I did find another little hole in the wall for lunch, although credit goes to the guidebook for recommending it (and successfully getting me there through a maze). I had chilled octopus and big chunks of acorn squash and daikon, all drizzled in a very light but somewhat sweet sauce, almost like a more viscus eel sauce. For my main I had a scalding bowl of unbelievably fresh soba (first time I've had soba served hot thus far, and it really was scalding -- I burned my tongue repeatedly) topped with tempura flakes and heaps of diced green onions.
A quick note about these "holes in the walls" I keep finding. It occurred to me today I've been qualifying them as having no English spoken. This goes without saying. I think I have yet to dine at a place where any English is spoken. What I've been meaning is that at these places there are no visual menus, where you can see what is on offer and you can point to what you want. These are words only, in an alphabet entirely different than my own. I took a few pictures today to convey exactly what I mean. For the first week or so I was always eating at places that had visual menus, where I could decide what I wanted and gesture and make my choice clear. Increasingly, I'm opting to forgo that route and to experiment.
Making fresh pork buns on every corner.
I whip out the guidebook and try a few key phrases, or order something I see nearby. Today they had at least a dozen starters out on a counter top so I was able to choose one and bring it to my table, and merely asked for soba, as that's what the guidebook said the place was good for. Significantly easier than the other experiences I've had trying to navigate in a restaurant. But that's half the fun.