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Travel

Adventures

Dream come true – Husky Sledding

December 29, 2017

Over Christmas we went to Germany to see our family & friends. We had a wonderful time exploring the German Christmas market, playing cards and enjoying lots of good food. One of my highlights was our dog sledding tour in the Thuringia Forest. We have met the Kraft family many years ago who established themselves as the leading dog sledding & training school in Germany. They’re the sweetest people and their dog sledding team consists now over 17 dogs (mainly huskies – but also malamute, samojede, Czech wolf dog & more). They offer dog sledding tours, musher training, dog scooter tours, hiking with dogs and even alpaca tours (yes they own a pack of alpacas as well). You and your furry friend can also stay in one of their brand new apartments for a longer vacation. Julia (daughter) is a trained animal physiotherapist focused on natural healing methods and Ralf (dad) besides leading the tours, also published several children books. Check out Huskyerlebnisse.de for more information and mention my name for a recommendation – they’re awesome!

We didn’t have any snow in the city this year, but luckily there was snow in the forest to get the dogs out. Dog sledding is a really good work out too, as I like to run and push the cart to help the dogs. They listen to “Halt” (stop), “Go” and “straight”. I LOVED every minute of the tour!

Here’s the video from my dog sledding trip this year: 

My next goal is to do a dog sledding tour in Canada – maybe even with an overnight stay in the middle of nowhere. Has anyone done it and can recommend an area and supplier? Please share! 

Travel

Hola Barcelona!

December 19, 2017

This was my first time in Barcelona and I wasn’t sure what to expect. First of all I checked the weather and it looked like similar temperatures in November as in Southern California. When we arrived it was as expected, but the next day it dropped to low 40s. Brrrrr! Maybe that was my “unintentional” reason to go shopping for a jacket. It worked! Ha! The locals told me it’s only that cold for 5 days out of the year and this must have been the week. They were not used to this either.

Getting around in Barcelona is easy. Pretty much everything is in walking distance and they also have a great subway & bus system to get around. However, we mainly used taxis and Cabify (their Uber version). One day the entire country of Spain was on taxi strike so don’t rely on it too much :-). 

My 3 favorite things about Barcelona 

#1 Architecture

I don’t have a great knowledge of architecture but the one on Barcelona fascinated me. Gaudi is the main influence and the buildings he created are really one of a kind. They’re mostly inspired by nature – maybe that’s why I felt so intrigued by them. I could look at them for hours and always find something new. Really beautiful. The most famous cathedral Sagrada Familia was designed by Gaudi and he worked on the Design alone for over 40years on it. It’s still a work in progress – for the past 131 years – as it’s so many details and towers. Hopefully I’ll still be able to see his completed work of art. Goal is by 2026! If you want to be transferred into a fairy tale – walk around Park Guell. The buildings looked to me like gingerbread houses with sugar coating on top. You also have a great view over the city of Barcelona from the park. Make sure you buy tickets in advance as they sell out quickly. 

       

#2 Food markets

The biggest food market is La Boqueria right on La Rambla. This is the most amazing and biggest food market I’ve ever been to. You’ll find everything from fresh fruit, vegetables, meat (ham), seafood, candy, nuts, etc here. I snacked on fresh mango, had a seafood dinner and a dragon fruit fruit smoothie afterwards. So delicious! Keep in mind that the market is closed on Sundays (we didn’t know and arrived that day to explore the market but it was closed :-() Another cool and more upscale place to eat is El Nacional. It’s in an historic building that resembles the 1920s and you can try different Spanish dishes with high quality ingredients. 

 

#3 Shopping

I didn’t have shopping on my mind when I came to Barcelona. I promise!! However, walking down La Rambla and Old Town you just can’t resist checking out the many cute boutiques and Spanish brands like Massimo Dutti, Desigual and of course Zara and Mango.  My favorite was exploring the narrow alleys of Old town and the Gothic Quarter and discovering many small shops, new labels and designers. You should also walk down Paseig de Gracia – which reminded me of the “Champs Elysees” with many high end luxury designer stores. This was also my favorite street to view the modernist buildings and architecture.

  

One thing to be careful about in Barcelona is pickpocketing. I never think about this stuff when I travel in the US, but going to other countries esp. Europe you have to be mindful about your backpack and where you keep your valuables. Unfortunately, a colleague of mine had her purse stolen and I read that Barcelona is rumored to be the pickpocket capital of the world. Don’t feel intimidated to travel there now, just be mindful of where you keep your money. It’s easy to get distracted with the beautiful sights around you 🙂

To turn this post back to how awesome Barcelona really is…here’s my description of an epic run you should try:

This scenic run includes lots of famous sites, views and great hill work out! We started at our hotel in the marina, running along the waterfront into the garden park and to the top up to Montjuic. Best city views! From there we continued uphill to the Olympic complex and stadium that were held here in 1992. Then we continued to run back down through beautiful Greek gardens and past the national art museum (doesn’t the statue in the front look like ET?). I can’t remember the exact distance – around 4-6 miles roundtrip?! – but who cares when you’re having fun, right? 

 

Then we went to breakfast at Federal – healthy options and yummy smoothies! I was so excited they had a chia bowl (so so good) with soy milk (wow!) and fresh squeezed orange juice. So delicious! Nice service, cozy ambience and good music (if you dig Wutang like me :-)) – no worries they switched to more pop music when the crowds came in).

 

If you’ve been to Barcelona, let me know what your favorite things to do are in the city. What other cities in Spain can you recommend to visit? I always love to hear your feedback! 

Adventures, Travel

Summer in Colorado? Yes please!

July 28, 2017

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…

Travel

Tokyo: Shinjuku Garden, Samurai Museum, Harajuko & Omotesando (Day 5)

May 17, 2017

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.

 

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Travel

Tokyo: Tea Ceremony (Day 4)

May 1, 2017

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?  

    

 

Travel

Tokyo: Mount Takao (Day 3)

April 24, 2017

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)
Travel

Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market, Shibuya, Meiji Shrine (Day 2)

April 16, 2017

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.

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Travel

Tokyo: Asakusa (Sensoji Temple), Ueno Park & Shinjuku (Day 1)

April 9, 2017

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.

Japanese breakfast Tokyo Japan Japanese breakfast Tokyo Japan temple Tokyo Japan

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.

temple Tokyo Japan Tokyo Japan

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.

 cherry blossom tokyo japan ueno park  cherry blossom tokyo japan

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Travel

Tokyo Here we come! (Arrival)

April 9, 2017

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

 

Adventures, Travel

Rock’n’Roll Run Las Vegas

November 15, 2016

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 ruimg_9823nners 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.

img_9869lasvegas1 

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