If you are a follower, then you know I love to travel and have had the privilege of visiting Europe and Asia several times in the past 10 years. Traditionally, I jet-set with Stan – my neighbor, my friend, the perfect travel companion, and part of a very tight inner circle of friends who are a blessing straight from Heaven.

This time however, we are embarking on a new venture which is sure to be an adventure.

You see, this year [2018] introduced a lot of unexpected (aren’t they always?) shifts, challenges and upgrades in my life – both personally and professionally.  I suddenly found myself standing in front of a closed door and for several months I was unsure what was next for me. After a lot of prayer, journaling, counseling, and encouragement from friends, I realized the closed door was simply a re-direct and I was in the enviable position of having several exciting opportunities before me.

Because, yeah, that’s how God rolls.

Deciding to expand on some of the things I love to do, I started a new venture called “Elegant Occasions by H. A. Schiavone”. I’ll share more on my vision for this business in upcoming blogs, but for the purpose at hand, my first travel excursion is happening right now!

Nothing like jumping in with both feet!

So What Happened Was . . .

It all started with Nino DiGiulio and Dawn Lara. They own “May I Have This Dance” dance studio in Chicago and I had the privilege of meeting and working with them at a few events in Palm Springs. They greatly impressed me with their professionalism, talent and warmth, so when they announced they were putting together a Mediterranean Dance Cruise in June, I jumped on board. Nino graciously allowed me to invite our west coast dance family to join theirs and now, 99 U.S. dancers are all heading to Rome where our cruise begins and ends! Sweeeeet!  We’ll be making stops in Rome, Florence, Cannes, Palma de Majora, Barcelona, and Naples.

That’s when I had a bright idea.

Since I love Italy so much, I thought it would be fun to invite my friends to tour Italy with me for 12 days BEFORE the cruise. I’m calling it the Italy EXPANDED Tour and we will be visiting Milan, Lake Como / Bellagio, Venice, Florence, Siena and ending in Rome where we will join Nino and our east coast dance family for the cruise. Our group is so excited! That tour starts Saturday, June 9, 2018.

To kick things off, Stan and I flew to Munich for some much needed R&R before the tour starts. That is where I am today as I write this post.

Our flight was great. Between Stan’s miles which enable us to travel first / business class, and the airline’s impeccable service, there is nothing to do but enjoy.

Since life has been so hectic lately, our plan for the next few days is to rest, eat and mosey around at our leisure. It happens to be raining at the moment and I feel content and happy listening to the thunder and soothing sound of the rain against my window.

So there you go . . .

More soon.

Stan wisely planned for Tokyo to be our last stop knowing that I would want to shop and there would be many bags to carry. LOL.

I absolutely love to shop in Tokyo. Unless you have experienced it, it is hard to understand the impeccable customer service that is standard in Japan. Everything – from the sights, sounds, smells and  [impossibly] perfectly manicured, extremely polite, over abundant staff – is designed to make patrons feel like royalty.

I actually spent some time thinking about this.

I have traveled (and shopped) in many different cities and I believe part of the reason customer service in Japan feels extraordinary to me, has partially to do with California. Our laid back, independent, no fuss, get it fast, get it cheap mentally contributes to our being satisfied with less. (Emphases on satisfied.) It’s even worse in other states – like West Texas where, in some cases, employees don’t even speak English. Conversely, in the mid-west, like Chicago, and certainly in the south, like East Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina (all places I have visited), the old school commitment to service still exists (although not to the degree that we see in Japan).

So, I’m wondering … what would happen in the U.S. if we polished off our manners and committed ourselves to excellence? What if we embraced the idea of serving and made it the basis for everything we do? How would that affect our bottom line? How would that change us as a nation? As individuals?

It’s worth thinking about.

Random Observations:

Japanese women do not point. Ever. Instead, they have perfected Vanna White hands to draw your attention to something. It’s much more elegant.

Japanese people are very quiet. They speak in hushed tones and are careful not to bang, bump, drop, slam or do anything that is noisy. At breakfast the other day, a busboy was clearing the table next to us and a fork slipped from his tray and clattered on the table. He was embarrassed and turned to us and apologized. Can you imagine? I observed two exceptions: they slurp their soup and the men get louder (especially the younger men) after too much sake.

Small trays are used as mediators between parties during sales transactions. Money and credit cards do not pass from hand-to-hand. I had a hard time remembering this rule and often tried to hand someone my credit card. They would simply use Vanna White hands to draw my attention to the tray between us. Oops!

People do not eat or drink in motion. In the states, we walk around with our beverages in hand, especially water bottles. In Japan, people purchase food/drink, consume it, throw away the container and then continue on their way. As a result, there a very few trash cans around the city. The only exception is ice cream.

I never saw a single person chewing gum.

Restaurants have pre-set menus and they WILL NOT modify SETS under any circumstances.

Japan, Great Britain and Australia drive on the left side of the road.

Japanese women do not cross their legs. I saw a few exceptions but, very few.

It seems like every person on the planet has a cell phone and has their face buried in it!

I don’t recall seeing a single obese Japanese person.



I am sitting on the plane in Tokyo. In a few minutes, I will push my seat back, snuggle under a blanket, make a movie selection and settle in for a 10+ hour flight home.  It has been a wonderful trip. I can’t thank Stan enough for sharing his miles and allowing me to tag along on another adventure. I am so blessed to have a friend like him! Our trips are the sweetest blessing and the memories will last a lifetime.

Japan – until we meet again, may God bless you and make His face shine upon you. XO



My last post was lots of words and no pictures. Today’s post is lots of pictures; and pictures are worth a thousand words.

Friday we did two things.

First, we visited the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I was enthralled, delighted, thankful, and at peace.

Then, we shopped until we finally collapsed into a booth for dinner, laden with many, many parcels. It was a great day!

Please . . . come walk with me on a carpet of blossoms. Enjoy!

Can you imagine laying on a blanket and looking up?
A carpet of blossoms.


This photo looks like one of those jigsaw puzzles we used to do as a family.


Blossoms on the water.


Different tree varieties.
An artist at work.
Reflections on the water.
Reflections. I love this photo.





Today was another shopping day, however, we did make one stop at a temple to see this torii path.









Yesterday was catch-up day. I spent the entire day in my room in my pajamas catching up on email, updating the blog, uploading photos, doing laundry and re-organizing my suitcase. (Our hotel had laundry facilities on the second floor, so that was very convenient – although I did have to get dressed for that part.)

In the evening, we had special plans for dinner. But first, some background.

According to an article entitled, “Food’s Biggest Scam: The Great Kobe Beef Lie,” posted on Forbes.com in 2012, Americans have been scammed on the whole Kobe beef thing. It’s shocking, I know. Here is an excerpt from the article written by Larry Olmsted:

You cannot buy Japanese Kobe beef in this country. Not in stores, not by mail, and certainly not in restaurants. No matter how much you have spent, how fancy a steakhouse you went to, or which of the many celebrity chefs who regularly feature “Kobe beef” on their menus you believed, you were duped. I’m really sorry to have to be the one telling you this, but no matter how much you would like to believe you have tasted it, if it wasn’t in Asia you almost certainly have never had Japan’s famous Kobe beef.

The article goes on to explain why; it’s very interesting. Here is a link if you are interested:


An update to the story entitled, “The New Truth About Kobe Beef …” was posted in 2014 advising that a minuscule amount of Kobe beef is now available in the U.S. but only at select locations.

Between the time the USDA changed its rules last August and the end of 2012, exactly five head of Kobe beef cattle had been shipped to the United States – five. Through the first 11 months of 2013, the U.S. received just 17 head of Kobe beef, never more than six in a single month and often none at all.

Thanks to recent changes, the single easiest way to eat real Kobe beef in the U.S. with confidence is to visit the Wynn Las Vegas resort . . . As of December 15, 2013, Wynn became the first U.S. end-user certified by the Kobe Beef Council as an authorized restaurant partner (a program that also includes Nobu in Hong Kong and the Sands resort in Singapore). This is a relatively new program outside of Japan that should eventually provide much greater levels of consumer protection at restaurants, and the Council is currently in talks with some additional U.S. eateries, including at least one in New York, but as of this writing, Wynn is the sole such outlet in the nation.

Here is a link to the full article:


Last tidbit of information from Wikipedia:

The increase in popularity of Japanese beef in the U.S. has led to the creation of “Kobe-STYLE” beef, taken from domestically raised Wagyu cross-bred with Angus cattle, to meet the demand. The meat produced by these cross-breeds is DIFFERENT from the “authentic” Kobe beef …

The proliferation of beef outside Japan marketed as Kobe beef is an issue for Kobe beef farmers. Due to a lack of legal recognition of the Kobe beef trademark in the U.S., it is possible to sell meat that is incorrectly labeled as Kobe beef.

So, by now you have probably guessed what our special dinner plans where. Stan made reservations at one of the highly recommended restaurants IN KOBE for us to have a fabulous dinner of authentic Kobe beef. Let me just say, it was worth the train ride and the pricey price tag! The meat literally melts in your mouth. It was amazing. I am ruined for life. How will I ever be satisfied with plain old angus beef again? Looks like I will be traveling to Wynn, Las Vegas for dinner more often. Who’s in?


Today was moving day. 

As is the custom, we were met at the train station by Stan’s cousins, gifts in hand! Seriously! We have no more room in our suitcases! We were all reluctant to say good-bye; we so enjoyed our time together. With lots of hugs and promises to meet again soon, Stan and I were off to Tokyo.

The train ride was about three hours so I relaxed and spent some time listening to the Word and watching the scenery whizzing past me.

Our first stop after checking in to our hotel was our traditional dinner at Hard Rock, Tokyo.

It’s nice to be here!

P.S. I did not take a single picture yesterday or today so this post is just an update. However, Stan took this beautiful photo yesterday in Osaka.





Today is Monday and as I write, I am sitting on the Bullet Train heading back to Osaka. We had a wonderful weekend in Hiroshima with Stan’s relatives. In fact, we spent the entire day with them yesterday (Sunday). Everywhere we went we were showered with gifts, food, tea and politeness. They take the idea of hosting very seriously and truly out-did themselves this weekend. Finding ways to communicate with them was a challenge for me. Aside from talking with my hands (which I do anyway), playing charades, and Stan translating back-and-forth, I’ve been using my iPhone translator app a lot. It isn’t always accurate (which makes for some funny misinterpretations) but it gets the job done. LOL.

One tradition that touches me is that the family always shows up at the train station, gifts in hand to see us off. (Yikes! More gifts?! There is no more room in my suitcase!) They dress up (coat and tie) and actually purchase a ticket so they can walk us all the way to the platform! They wait for the train to arrive and walk us right up to the door. After we board and find our seats, they position themselves where they can see us and waive and bow until the train has pulled away from the platform. Isn’t that sweet? Who does that anymore?

In contrast, when one of my friends needs a ride to the airport, I suggest they get a shuttle!! ha! ha! And if I DO take them to the airport, I slow the car down long enough for them to grab their bags and hit the ground running! ha! ha! (I can hear my mother saying, “Shame on you!” right now.)

I’m just kidding, mom.


But seriously, Japanese people are so polite, and in many ways, still so traditional. We could all take a lesson.




The boys!



Picking back up on Monday evening from my hotel room, I just want to mention that when we arrived at our hotel in Osaka today, we were told by the front desk that we had a package waiting for us. Guess what? Stan’s cousins (they live here) dropped off presents . . . for ME!

For goodness sake!

Needless to say, one of the things on our agenda was to go shopping and be prepared to do a little gift giving of our own when we see them tomorrow.

The rest of the evening consisted of a wonderful pedicure for me (delightful) and our traditional dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. We always visit one wherever we go, and if I don’t have a T-shirt from that city, I get one.

Note: I wish Stan had recorded a video of the check out process at the nail salon. The manicurist knelt at the low table in the waiting area and waited for me to put my shoes on, she presented a tray for me to place my money, she ran back to the counter to make change and then helped me on with my jacket. She walked us to the door thanking us the whole way and bowed several times at the door as we left. She remained at the door until we turned the corner and when I glanced back she bowed again. I resisted the urge to run back and give her a hug.



I had an early wake-up call this morning and although I did not want to get up, I certainly didn’t want to miss our day-trip to Kyoto.  I had the opportunity to visit Kyoto in 2013 and loved it. I was looking forward to returning with Stan’s cousins.

Kyoto, 2016



Stan, Mitsuru, Yukiko, Nozomi, Erika


An interesting fact about Kyoto:

Kyoto was at the top of the atomic bomb target list but was removed by the personal intervention of Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. Stimson wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and later, diplomatic visits.


The first part of our trip took us to the district of Gion, one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in Japan. Despite the considerable decline in the number of geisha in Gion in the last one hundred years, it is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment. I read somewhere that many of the teachers at Gion’s geisha vocational school are designated as Living National Treasures, a distinction given to people who Japan believes are “keepers of important intangible cultural properties and who preserve the time-honored traditions of the past.” The streets of Gion are lined with old-style Japanese tea houses with traditional sliding doors, wooden fences and Japanese lanterns. It is so quaint.








At the end of the main street, we came upon the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, Kenin-ji. Stepping through the doors, visitors are immediately transported into a quiet, peaceful, relaxed atmosphere. We all had to take our shoes off and walk around in our socks. The temple is quiet. Shhhhh. Even though people were walking around and conversing softly the sound seemed to get absorbed somehow. Everything is open in such a way that inside and outside seem to merge. The gardens were tranquil in their simplicity. One of the core principles of Zen Buddhism is meditation and everything within the temple is designed to facilitate that.

Before I left L.A., my pastor talked to me about the importance of taking the time to enter into union with God through Christ and becoming AWARE of His presence. He reminded me of the verse in Psalms 46 that says, “Be still and know, recognize and understand that I am God.” In our fast-paced, distracted, disconnected society we have lost the ability to quiet ourselves and hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. After my experience today, Psalm 27:4 is my new prayer for this season:

One thing have I asked of the Lord – that one thing will I seek, inquire for, and insistently require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord [in His presence] all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty [the sweet attractiveness and the delightful loveliness] of the Lord and to mediate, consider, and inquire in His temple.


(I didn’t take many photos of the temple because I had a camera malfunction. Stan finally got the problem resolved but by then the group was ready to move on and I didn’t want to hold everyone up while I took photos.)




After the temple, we took a lunch break. We dined at a wonderful little place where the chef was happy to accommodate my food restrictions. I saw these lovely ladies on the way to lunch. They look like walking flower blossoms.


Among the traditional streets in Gion is Hanami Lane. Remember hanami from my previous posts? We ended up at a popular spot for flower viewing. Beautiful! After that, we walked around the shops and enjoyed the scenery.




This couple was taking wedding photos! I got in on the action!


Young love!



This cutie was serving dumplings and my heart loved her instantly.


Million dollar smile!



The day concluded with dinner at Mitsuru and Yukiko’s favorite restaurant and a walk along the river to the train station. What a wonderful day.


Eating Japanese style; shoes off, low tables and kneeling pads.


Uh, I’m going to need help with the groceries.













Today (Saturday) was a jammed packed day.

I wish I had a pedometer because I am really curious how far I walked. Judging by how tired my feet are, I know it was a lot! 

Anywho, we spent a lovely day with Stan’s uncle and aunt, his cousin and her husband. They planned a very special day for us and we were on the go from morning till evening. Although Stan’s aunt is pushing 80, she is a fireball of energy and it was a challenge to keep up with her! (Note to self: get back to the gym!) 

Our morning consisted of a guided bus tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Peace Memorial Museum, and the Atomic Bomb Dome.  Our tour guide was a sweet older woman who was as cute as a button. She was very knowledgeable about her city and its history and she never stopped talking for a minute. Unfortunately, the tour was in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word of it but Stan filled me in on the highlights. 

Our tour began at the Atomic Bomb Dome. The Dome (originally constructed in 1914) was located in the business district of Hiroshima next to the Aioi Bridge and was used for arts and educational exhibitions. It is the only structure that remained [partially] standing near the hypocenter of the nuclear blast on August 6, 1945. It has been preserved as a memorial of the bombing and as a symbol for world peace.

Atomic Bomb Dome.

The Aioi Bridge was the target for the atom bomb because if the weather was good, its “T” shape was easy to see from the air. I believe the Dome is on the far right. Only a sliver of the building is visible in this photo.

Dome Today.

Original building before August, 1945.

Before and after bombing.

As I was pondering the devastation that occurred in August, 1945 in the very spot where I was standing, I happened to notice this man sitting on a park bench under the cherry blossoms reading a newspaper. The Dome is directly in front of him. He looked so casual and relaxed, and for a brief moment my brain and my emotions could not reconcile the scene: the co-existence of destruction and peaceful relaxation. I took a photo to remember the moment.

The location of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was once the city’s business downtown commercial and residential district. The park was built in an open field created by the explosion across from the Dome. The park contains various memorials and monuments but the one in the center is particularly moving. It is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covers a cenotaph containing the names of all the people who perished in the bombing. The cenotaph carries the epitaph, “Please rest in peace, for [we/they] shall not repeat the error.” The epitaph was written by Tadayoshi Saika, Professor of English Literature at Hiroshima University. He also provided the English translation, “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.” On November 3, 1983, an explanation plaque in English was added in order to convey Professor Saika’s intent that “we” refers to “all humanity”, not specifically the Japanese or Americans, and that the “error” is the “evil of war”. Stan’s aunt was a victim of the bombing and her name appears on the cenotaph.

Peace Memorial Park with Dome in the background.

Children’s Peace Monument.

Children’s Peace Monument Plaque.

Eternal Flame of Peace with Museum in the background.

Cenotaph Monument with Eternal Flame and
Dome in the background.

“Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”

Finally, the Museum was the most emotional part of the tour. I could barely get through it. The exhibits are gut-wrenching and I had to fight the tears. Stan’s aunt pulled me over to a model of the city which represented areas that were destroyed. Speaking a language I do not understand, she shared her memories. As I listened to her tone and watched her facial expressions and body language, I understood every word. I realized grief is a universal language. 

I have not fully processed everything I saw, so at this point I can’t begin to convey how it moved me. The only thing I CAN share is that my heart cried out to God today – for mercy, for deliverance, for restoration, for the victims of war and hatred, and for the hope of His coming.


After lunch, we continued the tour on a happier note. The afternoon consisted of taking a ferry to Miyajima to see [World Heritage Site] Itsukushima Shrine.  

Cousins on the left, uncle and aunt on the right.

Itsukushima is an island in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, located in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay. It is popularly known as Miyajima, which in Japanese means, “the Shrine Island”. It is considered to be one of the most scenic spots in Japan.

Itsukushima Shrine has a long history and at the time of this writing I have not had the opportunity to research it. I paid particular attention to the architectural style and noticed how expansive the complex was but that is as far as I got. I DID find this one tidbit of information on Wikipedia that was interesting: the Itsukushima shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, who according to Japanese mythology, is the god of seas and storms and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. So, there you go.

Stan waiting for the ferry.

Bicycle Parking!

Deer sneaking up on unsuspecting humans.

A torii is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine. It symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred.

Five-tiered pagoda in the background.

Very steep bridge. Can you imagine crossing in a kimono?

Five-tiered pagoda.

These are miscellaneous shots of people being people.

Wedding party posing for the family shot.

Wedding Party from the front.

A different bride and groom during their shoot,

Nice hat!

After the tour, Stan and I headed back to our hotel, dropped off our stuff and headed back to Peace Memorial Park to photograph “hanami”. In my previous post, I shared that one of the nation’s all-time favorite pastimes is – hanami – which literally means “looking at flowers” and refers to having picnics under the blooms. This evening, I was able to witness hanami firsthand. It was beautiful!

Cherry Blossom Season, Hiroshima

Picnic under the flowers!

I peeked over her shoulder and saw that she was writing in her journal.
I wondered what thoughts she was recording.

I was waiting for Stan and noticed this woman.

After a very long day, we were ready for a hearty dinner.  Stan suggested we try a unique place he spotted this morning.  It was a stand-up steak place! 

A what?

You may have heard of stand-up sushi bars? Well, this was the same concept except they serve steak instead of sushi. The idea is you stand at a bar and a server takes your order. Then you walk over to the grill chef and he helps you select your size and cut of meat and you tell him how you want it prepared.  When the food is ready, you STAND at the bar and eat. It’s different. The food was good and I would go back again. But next time, let’s go on a day when I haven’t been on my feet all day, okay?


I left LAX at 12:50 AM on Wednesday, March 30, flew for approximately 11 hours and landed in Tokyo at 4:00 AM on Thursday.

Wait. What happened to Wednesday?

With the sixteen hour time difference between L.A. and Tokyo, I lost an entire day! I have been confused ever since! ha! ha! The good news is, when I return home, I will get to repeat a day. How’s that for do-overs?

Upon my arrival in Tokyo, I successfully navigated customs, baggage claim, more security, a terminal transfer and a connecting flight to Osaka ALL BY MYSELF! (My friend Stan flew to Tokyo the day before I left, so he was waiting for me in Osaka when I arrived.) I admit I was nervous about finding my way around, but Stan provided fool-proof instructions (complete with video links) so all-in-all it was relatively simple. Yay me!

And now, a quick word about bathrooms . . .

This is going to sound crazy, but I love the bathrooms at the ANA terminal.


Everything is so high tech. The private water closet comes complete with a Toto toilet, heated seat, a sound system that plays soothing sounds of rushing water to camouflage other noises (!), a complete bidet system with options to choose from, an automatic air freshener, and lighting that makes you look good even after 11 hours on a red-eye! Now that’s impressive! 

Okay, moving on. 

One of the things I love about traveling with Stan is that I have no idea what the plan is.  I don’t know where we’re staying, what we’re seeing, how long we’ll be there, who we’re meeting, or where we’re going next. My only responsibility is to pack, show up, bring my camera, and write a check at the end. It’s perfect. (And no, girls, I won’t introduce you to Stan! Forget about it.) 

As soon as I arrived in Osaka, the first order of business was Starbucks.  The second order of business was a hot shower and a relaxing 75 minute massage! Oh, yeah baby! It was a perfect way to ease into vacation mode and work the kinks out after a frenzied few days prior to leaving L.A.  My massage therapist was AMAZING! 

The rest of the day (which felt like the-middle-of-the-night to us) consisted of a little shopping, dinner, a blog post and early lights out. 


Today was a move day. Moving day means I have to pack up all my stuff, schlep it, and transfer to a new city / hotel. I’m usually not ready to switch locations but I always look forward to seeing what’s next. (BTW, that’s the cool thing about a cruise – there’s no packing and no moving. Every morning, a new city is waiting for you right outside your door.) 

After breakfast we checked out of our hotel and joined the herd at the train station. We took a train to a transfer point and then hopped on the Bullet Train for the rest of the journey to Hiroshima. I love traveling by train because I get to see more of the country . . . well, as much as I could see as it was whizzing past me at 200 miles per hour! (It’s kinda like riding in the car with Jerry Piani!) 

Japan is all about how many sardines they can squeeze in a can. In other words, it’s crowded. Multi-family high rises are sandwiched together and every possible square foot of space is utilized as efficiently as possible. The streets are narrow; the parking spaces are narrower. What impresses me is that in spite of how densely populated Japan is, everything seems to run smoothly and orderly. (I contrast it to the chaos I have witnessed in New York, Italy, France, etc.) It’s very impressive. 

Upon our arrival in Hiroshima, we were met at the station by Stan’s cousins. They are sweet people who I had the privilege of meeting in 2013. I used the translator app on my iPhone to communicate with them over afternoon tea as we mapped out our itinerary for the weekend, which of course includes cherry blossom viewing. It’s going to be fun hanging out with them.

Afternoon Tea with Cousins
Selfie on the Bullet Train

Growing up in a small farming community in Texas, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to travel 5,650 miles away from home to visit a foreign country. Now, the idea of traveling the world (well, parts of it anyway), seems as natural as visiting that small town in Texas I used to call home.

As I sit here enjoying the comfort of my own cubicle in Business Class, and the impeccable service offered by the beautiful Japanese ANA flight attendants, I marvel at the goodness of God and His plan for my life. It occurs to me that nothing has turned out the way I initially envisioned it:  I didn’t marry the boy I was in love with in sixth grade; I didn’t learn to cook like my grandmother; I didn’t settle down to small town living and raise a family; I never learned to sew; I never mastered the piano . . .

Instead, thus far I have followed the Lord on a totally different path experiencing the life HE planned for me – with all of its twists and turns, gifts and surprises, and a few self-directed detours. I jokingly refer to it as “Father God’s Wild Ride.” LOL.

And so begins another adventure.  As I cross the International Date Line traveling 516 miles per hour toward Tokyo, another memory is in the making. This time, Stan and I are traveling to Japan to photograph cherry blossoms.

That’s right.

Cherry blossom season (known as sakura) is a BIG deal in Japan. Months before the cherry trees bloom, everyone starts to gear up. Retailers decorate store fronts with cherry blossoms, and restaurants and convenience stores offer blossom-flavored drinks and recipes. The local news stations report the daily Cherry Blossom Forecast which offers a petal-by-petal analysis of the advance of the blooms as they sweep across the nation from the south to the north. When the blooms actually arrive, the general population indulge in one of the nation’s all-time favorite pastimes – hanami – which literally means “looking at flowers” and refers to having picnics under the blooms.

Like I said, it’s a big deal. 

So here we are, excited to join the festivities. We’re going to spend some time looking at flowers and hopefully capture some of the beauty in photographs.  I can’t wait.

Sunrise in Tokyo

Flying from Tokyo to Osaka we passed Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji.

I sure am enjoying the leisurely pace of my life in Paris! 

I shared with Stan this morning that I believe I was meant to have a palace in the Parisian countryside and spend lazy summers reading intriguing novels, sipping cool lemonade, and riding horseback along meandering rivers. And every Saturday I should be attending formal balls wearing beautiful evening gowns and dancing in the arms of a man in uniform (or Fred Astaire). Don’t you think?

Shhh. Don’t wake me.

My mother always shakes her head at my romanticism, but I can’t help it! I take after my father . . . my earthly father AND my precious Heavenly Father.  He is, after all, the most romantic being I know.  One of my favorite worship songs goes like this:

Divine Romance, by Phil Wickham

The fullness of Your grace is here with me 
The richness of Your beauty is all I see 
The brightness of Your glory has arrived 
In Your presence God, I’m completely satisfied 

For You – I sing, I dance 
I rejoice in this divine romance 
I lift my heart and my hands 
To show my love, to show my love 

Today we returned to Notre-Dame because I wanted to see the inside of the cathedral. The stained glass was beautiful. After walking around for awhile, we stopped at Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. Eating at Hard Rock is one of our traditions – we try to find one in every city we visit.

On the subway in Paris.


My name on the walls of Notre-Dame!

City Hall, Paris

Me and my sunbrella strolling the streets of Paris.

My wake-up call rang LOUDLY in my ear at 5:00 AM.

The thoughts in my head went something like this:

Yawn! Is it time to get up already? It feels like I just went to bed! Whose bright idea was it to get up early and take photos at this un-Godly hour anyway? Oh yeah, it was mine. Okay. Stop whining and get going. And don’t forget your camera.

Poor Stan! He was still asleep when he came to my room to pick me up this morning. I don’t even think his eyes were open. We made our way to the train and joined all the drunks (literally) and party-ers who had been up all night at the music festival. People were dragging themselves onto the train and then fighting to stay awake so they wouldn’t miss their stop. And we saw two people holding a guy up that was too drunk to stand. Crazy! 

Apparently, Paris holds an annual music festival that coincides with Solstice (the longest day of the year).  The organizers coordinate a mix of professional and amateur musicians from all genres of music to perform at various sights around the city including street corners and cafes. All concerts are free and train service on the night of the festival is also free.  It sounds fun, but throw several thousand tourists into the mix (and lots of alcohol) and you can imagine the mayhem.  

The morning after looked like a hurricane had blown through town! Parts of the city were LITTERED with bottles, cans, cigarette butts and trash. It looked and smelled disgusting. I felt sorry for the municipal workers who were trying to clean up the mounds of trash everywhere this morning. Why can’t people have a good time without trashing the place? And why can’t they clean up after their flippin dogs … or better yet, leave them at home?

Anyway, I was annoyed because some of the sights I wanted to photograph were so littered with trash it ruined the shot.

Okay, enough whining, we made the best of it.

Our first stop was the Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum) which includes the Dome Church and the Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.

A little history on Napoleon: On May 5, 1821, Napoleon died on the island of St. Helena where he had been in exile since 1815. He was buried in the Geranium valley. His remains rested there until October 15, 1840 when they were exhumed and brought to Paris under the direction of Louis-Philippe, who demanded that the English return the emperor to French soil. A state funeral was held and the remains were laid to rest in St. Jerome’s Chapel. Napoleon’s remains were moved again in 1861 when his tomb was completed at Dome Church.

The Dome Church

Dome Church 

These tiny cars are everywhere!
Saw this gas pump on the way to the train.

Stan checking the map.

Next stop was the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, one of the most famous streets in Paris which ends at the Arc de Triomphe and is close to the Grand Palais – our third stop.

Avenue des Champs-Elysees

The Grand Palais is an exhibition hall and museum complex, and directly across the street is the Petit Palais which houses the City of Paris Fine Arts Museum. Both of these buildings were constructed in the late 1800’s for the 1900 Exposition.

The Grand Palais
The Grand Palais

The Petit Palais
Love the detail on this door

Continuing on, I ran over to the Pont Alexander, III (bridge) that spans the Seine and connects the Champs-Elysees quarter and the Eiffel Tower quarter. This bridge is classified as a French Historical Monument.

Pont Alexander, III with Dome Church in the background.

Our final stop before breakfast was the Louvre. This massive complex is too big for my camera-lense to capture, so I included a photo from the Internet.  The glass pyramid structure in the middle of the complex has an interesting story. This is from Wikipedia:

The pyramid and the underground lobby beneath it were created because the Louvre’s original main entrance could no longer handle the enormous number of visitors it receives on an every day basis. Today, visitors descend through the pyramid into the spacious lobby then re-ascend into the main Louvre buildings.
Design historian, Mark Pimiott, “I.M. Pei’s plan distributes people effectively from the central concourse to myriad destinations within its vast subterranean network… the architectonic framework evokes, at gigantic scale, an ancient atrium of a Pompeiian villa; the treatment of the opening above, with its tracery of engineered castings and cables, evokes the atria of corporate office buildings; the busy movement of people from all directions suggests the concourses of rail terminal or international airports.”

The construction of the pyramid triggered considerable controversy because many people felt that the futuristic edifice looked quite out of place in front of the Louvre Museum with its classical architecture.  Certain detractors ascribed a “Pharaonic complex” to Mitterrand. Others praised the juxtaposition of contrasting architectural styles as a successful merger of the old and the new – the classical and the ultra-modern.

The Louvre
Louvre Shmouve, let’s have breakfast.

While we were there, I couldn’t resist taking a few shots of this bride and groom!

After breakfast, we decided to visit the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts and Fashion) and the Musée de l’Orangerie – an art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.  The gallery is the permanent home for eight murals, “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet and also contains works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (my favorite), Paul Cezanne and many others.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pablo Picasso