Friday, September 30, 2016

Japan - Day 5 - Kyoto

After a nice Western-style breakfast, we headed out for the bamboo forest street in Arashiyama. While the bamboo forest was not really worth it, the town surrounding it was delightful. (I realize it sounds pretentious to say that the bamboo in Madagascar is far superior, but it is!) Full of cute shops and restaurants along a rushing river, the area also boasts a monkey sanctuary. 
After the forest and a little bit of shopping, we checked out a local burger chain called Mos. I had a yummy soy burger and fries. Afterwards, we headed to Nijo Castle.
With limited time until our next engagement, we hustled around hundreds of school children to get a peek at the castle and surrounding grounds. Although it was a bit overcast, the walk was nice and the scenery was very pretty.
We then headed to our sushi & dashi (broth) class close by at Roujiya, which is also a lovely guest house (in case you're looking for a place to stay Derek & Heather). Kaori was an excellent teacher and taught our class of four (the other couple lives in Denmark but is from France and Macedonia) customs, manners, traditions and, of course, how to prepare sushi - both a roll and the ball sushi which was invented for geishas who were not permitted to open their mouths wide in the company of men - the dashi broth (made from sea kelp and bonito flakes) and a sesame salad. Once everything was prepared, we all ate until we were stuffed. The whole thing was definitely a highlight of our trip!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Japan - Day 4 - Kyoto

After a ride to the train station (where the driver told us that Brian looks like Brad Pitt), we took the bullet train to Kyoto. We passed Mt. Fuji but it was so cloudy that we couldn't see it. We did still see some pretty sites along the way. And we had a small meal - Brian had a pork bento box and I had some snacks.
We checked into our hotel and headed out into the rain to see the neighborhood. We came across this shop called Bake which boasts "the best cheese tart ever" so, of course, I had to try one. It was, indeed, the best cheese tart I've ever had (made me think of you, Twila!).
After a lot of walking in the rain and some vegetarian ramen (yay!), we headed to Pontocho, a little bar area near our hotel. Run by a Frenchman and an Irishman, L'Escamoteur Bar is ranked #1 for nightlife in Kyoto by TripAdvisor users, and it did not disappoint. I had a gin fizz (left) and a shiso sour (right) and both were amazing. The bar was small and dark and one of the owners is a magician, so it had a fun, mysterious flair and a bathroom behind a bookcase. If you're ever in Kyoto and like a good cocktail, it's a place not to miss!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Japan - Day 3 - Hakone

After breakfast in Tokyo, a couple of train rides and a funicular, we arrived at Gora Hanaougi, a ryokan (a Japanese traditional inn), for a relaxing day and evening.
We had a private onsen bath on our terrace (so I could go in - tattoos are a no no in the public baths, which is fine by me as it gets me out of bathing nude with strangers!). Brian (who approved this photo) thought it was a bit hot - so we added in some cold water.
We donned our provided jammies and wandered downstairs for dinner. We had a private little room for our twelve course meal. You could hear other diners but it was pretty quiet so we whispered our way through the almost three-hour meal. A lot of the items were good, some were strange, but we got through it all - the sashimi and the dessert fruit were the best!
At breakfast, my resolve to try everything was tested by not having a menu of what was laid out before us, like we'd had at dinner. Having grown up a fairly picky eater - my parents referred to sweet potatoes as "sweet treats" due to my deep hatred of potatoes - I think I have grown more adventurous, as this blog can attest. However, there's just something about breakfast for me - I just like some coffee and something simple. I did try most of the things but it was an experience!
Loving this giant, soft cotton robe with a fancy sash - and hoping I can find one to bring home!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Japan - Day 2 - Tokyo

In preparation for our trip, Brian and I scoured many strangers' travel blogs for tips, tricks and things not to miss. One of our favorites, Boutique Japan, had a perfect one-day tour around the city to see all kinds of sites. I won't bore you with the whole play-by-play, because a lot of it was just walking through neighborhoods, but here are the highlights.

The first stop was at Turret Coffee for a yummy latte, close to the Tsukiji Market.
While we waited for the infamous market to open to the public, we strolled around the outer markets. The stalls were packed with everything you can imagine - from beautiful sushi knives (too bad that won't work in a carry-on bag) to sea urchins to the strangely sweet rolled omelet that Brian is trying (verdict = one bite was enough).
The morning's main event was going into the Tsukiji Market, which is Tokyo's central wholesale market. You can get in to see the tuna auction if you want to be in line at around 3:30am, otherwise you have to wait until 10am when things have "slowed down" a bit from all the business activities of the morning. Guards stand at attention, blocking people from entering early and then transform into crossing guards, trying to prevent visitors from getting run over by the many forklifts whizzing about. It was amazing to see this place that I've watched documentaries about before it moves into its bigger, more modern space.
For lunch we headed to Ginza Kyubey for an out-of-this world sushi experience. Sitting shoe-less in a sunken tatami room, we had an amazing view of the sushi chef preparing each delicious bite of our nine piece meal. I decided to brave every bite as it was prepared (eel, wasabi and all!) and enjoyed it immensely, well except for the eel.
One of our next stops was Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine, and Yoyogi Park. I liked the giant wall of sake barrels wrapped in rice paper, just outside the shrine, along the park's trails.
For dinner, we met up with a childhood/family friend of mine who lives in Tokyo. Navigating all the cuisines of Japan can be a challenge - there are more than 100 types altogether - but it's easy with someone who is in the know. We headed to a kushikatsu place, where you select individual items on the menu to be fried up on a stick. It was so good - asparagus, onion, scallop, lotus root, ginger, mochi, shrimp - yum! It was wonderful catching up and strolling around a park afterwards. Then, since I'd woken up at 2:30am, we headed home.

Japan - Day 1 - Tokyo

If you're anything like me, you like to ease into your new surroundings with a little bit of home. Our first morning in Tokyo, we headed to Bill's, an Australian restaurant known for these little beauties right here - the ricotta pancakes with bananas. They were completely gone in ten minutes flat and boy were they good!
After breakfast, we headed to Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (I know, we're nerds). The museum was a live research lab and the exhibits collected data (with your consent) to help inform projects their researchers were working on. Brian and I both were interviewed by three little robots about robots providing elder care and whether robots should have rights. The highlight of the morning was a demonstration of Honda's Asimo robot, pictured, that can jump, run, kick a soccer ball and even sign to music. 
After the museum, we went to Hama-rikyu Gardens for a stroll by the tea houses.
At the tea house, we had matcha tea and this sweet, which was beautiful to look at. For those unfamiliar, the tea tastes just like it has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea. Good job tea!
After a stroll around the park (where most plants and flowers were out of season, except for these), we walked to a ramen place for lunch. Most ramen places aren't vegetarian so I just had some steamed veggies and failed to get a photo of Brian slurping his noodles, which he has been practicing just for the trip. After lunch we walked around a fancy shopping area and headed back to our Airbnb.
We decided to try a Thai restaurant right around the corner from where we are staying. I had shrimp pad thai, I think, and a Coke. I always love a Coke away from home, especially when I am trying to stay awake past 7pm to get on a new time zone. Speaking of which, I think it's time to sign off and get some rest!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Drink + Dine in Chattanooga

Work trips are sometimes so action-packed that it's hard to put together a post while I'm on the road. When I get home, I move on to the next thing and sometimes fail to post a recap. Since this was my second trip to Chattanooga, TN for work this year, and I was there for almost a week, I couldn't let it slip by without sharing a few highlights. We'll start with some breakfast!

(Upper left) The Camp House's Yogurt and House Made Granola. Not pictured, a delicious latte and the lovely gathering room where you can work or catch up with local friends. (The rest) Brunch at Easy Bistro is a treat. With a menu that is printed daily, you never know what you might find. I had the avocado toast and the vanilla yogurt with candied peaches, honey and granola.
The Dwell Hotel is recently renovated and beautiful, as is their website. Their cocktail bar, Matilda Midnight, is great for a quick snack and a cocktail. I had the Pentacles (plum sake, lime, ginger-hop syrup, watermelon ice cube, and sparkling water) and the shrimp fried rice - both were amazing!
For dinner, both this trip and my last, The Public House and St. John's Meeting Place. The Public House has two sides - the restaurant and a bar called The Social - and everything, down to the mayo is made from scratch. One night, Brian and I went for a snack at The Social (left hand photo) for some pimento cheese spread on grilled sourdough, fried pickles, and a salad (for balance) and some cocktails - the Alec Eiffel for me and the Chattahattan for Brian. I also went there for lunch one day and had the (bottom right) wedge salad and heirloom tomato salad.

(Upper right photos) Another night, for dinner, I had a delicious beet salad, summer vegetable tempura (not pictured) and an El Diablo cocktail at the Meeting Place.
Walking around Chattanooga, a town of roughly 150,000, you get a sense of a community that wants to get people together. One morning I walked past this park that had regular hammocks, these inflatable hammocks (the colorful things which you can order here), and outdoor games you could play.
Walking across the pedestrian bridge one evening made me realize that there's a lot to see in this town. I look forward to an excuse to go back and do some more exploring. Where have you explored lately?