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.
Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays as it’s the start of Christmas season but without the stress of getting presents. It’s all about good food and spending quality time together with your loved ones. This Thanksgiving day we had a super early start at 4:30am as we signed up for the 10k Turkey Trot run in Dana Point. It was a crisp morning in the 50s with over 16,000 runners. I usually run part of this route on my own as it’s so scenic, but it was fun going out together as a group. Also, there were a lot of unique costumes and people (and dogs) cheering the runners on. I was happy to finish in 59minutes which was 10min faster than two weeks ago in Las Vegas. I guess a 15k has to be the next challenge…
The rest of the day we spent decorating the house, going for a walk on the beach and enjoying our feast (vegan roast was delicious). It’s also the season when I can finally watch all Christmas movies again. We watched Love Actually and Family Man – what are your favorite Christmas movies?
This weekend we went to the Rock’n’Roll run marathon, 1/2 marathon & 10k in Las Vegas. This event is very unique for several reasons. First of all, marathons are usually early in the morning, but this one starts at sunset. Therefore you run through the night and experience all the Las Vegas lights that are so famous. Another exclusive feature from this marathon is that it’s the only private event that shuts off the entire Las Vegas Strip. So from 2pm to around 10pm there are no cars allowed on the Strip. The only other time this happens is at New Year’s Eve (but this is arranged by the city). One more reason why this has become one of my favorite events is, as the name states, it’s all about music. There are several live stages and bands set up throughout the running course. The opening act this year was Snoop Dogg…run it’s like it’s hot…
Ulli signed up for the marathon and I decided to do the 10k. Our starting time was almost simultaneously but our starting location was on opposite ends of the Strip (about 3 miles apart). We signed up to pick up our race package on the day of the event which was earliest at 2:30pm. The pickup location was at the SLS hotel, where the 10k would start (which was strange, as Ulli had to get to the other end of the strip). We left our hotel at 2pm to have sufficient time and requested an UBER. However, our UBER drivers couldn’t get to the hotel and we had 3 back-to-back cancellations while we waited almost 45 minutes. At 2:45pm we were still at the hotel. While we saw many runners walking to the starting line (close to MGM) we were still trying to get a taxi to get us to the opposite side to pick up our bib numbers. I started to worry that we wouldn’t make it. We finally got a taxi, but the traffic was horrible. He dropped us off and we ran to the tent where they would have our bibs. As we got there, they told Ulli he must pick up his at the starting line of the marathon. AHHH! I’m not sure how we got the wrong information initially, but it was 3:45pm and his race would start in less than 45 minutes. With all this traffic it was almost impossible to make it. Fortunately, the lady said that there’s a monorail that he can take. While I got my bib number and was ready 10 minutes prior to the start, Ulli had to race to the other side of town, but with the rail he would at least make it if all goes as planned. Well, we didn’t consider that you need money for the monorail, and of course he didn’t have anything on him. Luckily one of the security guards made an exception so he could go on the tram without paying (Thank You! I promise we will pay double next time!). After this hectic start we just made it in time before they closed our corrals. Pheeewww! When I was standing at the starting line I was finally able to enjoy the beautiful weather (about 70F), live rock band singing the national anthem, and fellow runners (and their unique outfits). Everyone was in good spirits and excited for the race. My 10k started at the south end of the Strip (at SLS) and went past Stratosphere Tower, many of the famous wedding chapels, Old Downtown Las Vegas (Fremont Street) and the finish line was at the Mirage (for all runners). I felt great during my run. THANK YOU to all the volunteers that would give out water and cheering us on. Also the many police officers on each intersection where smiling and giving us thumbs up. Thank you to everyone for keeping us hydrated, motivated and safe! While running I thought about how this sport truly brings all people together. The struggles (and joys) runners go through are the same for everyone – no matter what race, religion or how much money you have. It was just wonderful to see how each person got together and was thanking the police officers when running by. I believe there are more good people than there is hate. It was really the most entertaining and quickest 10k run I’ve ever done. I think I smiled through the entire race. Shortly after the 5 mile mark, I hear someone screaming my name. I turn to the left and on the other side of the road Ulli was just passing by me. How crazy is that! With over 45,000 people running at the same time – what are the chances that we see each other at one of the few only sections where our two different courses even pass? That was such a happy surprise and made me run even faster for the last mile. 🙂 Crossing through the finish line I couldn’t stop beaming. My “runners high” lasted for the rest of the night. Ulli also had a great race, despite fighting with stomach issues. He completed the 26.2 miles in 3:49 hours and I was as proud as ever to see him coming through the finish line! The Rock’N’Roll series is truly a lot of fun and I can’t wait to sign up for the next event. On another note, the winner of this years marathon was setting a record for the fastest marathon run by someone dressed as Elvis Presley (full costume with wig) and finished in 2hrs 38min (is this human?). I’m curious to hear about any of your running stories or memorable events that you participated.
“May your dreams be larger than mountains and may you have the courage to scale their summits.”
Since moving to California I found my passion for hiking. When living in Florida there are no mountains and also the weather is usually too hot to do such outdoor activity. So my favorite store when moving to California became REI 🙂 I felt like a kid in a candy shop, buying backpacking equipment and hiking gear and emergency blankets (Ulli rolling his eyes). I even became a real geek in taking an adventure class at the local REI shop (yep –you can make fun of me). So I’ve been exploring different hikes in the area, Palm Springs, San Diego and San Bernadino. The most famous peak and the highest mountain in the contiguous United States is Mount Whitney with 14,505 feet (4,421m). It’s located in the Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and connected by a scenic highway in Death Valley. When you google Mount Whitney hiking to the peak, it is recommended that you do a backpacking trip over 3 days so your body can adjust to the high altitude. You also need to apply for a permit as there are only a limited number of permits allowed (I believe 200 per day). When Ulli heard about it he decided he wanted to do a hike/run in 1 day to the top by himself. I loved the idea of hiking this mountain, but would have preferred a multi-day backpacking trip. However, this was not “challenging enough” for my husband. So when we got the permit for May 31, I was excited and anxious to go with him. We arrived in the small town of Lone Pine at 8pm as this is the closest town to the mountain. We picked up our permit from the ranger station and after dinner at the local Chinese restaurant (that was the “healthiest” choice in town) we checked in at the Best Western hotel. We prepared all of our gear what to take on the trip with us the next day. The most difficult part was to decide what to pack – as we wanted it to be as light as possible to move quickly, but also needed some basics like food, extra clothing layers, emergency supplies, headlamp, and water. We got to bed early as we had a very early start planned.