Hong Kong Travel Guide

 

 

When I was a teenager I loved Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. Returning from Hong Kong a few months ago, I drifted in and out of sleep on a long Friday night rewatching it. The colors! The food! The melancholic feeling of being lost! What a classic mood of a film, a love letter to a city at a moment before it transitioned away from British protectorate, into an unknown future identity.

I said goodbye to my twenties in Hong Kong this past January, funnily enough, walking the same paths in the movie, lingering on the harbor, getting lost inside wet markets, the neon signs coloring my memories.

On the very last last day of our week in Hong Kong, Brian and I had a flight at one am with an early afternoon check out from the rented apartment in the vertical tower blocks of the the mid-levels. With hours to kill, we took the escalators downtown, dropping our bags at the central station to meander without a plan. (oh to know the joys of a city without the terrorism fears of New York City when it comes to storing luggage!)

We walked the city like locals, taking the double decker trams to the edges. Riding on the other side of the road never stops making me feel blissfully queazy. We spent time mingling in and out of the never-ending busy shopping districts, packed with contrasting images of a place so iconically Chinese and also so singularly Hong Kong. I bought coffee and Korean beauty products, hanging around teens. I was the outsider looking in as we communally shopped for orange lipsticks.

We wove through old-school canteens, the ever present Australian cafe culture, and high-fashion malls right up against hole in the wall restaurants.

We waited in line to eat Michelin starred duck on rice that was literally prepared by a man in the front with a penchant for chopping extremely fast and hard with decisive whacks.

A few backpackers sat with us at a tiny circular table, marveling when I told them we were really that much older than their hostel friends.

“You came all the way here, for your birthday?” the Toronto native who must have been no more than twenty said to me. He had just met his Thai friend at their hostel,  who helped us all know how to order pork and duck correctly.

Our momentary friends were heading off to travel South East Asia on different tracks, departing from each other in just a few hours from this meal.

We went to hunt down egg waffles as our dessert of choice afterwards, stopping to walk past the old post office in Wan Chai.

Hong Kong is forever etched into my last days of being twenty nine now, a neon-colored vertical city a city with a history of people upon people, an iconic style, a culture of freedom, and now me humbly greeting a new time in my life.

Turning thirty has meant coming full circle, returning to the start. I have a sense of gratitude right now to feel, in that way, at home with that always-there-self, almost surprised she has always always been there.

 

Where We Stayed

Using points (thanks Chase Sapphire Preferred!) I booked Brian and I two round trip tickets for a ridiculously low amount of money, I’m talking, cheaper than flying from NYC to LA kind of deal.

Good to know: January before the Chinese new year is a slower season but not cold or rainy. It was like stepping into early spring or late fall in the middle of a snowy New York existence. I wore denim on denim the entire weekend like a true vagabond, not washing a single thing in my carry on.

We flew Asiana to South Korea and onto Hong Kong. The service in economy was excellent! They even served in-flight bim bim bap. I wish I had taken my hot sauce tube with me, though. 

Having had great success in traveling with Airbnb, we saw no reason not to use it here as well. After a little neighborhood research, we thought as first timers in Hong Kong SoHo was a great spot to explore on foot most of Hong Kong island.

We were in the mid-levels to be exact, that dreamy other-worldly escalators and tiny-itsy-bitsy skinny towers giving the entire area a great drastic mash up of things I was expecting and not expecting. It felt like San Francisco a little bit, with those winding street packed with people and minibuses.

What We Did

Really the very first thing we did out of both interest and relief was ride the escalators after walking with carry-ons strapped to our backs. The view of them criss crossing between buildings ushered  a sigh of relief to my aching back.

Hong Kong has the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world! It’s free and you can ride it up pretty far, meandering to Victoria peak even if you’ve got time. The area is steeply hilled, packed with streets full of both Western and Chinese markets. 

In the morning commute, the escalator changes direction to go down. We rode it more times than I can count. It’s a great way to people watch.

SoHo is a very hip packed part of the city, a mash up of West and East. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many French speakers in one area before (well outside of Montreal and France.) It was a nice location for nightlife, coffee, and street markets.

On a few nights we also headed to the Tsmi Sha Tsui East Promenade, riding the cheap Star Ferry into the harbor, to catch the laser light show on the other side. Any place that wants to install lasers on skyscrapers and have them daily put on a show is pretty alright with me.

In exploring around Hong Kong Island, we stopped at Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, took the Peak Tram to Victoria peak, including a slow hike around the peak with those iconic views of the central skyscrapers. There are several hikes that look fantastic on the peak and all around Hong Kong, too, if you’re looking for something harder.

In more of our Hong Kong Island walks, I enjoyed the Mao figurines and antiques of Cat Street, and the local stores and cafes of both Sheung Wan and Wan Chai. I peered into enough herbal medicine stores and giant shopping malls to fill a lifetime.

 We also took Trams to Causeway bay, an area packed with people and stores.  Riding the trams is actually an excellent budget activity because you can get off and explore whatever you came across.

On Kowloon island, I loved the frenetic energy of Mong Kok as well as the Jade, Flower, and Bird markets.  Being us, we also found two bookstores worthy of noting in these areas: Kubrick’s and Hong Kong Reader. Nian Lin Garden was a nice respite, too. 

The tram to the Big Buddha was closed, so we decided for just a day trip to Lamma Island. This hike was moderate and great. I enjoyed the fishing village at the end, where we sat outside and drank beers in what felt like mild, late summer air to us. The locales thought it was cold. 

What We Ate

The food in Hong Kong is amazing and diverse, at once fancy and regular, cosmopolitan and everyday.  I found the most joy in eating the street food and at cheap  dim sum joints.

The notes of what we ate barely scratch the surface:

Wonton soup everywhere
Dumplings Wang Fu
Cooked Food Centres
One Dim Sum
Egg waffles
Tasty Congee and Noodle Wonton
Tai Cheong Bakery for Egg Tart!
Hong Kong French toast
Din Tai Fong for amazing soup dumplings
Joy Hing Roast Meat
Fancy midday dim sum at Duddells

What I read:

Monocle Guide to Hong Kong is excellent.
I always trust Lonely Planet, too.

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Ruminating on things eaten in Paris last year

Maybe it’s that my sister in-law is headed to Paris right now. Or that I’ve recently joined the fan club for those normal French pharmacy beauty products that just seem so much better every time I use them, like this dry shampoo and this really basic moisturizer. It’s probably also that I was in Paris a year ago crazily enough, and being stuck inside during a snow day had me wistfully thinking about that late winter trip.  If you’re looking for even more inspiration, Cup of Joe’s recent city guide of Paris has me thinking France is always a good idea, whatever the weather.

Of particular note to me, even a year later:

baguettes, always good, with butter even better
gastro pub Les Deux Cigales , very delicious
mint tea at the Grand Mosque of Paris worth the marauding pigeons 
all pain au chocolat forever!

 

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Pacific Coast Highway, San Francisco to Los Angeles

The new year is here, with fresh starts and some trepidation on what’s next in 2017. I’m more ready than I’ve ever been for a new year though. 

In looking forward to the New Year, I was stuck on the feeling I had during the drive down the Pacific Coast we took at the end of September. Perhaps it’s the long ingrained school calendar that makes me feel the fall as a new start but that drive also felt like a beginning, too. Sure, things were still to come (the election for one) but it felt like an harbinger of a new year, of the new challenges we’d all face.

So while the end of calendar year came with unexpected bumps still, I’d like to think I’ve been embracing a new year, a new era in my life since this fall when we flew to San Francisco and drove down the coast. I’m thinking of those feelings of California sun, the misty cold air in Monterey, as New York City hunkers down for winter as it snows outside my window right now.

 

Where we started:

We flew to visit our friends who’ve moved to San Francisco, staying in an Airbnb in Berkeley and attending a wedding of another friend.

Since we’ve both been to San Francisco before, we spent a good amount of time just exploring the East Bay by UC Berkeley. Particular favorites were the views from Tilden, Cheeseboard pizza, and an excellent izakaya meal at Ippuku. We killed lot of time in bookstores by the campus, being especially fond of Moe’s.

In San Francisco we dim sum-ed with our lovely friends and their new baby (!) which seemed a necessary activity for a city known for dim sum, walked the Mission and the Castro, as well as toured the original Mission Dolores Basilica church. We had abnormally warm weather for September, so it felt like a wonderful return of summer.

On the Coast:

We spent two nights on the coast, driving down Route 1 on the Pacific Coast highway. First of all, don’t worry about missing the views because literally every pull-off on the highway provided an amazing view.

On the recommendation of a Nor Cal friend we stayed in Monterey one night and toured the amazing Point Lobos State Park, where you meander several trails, catch sea lions, and watch the phenomenal fog drag into the coast. The flora and fauna and the dramatic cliffs reminded me so much of the South of France!

Next we spent a day driving through Big Sur where unfortunately several of the big state parks were closed for a large forest fire. (Sidenote, forest fires are crazy?!) Still, we turned off every single opportunity to admire the coast meeting the forest, watching fog make you think you weren’t at the end of the continent. Of note were the very well photographed Bixby Bridge and Julia Pfeiffer State Park for the famous waterfall on the beach view and meandering coast hike.

The second night on our two day drive down the Pacific Coast Highway we slept outside of Big Sur (to get a cheaper hotel rate) at Pismo beach. The town felt like a California’s tourist town, with a great beach and lots of hotels. On the way we stopped for smoked fish tacos at Ruddell’s Smokehouse which came randomly recommended as a roadside treat. They were great!

On the way to Los Angeles we stopped in Santa Barbara for a cup of coffee and stroll, walking up the spanish style courthouse which is a brief and free way to view both amazing architecture and get a beautiful view of Santa Barbara. I felt like I was also living inside a Nancy Meyers movie while in town.

That same day we made it to Los Angeles but before we checked in our Silverlake Airbnb we stopped at the The Getty; I was very smitten with the tram that takes you up. The architecture and views were reason enough to stop on our way to silverlake. Oh, and we also stopped for In-and-Out.

Since we didn’t have much time in LA, only three days, we picked one area to call home. Picking the east side was great, Silverlake had lots of food and was just a bit more walking friendly (thought we drove everywhere to sightsee) Still, if I were returning I’d love to stay in West LA, seeing Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or Malibu. I will say that given how big the city is, and how unlike New York City it is, picking one area is the best idea. Driving times are crazy (to me) on those freeways!

Of note in our time in the east side of LA: We ate excellent roadside tacos everywhere, excellent ramen, went to Griffith Park Observatory at night to see the stars, had drinks at Mohawk Bend, ate ever-so-trendy toast at Sqirl, saw a few Hollywood stars, went to Downtown LA for modern art The Broad and Grand Central market, ending our trip with a hike in Runyon Canyon like we were pretend locals.

 

Until next time, beautiful left coast! I could get used to all that sun and succulents.

 

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Boston Favorites (from a New Englander transplanted to New York)

Every year at Christmas I head home on a bus or train to Boston, meeting my family in the suburbs of both Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. Holidays are always enjoyable and stressful yet I’m thankful to be able to spend brief spurts in the city.

Boston is a place I keep passing through even after three years of moving back to New York City. It’s a city for trips home or short weekends. It’s a city where my family and friends live. It’s a city I’ve known for so long as the city, that it’s funny that I live in this other big city.  It is a comfort though, to always have it be a part of my trip home.

So in honor of the holidays I wrote a little rumination on what I love about Boston and its environs, things to do and eat and see and. Places change (how dare them!) but I hope these will continue to be useful. Of course, this is by no means exhaustive and just my little take on a city I keep in my heart.

I’ll keep updating it as I go back and forth with any new found favorites. Heck, I might even move back one of these years. It seems like my life will be switching between Massachusetts and New York every few years based on my track record so far.

Oh and yes, there are many touristy historic things to do I left out.

Things I love to do:

Lounging in the Copley library courtyard in summer or the reading room in the winter or fall. In the summer there is a wonderful farmer’s market in the square, too.

Walking the emerald necklace through Jamaica Plain, spending an afternoon in the arboretum and strolling Centre street.

Exploring a college campus, especially Harvard’s.

Walking that part of the Charles River esplanade where kayaks come in through a small waterway.

Spending an afternoon on Newbury Street, a sort of both lovely and overwhelming intersection of all of Boston’s shopping. I like to perch at Trident Booksellers and just people watch with coffee and a book.

Finding time to walk the Mass Ave bridge all the way into Cambridge, stopping at Flour Bakery and then seeing the robots at the MIT museum. Finish it up with dosa in Central Square.

Stoping in for a movies at The Brattle or The Coolidge Corner Theater, some of the few indie theaters left in the area.

Getting the right perch for the view of the harbor from the ICA at night, better yet on their free after hours nights.

Keeping close to the T windows on that part of the Red Line when it emerges on the Longfellow bridge and everyone is compelled to look out at the Charles river no matter their curmudgeonly.

Picking just one gallery to spend the day in at the MFA Boston.

Picnicking in Boston Common and walking down Charles Street into Beacon Hill, getting lost up and down the hill.

Being in awe of the glass flowers at The Harvard Natural History Museum.

Meandering around the cloisters courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Browsing and shopping in the brownstones of the South End. The SoWa market is a nice reason to visit.

Putzing around the North End, eating grandma slices or at the original Regina Pizzeria.

Tracking down the food trucks!

Walking the entire length of The Rose Kennedy Greenway from end to end, which has some fabulous landscape architecture and a moving holocaust memorial near the North End. In the summer kids play in sprinklers and it’s a nice spot to rest while people watching.

Catching a ferry to one of the Harbor Islands in the summer to picnic or adventure inside old ruins that I am sure are haunted.

Attending Open Studios at The South Boston the Distillery where many artists live and work.

Touring the Sam Adams Brewery in my secret favorite neighborhood Jamaica Plain.

Things I Particularly love to Eat and Drink:

Clover Food lab in Harvard Square (or any location they just moved from their original there) has a place in my heart because no matter the multitude of food trucks turned brick and mortar I love that you can sit, drink a beer, and order a fairly cheap falafel plate for dinner with fries.

I just tried the coffee and pastries at the new location of Tatte bakery in Harvard Square. The space is so lovely and light, like a Parisian bakery with the backdrop of Harvard’s campus in the background.

Hot pot in Allston at Shabu Zen, or any of the stalls at Super 88.

For imbibing, Grendel’s Den to feel like a college kid in Harvard Square, Deep Ellum for a well crafted cocktail and silent movies on TV screens.

Tasty burger in Fenway because you can easily eat at the bar while watching Boston sports without being too obvious. Secret sports viewing is key for a non-sports obsessed New Englander.

Algiers Coffee house because it reminds me of New York City’s Cafe Reggio where I can linger for a long time without buying much and 1369 to read and people watch in Central Square.

Area Four for my most favorite pizza and garlic knots.

The Salty Pig so I could build a board of pig parts plus a fancy pizza with more pig parts. Pig is key.

Highland Kitchen in Somerville for comfort.

Chinatown eating! Especially Dumpling Cafe.

When I was feeling fancy I loved Oleana (of course I’d say this, I got married there!), Neptune Oyster, or Ten Tables in either Cambridge on Jamaica Plain.  p.s. I really need to try Sarma next time I’m in the area!

Places I love to browse:

The best overall bookstore, a browser’s delight and open later than most things in sleepier than I like Boston, is the impeccable Brookline Booksmith. The delightful Globe Corner in Harvard square closed but gratefully the Booksmith assumed a great deal of their map and travel collection. Wanderlust denizens, rejoice!

For more travel, lingering, and reading literary magazines without purchasing them I actually admit I love the Barnes and Noble in disguise Harvard Coop. The down the street independent The Harvard Bookstore is not actually a part of Harvard but that doesn’t stop tourists from always asking where the sweatshirts are when they walk in. It is a great all around bookstore though, with strong academic and non-fiction sections as well as a solid used book cellar.

Every year Brian and I also find ourselves at Schoenhof’s in Harvard Square, a hidden foreign language bookstore with a deep catalogue of French and Spanish titles plus a lovely staff.

I have a special spot in my heart for Black Ink in Harvard Square or Beacon Hill for the finding the best offbeat gift, card, or special thing you are lusting after.

Oona’s in Harvard Square is for everything you dreamed your vintage closet could be someday.

For handmade gifts I’m a fan of Olive and Grace. I’ll often stop by on the days before christmas for an extra gift.

 

Trips out of the city:

deCordova is a hidden gem of modern art and rolling sculpture park greens making it perfect for an afternoon adventure.

West Concord has the best bread and sandwiches in a cozy shop plus of course Concord itself has charm and Walden Pond is a childhood favorite.

Mass Moca is worth that zip car trip out west.

And for the record, I actually love the cold, rocky New England beaches north of the city.

Also, most of New England isn’t far from a car trip, either. You can be in Salem, Portland Maine, the White Mountains, or the New Hampshire Seacoast in a few hours at most.

 

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Late Summer in the Hudson Valley

Summer is almost gone, only days away from ending! New York City seems to say goodbye around Labor day but I like to stretch it out, languishing in that humidity a little bit more.

This summer was packed with mini-trips for me since I usually skip a vacation in the summer in favor of off-season big ticket travel. This year it was excursions to the beach, events around the city, a weekend to Washington DC, trips up the hudson, and a yearly stay a lake house with my close lady friends in Connecticut.

Saying goodbye to the sun and lounges in the park is a bit hard, but I’m a bit conventional (ahem, basic) when it comes to the leaves changing.  Like a born New Englander, I want all seasons to have an end so I can keep looking forward, it’s that anxious Puritan spirit in me. 

I’ve been reminiscing about a later summer trip around the Hudson a trio of us ladies took. Now that a dear friend of mine lives on the edges of Westchester and Hudson County in the city of Peekskill, I’ve been making more regular trips to explore the  region. All of the stops the trio of us made on a weekend trip would also be great for the fall getaway out of the city. A car is necessary to galavant around  with ease,  but it is easy to make any locale in the general region your base for exploring. 

I’m hoping to make more time to explore the area this coming season, dipping my toes into the Catskills, now that a beautiful Victorian in Peekskill is a frequent friend base!


Our Weekend Itinerary

Peekskill Brewery

You can make it up to Peekskill on the Metronorth easily and the town is accessible by foot. Luckily still, the Peekskill Brewery is right by the train station. We traveled up early on a Friday for a happy hour at the bar.

I’ve been spotting their brews around the city now, too. I’m a fan of their sour draft. Pick up a growler for the weekend!

A general fan of Peekskill,  there are a few great spots to eat in town too.  Check out Birdsall for brunch if you’re headed to that way either to or from NYC.

Vernooy Falls

The hike was a delightful trek up a moderate path to a series of shallow and cool waterfall pools, a carved picturesque scene. The three of us braved the icy mountain water, dipping our bodies in. I pretended the pools has a magical quality to will my body in the cold water. 

We stayed in an airbnb cabin for a night in the Catskills, driving to the falls trail on a Saturday afternoon after we checked-in. It was the highlight of our quick weekend jaunt! 

Phoenicia Diner

We couldn’t turn down stopping in at the a trendy (dare I say…hickster) spot in the Catskills. The wait was around a half hour given the Sunday crowd but we enjoyed the scene, sipping cups of coffee before eating at the bar. The food was a fancier take on the filling diner standards, with nice accents like great jam and a pleasant asthma charm from the place mats to the decor. 

New Paltz

The city of New Paltz served as a charming stop on our ambling drive back home on Sunday. We made a point of asking our waitress at the diner where we could do some quick antique browsing before we headed to New Paltz. She recommended the Antique Barn, which turned out to be a nice area to stop and eat ice cream in the late summer heat heat.  Next time I’m in the area, I’d love to explore Mohonk Mountain.

The Bradley Farm

On the outskirts of New Paltz there is a small farm with a petting zoo of sorts that features a small brewery called Pull Brewing. We stopped in, admiring the ripe tomatoes and tasting all the beers on tap, then enjoyed a draft in the yard.  It was a nice time to have drink and meet goats, a first of its kind imbibing experience. 

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A Late Winter Trip to Paris

paris_blog_guide

A life of Francophilia

I never left the country as a kid. Our family vacations didn’t even extend to Canada despite living in New England. Instead, we drove from our house to Cape Cod or to New Jersey.

The first time I actually left the country though was to Paris when I was twenty-four. Brian and I persuaded a family friend to let us stay in their tiny apartment right by the markets of Rue Monge. A free place to stay in Paris is always a thing you take someone up on, even if you’re broke.

Ever since, I’ve been (not-so-secretly) fixated on France. Not because I’m particularly a skilled being a francophile. My french begins and ends with cordial interactions in stores and a taste for ye-ye pop tunes on spotify. I think it’s just that feeling of first leaving the country, emerging into that lost aura of a lack of language, that sticks in my gut.

Though we travelled with friends who hadn’t been to Paris before, it felt like a a different kind of trip for me, like a return where I could be nostalgic but also feel changed, ignoring the touristy things I didn’t feel compelled to do, returning to places I went to before, all while assembling a scrapbook in my head.

Arriving

This return to Paris happened serendipitously because we found incredibly cheap one way tickets to Paris on Wow Airlines (yes that is a real airline name that flew us across the Atlantic.) The flight was 99 dollars one way, though it involved a particularly interesting connecting flight in the dead of early morning in the Icelandic snow. I’d totally do it again for the right circumstances, but might just fly NYC to Paris direct next time. It would be a fantastic way to just get to Iceland, though. Think backpacker-style when booking. I excel at packing in a carry-on now!

Staying in Paris

We rented a unique duplex apartment-meets-house in the 11th arrondissement, with many beds and two little garden terraces.

Bastille meets Oberkampf felt local, like a not-so-touristy place to call home for a week. There were several Parisian-style brasseries and cafes situated on Rue Voltaire, ones where you could sit without much hassle with a single espresso, a single glass of wine. Nearer to the actual Bastille, ambling down side streets,  you could find small stores, coffee shops, and a larger variety of food and nightlife that felt more New York City than Paris.

The neighborhood buzzed with the life of regular Parisians, not tourists. Though right near the attack sites of last November, it was not sullen. People were eating, drinking, and lining up for baguettes like you’d imagine.

Near the end of our trip, a student protest roarer up Rue Voltaire with a few break-off individuals smashing bank windows. We followed the protest a little bit, strolling blocks behind, watching the gendarmerie block off streets. After stopping in a cafe to use a bathroom, a woman behind the bar switched to English to explain that students protesting were normal. Welcome to France she said to me, handing over an espresso I bought to use the toilet, a bit sardonically.

Our Week

Walking, Viewing & Arting in Paris 

Walking Paris, even in the mid-40s weather, is a must. On foot you can play it off like you’re a local, seeing both streets with halal butchers alongside grand Haussmannian apartments of the Latin quarter.

We walked all over the city,  from Bastille to the Seine to the Marais to the long stroll from the Louvre to the Arch du Triomphe, to the metal chairs of the Luxembourg Gardens, even up the hills to Sacre Coeur. Parisian doors in Saint German des Pres captivated me as we strolled by. We even walked right into Notre Dame, in a jet lag stupor before it closed, still awe struck.

Skipping both Versailles and Louvre–what iconclasts–two of us end up doing a magnificent tour of the Palais Garnier old opera house. On the tour we were even invited in to view the controversial Marc Chagall ceiling while the stage crew set up for the evening’s show.

D’Orsay was the only big, classic Parisian museum I wanted to stop in, even though I’ve been before, because I’ve got a soft spot for Cezanne and Van Gogh and that old train station clock view.

The quizzical Musee Carnavelt is free and a pleasantly strange place to meander, focusing on the urban history of Paris with a flair for the weird.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery was a neat irregular destination to take in during a morning walk. Come for the famed graves, stay for meandering the paths of moss covered stones. If you come early during the week, it’s mostly empty.

But the view from Tour Montpartnasse is worth the wait at dusk. You can see the sunset, staying for the Eiffel tower to glitter at night. Paris, you win, you’re so beautiful, I get it. 

Shopping & Neighborhoods to Meander

My favorite shopping was a trip to the northern edge of the city, near the ring road that marks the boundaries of banlieue, to Marche Puces de Saint-Ouen. I’ve never encountered quite an antique and vintage market that rivals it before. Besides an array of classic french vintage, ceramics, and old bric-a-brac, I enjoyed just exploring the cavernous tunnel of tables.

The streets of the Marais were the best for meandering cafes, shops, and admiring Parisian architecture. Bensimon, that French brand known for minimal tennis flats, has a flagship shop in the Marais, too.  On the edge of the neighborhood is the a curated and designer department store Merci Paris, which is worth a look at the very least for their used bookstore cafe where you can relax as others buy expensive but beautiful things.

Canal Saint-Martin was also a neighborhood full of smaller shop to stroll through, with Artazartthe best art bookstore I’ve been too located right on the canal for sitting and hip people watching.

An unlikely recommendation is the grocery meets department store Monoprix. Check out their French made soaps, they’re about a euro each, making them a perfect budget gift. The beauty department is noteworthy as well as the fact that most of them are also grocery stores. Stock up on butter at Monoprix!

Eating and Drinking

The everyday food of Paris is the food I like the most, the cheap things you can buy on the street or at the generale alimentation: crepes, croissants, macarons, bottles of wine, chocolate mousse, oh and yes the bread.

On the topic of delicious, heavenly bread, I will admit that our group ate 15 baguettes in a week. We liked them that much. You can read for days about finding the best baguette in Paris, but every single one of them is worth ripping into, so who cares which boulangerie you’re getting them from. The smartest tip seemed to be finding the local bakery that had a line in the morning or afternoon, with a peaking view of the actual kitchen in the back so you’d know they were baked on premises.

French butter, the kind just a little salt and bought at any old grocery store, takes a baguette to another level of heaven. Add grocery store 8 euro wine and you’re golden.

A bit fancier than the grocery store but also similarly everyday are the markets of Paris. On our last full day we ate an indoor picnic of cheese, bread, and spreads from the Marche Bastille. I think I’ll be forever chasing the salty texture of the green olive tapenade we bought from a friendly vendor who chatted us in perfect english about his brother in New England.

Local to the Marais, I would recommend the very un-french Cafe sudeois for a taste of Swedish Fika, a cafe full of cakes upon cakes that I could eat again and again. That fresh cream is definitely a good idea, trust me. And lastly, the very-Parisian Jewish Las du Fallafel might be the falafel I’ve ever had, and reason enough to visit the Marais over and over.

But seeing as we were in France, the best actual French meal we ate was had at neighborhood gastropub known for riffs on traditional tartares called Les Deux Cigalle. It’s was a welcoming,  tiny spot with an inviting menu in Montparnasse. Brian ate a tartare but I ate a giant, delicious burger, feeling like a true American in Paris. Turns out Parisian loves burgers, too, so I feel a bit hippier than I had expected now.

Besides that French meal, I really just enjoy the tried and true French cafe, with a waiter who will ignore you yes but who will also let you simply order one glass of wine, or espresso and a croissant for breakfast, nothing more. There’s nothing as pleasing as being able to linger, ordering a chocolate mouse and a large beer because why not.

I think New York City could use a little less rushing in-and-out every day, especially on the weekend when you feel like you’re about to be stampeded for breakfast. I could use a perched table for watching the street any day.

See you next time, France. I’m keeping notes.

 

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A First Time Trip to Kyoto

 

kyoto_painted

kyoto_travel_guide_intro Setting Out for Kyoto

We traded the lights of Japan’s largest city to spend some time in the county’s old capital. With two weeks of travel planned in Japan, give or take a day on either side for the leg of the flight, making the Kansai region our second stop made the most efficient use of our time during a first trip to Japan. Looking back on our brief, wondrous trip,  I’m glad we didn’t overextend our ambitions for exploring more of the country. Kyoto was an easy next step but turned out to be a beautiful contrast to Tokyo.

The Shinkansen train ride was a special delight, a bucket list dream for me as a train fan. We stopped before the train departed to pick up a sushi bento box at a neighboring department store depichika, buying paper cups of coffee from the train car attendants while on the ride. As I had observed all over Japan, the train was a mix of a new, shiny future with touches that felt like near relics of the past. We reserved seats on the right side of the train to see Mt. Fuji on but the clouds had their way with obscuring our view.

Though it seemed like business travelers used the train route the most frequently by the number of suit-clad individuals we counted near us, there were many types of Japanese people on the train. The everyday faces highlighted the absolute ease of to travel around the island nation.The train hugs near to the coast too, situating just how most of the Japanese live near the water in dense networked cities. The train window framed the grey, green, and mountains on the horizon, a slice of Japanese life inbetween Tokyo and Kyoto.

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Staying

We arrived in Kyoto and hailed a cab outside Kyoto Station, the first and only one we used in Japan. We (believe it or not) mostly enjoy long walks while traveling. Not that the experience wasn’t first rate, though. The driver rushed to get our bags, wearing the well-known cab driver gloves, even stopping during the ride so he could call our host for us to figure out the exact directions since we could hardly communicate with him in English.

The little details made an everyday interaction–a cab idling outside a train station— feel just a bit deviated, emblematic of how I felt about a lot of Japanese culture: familiar but changed, ever so slightly. The cab driver drove us through tiny old city center streets to a restaurant where we would pick up our key for the apartment.

We rented another apartment with Airbnb for an easy, central stay. The apartment was a studio with futon style mats with a balcony, located in Gion. Gion is a nightlife district known for a beautiful street called Shimbashi Dori. It’s home to traditional teahouses and omakase restaurants, with picturesque walks amongst machiya townhouses never destroyed in the war.

Many people congregate near a bench on Shimbashi to catch a Geisha en route to an appointment in the early evening. The fascination with Geisha is a little strange for me—potentially wrought with cultural stereotypes I’d rather not engage in without more historical specificity–but we strangely enough ended up seeing a Geisha by chance one evening while strolling for dinner. It was a flash and then she was gone, a brief introduction to something I’m out of depths in.

Since Kyoto is more spread out than Tokyo and with fewer train lines, as well a region possessing what is likely 2,000 temples and shrines far and close to the city center, we picked a well-known neighborhood near the river figuring we could at the very least walk to what’s closest to us then strategically plan how to see farther sites. Though we didn’t rent them, biking around the city and along the river would have been a perfect late summer way to explore greater Kyoto.  We enjoyed walking the gridded and flat streets of central city, though, using train lines and buses when need be.

Upon settling in I could already sense that Kyoto had a very different tone than Tokyo.  The mountains in the mist, hovering around the city, greeted us on the apartment balcony like an emblem of their differences.

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Kyoto is the old capital of Japan. It is home to history, traditional Japanese architecture, and hundreds upon hundreds of Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines to encounter.  I felt more of the environment and the people in the change from Tokyo’s cosmopolitanism to Kyoto’s historical sense. It’s appeared a slower, smaller city that reminded me more of Boston compared to New York City, with a similar collegial charm. Kyoto’s low buildings and traditional machiya immediately provided an architectural contrast with much of Tokyo’s grey mid century modernist facade.

Sites of religious practice were everywhere to say the least– from alleyway shrines to other-worldly Zen temples set in hillside hamlets. The Japanese also seemed more than comfortable with this seamless integration of their economic life blending into religious devotion: not only were foreigner’s respectfully mixing in sites of national religions practice, everywhere you went the Japanese were also touring their own heritage. Often we’d catch an everyday business woman or man on a stop on for a quick devotion, be it in a shrine next to a Pachinko parlor or in a larger temple hovering on the periphery of the city. Though we expressed reserve in temples, not looking to offend by misunderstanding, we always felt welcome alongside them.

We paired down our to-do for the trip based on the sheer inability for us to see everything, focusing on selecting a few must sees, then allowing time to just hang around Central Kyoto’s neighboring districts.

We made sure to go to Fushimi Inari Shrine, a shinto shrine with hundreds of red-orange torii gates in Southern Kyoto, that requires a train ride farther from of the city center. Inari being the god of rice, there were thousands of fox statues with grains of rice in their mouths throughout the hike. We hiked the gates in the rain which while a bit muddier than I expected actually meant for us that there would be fewer intrepid tourists.  It was a transcendent experience in a downpour. My city girl canvas sneakers squeeked as rain belted the large tree leaves and the ground. Every minute or so you’d find some respite venturing between gates, up a hypnotic route to the top.

Gion where we slept was a superb base for exploring both food and temples. There were several temples in walking distance to the our apartment, including Chionin and Yasaka Shrine.  If you cross the Kamo river near Gion there are several busy alley streets with cheap food, teeming with expat nightlight as well as hip vintage stores and cafes tucked away. Just walking the neighborhoods off either side of the river in all directions from Gion turned out to  be a pleasant way to explore. We came across several antique stores off the beaten path this way. Venturing more southern of Gion, we discovered Cafe Arabica which brewed a great cup of coffee.

Nishiki Market alongside with the arcade area in downtown Kyoto offered the similar feel of Tokyo but with the added benefit that you’d discover a shrine right after you had just been trapped in a loud pachinko parlor. There is nothing quite like witnessesing a contemplative ceremony in an area full of shopping and modern life.  We spent a few days exploring this area, stopping in Nishiki market for food and to observe the hawkers.

Walking on Sanjo and into the neighborhoods north of Gion but on the other side of the river, ending at the Imperial Palace Gardens, provided a quieter stroll around residential Kyoto. Here we observed more of what a calm day to day life in Kyoto might be like. There were several Japanese boutiques and good restaurants tucked away in this area that I’d loved to visit again, like Cafe Bibliotek Hello.

Another farther expedition was going to the otherworldly Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Though busy with tourists, the sacred bamboo forrest is nonetheless awesome to walk through, like a stroll on another planet’s forests. Afterwards we went to  Tenryuji temple, a quick walk away, which is the head of an active zen buddhist sect. The temple is situated right near the mountains, incorporating the backdrop breathtakingly into the zen garden grounds. I’ve never seen moss treated as a central element to gardening until Japan. The area near both called Sagano is beautiful too. We spent a while just lounging near a river, watching wooden boat cruises passing by.

We made two day trips out to Kyoto. The first was to Osaka. known for it’s dinning scene, so we could stroll around Dotonbori while sampling the cities’ well known street food, great for budget traveling. The city reminded me of the lights and commotion of Tokyo but it was nice to be able to venture there and back to Kyoto in less than a few hours.

The second day trip we took was to Nara, the even older-er capital of Japan before it was moved to Kyoto, home to the largest buddha in Japan and (of course) sacred deer that roam around a reserve. We spent most of the time with the deer. The most memorable moment was sitting in the a park’s cafe, lounging on the table sipping Asahi dry beers, while deer came in and out of the restaurant, perching next to us as friends.

We left Kyoto with another day and half in Tokyo before flying home, a bit burnt out of being away but also awe struck with Japan. Kyoto was a quiet but lively and livable city. It was full of everything at once, a glimmer at another side to Japanese life and history.

 

 

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A First Time Trip to Tokyo, Japan

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I’ve been considering for a while now how to write a travel guide from our Tokyo portion of our Japan trip. It seems impossible to me now to describe how much I love Tokyo without the two of us packing up our apartment, selling off all of our possessions, and living full-time in Japan for a few years. Then, only after years living in Tokyo, do I think I could really write an insider’s guide. 

But short of moving, I’ve settled on writing what a first time trip to Tokyo (and then Kyoto to follow) was like for us, how we planned, what we had time to do, etc.

I hope it helps another Japan enamored individual dreaming of their first trip to the land of the rising sun.

Here it goes!

How We Flew to Japan for Cheaper than We Expected

We have both always wanted to go to Japan (I’m talking, teenage dreams here.) but we also feared the long distance flight cost.  Thankfully there are a few tricks to finding that sweet spot travel deal to Asia. The exchange rate right now is also quite favorable, too. 

Sixth months before we started our trip planning by monitoring flights on The Flight Deal. The Flight Deal is my absolutely favorite travel web site. I’ve scored deals to Paris, Milan, Sweden, and New Orleans all from just reading the daily email.  

After noticing Japan deals posted on the Flight Deal, but not in our preferred time frame given vacation days we already had, we found a flight by using Google Flights. Google Flights is a neat service that helps you target select dates for travel, showing you when prices are higher or lower. Knowing we were in the shoulder season also helped target a price for about $800 round trip per person.

We also opened a travel rewards credit card months before the trip in order to get a signing bonus after reaching a specific amount on the card. If you have good credit and pay your monthly credit card bill on time, opening a card like Barclays Arrival Plus or Chase Sapphire Preferred (this is not sponsored, just my two cents) can significantly help defray costs of a once in a lifetime trip.  With our accumulated points we subtracted almost $800 from our total airfare cost, meaning we paid a little over the cost of one round trip ticket.

Score!

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Arriving in Tokyo

We flew first to Hong Kong on a 15 hour flight from New York City on the wonderful Cathay Pacific. This was a great flight, with an attentive crew who made flying economy for such a long distance very comfortable. It turns out this route from Newark to Hong Kong is one of the longest flights in the world! For someone like me it was a specific thrill to overcome as I’m not the most comfortable flyer. There was an abundance of entertainment and snacks–like cup of noodles–for the duration of the entire flight that eased a lot of my long-haul jitters. I even slept for more than a few hours.

At Hong Kong we had a several hour layover before switching to another Cathay Pacific flight to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, one of two airports in the Tokyo metro area. We decided on a flight to Haneda over Narita because it is actually closer to the city. I believe that more international flights arrive at Narita, though.

At Haneda we took the airport limo bus into the Shinjuku where we were staying. On the way back (we flew the same route home) we actually took the monorail to the airport. I would definitely recommend the airport limo bus, especially when you’re arriving, because it made the process much easier. You can see if it stops at your hotel, or like us, take it to a major train station area.

Where To Stay 

For the two people traveling to Tokyo renting an Airbnb offered the best deal that we could find. However hostels also looked like a fun and easy way to travel on the cheap.

I can’t speak exactly to the precise legality of Airbnb in Japan as a whole—a few internet searches suggested it operates on the down low perhaps–but we had no issues with our hosts and apartments. They apartments we rented were neat, compact, and easy to navigate. 

We decided to look in popular area for renting a place, narrowing it down to Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Harajuku. While we stayed in Shinjuku, I’d also recommend the areas around  either as good starting points. 

A big plus to renting an Airbnb was that the host provided a pocket wifi we could take with us as we traveled around the city. I realized after the trip that you can also book pocket wifis at the airport when you arrive. I would recommend getting one for your entire trip, either way. It was beyond helpful to have on us especially when navigating streets and subway systems. 

Though we rented an apartment for most of our stay, the last night in Tokyo we stayed at the boutique business hotel Hotel Niwa. It was a lot bigger than I expected a hotel in a city of tiny spaces to be. It was quite fab, with the rooms decorated like Japanese tea houses. It offered a nice respite on our last day in the city. 

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IMG_6929Getting Around 

Train stations are huge and full of things to do, buy, and eat in Tokyo. Shinjuku Station for example is actually made up of multiple department stores, concourse levels, food courts, cafes, and more. All this density makes train stations themselves a destination. I imagine if you had only a night in Tokyo, you could eat everything you dreamed of in a station like Shinjuku.

Tokyo is a sliced by multiple lines of commuter trains and subways, all operated by different private companies. Urban planning wise this system is utterly fascinating. Coming from New York City where everything is run by a single government agency, it was strange that there was no solidified system or plan. There was a hyper intensity to the mix of train lines in Tokyo.

Transit is a complicated economic and political situation for sure,  but I will say the service was so much better compared to New York City’s over burdened and oft-delayed subways. 

The JR Yamanote Line is a perfect line to ride because it travels a circle around the city. Since you pay by distance traveled you could even just stay on the train, sightseeing as you go, and end up paying just the cost of the single ride. If you have limited time in Tokyo, I’d stick to this train for most outings.

We didn’t have a JR pass for the entire trip so we bought Suica cards at a station. These cards are transferable to the other lines, which helped when we did transfer from the Yamanote line. 

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Making an Itinerary

First off, Tokyo is a megacity of 35 million. Nothing in the United States even compares to it’s size, and we’re New Yorkers.  That being said, there is way too much to do in Tokyo to fit into a five day trip. I don’t think a month would scratch the surface. So we agreed to just do what we could, simply put. I think this was the best strategy though I already have a list of what I’d do if (when) I return.

Before we left we armed ourselves with a handy Lonely Planet travel guide too. I also loved the Hey Kumo blog guide to Tokyo as well as photographer Jack Spicer Adam’s video guides from his trip.

It also helped us to bundle things together by area so we could plan a day over breakfast then know what train stations we’d be going to. We used a shared Trello board for each day, too. Traveling is so much better with trello, by the way.

Things to do, What we did 

Get lost in the lights and crowds of Shinjuku, day and night. We loved ending up in an Izakaya in Piss Alley.  You can recognize an Izakaya for their red lanterns, business clad patrons, and yakitori of chicken or pork. Glimpse another side to Tokyo (albeit completely walled off from foreigners) by wandering into the adjoining red light district. I liked to just stand inside Pachinko parlors in awe of the noise. 

Harajuku is perfect for observing the well known street style and culture, but is also full of smaller streets packed with vintage stores, cafes, and boutiques. Takashita Dori and Cat street are prime people watching spots. Also, don’t miss the trendy but delicious cylindrical crepes that this area is known for. (Yes I do want ice cream in my crepe thank you very much.)

Meji Jingu Shrine. It’s near to Harajuku but serene and quiet, even with the crowds. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a Shinto wedding which we did!

Tokyo Metropolitan Building is free and offers a panorama of the city. It’s not too far from Shinjuku, either. We went at night to the North Observatory for a gorgeous view. 

Spend a day or night in Shibuya for the famed crossing, for the busy streets. Find the hachiko statue, explore Tokyu Hands (the best, most enigmatic store of everything from leather goods to crafts to tiny scientific models), robotic or conveyor belt sushi, and general entertainment and shopping. Although I love independent non-American chains while traveling, the Starbucks in Shibuya has the best sport for watching the crowds. 

A little outside the hustle of the crossing, Shibuya can be small scale and quiet, full of interesting and trendy cafes and boutiques. We liked Shibuya Booksellers and Fuglen, a Norwegian coffee shop and bar for both day and night. 

Eat at Japanese 711. Enough said. It’s fun, full of weird but delicious edible items. It’s mad cheap!

Cheap eats! I blogged about all the cheap and wonderful things you can find and enjoy in Tokyo. Save your cash and eat it all.

Get lost in Tokyo Station for Tokyo Ramen Street and Character Street for delicious fast but beloved ramen and the weirdness of a Tamaguchi or Anime Store respectively.  

Tokyu Hands! I mentioned it already but it’s absolutely addictive, full of everything you think you want. It’s a great place to buy gifts like washi tape. There are multiple locations around the city, too. 

Browse expensive department stores and stop at their food foods in Ginza. Mitsukoshi has a grand food hall and open roof.  

Itoya Department store is full of notebooks, fancy paper, beautiful pens, and well designed items for any curated home office.

Tucked away in Ginza is Cafe de l’Ambre, a well splendid but low key great cup of pour over coffee. It’s like they used to do it in the old school post-war days. 

Ginza is also home to the Kabukiza Theater, worth a tour or a walk by.

 

 

Tsukiji Fish Market is fun even if you don’t get up early for the tuna auction. The area is packed with cheap and outstandingly fresh fish. I especially liked the small shrine for fisherman nearby. too. 

Vending Machines. Everywhere.

Explore Ueno Park then stroll into older Tokyo by going to Yanaka Ginza. The later is the only area of the city spared from the bombings of World War Two. 

Go to the top of Roppongi Hills complex for the Mori Art Museum’s contemporary collections and panorama of the city.

Learn about Edo Japan at the Edo Museum. I especially liked all the detailed models, being a tiny things lover. 

Walk along the Sumida river to just get lost.

Tips and Observations

Take note of what exit you need in a train station as most of them are so large, it can be a pain if you exit too early and have to walk around an entire block or more.

Every station will have an attendant to help you. Hooray!

Every train station will have a bathroom, too. They will be clean but often feature western and squat toilets, so do take note! There is also a lack of soap frequently in bathrooms. This confused me a lot for a country that is so organized and clean. It’s better to bring hand sanitizer.

People don’t talk on trains but as a tourist I think its okay if you are chatting quietly. It’s an orderly process of travel, though. I’m talking people line up to get on a subway, with no touching, shoving, or any kind of rude behavior most of the time. It was fantastic!

English is everywhere but it’s illustrative, meaning people think English is cool on t-shirts, signs, etc the same way we kind of use French sayings on things to make it seem cool. So people were helpful but are definitely not fluent in English conversationally everywhere you go. It helped to do some research before hand on what sorts of Japanese sayings you’ll encounter when you enter a store, etc.

To say that I experienced culture shock when in Japan seems like a cliche. But it’s true, especially for me.

The strongest feeling I had while in Tokyo was that it’s cosmopolitanism is at once familiar and yet strange, like waking up at night with the lights on. Just like you’re at first confused where you are, unsure if you’re still in your room.

I took to making notes every time I encountered something I didn’t understand which ended up with an entire list of things I want to know more about in Japanese society

Why do the trains play jingles at the station?  Why do people not talk on crowded trains, or hold hands? Why are smart phones and flip phones popular in Japan? How do they run a city so efficiently, with such density, with what seems like a chaotic mix of lights, buildings, and competing private companies? What is Japanese class, poverty, and race like compared to the USA because despite there being no crime and almost no trash, there are stratifications below the surface. How and why do they read books and buy cds (!!) in droves? Why do they just love those darn paper calendars?

It’s hard to understand another culture in a glimpse of course, so Tokyo provoked a lot of interesting questions that I’m still sorting through. For that, I’m glad I made the trip and I hope to make it back to just keep figuring it out.

But man, do I feel like I finally understand Kinokuniya bookstore in New York City though. I

 

 

 

 

 

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A Guide to Cheap Eats in Tokyo and Kyoto Japan

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While we were Japan for two weeks we saved money by eating cheaply everywhere we went. I can’t think of one meal I ate that was more than $15 dollars per person. Traveling to country that is quite expensive when it comes to transit and housing, we were surprised by how well we could eat without spending too much. The wonderful thing about Japanese food is that it is uniformly delicious in Japan, from 711 to the train station restaurants, everything I ate was fresh and prepared with care.

To be sure, there is a lot of wonderful food we didn’t eat. Perhaps next time (there has to be a next time!) we’ll dine with a famous sushi chef or have a traditional kaiseki style meal. But this time. we were both content to eat like cheap hungry locals looking for a deal.

My favorite cheap eats in Japan:

Onigiri

We bought onigiri from train stations, convenience stores, small mom and pop stands, and anywhere we saw their iconic rice and nori triangle shape calling to us. The Japanese don’t eat in public while on their spectacular transit system but it seemed like onigiri were an exception to this rule.

Each onigiri costs around a dollar and some change making it a fantastic deal. They were perfect to carry with you to a bench or a park, or to eat while on a train platform. We learned the character for salmon (鮭) to quickly be able to recognize the ones we liked the most. The best part was the genius packaging the nori came in so that you could unwrap it separately from the rice, meaning your little snack’s outer layer was neat and never soggy.

Conveyor Belt Sushi

It seems like a gimmick but it is the best gimmick because conveyor belt sushi is obviously cheap but very fresh. These places were pretty much a win-win for the adventurous tourist in Japan. Each piece was around a dollar and change. Add on a large Asahi beer and you’ve got yourself a filling meal.

We returned multiple times to Genki Sushi in Shibuya—though not exactly conveyor belt, it’s robotic meaning you order by the piece and it’s delivered to you like magic! We also ate a Musashi sushi in Kyoto multiple times too, they have several locations, which was a real conveyor belt sushi place. Everything was fresh and well prepared, better than fast sushi you’d get anywhere else in the United States.

Ramen

Ramen is everywhere, just like I assumed. But ramen is too good to stop eating, even if you’re on you’re forth bowl during a trip to Japan. We stuck to the fast ramen places where you can quickly order by machine out front, just the kind in train stations meant for the business crowd having a meal before a long commute home.

The best ramen to me was found in the hard to locate but very popular strip of ramen restaurants called Tokyo Ramen Street in Tokyo Station. We returned twice to that hidden but popular strip of restaurants.

My favorite ramen at Tokyo Ramen Street was not traditional, though. It was full of vegetables, red pepper noodles, and a vegetarian broth. It was savory and interesting, topped with so many crispy garlic chips and a spicy tomato paste. Each bowl was around 9 dollars, enough to fill you up for lunch or dinner.

Bentos

Grabbing a bento either at a restaurant during lunch time  or in the huge food mart depachikas in department stores, was a perfect way to try sushi, udon, tempura, or soba for less than dinner prices. Restaurants almost everywhere, especially in train stations, will have good deals for lunch bentos.

I was very impressed with the depechicka at Mitsukoshi in Ginza—-they even had a roof of lawn  you could lounge on with your food.

Just wandering a train station to find food turned out to be a culinary destination in itself, and almost every train station has something to eat in it.

Yakitori

A fun part of not speaking Japanese but still putting yourself out there was standing amongst the business men in Izakayas, informal pubs known for their red lanterns on the outside. Inside, you can get a mug of draft beer and lots of skewers of chicken, sauced or salted, for under 10 dollars.

Izakayas are also a nice way to experience night lifewithout having to commit to a bar or night club scene. We especially liked the well traveled Piss Alley in Shinjuku.

Street Vendors 

Whether you’re in Osaka or Tokyo’s Tsukiji market or Ueno park,  you can sample lots of Japanese fast cuisine by eating from street vendors. Look out for fresh green tea mochi with red bean paste inside (my favorite,) gyoza, yakitori, crab, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, tamago, grilled oysters, fresh sashimi, and different flavors of soft serve among much, much more.

We ate dishes from the street as often as we could. At the Tsukiji market in Tokyo we split sashimi eaten standing up with green tea to wash it down. It was devine, the best fish I’ve ever had so far for about 20 dollars.

Vending Machines

Every blog post, guidebook, and video I watched before traveling to Japan told me about Japanese vending machines existing everywhere. So despite being prepared I was still overwhelmed with adoration for their ubiquitous presence.

We made an effort to try them every day, multiple times a day. Besides wonderfully bizarre names (Calpis? hmmm) they featured great packaging and crazy selections to sample from every side street to train station to temple you’ve just walked a million steps up. All you need is a 100 or so yen most of the time. Salt and Fruit was my absolute favorite drink.

It was also convenient to have beer vending machines in both cities! We’d often save spending on alcohol at dinner and just grab an Asahi for our balcony at the Airbnbs we booked.

Honorable Mentions

711 and Family Mart convenience stores were my second homes. You can get cash out in their ATMs. They have coffee machines to supplement my exploration of vending machine can coffee. They’re also not like our American counterparts, meaning you can grab a fresh noodle bowl, onigiri, sushi, udon, or even a croissant instead of a bag of chips. Oh they also have pocky and Japanese candies!

 

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Hello from Japan

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I’m in Kyoto right now with just a few more days left before we fly back. I’ve seen and eaten so many great things while in Japan, I can’t wait to write it all down in a trip guide blog post and to start sketching things I’ve been keeping visual notes on. I think a series of my sketchbook will be called What I Ate at Japanese 711. Surprise, everything is red bean flavored!

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