Duolingo with Owen

I try and learn at least a little of the local language before traveling to a foreign country. For Japan, even though I was with a group, I learned some Japanese. For Germany, I am trying to bring back my once excellent German–ressurecting it from an almost dead state. For both trips, I used the Duolingo app to practice.

While the cute little owl, Duo, is cute, that isn’t enough to justify the success of this language app. According to Wikipedia, “As of October 2018, the language-learning website and app offer 81 different language courses across 37 languages. The app has about 300 million registered users across the world.”

What I found

I like Duolingo a lot for reviewing German. I found it useful but not as good for Japanese. The difference was that in german, I had a basic grounding in the language so I had an understanding of the grammar and sentence structure. In Japanese, I had nothing, and between that lack, and the inherent difficulty of learning a language with multiple character sets, I found Duolingo helpful but incomplete for learning Japanese.

Based on my experience, I would add a copy of the “Idiot’s Guide to (insert language here)” to Duolingo if learning a language from scratch. Those guides provide a solid grounding in the language fundamentals and grammar. Combined with the Duolingo app, they provide everything you need to learn a language.

If you’re reviewing a language where you have already learned the basics, like me with German, Duolingo can be used as a standalone language learning tool.

In either case, duolingo is a fun, free (with ads), app that can help you get ready for your next travel adventure.

Japanese Fashion–Art on the Runway

Issey Miyake dress

I will admit that when I went to Japan, I was only familiar with a handful of their many famous clothing designers. Since I love perfume, I was familiar with Kenzo, and Miyake since they had crossed over into perfume. But we’re missing some fun, sometimes outrageous, other times stunningly sculptural clothes, if we ignore Japanese fashion designers. Check out this exhibition from the Metropolitan museum, for example. Make sure you click through the pictures; they are exceptional.

Many of Yohji Yamamoto’s clothes use historical references as part of new designs

The newer designers have a lighter, younger style. Check it out here:
https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/top-10-japanese-fashion-designers-you-should-know/

So do you like Japanese fashion? Or just enjoy the detailing but would never wear it?

Not just Paper

We tried origami while in Japan. Unfortunately, ours weren’t as tidy as this one but we had fun. Since then, I’ve discovered several sites with easier orugami. The sites are meant for kids but we all know that I’m a kid at heart. These sites are a great place to start an origami journey.

I made this origami fish for my youngest grandson and I’m happy to say that it came out well and that he loved it. Origami animals are always a hit with grandchildren and these are easy enough for beginners. These photo tutorials are for slightly more sophisticated origami but are so clear that anyone can achieve them.

So are you going to try making origami?

Cats, Dogs, Wine, and Sushi

Before we travel, we try to eat and drink things that we’ll encounter in the place we’ll be visiting. For Japan, that was sushi and sake.

For Germany, we’ve been trying out wines from Moselland, as that’s where we’ll be traveling and wine tasting.

This cat bottle had to be purchased!

We got an order in from Total Wine. The cat bottle wine was surprisingly good. I bought it for the bottle since I love cats. (I have two. And a dog.)

More wine for testing
We’re still drinking!
One of the cats from our house. Madeline.

As you can tell, I’m crazy for furry animals. I take way too many cat and dog related pictures on our travels.

Cats stencils in a window in Japan

But my own pets are my favorites– with or without wine and sushi.

Owen, our wonder dog
Skye is always smirking

Cost Free Mementos

A very traditional street light

When I was younger and literally traveling on a shoestring budget, traditional souvenirs were too expensive so I came up with some no cost options.

One of my first collections was pictures of streetlights. It seems like every city has its own streetlight style and some of them are really unique and fun.

An attachment to the streetlights in Kyoto. Each light had a different character.

On this trip, I also collected pictures of manholes. The Japanese artistic district manholes were truly stunning.

One of the simpler manholes we saw
More street level art

Another friend collects pictures of doors and doorways. As you might imagine, she has found some beautiful examples.

If you want mementos that can be placed in a scrapbook, train and museum ticket stubs are great.

In Japan, most chopsticks come with beautifully decorated paper chopstick covers that would make great add ins to a scrapbook page.

The only limit to cost free souvenirs is your own imagination. What will you collect?

Taiko drumming, New Mexico style

Ray and I had so much fun trying out Taiko drumming in Tokyo that we decided to find classes in New Mexico. Bushido Kenkyukai is a well-known dojo for taiko drumming and martial arts. We went to an introductory class which included demonstrations by local students and practice drumming.

As usual, New Mexico artists have added their own twist to a traditional Japanese art. The New Mexico version includes more drummers, extra instruments, and special riffs that aren’t heard in Japan. Still, the foundation is traditional so it’s a fascinating fusion of cultures.

Another local group NM Taiko is also seen at local events like the very popular Aki Matsuri, a Japanese fall festival.

For practicing, since taiko drums are expensive, many artists make use of old tires coveted tightly with packing tape.


It doesn’t give the depth of sound that a real drum does but it definitely is good for an active taiko workout.

So, are you tempted to try taiko drumming?

Magic doors

Taxis were delightful. They were always immaculate and the seats were invariably covered in white lace fabric. When it was time to get out, the doors opened as if by magic–though I’m sure it was through the driver’s command.

In Kyoto, foreigners aren’t particularly welcome as they overwhelm this small town. In that town, taxi drivers hesitate to pick ip foreigners. so a whole separate cab business has developed: “foreigner friendly taxis”. The term is emblazoned on the taxis so foreigners know that they can effectively flag these taxis down. Not surprisingly, these taxis are often driven by foreign immigrants, who often also speak English.

So would you be like me– a little worried about inadvertently soiling the pristine white interior of a taxi? (I’m a klutz by the way.)