Exploring Tokyo for the First Time

Thanksgiving week seemed like a perfect time to head over to Asia for the first time with the family. The girls were on school breaks and it’s typically a slower work week for my husband. But you may be wondering…Japan for Thanksgiving?? Japan did gift the USA with beautiful cherry trees…So, I am thankful for that! In all seriousness, Japan does celebrate on November 23rd, but they call it “Thanksgiving Labor Day”. Some businesses even give time off from work.

Once we arrived and started exploring, we realized that it’s a very busy time of the year. None the less, we had a fantastic time! We celebrated with the Japanese and a multitude of visiting Chinese during a temperate Fall week with flaming maple trees & golden ginkgo trees (cherry trees blossom only in the Spring…need to plan another trip for that spectacle)!

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Yoyogi Park in Tokyo

Similar to NYC on a mild fall day, lot’s of families & friends go out to enjoy the nice weather and beautiful foliage in the parks in Tokyo. Again much like NYC, Tokyo has predominantly pavement and tall building, so the parks get busy.

As we strolled through Yoyogi Park, which was near our hotel (Park Hyatt Tokyo), we noticed how clean it was even with all the social activities going on. The people seem to be very careful to clean-up after themselves. Even with all the crowds, I was amazed at how clean the city was and we hardly saw trash cans!

Wedding photos underway at Meiji Shrine garden in Tokyo

Wedding photos underway at Meiji Shrine garden in Tokyo

While walking through the Meiji Shrine gardens, we came across a couple that were having pictures taken in traditional Japanese wedding outfits. The bride looked perfect with her hair all done up and the porcelain-like make-up!

“Scramble Crossing” in Tokyo

“Scramble Crossing” in Shibuya district, is the busiest intersection in the World. It can accommodate as many as 2,500 pedestrians with each rush-hour traffic signal change! Don’t drive here!!

Small shop on a side street in Tokyo

Small restaurant on a side street in Tokyo

Walking down a side street, one couldn’t miss this brightly decorated restaurant. It had blown-up images of their food plastered near the door for people to see what they serve (several other restaurants did that too). We had a good laugh at the dressed up she-piggy by the door, welcoming guests in!

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“Lolita” girl while out and about in Harajuku district in the Shibuya, Tokyo

The youth subculture’s favorite hang-out area is in Harajuku district in Shibuya. It’s full of high-end shops, restaurants and lots of youth! Several of the stores carry Victorian doll costumes that the “Lolita” like to wear. Women wear these outfits not just when attending parties, but as everyday wear even while eating a McDonald’s burger.

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Table for two

While exploring Shibuya, we walked past this cute scene…Two adorable doggies having a drink!

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Statue of the loyal dog Hachiko in Shibuya

The statue of Hachiko in Shibuya, near the subway station, has become a popular meeting place. It’s in remembrance of the loyal dog, that would wait for his owner’s return from work, at Shibuya Station. While at work one day, the owner died, yet Hachi continued to wait for his ‘master’ every evening for the following 9 years. Now that’s devotion!

View from the Mori Tower observatory, through the mist, in Roppongi Hills

View from the Mori Tower observatory, through the mist, in Roppongi Hills

We spent part of a rainy day walking around Roppongi Hills. The building complex features offices, apartments, luxury shopping, fine dining restaurants, movie theater, a hotel and the Mori Arts Center which is in one of Tokyo’s tallest buildings. We toured the arts center and checked out the views from their observatory deck. You can see Tokyo Tower, modeled after the Eiffel Tower, in the mist. It’s the World’s tallest self-supporting steel tower and 42 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower.

You can’t go to Tokyo without experiencing the Robot Restaurant. Imagine flashing lights, glitzy girls dancing to taiko drums and techno music with a giant panda, dinosaurs, ninjas and (of course) robots on a stage that, if you’re not careful, can get a hand or finger squished as the large apparatuses move about! Show on STEROIDS!! Nothing like it…must see for yourself!

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

It’s in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red-light district, a seedy part of town…so beware  and have your hotel concierge pre-purchase your tickets, then have the cab driver drop you off in front and pick you up there too, so you don’t have to walk around.

Plan to eat before you get to the show because it’s not great food, barely OK snacks.

We finally got a beautiful view of the famous Mount Fuji one morning, from our room up high in the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

Mount Fuji peaking through the clouds-view from our room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Mount Fuji peaking through the clouds-view from our room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

The Park Hyatt Tokyo is a fantastic hotel with great service, comfortable rooms and great restaurants. I really enjoyed the New York Bar UNPLUGGED that has great views and offers live jazz performances nightly. We had Thanksgiving Dinner next door, at New York Grill, that has an open kitchen.  We didn’t have turkey and all the fixing, but instead we had steaks and seafood! Even though it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving, it was a tasty meal non the less. We won’t forget it!

Chefs preparing dinner at Robotaya Restaurant in Roppongi

Chefs preparing dinner at Robotaya Restaurant in Roppongi

The Robotaya chefs were great at preparing our authentic Japanese meals from the fresh meats, seafood and veggies spread out in front. They cook them on an open-hearth style grill and the sake was perfect with the meal!

With saki in hand, we toasted the night...Kampai!

Awaiting dinner at Robotaya, with sake in hand, we toasted the night…Kampai!

I can’t forget to tell you about one of my culinary highlights of this trip. I got to have lunch at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza. Again, thanks to the assistance from the concierge at the Park Hyatt, who made the reservation 30 days in advance (the earliest Jiro allows).

Kenny & I got there early and waited in the basement of an office/retail building, for the doors to open. Jiro’s is small with a sushi bar that seats about 8-10 people and a few tables. We were seated with 7 other guests at the bar. We were given a pre-fix menu, listing the 20-pieces of sushi we will each be served. Jiro & his oldest son, careful assemble each piece, brush their special sauce on top and place it on each guest’s plate respectively. He quickly noticed and chuckled that I was a “southpaw”, then proceeded to place the rest of my nigiri, specifically for my ease of picking it up.

Everyone spoke in hushed voices, as not to disturb Jiro’s work. It was quite dramatic! The lady next to me lives in the States, but is originally from Japan. As we were looking over the menu, she got all excited for the “uni” to be served later. I’ve never had that before, so I figured it must be fantastic since she was so looking forward to it. I too got excited in anticipation of my first taste of “uni”. Alas, as soon as I placed the piece in my mouth and tasted the sweetness of the meat and texture, I grossed out. I REALLY wanted to spit it out, but I couldn’t since Jiro, was watching me! I tried not to gag as I forced myself to swallow it, but only with a full glass of sake! It must be an acquired taste…and I’m just fine with not acquiring it!

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Jiro & his eldest….Best, sneaky pic I took while sitting at the table having tea & honeydew melon

After getting stuffed with 20 pieces of sushi, we were seated at a table to enjoy honeydew melon and authentic Japanese green tea. It was a pleasant way to end the meal!

Got my book about Jiro and  ready to explore Tokyo

Got my book about Jiro and ready to explore Tokyo

To experience traditional Japan, you must visit Kyoto. Kyoto was the old capital of Japan with literally thousands of  shrines and temples. You can read about my day-trip on my previous blog post

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Gardens and koi pond at Toji Temple in Kyoto

Until next time Japan!!

Live well!!

Dana

Queen for a Week… Las Ventanas Style!

 

Sunset over Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

Sunset over Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

OK, so I’m a little late with recounting my birthday celebration this year. It’s not because I didn’t have a great time, on the contrary!! It was one of the best birthdays where I felt celebrated, not counting the one when my husband surprised me by flying in all my siblings…and I’m the baby of 8! I’ll have to post on that one another time 🙂

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Cabo

Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort, was magical! I have stayed in other luxury resorts, but I’ve never experienced this kind of extra special attention to detail before, from the moment we were chauffeured in a black car from the airport, with wifi, snacks and a cold cerveza I must add. Once we reached the beautifully manicured resort, we were promptly greeted by some of the staff with a cupcake and a candle, just for me!!!

Tequila set with snacks and directions recommending how to enjoy the tequila :)

Tequila set with snacks and directions recommending how to enjoy the tequila 🙂

After meeting our personal butler, we were whisked away for a relaxing neck massage while our luggage was being delivered to our rooms! In our room, we were pleasantly surprised with a complimentary bottle of tequila and snacks to enhance the flavors. Olé!!

I'm scouting for people ;)

I’m scouting for people 😉

The AAA 5 Diamond resort is very well maintained and we never felt crowded, in fact, lots of our photos makes it seem like we had the whole place to ourselves!! Or did we? 😉

Infinity pool at Las Ventanas

Infinity pool at Las Ventanas

The many pools were crystal clear and perfect for a cool dip after soaking up the rays on the comfortable lounge chairs. Poolside service was impeccable with perfectly mixed drinks and food. They also served free samples of drinks and snacks throughout the day!

Mesmerizing crashing waves

Mesmerizing crashing waves

In case you didn’t know, swimming in the Sea of Cortez is not recommended since the riptide is so strong. Though walking the beach is highly encouraged!! I loved strolling along the beach, watching and listening to the powerful waves.

Beach Dinner, Cabo

Beach Dinner, Cabo

We had a private dinner set up on the beach just for us!!!

Beautiful handcrafted llama tablecloth for our Beach Dinner table.

Beautiful handcrafted tablecloth for our Beach Dinner table.

It was such a beautiful way to spend dinner, toes in the sand and a calm breeze cooling the air 🙂

Sunset over Cabo

Sunset over Cabo

Candles were set up all around our private dinner setting…A bottle of Caymus Zinfandel complimented our meal perfectly!

Cheers to many more happy times spent with with this fantastic man!

Cheers to many more happy times spent with this fantastic man!

We had the most romantic beach  dinner ever! It was just the two of us near the Sea of Cortez, underneath a breathtaking sunset sky, with waves crashing, and Michael Bublé  playing on our personal boombox stereo. We were escorted to our perfect setting and had our own personal butler serving us a delicious meal! Yep, I felt like a queen!! I must get a tiara next time! 😉

Sunnyside eggs with salsa

Sunnyside eggs with salsa

Delicious fresh fruit

Delicious fresh fruit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sushi!

Sushi!

We never thought of going elsewhere for any meals. We were perfectly satisfied with the fresh offerings from the chefs at the 3 restaurants on site that we very much enjoyed!

Tequila time!

Tequila time!

One afternoon, we enjoyed a personal tequila tasting at the Tequila, Ceviche & Sushi Bar including blanco, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo varieties. Did you know that tequila tastes great sipped, from miniature looking wine glasses, instead of taken as shots? That is, tequila that is made 100% from the Weber blue agave plant (a member of the lily family and not a cactus as it is sometimes assumed) that’s grown in central Mexico in the lowlands and highlands around the town of Tequila itself, like George Clooney’s, Casamigos Tequila

Creators of Casamigos Tequila: George Clooney & Rande Gerber.

Creators of Casamigos Tequila: George Clooney & Rande Gerber.

I can’t forget to mention the extremely relaxing 90 minute massage where I got to choose not only the scent, but also the music: Gregorian Chants is what “spoke” to me at that time 🙂 It was ammmmazing!!! The Spa is well appointed with all the amenities one might need to freshen up after a relaxing experience.

Spa waiting room, al fresco

Spa waiting room, al fresco

Entertainment for the young and the young at heart

Entertainment for the young and the young at heart

In front of the resort, I came across a young boy building a neat looking sandcastle. He was actually be taught by a local sandcastle artist 🙂 Not a bad way to entertain younger kids, though I definitely enjoyed watching!

Wishing to return to Las Ventanas soon! :)

Wishing to return to Las Ventanas soon! 🙂

We celebrated my birthday in La Cava” where we were served a fantastic menu including wine pairings. They also created a decadent birthday cake with macarons on the sides, for me!

The way to celebrate 4th of July Las Ventanas style in Cabo!

The way to celebrate 4th of July Las Ventanas style in Cabo!

Now, since my birthday happens to be on July 4th, I always get fireworks here in the States. I didn’t know what to expect while in Cabo… The resort put on a fun Independence Day event, on the beach. It included comfortable seating, delicious food & drinks, a movie on a big screen and last but not least, a booming fireworks display!!

Custom sewing kit

Custom sewing kit

Have you ever been presented with a custom sewing kit, with perfectly threaded needles that coordinate with your clothes?? Me neither, until Las Ventanas! I actually used the blue.

Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez

Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez

I loved walking the beach! Everyday it was a different experience. We had an early morning walk that was so fun!

Love this guy!

Love this guy!

Kenny set the bar way high for birthday celebrations! I LOVED it and will always remember this fantastic experience he planned for me.

Jumping for joy and to see if I can do this ;)

Jumping for joy and to see if I can do this 😉

I can’t wait to return to Las Ventanas especially since Austin offers direct flights!!! Olé!!

French Student in Paris

 

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Not everyday one thinks of taking a solo trip, especially to Paris. Yet I did! I went in search of learning the language a bit better and getting more familiar with the culture. I knew no one there, but now I have several new friends! They are from all over and have a variety of different backgrounds from students to mattress makers to  book authors. It’s an amazing place, a city like non other. Parisians really are friendly 🙂

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I attended the Alliance Francaise de Paris for a week of French language courses. Class began promptly Monday through Friday at 9AM and we wrapped it up around 1PM. I had a vibrant and expressive professor that would NOT speak one word of English to me nor any other language to the class except FRENCH. I was captivated and kept focused as she explained and enthusiastic acted out until we all understood! The students in my class were just as focused and it made for an engaging experience. I was the only English-speaking student while the majority were from South America, some from China with one from Israel. Some spoke a little English, so it made communicating with them outside of class very entertaining using some English and what French we’ve learned!

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Wish I would have seen this little contraption sooner…I would have rented one!

I favored walking over the Metro because I wanted to experience the sounds, sights and some “scents” of Paris, especially walking past the patisserie shops. I did take the Metro once and after feeling like a sardine, I quickly reverted back to walking or at times, taking a taxi. I like personal space.  A lot of people ride bicycles in Paris, but I wanted to live so I can someday come back to visit…weaving in and around cars, people and buses just didn’t appeal to me! I went to Paris to observe and learn, eat and enjoy the city, not peddle like a mad woman, for my life! 😉

Several miles were trodden by my weary feet! Not only were my footsies sore, but I developed some whopping blisters on some of my toes. Luckily for you, I was so grossed out by the blisters that I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures.

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I toured a couple of museums, Versailles was one of them, and walked by several more. Since the weather was so perfect (no rain!), I didn’t want to be inside. I’ll save museum touring for rainy visits 🙂

 

Dessert and coffee while at the Tuileries Garden

Dessert and coffee while at the Tuileries Garden

…And now to talk about the food!! I ate mostly at the local cafes. They had fresh ingredients and nice portions too. I did find the patisserie shops to be FANTASTIC, of course!! Some, at first glance looked like jewelry stores! The delicate cakes were carefully displayed under glass domes and mirrors, with just the right lighting showing them off. And it worked since that’s where I spent most of my cash! 😉

All in all, I had a great experience in Paris and I hope to visit again soon!

A bientot!