Archive for ‘restaurants’

November 24, 2013

New York City Mother-Daughter Adventure [Day 1-3]

(A very very very belated post about our trip to New York City. I will be back-dating these posts later.)

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I know I probably haven’t mentioned it to many people, I have wanted to go to New York City for some time now. My favorite story of NYC that my parents tell me is of how they and some friends went to see the Phantom of the Opera when it opened on Broadway. With Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. They went to a super fancy restaurant and took a limousine! That must have been amazing fun.

During my time in Japan, Japanese people would look at me in confusion when I told them that I, as an American in her mid-20’s, had never been to the Big Apple. An American who had never been to New York City? Surely something was wrong with that!

I was due to return to the USA in July, so I began plotting an epic “Welcome Back to America!” trip for myself. At first I thought of doing a road trip and hitting up a bunch of the big-name east coast cities… But who was I kidding? I don’t like road trips. I much prefer to fly.

I thought about going by myself, but… that just didn’t sound like fun. I have traveled by myself before (2 weeks in Thailand/Singapore) and I don’t mind it. Sometimes I actually prefer to explore places by myself, but traveling with a friend is always fun and you’re never lonely. I decided to ask my mom, who managed to get a substitute for a few of her yoga classes that she teaches. We were on! My mom and I have traveled together before and I must say we make fabulous traveling companions.

I bought the tickets in March, so waiting until July was so torturous!

On July 4th, I touched down in Chicago, slept a bit, recovered a bit, and re-packed. Went to a wedding in Indiana, worked at a 4th of July festival for my parents’ restaurant…

Day 1: Monday, July 8th 

We were on our way to New York City on Monday, July 8th at 6:50am. It was my first time flying with JetBlue Airlines, a known budget airline. After reading a few reviews and looking at the prices, I thought to myself, "How bad could it be?" And it wasn’t bad. At all. Not even in the slightest! They gave us legitimate snacks and there was even free cable on the screens. My mom and I distracted ourselves with a HGTV "Love It Or List It" marathon, which helped to pass the time more quickly than I expected.

We touched down around 10am. It was a gorgeous day, the first of many gorgeous days! After a little mix-up with our bags (we had intended to do carry-on only, but the overhead bins had filled up by the time we got on the plane), we got them from the carousel and were off to the trains.

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May 19, 2013

My Life Lately: Spring Edition!

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View from the bus on the way to work…

Another edition of things that have happened lately but haven’t had time to write about yet! This might be quite long.

– I was talking to my supervisor about my successor (the person who will replace me in July) and saying to him, “I hope they aren’t vegetarian…” I say this because I always feel like a burden when they order a special vegetarian meal for me whenever we have work parties. I don’t mean to be a bother. But my supervisor totally surprised me by saying, “It’d be find if they were vegetarian. We know what to do now. We’re used to it.” I was really taken aback, but really happy too.

Here is the veggie spread I got at a recent work party:

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– I was at one of my junior high schools and my one (and only) glass that I had to teach got pushed back to the last period of the day, 6th period. The reason? Well, one of the 8th grade boys had confessed his love to a girl classmate. The girl turned him down, because the other boys/girls in the class had pressured her to say no. Well, naturally the boy got pissed and there was a huge rift in the entire 8th grade. My class was pushed back to make time for a meeting with all the students to resolve this issue. And there is where I roll my eyes and say, “… Teenagers.”

– The other Sunday I went to a local café/coffee shop with Tori and Kimberly. I ordered their grilled vegetable sandwich with french fries, no substitutions. It was vegan as-is. I was shocked. And it was absolutely delicious. I had a great time.

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– My supervisor is really on the ball with things. He’s already reserved my flights home and arranged to be my tax representative (so that I can receive my pension refund after I return home. This is a large chunk of change.) By the way, I am leaving Aomori in the morning on Monday, July 1st. Then I will stay in Tokyo for a few days and leave for the U.S. on July 4th. Going home on July 4th had a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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– I went to watch Tori and Kyle at a snowboarding event last month on Mt. Hakkoda. Although I only lasted out there until lunch, it was fun to watch them (and other people) do awesome tricks. Plus, Tori was wearing her awesome Link (from Legend of Zelda) costume.

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Driving there~

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May 17, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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May 1, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 1

My spring vacation! Last year I went to Kyoto with Aunt Jan and this year I decided to take a long, 8-day holiday in Tokyo! Needless to say, I had one of the best weeks ever. I’m going to divide the trip into two parts, but these posts will still be pretty long. :)

Friday, April 5th

I was leaving that very day and I hadn’t really packed yet. I had only set a few things aside and had dragged out my carryon-size suitcase from the closet, but that was it.

So… As you can imagine, I was pretty busy after work. I went to the gym, ate dinner, packed, and still had about 45-60 minutes to kill before it was time to head to the bus stop. Even with luggage, it takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to the Willer Express bus stop in front of the Hirosaki Best Western Hotel.

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I was not looking forward to the bus ride down to Tokyo, but it was the cheapest method of transportation. Round trip cost me around 10,000 yen (a little over $100). Compare that to a round trip shinkansen bullet train fare of about $330 or more. Can’t beat the price of the bus, really. And saving money on transportation meant that I could spend more on shopping in Tokyo (for my frugal conscience’s sake).

The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to getting a break from Aomori and seeing my Japanese host family and friends. And of course, warmer weather.

The bus ride was… Well… I’d rather not talk about it. I guess I‘ll call it a necessary evil. I bought a neck pillow, ear plugs, and an eye mask for the journey, but it didn’t seem to help much. I tried. I’m just not good with buses.

Saturday, April 6th

We arrived at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule at Shinjuku station. The weather was a little poor and spitting rain a bit. I had my trusty travel hoodie, so it was okay.

I took the Seibu-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku to Nogata, the closest station to my host family’s house. Koenji Station is also close, but Nogata is closer by about 5 minutes. Walking with my luggage, I got too hot along the way and had to peel off my layers. Two sweaters worth! Whew!

My host mom welcomed me with open arms and let me rest for a while. It was so nice to finally see her again after having been away for so long!

We (host mom, brother Shouta, and I) left by car to go to the Setagaya area of Tokyo, where they would be participating in an Awa-Odori event.

Awa-Odori is a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. My friend Zandra actually lives there now. In the neighborhood of Koenji, Awa-odori dance was started in 1956 by migrants from Tokushima prefecture. My host family has been in this “ren” (dance group) for years and years, even when my host mom was a child. She didn’t dance, but played an instrument.

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It says “Awa-Odori” on the lanterns.

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January 31, 2013

Conclusion: Firenze to Rome to Milan to Tokyo to Hirosaki

Our trip destinations sound kind of like a Pitbull song, don’t they? (American pop culture reference!) We were just hopping everywhere to all these famous places… A whirlwind of international adventure. I felt like a real jet-setter.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

We had a leisurely breakfast at our hostel in Firenze before we checked out. We had lucked out and found a super cheap train from Firenze to Rome at 19.45 euros apiece. It took 3 hours instead of 1.5, but was 25 euros cheaper. We decided to save the money and take the cheap train, which turned out to be an awesome idea.

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Excited to go back to Rome! And save money!

The slow train went through some amazing scenic places. I saw a glimpse of the beauty of Tuscany—rolling hills, lakes, wine grape fields, farms, a few castles on hills… It was so fun to watch how the scenery changed from northern to southern Italy. We were also very lucky to have gotten on the train at the first station, because as the train went on, there were no seats left. People were standing by the time we got to Rome Termini.

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January 25, 2013

Italy Day 6, 7: Firenze for a Day… Or Two

Friday, December 28th

We caught the high-speed train at 8-something that morning. I was glad were were not staying in that Venice hostel another night. It had been the most expensive and the least comfortable. We weren’t on the train long and arrived in Firenze around 10-something. (Note: I am going to use the Italian name “Firenze” instead of “Florence” because Firenze sounds much cooler than Florence.)

The hostel, Archi Rossi, was easy to find and the staff were very nice. They even had a Korean on staff (apparently the place was famous in Korean and among Koreans, which we would realize later). It was actually the first day they were open after the December holidays, so I considered us lucky that we got beds there. A great find, really. They let us check in early and we were the first ones in our 8-bed dormitory room. It didn’t take us long to put our stuff away and venture out in search of breakfast/lunch. There didn’t seem to be any grocery stores nearby, so we gave up and decided to wait for a certain restaurant to open.

We found a Jewish synagogue while waiting. It was a nice departure from all of the Catholic churches.

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At 12:10pm, the restaurant opened! I had been getting nervous that it was really just closed for the day, but then we saw lights on and signs of life, so it was okay!

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Kimberly obliged me as we decided to eat at Dolce Vegan, a vegan restaurant that was pretty well-known in Italy. I was dying to eat there. The service and rules of the restaurant (order at the counter, pick up your food from the counter when called, bus your own table…) took getting used to. The woman working there (maybe she was the owner) spoke Italian to us and the menu was entirely in Italian as well. We muddled through ordering and enjoyed some delicious food. And actually, my limited knowledge of Spanish helped with reading the menu. It was our first meal of the day and we were really hungry.

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That up there is my falafel, veggies and hummus.

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And this is Kimberly’s olive gnocchi pasta.

After we were no longer starving, we started to explore.

Walking around Firenze, my first impression was that it was a lot cleaner than Rome. It felt more like living art. Or like, walking around in art. It was hard not to be enchanted by the city.

…Love at first sight?

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January 22, 2013

Italy Day 4, 5: Colosseum, St. Peter’s, and Getting Lost in Venice

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Wednesday, December 26th: The Colosseum and St. Peter’s Cathedral

On the 26th of December, the day after Christmas, we decided to forgo a day trip to Naples and stay in Rome. We had heard that the Colosseum was open on the 26th, as was St. Peter’s Cathedral. We both really wanted to get to those, so it seemed like a good idea just to stay put.

We finally got to have breakfast at the Beehive Café. I had an omelet for the first time in years, plus one slice of gluten-free bread and one slice of regular homemade bread. Actual real wheat bread. It was delicious.

A bit of background: I have been following a gluten-free diet since 2009 when my stomach and digestive system decided to completely rebel against me. Maybe it was the stress of graduating and trying to find a job, I don’t know. I had seen a gastroenterologist and had an endoscopy to check for celiac disease. I, thankfully, did not have the disease, but the blood test revealed that I might be sensitive to gluten/wheat. So I eliminated it from my diet and… I began to feel better! Less stomach distress, less pain, more energy, a lot of things. I decided to stick with it.

But lately I have eaten certain gluten-y things without pain/distress, so I don’t know what is going on. I decided to be less restrictive in my gluten-free-ness and try to eat bread in Italy. After all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! How could I not eat Italian bread and pasta?

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After breakfast, we were on our way to the Colosseum! I had done some research on the internet about this and lines for tickets to get into the Colosseum tended to also be ridiculous. However!! I got an awesome tip from Reddit that said to go to the Palatine Hill entrance first because you can get a ticket for all three (Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Roman Forum) and wait in a significantly shorter line. It was absolutely true—we were about 5th in line and were inside the Palatine Hill ruins in minutes!

I love ruins.

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The above used to be a fountain, with a pattern of four crescent-shaped shields a used by Amazons separated by semi-circle channels.

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Italy was full of these trees. They were awesome. They reminded me of skinny broccoli.

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Panoramaaaaaaaaaa!

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May 25, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012: Day 4, Kyomizu, Kinkaku, Bicycles

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Tuesday, May 2, 2012

Aunt Jan and I left the guesthouse around 9:30am via… bicycle. Despite the fact that she had not ridden a bicycle with any regularity for 10 years (am I remembering that right?), I wanted to try it. I had always wanted to bicycle in Kyoto! I have my bike here in Hirosaki and even though it is a simple 1-speed bike, I feel free whenever I ride it. I was convinced that it would be faster to get places if we rented bikes, so Aunt Jan relented.

We started off slow and made our way to Kyomizu-dera (清水寺, Kyomizu Temple). We mistakenly walked our bikes all the way up the hill and then asked where the bicycle parking was once we got to the top. It turned out that there was no designated bicycle parking near the temple complex, but the guard told me where to stash our bikes (off to the side near some public bathrooms in the shade).

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As we were walking up to the temple, we noticed a procession of workers and monks carrying a huge THING wrapped in white sheet-like cloth. TV cameras, crew, reporters, the whole nine yards. Apparently it was a new buddha statue that was being installed in one of the halls. It was a bit of a mess, so it was probably a good thing that we did not enter at that time.

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Instead… I suggested we go down the road a bit and look at shops. I was actually feeling a little hungry from our bike ride and was craving some mochi samples. If you ever want to sample some famous Kyoto Yatsuhashi, Kyomizu Temple is the place to go. There is this one particular shop not far down from the temple that will give you a cup of tea and beckon you inside to try every single thing they sell. And I did. Multiple times. Ahem.

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May 19, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012, Day 3, Fushimi-inari, Uji

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Monday, April 30, 2012

For this trip, both my aunt and I prepared for cooler weather because we had assumed that it would be spring. Well, it was spring in Aomori but definitely more like summer in Kyoto for those first couple days. It was a bit cooler on Day 3 in Kyoto, so I was able to wear one of the long-sleeve shirts I had brought.

We were both sore and tired from the first two days of walking all over tarnation, so we got to a later start in the morning. We walked from Yahata to Kyoto station and found the right train to go to Fushimi-inari Shrine.

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The first time I went to the Fushimi-inari Shrine, it was snowing. The white was a stark contrast against the thousands of red torii gates. It was a sight that just about took my breath away. I went again that summer and it was blazing hot. After walking around a while, my friend and I had taken solace inside a inari-zushi restaurant for inari-zushi and noodles.

This time, in spring, the temperature was nice. It was a little overcast, but that was a good thing since we were walking around. I even had to roll up my sleeves after climbing a bit. The shrine is at the base of a little mountain covered with torii gates, one after another.

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May 16, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012, Day 2: Arashiyama, Obanzai

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Much to my surprise, I slept through the night on that futon at the Yahata Guesthouse. I think I woke up sometime around 6am. I never sleep in till 6am. I guess it was just a testament to how tired I was from the previous day’s travel. Aunt Jan was still sleeping, so I snuck downstairs as quietly as I could to get myself some breakfast.

We left Yahata around 8am and thought we might catch some of the action around Nishiki Market in the morning. Usually it would have been open and bustling around that time, but I remembered when we arrived that it was Sunday and a national holiday. Only a few shops were open and busy, so it was a bit of a letdown.

But we had bigger plans that day! We walked to the Nijo JR train station from Nishiki Market. Since my aunt had the magical JR rail pass, I wanted to make as much use of it as we could. So that meant using JR transportation as much as possible, which was not hard to do.

We took the train from Nijo station to Sagano-Arashiyama station. Arashiyama (嵐山) means “Storm Mountain” and is a district on the western outskirts of Tokyo. My roommate Asako took me there for the first time in 2008 and I fell in love with the area. My aunt had never been there before and I was anxious to go again, so it was a plan!

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