2 Festivals and a Road Trip in Less Than 48 Hours

The last few weeks have been more physically and emotionally draining than we'd prefer; cleanup week at my work, extra long days at Lucie's work, me spraining my wrist (while it's true that one doesn't forget how to ride a bike, I'm living proof that one can get pretty rusty on that whole stopping thing that goes with it), various amounts of stress from several sources, and a general lack of sleep that's been getting worse... so this weekend I really want to get the hell out of Dodge.  We don't want to spend a huge amount of money by going to a casino (though that *was* among the first ideas we tossed around) so we end up deciding on taking a day trip out of town and spending some other time doing something fun.

We've been looking forward to Nikkei Matsuri, an annual celebration in San Jose's Japantown that's scheduled for this weekend.  We'd originally thought it was for the full weekend, but it's slated for Sunday only; as luck would have it, however, Cupertino is having their Cherry Blossom Festival this weekend as well, right across the street from our alma mater De Anza College.  The Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual festival celebrating the gift of 200 cherry trees given to the city by its sister city of Toyokawa, Japan, in 1983.  The trees were planted in Cupertino's Memorial Park, and there's an arts and crafts festival held there every year celebrating the Japanese culture (and, apparently, kettle corn.)

This sounds like fun.  This also sounds suspiciously like a lot of walking around, which sounds suspiciously like exercise, but it also sounds better than hitting the treadmill at the YMCA, so we're in.  We cruise into Cupertino, home of Apple Computer and World Domination Headquarters, and manage to find a parking spot -- in the shade, no less -- pretty close to the park entrance, which we take as a good sign.  We wander in, poke through the stalls, and spend a little money.  We get Japanese themed bookmarks and have our names written in Japanese calligraphy; we stop by a pottery stand where Lucie buys me a coffee mug and I buy a present for someone in the family; Lucie gets a nifty jade bracelet; I buy some homemade jalapeƱo fudge and some mocha fudge that gives me the caffeine jitters just by smelling it; I buy a Barbie-sized kimono for my niece Elizabeth's dolls; and Lucie buys some new bling, a shiny new ring with peridot, onyx, and diamond for $30 (which makes me suspect that the stones might not be real, but it still looks nice.)

After a while of wandering through the park, we start thinking about dinner... and if you've driven all the way out to Cupertino, it's only a couple more miles to Monterey for dinner, right?

Yeah, well... I sucked at geography.

It's been years since we made a trip to Monterey, and we miss it.  It's still early enough to get in a nice walk along Fisherman's Wharf once we drive down there, so we head over the Santa Cruz mountains and cruise south along the Pacific Coast Highway.  We make a quick stop at the Thistle Hut in Castroville where we grab snacks and some fresh strawberries, and get into Monterey around 4 or so.  We take the time to drive down Cannery Row, seeing if anything's changed since our last visit, and nothing seems amiss; our favorite winery, the chocolate store, the chili pepper themed store, the Del Sol sunglasses store, and of course the Monterey Bay Aquarium have all managed to withstand these harsh economic times propped up on the mountains of money thrown at them by tourists such as ourselves.  We head back to Fisherman's Wharf and find good parking.

We spend an hour or so wandering aimlessly down the wharf, sampling various recipes of clam chowder (well, *I* sample the chowder; all that cream based soup isn't something that agrees with Lucie) and getting rid of what money we have left over from the Cherry Blossom Festival.  I find a cool silver ring with abalone inset that actually fits me, so I buy it -- I've developed a rule to live by that says if I like something and it actually fits me I don't try to talk myself out of it too hard.  You don't often find a size 16 ring that isn't a simple printed band or something festooned with skulls, so it's a rare find indeed.

We eat dinner at the Old Fisherma's Grotto, our favorite place to eat in Monterey -- their calamari is some of the best we've had, and I haven't tried something there I didn't like.  I'm temped to return to what I had last time, the parmesan and pesto salmon which was outstanding, but I go for something different and order the seared ahi plate and Lucie goes for the macadamia nut crusted halibut and coconut shrimp.  I also feel a little wild and order the Grotto Pineapple, an obscenely large drink consisting of rum, rum, orange juice, ice, and rum, served in a large hollowed-out pineapple and topped off with rum.  And maybe some rum.

It's strong.

We stop by the candy shop on the way back to Meg, where we get some caramel apples for us and a huge bag of salt water taffy for my co-workers; we make a quick detour into the coffee shop and I grab a double mocha for the road; and we head on back home.  Traffic is a little more unnerving coming back into town (for some reason the inland-bound direction along Highway 17 has always seemed much more winding and dangerous to me) but we make it back safe and sound, and call it a day.

Sunday arrives, and it's time for the Nikkei Matsuri in Japantown.  We manage to find parking that's not too incredibly far a walk and wander through the small setup, perusing the various arts and craft booths (we're fairly sure we recognize the same lady from whom I bought the Barbie kimono from yesterday's Cherry Blossom Festival), I'm both entertained and frustrated by a stall showing Japanese theme T-shirts (a Sumo wrestler shirt with the logo "no gut, no glory" that doesn't actually come in the sumo sizes I need, a shirt with the slogan "miso soup for the soul"), and we admire the origami crane earrings and Christmas ornaments that must have taken hours of work to make.  We hit the food booths and sample the wide variety offered -- tempura, teriyaki burgers, BBQ beef short ribs, teriyaki chicken, udon soup, gyoza, pork and shrimp yakisoba, lemonade, and sesame chicken salad.  Some of it's very good; and some of it's average, but nothing is worse than that, which is always a pleasant surprise for food stalls manned by youth groups and neighborhood charities.

We find some open seats in the shade (we've been amazingly lucky when it comes to finding places to park and/or sit this weekend), enjoy the live music followed by the San Jose Taiko demonstration, and finally head on back to Meg.  I make a quick detour into the Hawaiian shave ice place where I get bubble gum and grape shave ice that matches the tie dye I'm wearing, and we head on home.

As the weekend comes to a close, we end up with little to no work done around the apartment but a much better outlook on life.

Works for me.


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