It has become our Labor Day tradition to participate in the “Run to the Top” race to Mount Baldy. It’s a very tough course as its starting at 6,000’ and finishing on the summit of third tallest mountain in Southern California–Mt. Baldy at 10,064′ – which means an 4,000′ of gain in only 7+ miles. Ulli ran the entire climb up in 1hour 40minutes, while I hiked in 2hours 20minutes. It was very windy/stormy on top but the scenic views made up for it. Have you done any fun races or adventures lately? I would love to hear!
Colorado is a popular winter destination but if you love the outdoors you have to experience it in the summer. The days are warm and sunny and you have plenty of adventures to choose from: hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, rafting, trail running, climbing, golfing, horseback riding, fly fishing…each activity with its own spectacular scenic views. Here are some of my favorite activities that we did… Continue Reading…
When we moved to Southern California we always imagined doing weekend trips to Las Vegas…and that’s what we still like to do. People think the only reason to go to Vegas is to either gamble or get drunk, but that’s not us. We enjoy the one-of-a kind hotels, world class entertainment and good food. It’s one of our favorite destinations to get away. The drive from our home is about a 4 hour drive, but lately it’s been a lot of traffic and this time we decided to fly (only 45min) – which is so convenient. During this trip we experienced extreme temperatures in Las Vegas like we never had before – about 125F! It was so boiling hot that even flights got cancelled or had to be rescheduled to the night where it was “only” 115F. You know that feeling when you check on your baking pie in the oven and the hot air blows in your face? That’s how it felt the entire time – on your entire body. I thought my hair and skin were on fire. I’ve never experienced such dry and hot temperatures. We also didn’t know that there was a huge EDC (music) festival over the same dates and there were lots of very interesting teenagers in (non-existent) costumes walking around. When I say costume I mean crazy hair and boots and just patches placed in certain areas of the body. 😉
Hotels: I have a handful of hotels in Vegas that are my absolute favorite – and we stayed in two of them.
Bellagio: Our accommodation here was in an amazing Bellagio Tower Corner Suite with fountain view. My highlight: You turn the TV channel to music and follow the synchronized fountain spectacular from your room. Amazing! I also LOVE all the seasonal decoration in the hotel. This time they had Italy and Amalfi Coast as a theme…all decoration is made out of real flowers. Incredible! With these temperatures we also checked out the pools…may I say the best pool area in all of Vegas :-). Breathtaking pool scenery with hand crafted stone fountains, Mediterranean designed tiles and lush citrus trees imported from Italy.
Aria: The second hotel we stayed in on this trip is Aria. As soon as you enter the lobby you get enticed with their signature Vanilla smell … MHHHH. Usually in Vegas there’s smoke in the casinos, but not at Aria. It’s one of the greenest hotels and also is up to speed with the latest technology (you got my play of words here,right? ;-)) in the rooms and throughout the hotel. Aria has a young vibe and my favorite gym in Vegas with a fireplace to relax 😊
There are so many fun activities you can do in Southern California. I love being outdoors from sunrise to sunset. Here’s a sneak peak in our adventurous and fun Sunday: Starting with cycling on Pacific Coast highway…from sunny skies to marine layer moving in, riding along the coast and in the canyon back over hilly roads…so beautiful. You just have to do this ride super early – otherwise there’s too much traffic on Highway 1. After our morning work out we took out the jet ski at Dana Point Harbor and were lucky to see lots of dolphins. The water was perfect to get some speed and jumping in. Lunch was at Good Choice Sushi on PCH with a nice view at the beach. Then we headed off to Newport Coast / Corona Del Mar to our favorite juice/bowl place called Sejuced (the best!). Time to work off the calories at the beach with some volleyball, jump in the ocean and back to beach workout. Finally, no better way to end this day with a picnic at Salt Creek Beach. I would call this the perfect day 🙂 Thankful everyday for being healthy and live in pretty Southern California – there’s really no place like it.
We started the day at 5:30am with a work out in our scenic hotel gym overlooking the city. I could spend hours in this gym! I also went to the steam sauna after our work out – couldn’t think of a better start in the day!
On our agenda for the morning was a visit to Shinjuku Gardens – which has three different landscape gardens: Japanese, French and English. This park was my favorite one to see the cherry blossom trees as it was less crowded and they had different colored trees along with the Japanese trees – looked especially beautiful. We spent the morning walking around, taking pictures and a little picnic on the grass. I really loved it!
Our next stop was the Samurai Museum…which was a smaller museum but is definitely worth the visit. The tourguide made the tour really interesting and you even get to try on the samurai uniform at the end (heavy!).
We walked around the neighborhood and had lunch at a place where they only served skewers – either fish or meat. We had a mix of 6 different skewers chargrilled and served with miso soup, salad and rice. Very nice! 😊 It’s too bad I can’t remember all the names of the restaurants we went to as they usually don’t have “English names” outside and I can’t read Japanese. So we will never find them again – but there are so many to choose from you can’t really go wrong with any of them.
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.