Learning how to eat like a sumo wrestler in Kyoto


Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun

Dear Rich,

As I prepared for this trip, I watched as many travel shows as possible from Japan. One episode in particular featured the host visiting a sumo wrestler training center and eating chanko nabe, a traditional stew the athletes would eat to build their bulk and get energy. While seeing the actual sumo wrestlers wasn’t too appealing to me, the chanko nabe with beef, pork, chicken and TONS of vegetables sounded like something I would like.tray

Luckily for me, our hosts in Kyoto gave us a handout with nearby points of interest, and a restaurant that specializes in chanko nabe was literally around the corner. Time for dinner!

While most everyone in Tokyo speaks English, you’re lucky to find someone with an elementary-level grasp of the language in some parts of Kyoto — however, most people are willing to try. We entered the restaurant and it was clear that we would have some trouble with communication, but between my 1st-grade grasp of Japanese, the servers’ limited English and some creative sign language, we managed just fine.

Each table was outfitted with a table-top stove and they quickly brought out a pot of semi-solid broth. We were told to wait until the broth started boiling, then to drop in the chicken, pork and spoonfuls of seasoned ground beef for the meatballs. After a few minutes, they told us to dump in the heaping plate of fresh vegetables. Within 20 minutes of sitting down, we were feasting — and it was delicious.

Toward the end of the meal as we were starting to reach the pleasantly stuffed stage, the servers started asking us if we wanted to eat gohan (rice). Without really understanding what they were saying, we agreed… And then they brought out another tray full of food.

This time, the servers dumped a bowl of rice in our remaining broth, drained the excess liquid and let the rice simmer in the soup. After beating a raw egg, they poured that into the rice and mixed it, topping it with nori (seaweed) and some chopped green onions. I probably would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t just polished off three bowls of chanko nabe!

The walk back to the ryokan after dinner was more of a waddle, but overall the food was delicious and I’m now inspired to look for a good chanko nabe restaurant when I return to California. Hopefully they’ll have servers who speak English and can explain what’s going on a bit easier to understand!


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France: Racing through the streets of Marseille in a Lancia

Author in Puligny vineyards

Author in Puligny vineyards

Story and photos by Larry Wilson

We had to drive fast and furiously to make another train in Lyons, a city I can’t recommend returning a rental car in; it was only by planning for calamity and an extra two hours that we made it.

Once settled in, it’s a gorgeous ride to the south. The world outside your windows goes from lush Oregon-green to arid New Mexico-dry.

We were on our way to a fabulous stay with Phoebe’s longtime friends Catherine, a Parisian lawyer transplanted to the port city of Marseille, and Juliane, who’d flown in from the Atlantic coast. Catherine’s apartment from the street would appear to be ordinary; inside it was vast, and included a beautiful suburban-sized backyard garden, beautifully tended.

She fed us fabulously and drove us in wild fashion in her Italian Lancia throughout the ancient streets, getting us onto blocks so tight I never thought we’d get by without a scrape; it is a skill no American has.

Sometimes it took Juliane popping out of the shotgun seat and yelling at some apparent Mafiosi in a mini-Mercedes to move it or else, but we always survived in the end.

We paid an enchanting visit to a cathedral dedicated to shipwrecked sailors high above the Mediterranean.

I had figured that this was the place to easily find a big bowl of bouillabaisse, the fish stew invented in Marseille, and compare it with the impostors I had imbibed over the years elsewhere. I had figured wrong.

We ate in most of the time in Catherine’s wonderful backyard, and she insisted the iconic dish would be hard to find. The one time I found it on a menu I immediately ordered it; the waiter informed me that alas it was finished for the evening. At 50 euros, some $70, perhaps it was just as well.

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France: Beaune – heart of Burgundy’s wine country

Tasting room at Count Senard's estate in Aloxe-Corton

Tasting room at Count Senard’s estate in Aloxe-Corton

Story and photos by Larry Wilson

A real treat was our three-day stay in Beaune, the heart of Burgundy’s wine country, where the greatest wines in the world are made, and where millions of bottles are stored in vast caverns extending beneath the city.

If the famous hotel Le Cep within the ancient walls of the central city is a little dowdy, at least in its rooms as opposed to its common areas, where all kinds of oenophiles roam and drink, the staff is enormously accommodating.

We had good food and fabulous wines every night. I had a satori experience for a fan of French white wines by hiking up above the village of Puligny-Montrachet and meditating on the biodynamically grown 11 rows of vines farmed by Anne-Claude Leflaive.

An American wine consultant was lecturing two British retailers about her genius, and I listened in; the tasting part wasn’t going to happen, at up to $599 a bottle.

In any case, the French have some kind of constitutional aversion to the Napa experience of tasting rooms in general. We did drop in by chance to the estate of the Count Philippe Senard in Aloxe-Corton; a nice young woman with a tattoo on her inner bicep who kept the wine bar open late for us and poured us several glasses.

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Grinch names actress ‘Who-Manitarian of Year’ at Universal Studios Hollywood

Florence Henderson with Whos at  Universal Studios Hollywood

Florence Henderson with Whos at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood celebrated the start of the “Grinchmas” holiday “who-bilation” by honoring veteran stage and screen actor, Florence Henderson with the “Who-Manitarian of the Year” Award in support of her charitable work for the City of Hope research and treatment hospital.

The Grinch and his faithful dog Max bestowed the honor in front of an energetic audience from L.A. Family Housing, a non-profit group dedicated to assisting residents transition out of homelessness and poverty through supportive services and a beneficiary organization of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Discover a Star Foundation.

“Grinchmas” begins Thanksgiving Day and continues on weekends through Dec. 15, then daily from Dec. 20 to 31. “Grinchmas” is included in the price of theme park admission.

Henderson, best known as matriarch “Carol Brady” from the television classic, “The Brady Bunch,” is a long-time supporter and advocate for City of Hope, a recognized world leader in compassionate patient care, innovative medical science and groundbreaking research.

This year, the Universal Plaza, an elaborate grand piazza at the heart of the theme park, will serve as the new venue for the towering “Grinchmas” tree – a whimsical centerpiece twisting and spiraling 60 feet above visitors below. It will provide the ideal location for warm, holiday memory-making while the Grinch and his adorable dog Max entertain guests nearby with fun-filled photo opportunities.

Aboard the world-famous behind-the-scenes Studio Tour, fans of the blockbuster film, “Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” will have the chance to enjoy a close-up view of the original Who-ville film sets with a one-of-a-kind performance by a Who’s Who of Who-ville re-enacting memorable scenes and songs from the family favorite.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s popular “Buy A Day, Get 2014 Free” annual pass returns, offering visits throughout 2014 for the price of a single day’s admission. Guests can return to experience the new “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem” attraction opening in spring 2014. The pass will also invite guests to receive savings on tickets purchased for visiting friends and family.

For more information and to purchase tickets, guests can visit www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com.

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France: Staying at the salt factory, renting a flat in Paris

Our apartment had an incredible view of the Right Bank

Our apartment had an incredible view of the Right Bank

By Staff Writer Larry Wilson

We enjoyed our stay at Arc-et-Senans, the eccentric inland salt factory built by the royal architect Claude Ledoux, now a World Heritage Site, quite out of the way and on few travelers’ itineraries.

Exotic, even.

And considering the price, and the room size, of Parisian hotels, it was fun to check out the many apartments now available through websites such as Airbnb.com.

I had a fixation on staying on the smaller and quieter of the two islands in the middle of the Seine, the Ile St. Louis, and Phoebe finally landed an apartment that had both Wi-Fi and an incredible view of the Right Bank as we were right on the river.

One floor to walk up as the elevator terminus is the fourth, but that was OK. And because she had extra time, Phoebe got over there a few days early to scope out the island and the town where she studied art history.

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Kyoto mixes bright lights of casinos with traditional Shinto shrines

Side view of the Golden Pavilion, whose upper two floors are covered in gold leaf and is topped by a gold Phoenix. The building was rebuilt after a fire in the 1950s.

Side view of the Golden Pavilion

Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun

Autumn gardens

Dear Rich,

If Tokyo is the city of the future, Kyoto is a city of the past. The former capital has mastered the juxtaposition of the bright lights of a Pachinko casino with a traditional Shinto shrine, or the suit-and-tie businessmen with the kimono-wearing geisha.

I visited the Golden Pavilion in my first few hours here, a beautiful building covered in gold leaf and one of Kyoto’s most famous sites. Our visit was cut short by rain but it was a blessing in disguise, since it also kept away many tourists during our visit. The gardens are beautiful and the trees were a riot of color for autumn, bringing out amateur and professional photographers alike.


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France: In a weird way, Royal Saltworks was the highlight of our trip

Arc-et-Senans is home to the Royal Saltworks

Arc-et-Senans is home to the Royal Saltworks

By Staff Writer Larry Wilson

We took the fast train to Dijon, home of the mustard, and a rental car pickup and fun drive, some on byways, some on the toll-road autoroute, through a French forest (not exactly the High Sierra) to Arc-et-Senans, home to the Royal Saltworks designed and built by the visionary eccentric Ledoux from 1775 to 1779.

It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in a weird way was the highlight of our trip: obscure, not an American tourist destination, and we got to stay overnight in one of the 225-year-old buildings at a better rate than in a bad hotel.

We roamed the grounds alone, after the tours were over; I took a long run around the circular park; I pulled out my watercolor set in a gazebo created as part of a landscape designers’ competition; late at night the buildings were lighted as part of another artist’s work.

The dinner in the local village was indifferent; the countryside not particularly picturesque, but living in this great master’s nutty salt factory was a treat.

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Bear Mountain opens Wednesday, but Snow Summit won’t

Bear Mountain has announced it will open for the 2013-14 winter season on Wednesday but Snow Summit will not.

At Bear, Chair 9 was expected to be running top to bottom accessing the following trails: Upper Park Run, Expressway, The Gulch and Lower Park Run. The runs off Chair 9 are intermediate to advanced, and there will be no beginner trails available on opening day, according to the resort.

Early season pricing – which includes $40 for an all-day adult ticket and $16 per child – will be in effect.

Snow Summit will not be opening on Wednesday after all. “Unfortunately, last night’s low temperature was not as low as we hoped. Warmer temps plus high humidity pushed back our opening day,” said a post this morning on the resort’s website. …

When Summit does open, Chair 1 will service the top of the mountain and provide access to intermediate level runs while Chair 8 will service the beginner area.

“Plan on arriving early as ticket sales may be limited due to limited terrain,” said the resort’s website.

Information: www.bearmountain.com and www.snowsummit.com

LUNCHTIME UPDATE Bear Mountain remains on track to open Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

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France: Nothing on earth as elegant as posh Parisian palace of cuisine

l'Avant Comptoir in Paris

l’Avant Comptoir in Paris

By Staff Writer Larry Wilson

With many Parisian restaurants closed Sunday nights, I asked food critic Jonathan Gold where to go.

“I would go to L’Avant-Comptoir,” he replied. “Open Sundays and they don’t take reservations anyway so just get there and get in line.”

We met up with a young lawyer friend of Phoebe’s I’d taught to surf eight summers ago when he was in L.A.; he was now transitioning to a career in fashion photography.

His height and local French helped in the no-menu, no-chairs restaurant with offerings on the chalkboard where everyone eats small plates passed through the crowd and where we eventually landed a place at the zinc bar to lean on, gulping glasses of red Burgundy and eating nose-to-tail (well, ears at least) pieces of pig.

Paul-Antoine took us around the corner to the Assemblee Nationale where brass markers laid out the original length of a meter in revolutionary France.

Monday night we were booked, nostalgically, in our only highly fancy restaurant of the trip, Michel Rostang, a Michelin two-star, where I had first eaten more than 30 years ago and where Phoebe and I had dined a decade ago as well. The lobster menu, the bottle of extraordinary Chablis, the desserts that keep coming even after dessert — there is nothing on earth as elegant as a quiet, posh Parisian palace of cuisine.

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Shoppers scramble through Shibuya nightlife district

Shoppers scramble across intersection in Shibuya

Shibuya has some of Tokyo’s best shopping

Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun

Dear Rich,

Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s more popular shopping and nightlife districts. Given the city’s relatively small size and large population, much of Tokyo is built up with different stores and restaurants taking each floor of a building. If you look at the flags on the side of tall buildings you can see different store marquees advertising what they offer and what floor they’re on.

Shibuya is also know for the Scramble Intersection, when all of traffic stops and pedestrians flood the street to cross from the train station to the shopping area. It is really incredible just to see the sheer numbers of people in one area, the relentless flow of Japanese out to shop or hanging out with friends, all dressed to the nines.


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