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Must Visit Destinations in Japan's Gifu Prefecture - Silk Worms in the Attic, Gunpowder Downstairs and a Pond a Mother Would Love

Usually when I visit Japan, I head straight to Tokyo. I love the bright lights, the energy, the hurry-and-get-out-of-my-way attitude of people rushing from work to metro and home again. I love the technology and the great Izakaya bars serving yakitori and small plates. I adore the ramen and dry soba bowl joints where a meal and a beer costs next to nothing. I love the rows of densely packed yakitori, udon and tempura stalls in hidden corners of the city like Shinjuku's Memory Lane ( Omoide Yokocho ) and the soon-to-be-torn down Tsukiji Fish Market . I love all that and more, but for my latest trip I wanted to "light out for the territory" as Huck Finn said. I was headed to the Shoryudo Region which lies between Tokyo and Kyoto. In Japan’s heartland, the nine prefectures or provinces of the region offer great opportunities to explore the unusual and the fun. An Alpine Village Driving north from Nagano into the mountains,

Cornalin, a Swiss Grape With Big Ambitions

Which Swiss wines do you love? Hands? Anybody? Nobody? Know why? Only 2% of Switzerland’s wine production is exported. All the rest, 98%, is consumed domestically. The best way -- actually, the only way -- to sample Swiss wines is to visit Switzerland. That’s what I did. The Valais’ Microclimate Having grown up with images of Switzerland as a land of snow-covered mountains, when I visited the Valais, a wine-growing, French-speaking canton east of Geneva, I expected cold weather. But the climate was better suited to shorts and T-shirts than to parkas.  Neatly trellised vineyards climb up steep hills taking advantage of a hot, dry microclimate. With 300 days of sun a year, the Valais feels like Napa and  Sonoma  except for the Matterhorn looming in the distance.  In Switzerland, family-owned vineyards and wineries (called   vignerons-encaveurs)  are the rule. Even if unprofitable, they stay in the family.  During a hosted trip w e met one wine maker whose family was reg

A Video Walk-Through in Tsukiji Fish Market: Fighting To Save Tokyo’s Culinary Heritage

The video tour of Tsukiji found below is also on my YouTube Channel:  Secrets of Restaurant Chefs . Last fall I visited Tokyo and returned to Tsukiji. It wasn't same.  Half of one block had been demolished, a tall construction wooden fence installed where closely packed stalls used to vie for customers. Walking up the block, the feeling was just as before. A crowded sidewalk filled with hungry people, checking what was offered by the food vendors, deciding what taste treat they wanted that day.  Inside the market, vendors called out in Japanese, advertising their fresh tuna sashimi, grilled scallops, steamed clams and sea urchin (uni) sliders. The little kitchen supply store was still there, as were stalls selling ceramic tea cups and kettles.  But there was definitely a feeling that the end was coming, a feeling echoed by news that the market will be totally gone by the fall this year. So, if you are traveling to Japan and you have a stop in Tokyo, definitely

After Fidel Castro, What Next for the Relationship Between Cuba and the United States? Whatever Happens, Travel to Cuba and Have an Amazing Adventure

A year ago we visited Cuba to attend the Havana Film Festival, the first time since 1999 when the country was celebrating the Millennium.  A lot had changed since 1999. We were able to fly directly to Havana, without a stop-over in Mexico. We asked to have our passports stamped at Cuban Immigration instead of asking them not to do that. The old city had been refurbished, with construction indicating more improvements to come. Hotels were being built. The restaurant scene was as thriving as those in Brooklyn and Downtown Los Angeles. The music was as wonderful as before, with bands playing in neighborhood bars and radios on window sills serenading people passing by.  There was much to enjoy. But also Havana's decay was more evident than in 1999. The old city and prosperous suburbs were bustling. Walk a dozen blocks away from the tourist areas and the streets and buildings in the heart of the city were more crumbling than sixteen years before. Only the colorful street art that t