Asia

Bali

bali_01Falling asleep to the sounds of waves crashing and the feel of the ocean breeze on my skin, waking up to the first light of the sun breaking over the horizon, walking barefoot in the dewey grass, tasting the sweet fresh fruit for breakfast… our recent short trip to Bali was a delight for the senses. This was my first time to visit this beautiful island and the only thing I would change would be to be able to stay longer.

We stayed at the beautiful Villa Campuhan which we booked after seeing photos of it on some of my past wedding clients’ instagram accounts. Since this trip was added on to the end of a work trip to Hong Kong, we only had 2 full days to spend in Bali, the first of which we used to relax by our private pool and soak up some sun. The next day we did venture beyond the villa and visited the amazing Pura Lempuyang, the Tirta Gangga water palace and some nearby rice terraces. Since we were staying on the eastern part of the island, we pretty much stayed that way which meant we did not have time to check Ubud or Seminyak but I guess that gives us a few excuses to try and make another visit, no?

One of the highlights for me was being in Bali during a full moon which meant we got to see the locals dressed up and preparing for celebrations at temples across the island. It was a beautiful look into the lives of those that call Bali home. I don’t think my words can do justice to the beauty of the place or the kindness of the people, so I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story…

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Kyoto

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ITINERARY: A week long trip with my husband and two of our friends to Japan with stops in Tokyo and Kyoto. This was the first time for any of us to visit Japan and we really wanted to see as much as possible and I think we did a pretty good job. I have to give major credit to our friend Chelsea who planned everything to a “T” and really did her research!

TRAVEL TIME: We started our trip to Japan in Tokyo so we decided to take a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto which took about 3 hours and was a very comfortable ride. The train system in Japan is pretty great and very punctual.

SLEEP: Because we were visiting during a fairly busy season for Kyoto we had a little bit of a difficult time finding places to stay. In the end we split our three nights between two different hotels, both of which ended up being amazing.

The first place where we stayed, Ryokan Ugenta, is nestled in a valley along a creek about 45 minutes outside of central Kyoto but they offer a free transfer from the local train station to the ryokan so that made it pretty easy to get to. A Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese Inn and most are known for their service as well their food. At Ugenta there are only two rooms, one is a traditional Japanese style room and the other is more contemporary, known as the “Western” room. Both rooms have a private rooftop tub and shower which look out onto the beautiful hillside. It was incredibly relaxing to end the day with a soak as you listen to the birds chirping in the trees above. Breakfast and dinner are included with the room rate and I highly recommend both. For breakfast you can choose between Western or traditional Japanese and dinner is a a 10 course meal unlike anything I’ve had before. The litle town where Ugenta is located is very peaceful and also worth taking a look around.

Our final night in Kyoto was spent at another amazing resort called Hoshinoya which is located in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto. To reach Hoshinoya, you must take a boat ride along the river Ooi which is an incredibly calming way to travel. When you arrive, the beauty of your surroundings is almost overwhelming. We arrived in the early evening and had just enough time to change before heading to dinner which was another delicious 10 or so course meal of seasonal Japanese cuisine. Because it was our last day in Kyoto and we wanted to explore the city as much as possible we weren’t able to fully take advantage of all that Hoshinoya has to offer but the spa looked top notch and if you fid yourself in the area, I would definitely check it out.

EAT & DRINK:

  • Café Bibliotic Hello!This cafe was recommended to us by multiple people and we had read about it on a few blogs too. We ate lunch here one day and also grabbed a few sweet things from the bakery for later on. The coffee was great as was the food and there was free wifi to boot!
  • OmenAnother lunch spot that was recommended to us by Kyoto locals, the thing to order here are the udon noodle dishes. The noodles are served on their own along with a bowl of tsuyu (a broth) which you season with ground sesame and then add in the noodles and veggies. Delicious!

TO DO:

  • Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion)This was the first temple we visited in Kyoto and my favorite as well. While not as big as the Golden Temple, the surroundings where much more beautiful in my opinion and it was much less crowded. This was also my first experience viewing a sand garden as well as a moss garden.
  • Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion)The Golden Pavilion sounds exactly like what it is and that is a temple that is covered in gold leaf. The temple is beautiful and a true site to behold but it can get busy quickly so I suggest visiting earlier in the day to avoid crowds.
  • Saiho-ji (The Moss Temple)The Moss Temple was so beautiful but it takes some planning to visit. You must have a reservation in order to visit and once you arrive you each visitor is asked to copy a sutra and take part in the monks’ religious chants. To copy the sutra you are given a sheet of paper where you trace Japanese characters while kneeling at a low desk. When you are finished, you present your sutra paper to the alter and then can walk to the moss garden.
  • Philosopher’s WalkThis 2 km stone path follows along a canal in the northern part of Kyoto. It begins near the Silver Pavilion and is bordered by shops, cafes and restaurants. We were visiting at the tail end of the cherry blossom season and were lucky to catch a few trees still in bloom. This was a peaceful way to see a part of Kyoto and was one of my favorite parts of the city.
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine: This Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto is surrounded by thousands of torii gates that you can walk through up to the top of the surrounding hills where a beautiful view of Kyoto awaits you below. This is another spot that can get crowded but if you keep walking you can easily get away from the crowds.
  • Nishiki MarketThis is Kyoto’s street market and offers everything from food and drink to knick knacks.
  • The Bamboo ForestBefore our trip I had only seen photos of the Bamboo Forest in Kyoto but I knew that I had to visit here. Luckily on our last day I had about 30 minutes to check it out and I am so glad I did. There is a single path that leads you through the bamboo and the sight it truly breathtaking. I’ve never seen bamboo so tall before and the color of green was just beautiful. I took a lot of photos here (probably too many) but they don’t do justice to the beauty of the place. Definitely stop by if you can!

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Tokyo

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ITINERARY: A week long trip with my husband and two of our friends to Japan with stops in Tokyo and Kyoto. This was the first time for any of us to visit Japan and we really wanted to see as much as possible and I think we did a pretty good job. I have to give major credit to our friend Chelsea who planned everything to a “T” and really did her research!

TRAVEL TIME: A 12 hour flight from London to Tokyo Narita airport followed by an hour train journey on the Narita Express.

SLEEP: We stayed in two different spots while in Tokyo. The first was The Peninsula hotel in the Marunouchi district which is a little more business oriented than a place I would typically like to stay in but it was a great location to get our bearings of Tokyo. We definitely relied on the hotel concierge while staying here for recommendations, tips and language barriers. If you do not speak Japanese, one big tip I would give is to hang on to the little business cards the hotel provides that say “Please take me to the Peninsula hotel” in Japanese on them- these were extremely useful for certain taxi rides.

The second spot we stayed in was an apartment we found via AirBnb. The place was very modern, located in a neighborhood that we had not yet explored and provided a pocket wifi gadget that we could take with us as we explored the city. It was nice to end the trip by staying in a place that made you feel more like a local.

EAT & DRINK:

  • Tas Yard CafeThis cafe was full of lots of charm and was the perfect place for our first meal in Tokyo after getting off the plane. We met up with our friends, Jon and Chelsea, who had arrived the day before. I ordered a delicious curry while others had salads and sandwiches. I would definitely return if I ever find myself back in Tokyo one day.
  • Maisen TonkatsuWhen looking for suggestions for our trip to Japan, we were told by multiple people that we needed to try some Tonkatsu which is a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet usually served with shredded cabbage and a special sauce. This particular tonkatsu restaurant had great reviews and I really enjoyed it- I mean its fried pork, you can’t really go wrong!
  • DaiwaAfter an early morning at the tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market we decided to have an early sushi breakfast at Daiwa which is right next to the market. I was a little skeptical going into it as I’ve never had sushi so early in the morning (even though I love it), but the end result was so delicious! You can order a fixed price menu or go a la carte, which is what we did, and had it prepared right in front of us.
  • Lauderdale CafeWe visited the Lauderdale Cafe in the Roppongi Hills area for breakfast and chowed down on some seriously delicious buttermilk pancakes, bacon and eggs. They also had some tasty smoothies which were basically milkshakes and so yummy!
  • New York Grill at the Park HyattBeing a fan of the movie Lost in Translation I knew we had to visit the Park Hyatt for a drink, dinner and to take in the views of Tokyo below. It was fun to imagine Bill Murray having a drink in the same place and the Kobe beef wasn’t too bad either.
  • Ivy PlaceAnother great breakfast spot that is part of the Daikanyama T-Site (more about this below). I ordered the chilaquiles which could have ended badly but they were absolutely amazing. This spot was one of my favorite places we visited in Tokyo.
  • SavoyTowards the end of the trip we had one of our final dinners at this pizza spot. I think we were craving some familiar food and this place really hit the spot. We sat at the bar and watched the pizzas being made right in front of us and cooked in a wood burning oven. Though not really typical Japanese cuisine, it was a stellar end to an amazing trip.

TO DO:

  • Tsukiji Fish MarketThree of the four of us on this trip had seen the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi which is about sushi master Jiro Ono (if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it!) and where we learned about the fish market where they hold the tuna auction every morning. This is such a unique experience and looking back on it I am really glad we did it even though it required a crazy early wake up call. I think we got up around 3:30 am which in all honesty wasn’t that bad as it was our first full day in Japan and were jet lagged. You kind of have to find your way to a pretty nondescript building that is in the wholesale fish market and wait until about 5:15 am which is when they take the first of two groups into the auction. Each group has about 30 minutes to watch the auction going on around you- you can see the potential buyers inspecting each fish, picking out a bit of the fish to check the quality and deciding on which one it is they want. When the auction begins, it goes pretty quickly and I didn’t understand any of it as it was all in Japanese but it was still fun to observe. Once your time is up, they navigate you out of the market and thats it! Quite a few of us then decided to grab a nearby sushi for breakfast (see Daiwa above) since it was about 6:00 am and out tummies were grumbling.
  • Imperial Palace GardensThese gardens were literally a five minute walk from our hotel and were the first of many gardens that we visited while in Japan. It was a really peaceful walk in the middle of the city and we were lucky to catch the tail end of the cherry blossom season too. Japanese gardens are so beautiful and different from anything I’ve seen before and this was great start to our garden tours!
  • Isetan Department StoreIt might sound strange that we went to a department store but this place is insane! We visited the foodhall on the lower level and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this before. It was similar to the foodhall in Harrod’s except everything was absolutely pristine and had a price tag to accompany it. You might see a box of strawberries, each on in perfect condition and individually wrapped, and would cost way more than you would typically imagine spending on strawberries. Needless to say, we did not purchase anything but it was still very cool to walk around a look at all of the beautiful food on offer.
  • Yodaboshi CameraBeing a photographer and in Tokyo, I absolutely HAD to go to a camera store. My main objective was to buy some film and man did I get to do that! This store has a similar vibe to the giant B&H photo store in NYC in that it has just about everything you could imagine. Once I finally found the film section and did the conversion of pricing in my head I grabbed as many boxes of 120, 220 and 35mm film as I could. I only wish I could go back and get more!
  • Sumo Stable PracticeOur friend Jon set this excursion up for us through a site called Voyagin and it was one of my favorite things we did. Going to watch a Sumo practice is a very unique experience and one you have to do with great respect. When you enter the stable, you must remove your shoes, sit very still and do not speak for the entirety of the session. You are allowed to take photos which I was nervous to do at first but soon got down to it. It was incredible to watch the training up so close, to try and figure out the hierarchy of the different wrestlers and see how much respect they had for their sport and one other. If you have a chance to do this, I definitely recommend it!
  • Daikanyama Tsutaya Books: On our final day in Tokyo we visited this bookstore which is located amongst a grouping of cafes and shops. This bookstore was enormous and had an astounding selection of not only books but magazines, music, films, etc. I honestly could have spent an entire day browsing though I’m not sure the rest of group would have appreciated that. I did purchase a few things to take home and if I did not have a weight restriction on my luggage for the flight home I may have gotten a lot more!

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Hong Kong

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Itinerary: A week long trip to Hong Kong. This trip was a combination of work (for my husband) and play (for both of us) since we were there to celebrate the marriage of two of our friends.

Travel Time: 13 hour direct flight from London to Hong Kong.

Accommodation: On this trip we stayed in the InterContinental on recommendation from friends which is located in Kowloon, an area of Hong Kong across the bay from Hong Kong Island. The main lobby has floor to ceiling windows which gives you an amazing view of the island, especially at night when all of the buildings are lit up and is the prefect backdrop while enjoying a cocktail or two. The breakfast that was offered in the morning was so delicious- literally every type of food you could think of and then some. That along with the four other restaurants, out door pool and jacuzzi, it was almost difficult to find an excuse to leave the hotel at all!

Highlight(s): This was my first time anywhere in Asia and I think it was a great place to start given that English is spoken by most and getting around the city is fairly easy with the abundance of public transit. We arrived in the evening and were greeted with the spectacular view of Hong Kong Island all lit up. Having lived in NYC for a little over 5 years, I wasn’t expecting to be so taken aback by the view but it is definitely awe inspiring.

The next week was filled with lots of great meals, bars with views for days and exploring the city. One of  my favorite meals and definitely the most gluttonous was the Sunday champagne brunch at the W Hotel. Basically, you have three hours to eat and drink as much as you like, all for a set price- think lobster, wagyu beef, eggs cooked any which way, cakes galore, etc. When not filling our bellies, a few places we visited were  Victoria Peak (a view high up in the clouds of the city below that you reach by tram), Stanley Beach (a seaside community just a short bus ride from the hustle and bustle of the city), we took a cruise around Victoria Harbour on a classic junk boat called the Aqua Luna, the fish market where you choose your dinner and it is freshly prepared next door, and Ocean Park (an adventure park with roller coasters, an aquarium and four giant pandas). Needless to say, it was a packed trip but I still feel like there is a ton more to see, especially off the beaten path and more local spots, which is more than enough reason to visit again.

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*shot on a Rolleiflex with Kodak Ektar & Portra 800*

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