Aaaand Back to Melbourne For a Bit!

4 Dec

Last month James and I headed back to Melbourne for Cat’s wedding. It was a shorter trip (about 10 days) since our last visit was relatively recent. Don’t want people getting sick of us!

Pre-flight cocktails in the Polaris lounge:
IMG_20181113_205407The flight was scheduled to leave quite late – around 11pm – and it was probably midnight by the time they started dinner service. Who wants dinner at midnight???

I slept for most of the trip. James’ in-flight entertainment was busted but it worked out because they gave him $250 for the inconvenience and we just switched seats. =)

About to touch down in Sydney (check out the Opera House!) MVIMG_20181114_133645(Also for what it’s worth, connecting in Sydney is so annoying. You have to take a bus between terminals and it takes forever).

The wedding was the night after we arrived and luckily we weren’t too jet-lagged. =) The ceremony was beautiful and we had a great time catching up with family and some of Cat’s old friends.

My incredibly talented friend Kim made the wedding cake.
IMG_20181117_171243And in the background are my cousins Victor and Henry!

Here James and I are taking advantage of the ice cream cart.IMG_20181117_190613Cat had very kindly made sure there were plenty of dairy-free food options for James, including a delicious pizza at the end of the night.

It was a really fun way to kick off our trip to Melbourne!

We stayed at an AirBNB in the city and the location was pretty much perfect – right near Melbourne Central. We were near all our favourite restaurants and we ate ourselves stupid.

Also the current “thing” seems to be edible flowers (Nicola tells me they’re pansies, but I didn’t want to write “edible pansies” for obvious reasons). The pansies were very popular at brunch and we also encountered them in cocktails. Sometimes the brunch placement made sense – on top of a stack of pancakes or something. Sometimes the brunch placement was perplexing – “oh, here’s a flower on top of some scrambled eggs”.

But anyway, we went to some old favourites (*cough* Rose Garden *cough*) and also discovered some amazing new places. I know I say it every time, but Melbourne gets more and more cool every time we go back.

Miznon:
IMG_20181121_212325 The food was fantastic and their music playlist was even better.IMG_20181121_212206I am unique like a pita!

And James with the flagship dish, the flowering cabbage.
IMG_20181121_205050 He looks like he is wearing guyliner but those are just his beautiful eyes.

Din Tai Fung:

We ate soo many xiao long bao!
IMG_20181122_132252
Eau de Vie:

Last time we went we promised ourselves we’d do their cocktail and food degustation menu. Damo and Joel joined us and it was super fun catching up.

Our first drink of the night – mezcal and aloe.
MVIMG_20181123_194548 Mushroom soup with a surprise duck egg inside.IMG_20181123_195505Wine cocktails getting smoked:
IMG_20181123_203940 Our host making a sorbet palate cleanser: IMG_20181123_210342And the finished product!
IMG_20181123_210815Pillar of Salt:
IMG_20181124_111010 (1)(This sign doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not much of a statement – wouldn’t everyone rather live full than die hungry?)IMG_20181124_114424Melbourne brunches are so, so good. This meal was delicious (and the guy brought me an extra serve of turkish bread for free, yay!)

Mjolnir:
IMG_20181125_185757 Skol! IMG_20181125_192102Us and our wonderful friends! (Also check out our giant viking horn drinking vessels).
MVIMG_20181125_194911They lit a lot of things on fire that night. Here is a Baked Alaska: 00000IMG_00000_BURST20181125211320_COVERThe bill came in this gorgeous pop-up ship!
IMG_20181125_213109As usual we had a whirlwind schedule, meeting up with  for lunch and dinner pretty much every day we were back. I only took photos of 30% of what we ate but most of it was amazing. Every time James and I think maybe we’ve overhyped the food in our memories but every time it’s just as good as we remember.

Also, have some Melbourne street art:

We passed this every day and I kept thinking that I should take a photo – I finally did on our last evening in Melbourne.
IMG_20181125_091646 I saw this one while I was in a car and had to take a photo because it was so gorgeous: MVIMG_20181124_143152Ever since I bought my Gucci Aces, James has been saying “that’s Gucci” (apparently the children say it to mean something is good) so this graffiti pleased me despite its subject:
IMG_20181124_132456Everybody likes raccoons:
MVIMG_20181116_112953Oh my.IMG_20181125_152649Our last day in Melbourne wasn’t really a day at all because we had to leave at 8am. Though it turned out we could have hung around a little longer because our flight to Auckland was over an hour delayed, which unfortunately meant that we missed our planned connection.

They put us on an Air New Zealand flight five hours later and during that time we just killed time at the lounge. We had some cocktails (not nearly as good as the ones in the Polaris lounge) and a light lunch. Also baos!MVIMG_20181126_181858The flight was really nice – I think the seats are a bit wider than United’s and the service was better. Though Polaris is better in terms of couple seating – the only real option with the Air New Zealand herringbone layout is to go one behind the other or across the aisle from each other. Though they had a little ottoman you could perch on to chat to the other person or eat a meal together which was quite nice. (James: It was Gucci).

Oh hey!
IMG_20181127_074818
We were glad to get back to the cats and our normal routine, though it’s always a bit sad to leave. I think I’ll forever be a Melburnian at heart. Also, there were so many restaurants we wanted to try but weren’t able to get around to. Next time!
IMG_20181126_064844New Things About Melbourne:

  • Flowers on food
  • Cheese tea
  • Yeezy’s everywhere
  • Food delivery couriers also everywhere
  • Supermarkets now charging for shopping bags (though they’re sturdier than the old shopping bags)
  • Lines outside designer stores
  • Google office! (Though James said it’s really small and just sales/marketing)

Things About Melbourne That We Had Forgotten:

  • How you split the bill (everyone takes it in turns to line up and tell the cashier what they ate)
  • Sunday surcharges at restaurants
  • Were there always this many smokers?
  • Myer Christmas windows!!!

 

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A Week in New Orleans

26 Oct

There are three great cities in America: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.

-Tennessee Williams

We live in San Francisco, James spends a month out of the year in New York, and after 6 years in the US, it was about time we visited New Orleans! Kieren and Sam were visiting from Australia and New Orleans was on their list so we decided to all catch up there.
MVIMG_20181010_130212

Thursday

Our flight landed around 3pm, and after checking in at our hotel we grabbed a very late fried chicken lunch at Willie Mae’s. Our Uber driver said we were lucky to not have to wait in line – hooray for eating at off-peak times!
IMG_20181004_160109The chicken was amazing – one of my favourite things we ate in New Orleans. The batter was crispy and not greasy, and the chicken itself was super moist.

We very briefly met up with Kieren and Sam, had a fancy and delicious dinner at August, grabbed at mediocre cocktail at a bar called Loa, then crashed.

Friday

James and I picked up our rental car in the morning to drive 1.5 hours out of New Orleans to Global Wildlife Center in Folsom. We originally weren’t sure whether to include this in the itinerary but it ended up being the best thing we did, and I would highly, highly recommend going.

We drove across the Pontchartrain Bridge, which is the world’s longest continuous bridge over water.MVIMG_20181005_095029It took 30 minutes to cross. About 5 minutes into the bridge we were like “wow this is a long bridge” and checked Google Maps to see how much longer there was to go. Motherfucker …

All the reviews of Global Wildlife Center said that a private tour was the way to go. The public tour was $19 each and the private tour was $35 (but paying for a minimum of 4 people). We saw the public tour and it was soooo crap compared to ours.

This was the giant bag of feed we purchased – it was a little bit too much in the end, but better too much than not enough!
IMG_20181005_105111Look at this lovely llama’s sweet smile.
IMG_20181005_105729 Oh my.MVIMG_20181005_105715And alpacas! Our driver said the way to tell llamas and alpacas apart is that alpacas have bangs.
IMG_20181005_111520
(The alpaca in the foreground finds that very amusing .”Haha it is true, we do have bangs”)

But of course the giraffes were the highlight. Like the other animals they would walk up to the car and eat straight out of our hands. It was amazing to see them so close. =)
IMG_20181005_111015This is George, and he just put his head straight into the food bucket (look at that jealous deer behind him). IMG_20181005_110438James makes friends with a lady giraffe:
IMG_20181005_111044I also really loved the bison. The cows had a particular way of asking for food – they’d come up to the car, stick out their tongues and kind of … swivel them around beseechingly.

Exhibit A:
IMG_20181005_112919Exhibit B:
MVIMG_20181005_113154 Exhibit B is embarrassed by Exhibit A: IMG_20181005_113203Look at this massive unit.
MVIMG_20181005_112757James was super freaked out when the bison exhaled on him because he said there was just so much warm air.

But anyway, the bison also got in on the tongue action:IMG_20181005_112909We weren’t allowed to feed the zebras (apparently they get quite food-aggressive and will bite the other animals) but that didn’t stop them from stalking the car and trying to get food.
IMG_20181005_113858Please.IMG_20181005_113618Please.IMG_20181005_113644(There were also kangaroos at the end of the tour, but they weren’t free-range like the rest of the animals, and also you can imagine how unimpressed James and I are by kangaroos).

Deer though – so cool!
IMG_20181005_122304 So yeah, the safari was amazing and we had such a great time. =)

Also, when we were in the gift shop there were a ton of regular souvenirs like mugs and stuffed animals, but they also sold naturally-shed antlers from the different breeds of deer – how awesome is that! MVIMG_20181005_121202The ones on the middle shelf were only $25!

Here the one we bought is on our mantle at home, as a nice souvenir of our fun day with all the animals. =)IMG_20181025_111734 Afterwards we drove to Harbor Seafood for a very deep-fried seafood lunch. IMG_20181005_140039After we returned the rental car and had a fortifying nap, we decided to brave Bourbon street. It was pretty tacky and packed with drunk people, and we were both really relieved to find O Bar, where we drank nice cocktails and listened to live jazz.

They’re known for their gin fizz, which is shaken for 6 minutes (nowadays by machine but originally by hand) to get this very impressive height: IMG_20181005_201736 James ordered a traditional absinthe drip: IMG_20181005_203003(The barkeeper accidentally diluted the absinthe too much, and James was very pleased when he rectified it by topping his glass up with more absinthe).

Afterwards we kept the party going and went to Frenchmen street where we listened to some more jazz at the Spotted Cat Cafe. IMG_20181005_223039 (1)We walked up and down the street listening to music from the different bars, then James grabbed a late night po’boy for the walk back to our hotel. It was the longest (and most satisfying!) day we had in New Orleans. =)

Saturday

The next morning we started with some oysters at Acme Oysters. We only waited a minute or two but by the time we left a line of 50+ had already formed, so if you go I’d recommend getting there early.

Neither James nor I were super impressed with the oysters – we both think Gulf oysters are impressively large (and cheap)  but don’t have as much flavour as West Coast oysters. The chargrilled oysters were good but that was mainly from the butter and cheese. The oyster shots were interesting though!IMG_20181006_113618The original plan was to hit Cafe du Monde for a breakfast-dessert but the line was crazy so we just grabbed a second breakfast muffaletta at Central Grocery. We ordered the half-sandwich and it was huge.IMG_20181006_125902We then did a self-guided walking tour of the French Quarter. It started off with various historical sites, then at some point devolved into a bar crawl. There were a ton of notable bars and James and I would be like “well we have to get at least their signature drink”.

Here we are at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest bars in America: IMG_20181006_135845I ordered the voodoo daiquiri which was like terrible slurpee. At one point we saw them pouring a big jug of coloured syrup into a drink and were like “yeah that looks about right.”

The bar was a bit loud for us so after resting a bit we decided to just keep going with the tour. As an aside, when we first got to New Orleans we were like “why is everyone so excited about being able to drink on the street?” but it definitely grew on us. My drink was massive (and gave me brain freeze if I drank too much) so it was not having to stay in a shitty bar until I finished it.

The next bar we went to was Tropical Isle. We got the two signature drinks – the Hand Grenade (which you see everywhere in the French Quarter) and the Shark Attack. Both drinks were predictably gross but also really fun. At this point we were kind of getting into the terribleness of the cocktails – we’d take a sip and just start laughing at how bad they were. They were surprisingly strong though! IMG_20181006_144001The Shark Attack was cool – the bartender filled a plastic shark with grenadine, and when she made the drink, she rang a bell, yelled out “blood in the water!” then squeezed the shark so all the grenadine spread out like blood. James was entranced, and kept the shark so he could make his own high-end version at home.

We continued on with our walking tour and saw some Second Lines, which are these wonderful marching band mini-parades where people walk behind the band and twirl handkerchiefs.

We’d be looking at buildings, hear some music and be like “oooh another parade!” Yes, we were drunk, but also brass bands and wedding parties walking around the city celebrating is so charming.IMG_20181006_145951 Also this next photo reminded me that there was a toy alligator in my Shark Attack for some reason. IMG_20181006_150214Another Second Line selfie! IMG_20181006_152107We’ve done it. We’ve finally become those old people who take photos of strangers’ weddings.

On our walking tour we also saw a ton of stuff like haunted houses (with pretty gruesome histories), psychics, tarot readers and of course, voodoo shops.

James: I would get a voodoo doll of you and pat it on the head.

Another stop was Napoleon House, which some guy originally intended for Napoleon to take refuge in, but Napoleon never even visited, and it’s now a restaurant. James was particularly enamoured with this sexy Napoleon painting. IMG_20181006_160040 (1)Apparently Napoleon House is famous for its Pimm’s Cup so that’s what I got (spoiler: it was too lemony).

James (sounding betrayed): I thought we came in here to sober up so I got a coffee – and then you ordered a Pimm’s!

We also went to Antoine’s Restaurant where we ordered the Cafe Brulot Diabolique. IMG_20181006_164532 So very, very tipsy by then.MVIMG_20181006_164807James was a bit peckish so he got a po’boy before we headed back to the hotel to take a nap. Even though it was hot (and I know I didn’t really mention that – but it really was disgustingly hot and humid) we had a really enjoyable afternoon walking around the French Quarter. =)

Sunday

Sunday morning we had a jazz brunch with Kieren, Sam and their kids, then in the evening we had dinner at Brennan’s.

By this point we were both feeling like we’d overdone it with the alcohol and rich food. We did have to order the famous bananas foster for dessert though. 00008XTR_00008_BURST20181007221243
After dinner we went to The Sazerac Bar which is where the sazerac was invented – but apparently not perfected, since it wasn’t very good. Oh well!

Monday

On Monday we did a swamp tour. We chose to do it in a small airboat because it’s supposed to be much better/faster than the regular boats. It was loud so we all had to wear ear protection.IMG_20181008_101309 I’m assuming this is the engine? IMG_20181008_102723On the swamp tour we saw two alligators, which our guide lured with marshmallows and hot dogs: IMG_20181008_104747There were also giant spiders and some sweet little raccoons. The raccoons also liked marshmallows: IMG_20181008_110915 The swamp was surprisingly lovely (despite the spiders and giant mosquitoes): IMG_20181008_111559After the tour we showered and grabbed an early dinner at Coop’s Place. It was our first time trying gumbo and red beans and rice. James said this was his favourite meal (for the price) in New Orleans. Then we went to Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets, and fortunately there was no line this time.

We capped it off with some jazz at Preservation Hall. IMG_20181008_175930 It was very hyped up but honestly of all the jazz we saw in New Orleans we both enjoyed this the least. It’s still probably worth doing just to cross it off the bucket list, but considering it was the most expensive performance we went to, it just wasn’t as great as we expected.

Tuesday 

We went to Commander’s Palace for an early lunch. Originally we’d been thinking of cancelling the reservation because we were both sick of eating so much high-end Creole food but I’m glad we kept it because it was really good! MVIMG_20181009_125212The main draw of the weekday lunches are the 25c martinis. Yes, that’s right, 25c.

James: They could throw the drink at me and if I opened my mouth and I’d still be able to drink 25c of gin.

(Definitely just order the classic martini though – the cosmo/citrus/melon variations they had were pretty awful – I ordered the citrus because I was like “ooh, sounds like it’ll refreshing!” and it was blue).

We walked off our martinis doing a self-guided cemetery tour across the street at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. We also did the Garden district tour but quickly got bored since it was just walking around looking at mansions. Instead we grabbed an Uber to MS Rau, which is a cross between an art gallery and a high end antique dealer.

Here are Abraham Lincoln’s opera glasses from the night he was assassinated – pretty weird!MVIMG_20181009_152915There was a secret door that led to a series of rooms with lots of paintings which was pretty cool.IMG_20181009_152232In the evening we had dinner at Jacques Imos. MVIMG_20181009_195502 There was a 1.5 hour wait after we left our names but luckily there was a board game cafe down the street, so it was actually quite pleasant. =)

Holy shit, a deep fried po’boy. MVIMG_20181009_214939It took forever to cool down. We ate the fried chicken and brussels sprouts that arrived after it, and it was still too hot to touch. It did make a very satisfying sound when we tapped it though.

James was feeling a bit ill so he skipped the Rebirth Brass Band, which was a pity because it was my favourite performance of the trip. The acoustics of the room weren’t great but the band put on a fantastic show! MVIMG_20181010_012928

Wednesday

Our final day in New Orleans! We packed in the morning, and then went the Carousel Bar. We’d tried a couple of times already at (what we thought were) off-peak times like 3pm, but the carousel was always full.

Since it was our last day we were taking no chances, and went right at opening to snag a seat.IMG_20181010_111050And yes, the bar actually rotated! I also only just noticed that the chairs have pictures of different animals on them. =)

As the bar slowly went around you would occasionally see yourself in the mirrors at the top. James took a lot of time to line up this photo:IMG_20181010_120603Hello!

The drinks were actually much better than I was expecting – not as good as SF/NY, but a lot better than you’d expect at a very touristy bar! Though after a couple of drinks each we decided we needed a non-liquid meal before our flight, so went to Cochon Butcher.

James had a pork belly sandwich and I ordered their take on a Big Mac – the Pig Mac. IMG_20181010_123709It was spectacular.

Overall we had a great time in New Orleans, James’ butter-poisoning notwithstanding. Yes, Bourbon street was a shitshow and all the tourists were a little (or a lot) drunk all the time, but everyone was so friendly and we loved the architecture, history, food and music.

New Orleans has such a distinct identity – it’s definitely one of America’s great cities and I’m glad we finally got to visit!
IMG_20181010_130541

Outside Lands 2018

26 Sep

This year we went to Outside Lands again. We decided to take it easy this time and not get too close to the stages, which was fine because there weren’t many must-see acts for us.

Here we are with the Ranger Dave statue:
MVIMG_20180812_125355(I wonder where they keep him the rest of the year)

Friday

James said his favourite part of the festival was seeing the comedy shows. We went on Friday afternoon because there weren’t any music acts we were interested in. The comedians we saw were really funny and we got great seats without having to wait too long – like 4th row near the middle!

Waiting outside:
IMG_20180810_154740And inside the tent:
MVIMG_20180810_160356We also saw some improv later that day, with Paul Scheer and Phil LaMarr which was pretty funny.

Something else we quite enjoyed was the Chase Sapphire Lounge. If you had one of their Sapphire credit cards you could go in and hang out inside or on their rooftop deck. Can you spot James?IMG_20180810_143821There were drinks, snacks and chargers inside, and the roof had a pretty good view of the Panhandle Stage:IMG_20180810_142338Also the lounge had the best toilets at the festival (I would walk across the park so I could use their toilets instead of the gross portaloos).

We also wandered into the cocktail section, where the cocktails were overpriced and unimpressive, but we did see this colourful statue:
IMG_20180810_184938We also saw Beck, which was a good show. I really like the hill to the side of the Twin Peaks stage because you get a decent view but still have a ton of elbow room. =)IMG_20180810_212702

Saturday

The line to get in on Saturday was pretty intense – I think it took over 30 minutes to get to the front and through security. IMG_20180811_155740The main act James was interested in was Chvrches and we broke our “don’t get too close to the stage” rule for them.IMG_20180811_165652Even though James liked the upcoming acts, he wasn’t interested enough to brave the crush of the crowd, so we retreated to a hill where we could sit down on our blanket without getting jostled around.

We did see some weird clouds above the stage. I’ve never seen weird, smudgy clouds like that before, and James and I were quite mesmirised.IMG_20180810_192723

Sunday

On Sunday we arrived much earlier so we could avoid the entrance crowd. =) We set up our blanket on the same hill spot and just camped there all day because we are old and lazy.

I did nick off to the Gastro Magic stage to watch members of Portugal. The Man make sausages.
IMG_20180812_153306(Two of them are on the stage and the rest of the band are to the left).

Then afterwards I hung around to see the Bounce and Beignets show because I was hoping to score some free beignets (which I did – I caught one of the many beignets they chucked into the crowd!)

The beignets were from Brenda’s, and here is the eponymous Brenda, making it rain with powdered sugar.IMG_20180812_164724(This was the most star-struck I was all weekend)

They also handed out King cake, and I managed to get a slice. =) I held it carefully in my hand until after the show, then scuttled back to James to share it with him.

Here it is, and here I am, all covered in victory sugar.
MVIMG_20180812_170131You might be able to tell from the photos, but the Sunday was actually quite foggy and chilly. We huddled in our blankets to watch Portugal. The Man and Janelle Monae. James  likes Janelle Monae but he’s already seen her perform this year (at a private Google concert /sigh) so he didn’t care about getting close.

This was the view James had at his work concert:

Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180531214655.gif

And this was our view: =P
MVIMG_20180812_165811We skipped Janet Jackson because neither of us are super into her and we didn’t want to get caught in the Uber surge at the end of the night.

There were fewer must-see acts for us this year, but that just meant we had a more relaxing time – though it’s still quite tiring going for three days in a row! But it was OK because James took the following Monday off and we just chilled at home with the cats, like the boring oldies we truly are. =)

Souvenirs from Japan!

18 Sep

We bought a ton of stuff while we were in Japan. Behold!
IMG_20180711_144001I love the clothes we got. I purchased some super comfortable, super soft lounge pants from Muji. And on the other end of the spectrum, a Junya Watanabe top with spiky shoulders – which I still haven’t worn because I live in jeans-and-hoodie-SF, but it makes me happy every time I see it.

My absolute favourite souvenirs were our Fuji walking sticks, which Clever James managed to mount vertically:
IMG_20180725_194157The souvenirs I bought that I use the most are my Totoro watering can, hojicha tea (I’ve already run out and repurchased more), and my Muji diffuser. I bought hinoki and yuzu oils to use in the diffuser and every time I smell them I’m reminded of Japan. =)

I also use my tea cups a ton (left is from the Pokemon store and right has etched icons representing the different Japanese prefectures): IMG_20180711_140914And of course, James has very quickly gone through the booze he brought back from Japan. It’s virtually impossible to get aged whiskey so he quickly gave up on that dream, but he brought back some non-aged whiskey, some gin, and sakura blossom and green tea flavoured liquors.

James’ favourite thing he bought was a handmade Japanese paring knife engraved with his name. It is super sharp and he uses it to cut fruit for his cocktails. =) IMG_20180711_134842 (1)For our friends we bought a billion flavours of Kit Kats: MVIMG_20180711_122610There were some very Japanese flavours like Tokyo Banana, sake, green tea and wasabi, and also some weird flavours like red bean dessert and rum and raisin.

We also brought back a ton of instant ramen:IMG_20180711_122740They are collaborations between 7/11 and the chefs from Tsuta and Nakiryu (the first and second ramen restaurants in Japan to get a Michellin Star). The Nakiryu one was definitely reminiscent of the meal we had!

We found out afterwards that a lot of people bringing back ramen have had it confiscated by US customs, but nobody stopped us, so I guess we got lucky! Especially since it was such a pain lugging it around the airport.

Our (possibly contraband) ramen haul:
IMG_20180711_122903James bought the cats lots of little plush toys, and for Mouse we bought an assortment of stylish gachapon hats.

Orange: 00007IMG_00007_BURST20180711135414_COVERWhite teddy bear: IMG_20180711_135908And a communist hat. We’d been hoping for the Uncle Sam hat, but at least this was the second best one: MVIMG_20180711_140101Also we bought some fancy fruit/vegetable plates. We haven’t used them yet but I think they’re really cute (plus they were super cheap – something like $2 each).
MVIMG_20180711_130337This was our loot from the Pokemon store (though the plush Mimikyu is for Cat):
IMG_20180711_125745And this is my favourite of the windchimes we bought at the Hozuki-Ichi festival. It has a plush cherry flower on it and makes the loveliest tinkling sound.MVIMG_20180711_124808And finally, this was the extra bag we ended up buying in shame because we’d picked up too many souvenirs.MVIMG_20180711_131145It packs flat but expands into a giant piece of luggage. It’s sturdy, but there’s no padding so we just chucked our dirty clothes in there and put the more fragile items in our suitcases and carry-ons.

We were quite pleased with it because we’d had a similar (though not quite as dire) situation in Seoul, so we figured we’d just bring this bag with us on our future travels.

So yeah, that was our haul from Japan! Next time I want to get more hats for Mouse, more hojicha, maybe a nice teapot, and of course some more snacks. =D

Den Tokyo

13 Sep

While we were in Tokyo we had a ton of great meals but the most memorable (and expensive!) one was our dinner at Den. Den has two Michelin stars and is a modern take on traditional Japanese Kaiseki cuisine.

It was also a pain in the butt to get reservations for – their website says you have to call them, so I tried for several nights but their phone was always engaged. Then I read online that someone had just emailed them and that had worked, so I tried that and success!

We arrived a little bit early so waited outside for them to open (later, our waitress told us this area is also used for employee dinners when the weather is good).
IMG_20180707_181428These charming little guys welcomed us into the restaurant:
IMG_20180707_212120We started off with a glass of welcome sake and Den’s version of monaka, which is a traditional Japanese sweet made with bean paste. Monaka is normally a dessert, but Den had made a fruit and foie gras-filled version for our first course.
MVIMG_20180707_183913It was delicious, and the packaging was so cute!MVIMG_20180707_183812 That pig is a traditional mosquito repellent in Japan. This is the one that Den had outside:
IMG_20180707_212100The next course was a kind of refreshing vegetable jelly that we partially self-assembled:
20180829_150123-ANIMATION.gifOur waitress said that they picked plants from around Mt Fuji to go in this jelly:IMG_20180707_184848The taste and presentation of every course was beautiful. Even the plates were stunning:IMG_20180707_185521Our next course was Dentucky Fried Chicken! This is James with his Dentucky box – and the Den owner/chef: IMG_20180707_185948The box was actually super elaborate. There was a picture of the chef’s pet dog Puchi and a list of restaurants that Den has collaborated with.

Also the fried chicken wasn’t actually chicken – it was rice with a mix of other ingredients that I can’t remember (the exact mix differs depending on seasonality). In the background you can see a hand-drawn Australian flag they’d made for us. =) IMG_20180707_190217think this was tuna:MVIMG_20180707_191303The chefs let James go into the kitchen to take a photo of our next fish course getting blackened: IMG_20180707_191145 It was perfect (and again, check out the beautiful plates):IMG_20180707_192051Pretty much all the plates were either antiques or custom made for Den.

And OMG this fantastic salad. MVIMG_20180707_193307Our waitress said it had something crazy like 27 different vegetables in it. The tomato was spectacular and the corn was, I swear to God, the sweetest, juiciest corn I’ve ever had. James and I both had a fun time hunting around for the different ingredients.

My carrot had little heart eyes. =) IMG_20180707_193410Also I should mention that as we were eating, James was getting sake pairings, each of which came in a different, intriguing-looking cup.
MVIMG_20180707_194046 This white cup was very pretty and delicate, and almost seemed to glow:MVIMG_20180707_195939This one was James’ favourite:IMG_20180707_185423Anyway, our next course was beef cooked over rice so the melting fat would infuse the rice: IMG_20180707_200926Our traditional rice dishes, served with pickled vegetables and broth:MVIMG_20180707_201622Dessert was fresh fruit with some sort of jelly:
IMG_20180707_203930It was a really fun, fantastic meal. =) Our waitress spoke english natively which was a great help in explaining all the dishes to us, and the chef was a crack up – he’d strike a pose whenever he saw me taking a photo of the kitchen:
IMG_20180707_200655_1Our waitress explained that this pillar was signed by visiting chefs: IMG_20180707_211619And that Puchi the dog (remember? From the Dentucky Fried Chicken box) was sleeping inside the restaurant!

His snooze location turned out to be right behind this Puchi shrine:
IMG_20180707_204248Hello Puchi!MVIMG_20180707_210057Our waitress told us that Puchi has a “dad-like” palate and his favourite foods are nachos and beer. Puchi could also do this crowd-pleasing trick:

Puchi liked me so they let me cuddle him for aaages even though he was clearly very sleepy:
IMG_20180707_205423 The waitresses called us his new mum and dad and I guess Puchi started to get a bit worried at that: MVIMG_20180707_205433But then real dad came back and it was OK:
IMG_20180707_210014 One last photo Japanese-style:IMG_20180707_205943And that was our dinner at Den! It was an amazing night of modern Japanese cuisine and traditional Japanese hospitality. I’d highly recommend it if you’re in Tokyo for a really fun, memorable evening.

Up Mt Fuji Again and More Tokyo

7 Sep

Day 19: Low Key Fuji Day

We slept in that morning, then rolled out of bed to head to Shin Udon. It was very popular (another one of those tiny restaurants with a well-managed queue) and it was bloody fantastic.

This was my carbonara-style udon with bacon tempura:
IMG_20180709_123305And James’ more traditional udon with a deep fried egg:00000XTR_00000_BURST20180709123345-ANIMATIONThe udon was made on-site and the texture was absolutely perfect. A great, carby start to our Fuji day!

We did some brief board game shopping and picked up a support brace for my knee, which had started to play up from all the walking. Then we had a nap and rested up for the hike.

There was a cool orange moon when we started our hike. Unfortunately this is the best photo I managed to get of it:
MVIMG_20180710_014321We were both kind of nervous because we’d been walking an average of 10km a day in the heat/humidity for 2.5 weeks and were definitely starting to feel it. We’d walk up stairs at the train station and need to rest our legs so we were pretty sure 1400+ vertical feet in high altitude was going to be a pain.

As it turned out, we’d worried for no reason. Even though we were a lot more fatigued, we were actually significantly faster this time around (like 1.5-2 hours faster). Mentally, it also felt a lot easier – I guess because we recognised landmarks and knew when we were getting close to a rest stop. Plus we started seeing large tour groups who had stayed the night at the huts and were getting ready to start, so we would just keep going so we didn’t get stuck behind them.

The second hike made us realise how unusually windy the first hike had been – at the time we’d just thought getting blown around was normal. The hike was much easier without the wind constantly fighting us.

It took us 4.5 hours to get to the summit, and we arrived around 2:30am. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as last time since it wasn’t raining and windy, though it was still quite cold when we weren’t moving. But still! We’d made it! =)

Day 20: Descending Fuji, Cocktails and Effective Prayer

Sunrise was supposed to be 4:30am so we sat there for awhile. We’d expected to take much longer and were actually pretty pleased with ourselves. I had a lot of time to think about how wonderful James was for climbing Fuji twice for me, and James had a lot of time to feel miserable and quietly huff oxygen from his bottle.

As we waited, we could see a steady stream of headlamps and flashlights coming up the path. It was early in the season but quite busy since there was a one day window between a typhoon and a storm where you could climb, and obviously everybody had gone on that day.

The crowd near us:
IMG_20180710_035625James and I huddled for warmth and waited for the sun to rise. The dawn sky was like this for a long time:
MVIMG_20180710_034841 (1)More so than our previous end-point at 3450 meters, at the 3776 meter summit we really did get a sense that we were on top of the world (or at least Japan). IMG_20180710_040127The clouds underneath us looked like waves:
IMG_20180710_041441 Welcome to the land of the rising sun:
IMG_20180710_044447After sunrise we checked out the crater and hung out a bit on the summit. Unfortunately they weren’t doing the summit stamp that day so despite our best efforts our sticks would remain unfinished.

Oh well. The important thing is that we got to the top. =)
MVIMG_20180710_050833 (1)Much like our ascent, the descent was much easier than last time since it wasn’t windy and raining. We also weren’t bitterly disappointed so I guess it was easier mentally too.

The volcanic gravel made the walk down quite slippery and we saw several people fall over (and almost fell several times ourselves). At least the views were nice: IMG_20180710_051600We got back with plenty of time to spare, and picked up some souvenirs while we waited for the first bus back at 10am.

If you hike Fuji I’d definitely recommend booking a seat in advance because the line for tickets was really long. People with confirmed tickets were guaranteed their seats and everyone else was first come first served (bearing in mind that the Shinjuku buses only came hourly and when I checked on the day they were full until 1pm). There was a line of 50+ people who all looked hot, tired and stressed, which is not the way you want to end your Fuji trip!
IMG_20180710_100820We showered once we got back to the hotel, but instead of napping like last time we had a katsu curry lunch then celebratory cocktails at Gen Yamamoto. MVIMG_20180710_155440
The drinks were great – very fruity and some unusual combinations (like peach and wasabi!) I liked that they were low-alcohol because that way we could try a lot without worrying about getting plastered in the afternoon.

Afterwards we went to Senso-Ji Temple for the Hozuki-Ichi festival. If you recall, we’d already been to Senso-Ji, but since we were in Japan on the 10th (we were originally not going to be) we definitely had to go again, since there is a belief that praying once on July 10th is equivalent to 46,000 prayers on other days.

There were stalls selling ornamental cherry pods and wind chimes (perhaps also 46,000 times as effective if purchased on this day?) with tons of Japanese people buying them.IMG_20180710_170949Obviously we couldn’t bring the plants home but we bought a couple of wind chimes.

Nakamise street was also very crowded and decorated with hozuki foliage: IMG_20180710_173914On July 9 and 10 they had these charms on the temple to ward off lightning:
IMG_20180710_171438 Which you could purchase as omamori, but only on those days:IMG_20180711_125104It was very hot and crowded but I enjoyed seeing a tiny slice of Japanese life at that festival. =)

In the evening we went shopping for last minute souvenirs (primarily booze) and encountered some more fun gachapon.

Animals refusing to face us:IMG_20180710_203036 Tiny safes:IMG_20180710_203033Day 21: Time to Head Home

We spent the morning packing, which actually took a lot longer than we expected – I hadn’t realised we’d bought so much stuff (which will be in its own separate post)!IMG_20180711_103845 (1)From the door: our Fuji walking sticks, the two suitcases we originally brought, a giant shopping bag full of snack souvenirs, an extra piece of luggage we purchased in Japan, another giant shopping bag with snacks and ramen, and our carry on backpack.

(When we were waiting for the airport shuttle, a family of four had a similar amount of luggage to us and I was so embarrassed).

We arrived with plenty of time at the airport and did some duty free shopping to use up the rest of our yen before heading to the ANA lounge. In the lobby they had a model plane signed by the Star Wars cast:IMG_20180711_150758One of the actual Star Wars planes we saw outside: MVIMG_20180711_161853The ANA lounge was pretty cool. They had the usual comfy chairs/wifi/pre-cooked food/booze, but also a noodle bar with various meals cooked to order:IMG_20180711_154551And even a sake bar:
IMG_20180711_161359There was also a beer-pouring robot that James saw but inexplicably didn’t take a photo of. =/

And then it was time to get on the plane and go back to San Francisco.
IMG_20180711_163333Bye Japan! We can’t wait to see you again!

Back to (the) Tokyo Part 3

30 Aug

Day 15: Ramen, Pokemon and Ninjas

That morning we got up early to wait in line for ramen at Nakiryu, which (along with Tsuta) is a one-Michelin starred-ramen restaurant in Tokyo that only costs $10-15 a meal. We arrived over an hour before it opened on a rainy weekday and we were 5th and 6th in line.

Waiting in line was a surprisingly non-terrible experience. We chatted to some Americans near us, and it was interesting seeing how many people joined the queue and when. This was the line just before Nakiryu opened (bearing in mind that there are only 10 seats inside):IMG_20180705_111828They handed out menus shortly before the restaurant opened, and James used ours to help him order at the ramen machine.IMG_20180705_113508After he paid at the machine he gave the receipts to the guy behind the counter. That’s how you order at all Michelin restaurants, right?

James got the signature tantanmen (a sesame/red pepper ramen) with thick slices of braised pork, soy-dipped egg and shrimp wontons:MVIMG_20180705_114909I ordered the sanramen (hot and sour ramen) with the egg and regular pork.
MVIMG_20180705_114848We each strongly preferred our own ramen but I have to admit that James’ thick-sliced pork was insane.  

The kitchen worked in complete silence, which was impressive but a little unsettling. Also it wasn’t a leisurely meal – like at every popular ramen joint in Tokyo we had to eat quickly so the people behind us could get in. People didn’t really talk, and mainly all you could hear was the sound of cooking and customers appreciatively slurping ramen.

It was really, really delicious though, and definitely worth doing just for the novelty of having a cheapo Michelin starred meal. That thick-cut pork, OMG.

After our early lunch we walked to the Pokemon Megastore in Ikebukuro. We got a bit lost in the shopping center and had to ask for directions, but looking back we probably should have been able to figure it out for ourselves:MVIMG_20180705_142145 A wall of pokemon:IMG_20180705_123526 Here we are with some old favourites:IMG_20180705_124433(Yes I am aware that I should have been peeking over James’ other shoulder. It bugs me a lot).

It was fun walking around and looking at all the cool merchandise and peeking at what other people had put in their baskets (mostly plushies).

This is Pikachu wearing the skins of his defeated enemies: IMG_20180705_124724I spent a lot of the time messaging Cat, asking which pokemon were which. She answered my questions very patiently but eventually sent back an exasperated “OMG why are you even in the pokemon store if you don’t know anything about pokemon??”

James was very excited by these pokeballs with mystery pokemon inside. He bought two, hoping for either Pikachu and Eevee. He got … Pikachu and Eevee! What a lucky cricket:
IMG_20180705_141751I was also sucked into trying my luck with these cool tins. I bought four and only got one repeat (which was the awesome one in the bottom left so I’m OK with that):IMG_20180705_135814I bought a Mimikyu soft toy for Cat and some more snacks that came in decorative tins.

After we checked out, James (and several other guys) got super distracted by these pokemon gachapon:
IMG_20180705_140821Once again James got the exact gachapon he was after. Perhaps he does have the luck of the nine-tailed fox after all!

We did some random shopping afterwards, where James was entranced with this nesting Totoro toy:
Totoro We also found more cat hat gachapon! Flowers: IMG_20180705_155941And what I assume are Valentine’s Day hats:
IMG_20180705_155927I was also happy because we found a squeeze toy I was hunting! I saw these at Tokyu Hands in Shibuya and fell in love with the eggplant one but they didn’t have any for sale. =( Fortunately they were available at the Ikebukuro location:IMG_20180705_161349 (1)(There’s a gap at the back because I snagged the last eggplant before taking the photo).

When I first saw it I went from “hah, that eggplant is really dumb – I wonder what it feels like” to “OMG I must have it”. It is tactilely delightful.

It was a wonderful afternoon full of gachapon and eggplant luck.

In the evening we went to a ninja restaurant in Asakusa. It was super cheesy but also super fun. This was James at our table in the ninja village:
IMG_20180705_192446The dishes were a mixture of ninja-themed and just ninja-named. James ordered the set course which came with several ninja-themed dishes, like these shuriken crackers:IMG_20180705_194027I asked our waiter what meal had the coolest presentation and he recommended this ninja chicken:

=D

They had an awesome “ninja magician” come by and do sleight of hand tricks. The table next to us also had a magician so we got to see multiple magic tricks.

At the end of the night they gave us a complimentary snow frog dessert to celebrate our 10th anniversary. =)
MVIMG_20180705_213257(A month early, but we figured it counted because the whole trip was basically our anniversary gift to each other!)

Afterwards we headed to Bar Benfiddich. It’s supposed to be one of the best bars in Asia, and is one of those places where the bartender makes you a drink based on your flavour preferences.

James and the owner/bartender, Hiroyasu Kayama:IMG_20180706_010028We were at the counter so were able to chat a bit, and found out that his apprentice/assistant was entering a cocktail competition in Yokohama. We ended up talking to Miyoshi for ages about cocktail-making, and she told us about the preparation involved for the competition. Something that totally blew our minds was that in Japan, artistry (or, what Google translated as “beautiful movement”) is an important part of bartending. All the bartenders we saw were dressed in suits and moved very precisely when measuring, pouring, and creating cocktails. And of course, there’s the Japanese Hard Shake, which is very cool to watch. Movement/artistry is much less of a priority in the US, where bartenders – even high-end ones – are quite casual.

We asked Miyoshi to make her competition cocktail for us (which she had to get the owner’s permission to do):
IMG_20180706_003324 It was called Fleur de Soie, and had lavender and fresh lime juice, and it was very tasty, refreshing and not too floral. I looked up the competition results later – she didn’t win. =(

It was a really memorable night and I enjoyed learning a bit more about Japanese cocktail-making. I think it was my favourite of the bars we went to in Japan (James also enjoyed it but preferred High Five in Ginza and the Ritz-Carlton bar in Kyoto).

Day 16: Art and Baseball

The next morning we lined up at Narikura to try what is almost unanimously agreed-on as the best tonkatsu in Tokyo. This time we only had to arrive ~40 minutes early to get into the first seating. It was a promising sign that most people in the line were Japanese.

James ordered the Kiramugi and I ordered the snow-aged pork. The quality of the pork was amazing – mine was more tender but James’ had the better flavour.
IMG_20180706_112220I think Narikura was noticeably superior to even a good tonkatsu place like Maisen. But the wait at Maisen was much shorter, and I don’t know if I’m enough of a tonkatsu connoisseur to make it worth the wait. I was glad we tried it though!

After lunch we took a train to the Yayoi Kusama Museum. I’d booked tickets a couple of months in advance and, like the Ghibli Museum tickets, they sell out very quickly.

The highlight was definitely the pumpkin infinity room; also known by its full name: Pumpkins Screaming about Love Beyond Infinity.
MVIMG_20180706_141220It was really interesting – an employee would let just you/your group into the room, and you had it to yourselves for two minutes. The exhibit itself was very small, but the angle of the mirrors made it look like a huge field of pumpkins. The museum was very popular, so it was nice to have that intimate experience with just me, James and infinite glowing pumpkins (screaming about love).

We wanted to go in again but when we exited there were already 10+ people waiting. We hadn’t had to wait at all for our turn – I guess we’d gotten there at the perfect time. Oh well.

We continued on to the rooftop pumpkin, which was the other part of the museum where you were allowed to take photographs:
MVIMG_20180706_141610It was a very small museum. We spent about 30-40 minutes there and that was with backtracking and looking at some of the paintings twice. I felt like it was worth the $9 we paid – especially for the pumpkin room! – but much more than that would have felt like a bit of a rip-off.

We had an afternoon break and then went to Tokyo Dome to watch a baseball game.MVIMG_20180706_181913We had several friends recommend seeing a Japanese baseball game and I’d definitely agree it’s a must-do. Japanese baseball is sooo much more interesting than American baseball. The fans are much more interactive – they had synchronised flag-waving, individual chants for different players, and even a brass band!

We went in barracking for the Yomiuri Giants (since they’re the closest thing to the San Francisco Giants) but were won over by the superior chants of the Hiroshima Carp. MVIMG_20180706_195519The game itself wasn’t that exciting (poor James was in a line for the bathroom for the sole home run that was hit) but the enthusiasm from the crowd was infectious and it was fun chanting along with them.

Day 17: Harajuku

We had deliberately saved Harajuku for one of the last days of our trip in case I went crazy and bought a ton of stuff.

I managed to restrain myself, but did buy an awesome Junya Watanabe top at a fancy consignment store. Look how much room there is inside! That’s how you can tell it’s posh.
IMG_20180707_115906We really enjoyed (well, as much as you can “enjoy” it given the heat) strolling around Cat street and the surrounding area.

This is James wondering why I made him go up the stairs for this photo:
MVIMG_20180707_134914_1Some of the stores had really interesting interiors:
MVIMG_20180707_112914(And they all had air conditioning so it was always a relief to go inside).

Even the exterior of some of the buildings was unusual. The one was half-building, half-vase! MVIMG_20180707_113822A guy walking down the street looked to see what we were admiring, then also started taking photos. =)

We also braved Takeshita street, but it was insanely crowded and the stores were a lot more cutesy, which isn’t really my style. I do want to go back for some jiggly pancakes one day though!

After our afternoon of shopping we had dinner at Den, which has two Michelin stars (though a lot pricier than Nakiryu!) and is based on traditional Japanese cuisine but with a fun, modern interpretation. I’ll make a separate post about it because it’s quite photo heavy. It was quite difficult to get a reservation, but totally worth it, and the meal was one of our highlights in Japan. =)

Day 18: Studio Ghibli and Steak

We started off the day with more conveyor belt sushi. Breakfast of champions!
MVIMG_20180708_115210I followed this man and his cat down the streets of Shibuya until James got me back on route:MVIMG_20180708_122804To get on a train to head to the Ghibli Museum. It wasn’t as cute as a little Tokyo shoulder cat, but it was pretty cute:
IMG_20180708_133357We weren’t allowed to take photos indoors, which was actually a really good policy because the museum was already very busy and if we’d had to wait for everyone to take photos it would have been even worse.

We could take photos outdoors though. This was the staircase to the roof:MVIMG_20180708_135318Which was where the Iron Giant lived:
MVIMG_20180708_135604We also explored the (very crowded!) gift shop and a very detailed special exhibit about the different ways food is depicted in Studio Ghibli films. Also we saw a short film about a little caterpillar in a special cinema there which was pretty fun.

Then we walked back to the station to go to Steakhouse Satou where we had a fabulous Matsusaka steak dinner. Matsusaka beef is like Kobe beef but more well-known in Japan than internationally.

The beef before cooking:
IMG_20180708_163727And after:
MVIMG_20180708_165058It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and amazing. 

Steakhouse Satou is also well-known for its Matsusaka beef croquettes, which they sell at their stall downstairs. There was a huge line, but it moved quickly. IMG_20180708_171604We were quite full from our steaks but managed to make room for a single croquette between us. The croquette was really, really good – for sure worth getting if you’re in the area and don’t quite have the budget for steak.
IMG_20180708_172931
We had an early night, making sure to get plenty of rest for the next day, which was going to be our second (and final) attempt to get to the top of Mt Fuji.