We’re on the road to the Alps ! Yes, there are Alps in Japan, in the central Honshū region, where we’ll spend the next few days. We rented a car in Nagoya, which has been thrilling and stressful. (I’ll give you one guess as to who used which adjective.) The tolls have been utterly confusing; we required the assistance of a poor highway toll worker more than once (called over to our lane especially on our behalf) as we sat at the toll gate with our car, GPS lady and automated toll booth all politely yelling at us in Japanese. Wide-eyed and just shoving yen into the hands of each toll man as he nodded and rattled on in Japanese, we finally made it through the gates. Once on the expressway, we rewarded with the lush Alpine mountains hugging the lanes until the east side opened up to the Sea of Japan. Incredible. And worth the spike in heart rate / blood pressure each time we approach a toll…
The highway also gave us a great dining experience. Japan’s rest stops are fully equipped with what can only be described as an Asian cafeteria: you go to a vending machine, put the coins into it and choose your meal. Out comes a slip of paper, which you give to the happy man at the counter that lines the rest stop. He then gives you a colored buzzer, and when it goes off you go to the appropriately colored counter to receive you actually decent meal. You know, considering we are at a rest stop. I had a nice little tempura soba set, and it hit the spot.
the rest stopMore shrimp tempura and soba
Our first night in Honshū was in Kanazawa. And being 8 or so kilometers from the sea I was very excited to get some excellent seafood–we were so close to the source. But it was Sunday evening so many places were closed, and while walking around the old samurai quarters district, I was struck with how hungry I was. We found ourselves close to an Irish / Italian place — it was that, or meander aimlessly in hopes of finding an open seafood joint while becoming increasingly hangry.
The decision to go in to The Cottage; with its six seats at the bar, two little tables against the wall and homey Irish décor; was the best we’ve made so far on the trip, non-Japanese food and all. The menu was simple: pizza of the day, pasta, green salad, and tiramisu. There wasn’t really menu; it wasn’t extensive or change too much so there were just some pieces of paper posted up above the bar.
Keith ordered a beer — the only one offered — and I had a fresh-squeezed lemon soda. We decided on a pizza (which ended up having sausage, red peppers and capers (! Amazing!)) and pasta to split. Both were made fresh before our eyes. It was a beautiful meal: simple, fresh and down to earth. I’m not sure I’ve ever had pasta so fresh, not even in Italy.
Capers on pizza!
We were the only ones in the restaurant for the whole night. A few seats had been reserved for some patrons who had clearly been detained, and another regular came and went when she saw the convenient bar seats were occupied. And that suited us just fine. As we began to talk with the owners, Tony and Momo, we sank deeper into conversation and past the general observations: Tony, you’re obviously not from Japan (he’s from England by way of Galway, Ireland); why are you in Japan (to take care of Momo’s mother); why Italian food (Tony made pizza in Ireland, so why not Japan? It’s what he knows after all.)
By the time we started to order whiskey, and we all made several cheers to the night, we were sharing personal bits about ourselves: stories from our travels and our pasts, what we thought about our lives and the world. And as the night continued on (and as Momo kept filling our glasses with beer) we found ourselves laughing and simply enjoying each others’ company. Momo put some vinyl on the record player sitting next to the small fridge behind the bar; Tony told us about learning to cook from his grandmother and showed us her scale sitting atop the fridge. When we finally left The Cottage after several hugs and heartfelt goodbyes, we had spent over four hours with the gracious couple.
12 year Jameson, as recommended by our hosts