We started our day with a tea ceremony at Happo-En. When you drive through the busy streets of Tokyo along skyscrapers and condominium towers you would not expect to find this oasis. All of a sudden you turn right, go through the gate and enter a beautiful traditional Japanese garden. You truly feel transported into a different time in Japan. As soon as you arrive a hostess greeted us and walked us through the garden to the 150 year old tea house. Pictures speak more than words…so just watch the video below:
After the tea ceremony we walked to the imperial palace (it’s the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan.). You can access the east garden of the estate which is enormous…and this is only one part of the property. Cherry blossom trees where planted around the imperial palace for guests to enjoy (Thank you Emperor). For some reason when we got to Tokyo I thought we would only see them in one area in Ueno Park but we were lucky to enjoy them all around the palace (and Tokyo).
Our next stop was a proclaimed hipster area called Tomigaya. This neighborhood had a complete different vibe than any other part we’ve been before – it wasn’t traditional Japanese, nor touristy or historic but very urban. There were plenty of unique stores restaurant and coffee shops. As mentioned before, coffee is actually more popular in Japan than tea so there are plenty of cool coffee places around Tokyo. Hey, I’m a tea person – how did I start liking coffee?
We walked, explored and ended in Shibuyo where we stoped at Don Quijote shop – a crazy store where they sell everything you can think of (thrift store type) and Shibuya109 (department store for teenage girls). In between we had lots and lots of sushi / sashimi. I wish I could recommend specific restaurants, but I rarely could find / read the name. Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any of them – so just explore on your own.
Oh one more…we were expanding our photo collection of “beige coats” today…which one is today’s winner?
Today we wanted to venture out of the city and into nature. I was researching different areas but for a day trip the best option was Mount Takao – the closest mountain to Tokyo. When we got to the subway station the morning commuters where walking from the train station to their office building. I can’t put into words how many people in black suits where walking to their offices, but everything is organized and even roped off – people going one way or the other. This went on for hours in the morning. It was amazing to witness. Also getting on the train people form exact lines without being told to. There’s never chaos despite the millions of people in small space.When we got on the subway we were squeezed like sardines and couldn’t move one bit. If I think about other countries I would be grossed out to be that close to other people, but in Japan good hygiene is most important. I haven’t smelled anything bad, no one is eating/drinking on the subway (or while walking) and most of them wear mouth protection. We thought it’s because of germ protection, but someone else told us when girls don’t wear makeup they put it up too (not sure what the truth is or if it’s a mix of different things). If you have any insight on the reason let me know below 🙂
The subway ride was about 45min to Mount Takao. We first took the exit to Takao but it was actually the last exit of the station. Once you get off you’re in the middle of a cute mountain town with small restaurants, gift shops and even a cable car up to the mountain. There are several trails to choose from – we went up Inariyama trail and down Biwa waterfall trail (liked this one better). It’s a pretty steep climb up with lots of stairs but not too long (about 1 1/2 hours).
On top of the mountain we had a great view and even saw Mount Fuiji. I first thought it was clouds but then saw it’s the snow on the top of Mt Fuji. Maybe next time we come back in the summer and take on this mountain! There were many people on top and we had a nice chat with an older Japanese who spoke very good English. He showed me how to eat musubi (Rice ball triangle filled with meat, fish or his was apricot). He was a very sweet man and said he visited Pacific Palisades, California before.
After finishing our apples we started our way down the trail. This time the trail went along a river and stepping stones within the stream. We also reached a Buddhist temple in the middle of the forest that even had its own waterfall. There was a female monk who did a bathing ritual in the ice cold water by the waterfall while chanting loudly. It was a bit intimating to be honest and the lady didn’t look too happy coming out of the water. I later read this is one of the head temples of the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism.
When we got back to the mountain village we were looking for a restaurant. All of them had soba noodles so we decided on one where we could see the chef preparing soba noodles freshly. So precise and made with much dedication. In every task Japanese people give 100% which is so admiring. The soba were made with an ingredient that they discovered (I forgot the name) and is good for your health. It was a grey jelly like paste– tasted great too.
After refreshing at the hotel we picked out a conveying belt sushi bar close to the hotel. We have exactly the same type of set up in one of our favorite sushi bars in Litte Tokyo, LA. It’s all computer animated where you place your order on the screen and get a gift when you reach a certain number of plates (by finishing them and put them in a type of “slot machine”). Its pretty entertaining but the most important part was the food – sushi was excellent. After dinner we wanted to go to a karaoke bar and found one closeby. We had in mind it’s a bar where you sit down and watch other people sing karaoke. This one was a lot different. You “rent” a room with a professional set up of screen, lights, microphone – like your own recording studio and get charged in 30min increments. First we had to figure out how to switch from Japanese to English and I just clicked on buttons on the screen where we found 2 English songs: Ed Sheeran & Coldplay. Ulli didn’t want to sing so I entertained (tortured) him with my singing. It was actually a lot of fun despite just being the only two in the room. I can imagine how amusing it is to go there with a group of friends. It was a perfect ending to the night.
Some new things learnt today…
Public Bathrooms so clean: Even on the top of the mountain at Mount Takao the bathrooms were TOTO with all kinds of features. You don’t see these kind of fancy bathrooms & toilets in most of the hotels in Europe/US and this was on top of the mountain!
Coffee over tea: We learnt that coffee actually plays a bigger part then tea in Japan. They have many great individual owned coffee shops and we explored a different one each day (may favorite to come the next days)
I thought I had this jet lag thing figured out, but today I woke up at 3.30am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Finally at 5am I got up and wanted to work on my computer, but my laptop wouldn’t turn on. Ulli to the rescue who made it work and saved my day! That’s how we got up super early today. On our agenda today was a visit of the largest Fish Market in the world! We were in Ginza district by 7:30am and not only discovered the fish market but also Tsukiji Outer Market. They have everything from fresh meat, vegetables, dried foods, knives, dinnerware and of course lot and lots of fish. We tried many new items – my favorite was a snack with gunnel and walnuts – sounds gross but was really good!
At around 8:30am we had breakfast at one of the sushi restaurants. Yes, sushi for breakfast. There are several small places that fit only 10 people at a time and if you read online you should go where the “longest lines are”. Well the wait for these lines was a minimum of 2 hours and some people were standing there for 5 hours already. When Ulli asked why this is such a good place, all they said was “this had the longest line”. Well that wasn’t good enough reason for us to waste half our day, so we just went to a place that was literally next door to the other one. They only have 5 items on the menu and I choose a tuna bowl while Ulli picked the sushi sampler.
There’s only a counter bar, no other seats in the restaurant and the entire space about 2m wide and 8m long. The sushi chef put each piece in front of Ulli with already wasabi on it and told him when he should use soy sauce and when not. He would present one piece at a time and Ulli would eat it with his hands (not chopsticks). It was very good quality sushi – but pretty much everywhere in Tokyo. 😊 The experience was worth more than the taste of the fish (in my amateur opinion). I had three different kinds of tuna – but my least favorite was the bellyfat tuna (too bland and fatty in taste for me). When we got out of our restaurant there was now a long line in front of our place – so good timing and this just means people don’t go where they know it’s good but they trust where the lines are is good.
Today was our first day out exploring Tokyo. We got off to an early start and where at 7am at the train/subway station. It took us a bit to figure out where to buy the subway card, which one and where to hop on the train as there are multiple different train & subway systems (so different maps for each one). Luckily, all Japanese people we’ve encountered are super nice and helpful, even if we don’t speak Japanese. Our first stop on our “sightseeing tour” was Asakusa station to visit the Sensoji Temple. When we got off the train station we found this Japanese restaurant that served breakfast right next to the Kamimarimon Gate (where a giant latners hangs). We ordered different items off the menu including rice porridge, grilled fish, sashimi, miso soup, sour tofu and cabbage salad…not a breakfast we’re usually used to, but something we could get used to! It was delicious.
After breakfast we started walking along the Nakamise Shopping Street to the temple. The shopping street is filled with tourists but has lots of local food stands and souvenir shops. When you get close to the temple there’s a “smoke bowl” set up where people covered themselves in smoke from head to toe (I later read that they believe you get smarter by doing so). The Sensoji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo, built around 628. All very crowded but still a must see esp. if it’s your first time in Tokyo.
After walking around in the Asakusa neighborhood we took a bus to Ueno park. I’ve never seen so many people squeeze in one bus – what a trip! I was looking forward to get away from the crowds/tourists and enjoy a quite stroll in the park while admiring the blossom of the cherry trees (that’s what I had in mind). However, as soon as we got to Ueno Park there where masses of people and under each tree where people having picnics. I couldn’t believe how many people pilgrimed there just to see it. The cherry blossoms where beautiful and just like you see in the pictures, but I more enjoyed experiencing the people & culture. The Japanese put so much love in detail and setting up a picnic with friends & family. Instead of steaks & sausages, they bring small bento boxes filled with many different vegetables and fish (mostly). I also saw many women dressed up in kimonos.
After a 12 hour flight from LAX we had a smooth arrival in Japan and speedy process through immigration and customs. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. Our taxi driver didn’t speak English and couldn’t read our hotel in English either, so glad we had also saved it in Japanese writing on my phone.
After a quick 20 minute ride we arrived at our hotel “The Strings by Intercontinental” which is located in Shingawa (business district). Our hotel is in an office skyscraper and the lobby on the 26th floor. When you enter the hotel you’re immediately charmed by their signature scent. Due to my work in the travel industry, my expectations for service and hotel standards is pretty high – but I’ve never experienced such an overly friendly check-in (and without any tipping expected). Our room is on the top floor and is very spacious – esp. considering how little space there is here. My highlight in our room is the view over the entire city incl. Tokyo Tower and the bathroom. It’s a small steam room with shower & bathtub – I want one of those at home! Also, my first experience with TOTO : seated heats, music and some special water – all coming from a toilet. Another one I want at home 😊 The gym is on the 26th floor with sensational views on the city and Shinagawa train station…you WANT to work out here!
After refreshing in our room we explored the area around the hotel, which is conveniently located at Shinagawa subway station…a very very big one that is (over one million people cross at the station each day – we would find out more during the week). There is an entire food court level incl. Dean & Deluca, Blue Bottle coffee and other farmers market style restaurants (you wouldn’t think this is a train station). We wanted some Japanese food so stopped in a small place where we had to place the order at a machine, then you get a ticket and give this to the lady in the kitchen who will prepare your food. We also discovered these tiny streets, only fitting 1 person through with sushi restaurants left and right. We went into one and my highlight was salmon in miso and vegetables cooked in aluminum foil. The one thing I didn’t pay attention to: smoking was allowed in this restaurant. We discovered that they have signs outside if smoking is allowed or not – so we paid attention on the other days. Great start to our vacation in Tokyo!
Some new things learnt today….
Facemasks are a thing here….not sure if it’s just for health reasons or pollution – but with that many people around all the time, I’m all for it
Nodding and bowing instead of shaking hands – also a thing I could get used to (esp. me being a germaphobe)
No trash cans anywhere: I read up on this and it started after a terrorist attack when they removed all trash cans from subway stations. It also causes people to produce less waste (yeah I know you would think more litter – but it’s the opposite, as they don’t know where to put the trash so they look after it more)
Don’t eat/drink while walking or on the subway: If you buy a snack you eat it right there (give them back your trash) and continue walking
This past weekend was the LA Marathon which has become a tradition in our house (aka Ulli running it). It 26.2 miles from Dodgers Stadium, through Downtown LA, over Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive to Santa Monica beach…sounds like fun, right? It is if you don’t have to run it 🙂 We were staying in this glamorous boutique hotel right on Rodeo Drive called Luxe Rodeo Drive. It’s the only hotel right on Rodeo Drive and besides the location and trendy interior their staff is what makes the real difference.
Also, I was surprised how spacious the rooms where for this location. Our room had a view right on Rodeo Drive – really one of a kind. However, my absolute favorite part about the hotel was the rooftop gym! I LOVE hotels who put as much thought & style in their gym as in their lobby/guestrooms. The equipment was brand new, even had TRX, jumping rope and elastic bands and the treadmills were outside with view on the Hollywood Hills. AHHH! Gym dreams do come true… 🙂
So while Ulli was running the marathon, I was doing my own morning run in the Beverly Hills neighborhood. Those palm trees streets are never ending there! No matter what turn I took there was another spectacular view of the sun rising behind the Palm Trees and beautiful mansions. This is where the tourist buses usually make up stories about the “homes of the stars tours”. Luckily it was too early for that 🙂 I was greeting the locals walking their dogs, taking pictures along the way and ending up at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I turned around.
When I got back to Rodeo Drive the first elite runners came in – it’s just impressive to see how fast they run a marathon (I don’t think I can sprint that fast for 1 mile). While the runners were fighting mentally and physically outside, I decided to have a breakfast in the hotel. Ha! Ulli came in quickly after and ran a great pace- he didn’t look like he had 17 miles under his running shoes when he got to BH (here’s a video). Once he passed by Rodeo Drive I quickly packed up and headed to Santa Monica for the finish.
Driving from Beverly Hills to Hollywood the weather changed, as the marine layer was hanging over Santa Monica beach. It was perfect weather for the runners. I’m proud as usual when I see Ulli coming through the finish – esp. with no cramps and a smile on his face (even if he’s just pretending this was “easy”). We spent the rest of the afternoon in Santa Monica and actually walked another 6 miles from the beach to Montana Avenue. I really can’t get this guy tired! 🙂 We discovered this new restaurant in Santa Monica (there’s always a new one) called Musha Restaurant – which was Japanese/Asian Fusion but very innovative, small plates. We tried several different items my favorite was the albacore sashimi with avocado (sounds simple but the flavor wow!) and also the Takotama: a signature dish – omelette with octopus. Winner! Can you recommend any hotels/ restaurants in LA? There are always new ones popping up so it’s hard to keep up. It was a fun weekend and my favorite memory was having Rodeo Drive to myself for a few hours.
These days are flying by. The last few weeks have been super busy at work and on the weekend I’ve been using every minute to find my balance outdoors. Each Saturday I get up at 5am to be out on the beach volleyball court for lesson and playing and I’ve had so much fun learning this sport (ok also a lot of frustration too as my body is not cooperating the way I want to sometimes). I had been playing for a few months, but have found an awesome coach who is patient with me to get me to the next level. I also made some new friends while playing and it’s been so much fun being at the beach from sunrise to sunset. I’m still hoping to see Kerri Walsh out on practice sometime, I know she trains around here…:-)
We also have had some very unique weather especially where I live – close to the beach. With warm days and cool ocean water the marine layer clouds develop and the fog moves in over the coastal areas. As we live on top of a canyon, it’s a spectacular phenomenon to witness and something you don’t see every day. I posted some pictures below and video here so you can see for yourself. They actually call it “June gloom” but it’s just March now. Does that mean it’s already hotter than it’s supposed to be?
Another highlight these past days was going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers live at the Staples Center (here’s a sneak peak). The venue is iconic (home of the LA Lakers) and seeing the band that loves LA as much as I do was freaking awesome. I almost forgot how many incredible songs they have and now they’re back on my running playlist. My current favorite tracks are Give it Away, Can’t stop and Soul to Squeeze. RHCP are such a cool band and they’re touring right now – so go see them! On that note, Ulli met Anthony Kiedis a while ago in Malibu and they had a quick chat about motorcycles and stuff…really nice guy too!
We also went one day to Big Bear Mountain to go snowboarding (first time this year), as we had some unusual storms earlier this month (you may remember the flooding in Northern California). Rain at the beach means snow in the mountains, so we had a blast playing in the snow. I always have to decide snow or sunshine each weekend – and so far beach & sun have won (Ulli is not happy). Last weekend we’ve been to Indian wells which is in the desert (next to Palm Springs). We went to the tennis tournament there and I actually struggled with the heat at 100F. It’s so unique to California to experience snow, extreme heat, marine fog and sunny 70F all within a 2 hour driving radius (so you can even go on the same day). For me as an outdoor enthusiast it’s a true adventure paradise – and hard to choose where to go each weekend (yeah I know tough life).
What have you been up to lately? How is the March weather where you are? Have you been to any memorable concerts or sports events? Would love to hear!
P.S. As we’re talking music today – I discovered the band LANY (my #1 song is “ILYSB”) and Matt Franco “Fresh Eyes” – L.O.V.E. these two songs! Is anyone with me on this?
If you don’t know by now – I have the best husband in the world :-). He has built up a reputation over the years with our family/friends to come up with crazy surprises for me. Sorry babe for the high expectations – but it’s your own fault. So for our 10 year wedding anniversary he surprised me with a weekend getaway to Cabo San Lucas Mexico. To be honest I wasn’t expecting anything as we’ve both been extremely busy with work and we didn’t even talk about our anniversary. I should have known better. He asked me if I was in the mood for kayaking tomorrow….in Mexico. What? I packed my bag and off we went. After a short 2 hour flight we arrived at Los Cabos airport and were greeted with warm sunny weather on the runway. After picking up our rental car (tip: so much easier/cheaper than taking taxis – just avoid Sixt), we drove to the hotel. Our first stop on our way there was at a food stand for some coco frio and ceviche. What a great start to our trip to find such delicious food just on the side of the road. The ride was very nice along the alluring coastline. I didn’t know the hotel we were staying at so when we got to the Sheraton Grand Los Cabos Hacienda Del Mar I was super excited. The hotel is a beautiful mix of Mexican culture and modern amenities – set on a private beach cove along a golf course. Ulli had arranged a special room for us on the top floor with a huge terrace and amazing ocean views. It couldn’t be better! We were only there for a weekend, but it felt much longer. My highlight of the trip was definitely getting up close with the gray whales. Its whale season in the winter months until March so try to come out during this time. For me it was truly a dream come true seeing them so close. Everything on this trip was perfect: weather, hotel, activities & food – I can’t wait to be back.
Food: I was particularly impressed by the delicious food in Cabos. To be honest, I was anticipating mostly rice/beans/cheese/meat which is not part of our diet. However, in this region they’re known for their seafood – not deep fried but mostly grilled. So so so YUMMY! I also tried grilled octopus on the first night and I stick with it for the rest of the trip. I would have never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be crazy about octopus but I am now!
Activities in Cabos: My favorite activity was spending time in the warm water and exploring all marine life. We were lucky to be there during whale season and I couldn’t believe we could even see them breach from our terrace at the hotel. The most unforgettable experience was being out on my SUP and a whale coming up right next up to me. I was not afraid but just amazed and couldn’t stop giggling. If you’re not there during whale season – there is still amazing snorkeling/scuba diving, surfing and just enjoying the beaches. Can’t wait to come back for more!
Awesome location on a private beach, but away from the touristy city center in Los Cabos
Beautiful Mediterranean architecture (I’m not a fan of the big hotel blocks)
Gym: We’re not the type of couple who sleeps by the pool or at the beach all day (even though they have several infinity pools to choose from and a private beach), but we LOVED their gym! New equipment and variety. We love hotels who know that travel and fitness go together.
Restaurants: great options of restaurants from fine dining (De Cortez) to the daily market buffet in the courtyard – everything we tasted was excellent
Most important: Staff – extremely helpful and nice! The concierge at the hotel made all the difference in our stay at this hotel. She gave us recommendations for local restaurants and arranging a special room for our anniversary. THANK YOU!
It was a rainy, cool Sunday – very unusual California weather. I was longing for a warm and cozy place and remembered I always wanted to go to the Wi Spa in Koreatown. This is a one of a kind spa – not one I ever been to before. It’s close to Downtown LA and open 24 hours. I know what you’re thinking – but it is a legitimate Spa. 🙂 If you ever just have a layover in LA and need a few relaxing hours to hang out – this is the place to go. The entry fee is only $25 which includes access to the saunas and bath amenities. I didn’t know what to expect but I was ready for a day of surprise. I signed up for the buff & massage – which is their “signature” scrub down combined with a full body massage. When you check-in you will get their branded t-shirt, shorts, flip flops and towel for your stay. The spa is on several levels – one floor for women, one for men, one shared area with a restaurant and a rooftop. As it was my first time visiting the spa they explained the wellness etiquette – most importantly in the spa / sauna are no clothing allowed. Well, being from Germany that shouldn’t be a problem. So I got to the locker room and changed into my Wi Spa shirt and shorts and went up to the JimJilBang room to meet Ulli. When you enter you see people laying on mats on the floor, as the floors are heated. They also have a Korean restaurant, library, computer area and kids area up there. My favorite was to experience the different saunas: Bulgama (made out of oak wood), Salt Sauna (helps respiratory system), ice sauna (last stop) and my highlight was the clay sauna (clay is imported from Korea). You actually lie down in the warm clay stones to relax. Ahh that felt sooo good!
We just returned from our trip to Germany where we spent Christmas with our family. If you ever plan a trip to Germany this is the season to go. A lot of traditions like having a Christmas tree were started in Germany so it’s a truly special time. I remember as a kid I was not allowed to see or decorate the Christmas tree. My parents put it up on Christmas eve (in the morning) and our living room door was locked until the evening. On Christmas eve my parents would ring a bell and only then I would be allowed to enter. It was always a magical moment seeing the lit up Christmas tree with sparkling presents below. Of course as a kid I always wanted to decorate the tree, but it made it so much more special to only see it on Christmas Eve. It’s probably the reason why I love decorating my own tree each year so much. 🙂
My favorite activity during this time of the year is visiting the Christmas markets (also known as Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt) as they’re unique to each town. When you walk around you smell Gluehwein (hot mulled wine), candied toasted nuts and gingerbread. Mhhhh! The lovingly decorated stalls also offer many regional specialties like honey or chocolate as well as hearty food such as roasted potatoes, fresh fish and of course German Bratwurst.