South West Four 2014

Sooooo, I’m in London!! Say whaaaat. I’ll be here for the next 4 months for my fall semester, which is amazing. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to know the UK and more of Europe through my travels and studies.

My second day here, I got to attend South West Four, which is one of the many music festivals that was being held during Bank Holiday Weekend. It’s an EDM event, my first rave and festival, and Above & Beyond was headlining Saturday.

Shows started at 12:00 pm and we got there a bit early, so the festival grounds were quite empty when we finally got inside. There were four stages where acts were held but we mainly bounced back and forth between The Gallery and Main Stage. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Continue reading

Japanese Beauty

I’ve heard amazing things about Japanese beauty products since the first time I visited Japan. From skincare to cosmetics, I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few different products over time and thought I’d share my thoughts with you all. Many can be found on sites like Amazon or Sasa, but will cost you a lot more than if you were buying from within Japan directly. Many Korean brands are also sold in Japan. If you ever find yourself in the country, do some research and pick up a few things, you never know what might become your next beauty favorite!

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One of the world’s longest foot baths (Kagoshima, Japan)

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Weekend in Japan

I recently made a quick visit to Japan where I got to take in both the bustling city of Shinjuku as well as the serene beauty of Hakone.

SHINJUKU

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This city which is located about 20 minutes away from Tokyo, is just as vibrant and probably cheaper. You’ll find all the large department stores, from 0101 to Takashimaya, there are endless opportunities to shop and dine. Western stores like Topshop and Forever21 are also very reasonably priced, especially if there are sales happening. Jeans at Topshop varied from 30-45 USD on sale, which was incredible.

In terms of dining, you’ll be able to find everything from clustered hole-in-the-walls to finer dining with a view. We looked for nighttime skewers but didn’t find anything amazing, and were even turned away from a shop because we didn’t read Japanese (the owner said this to us in perfect English). Some places are more diner-esque and require you to select your meal and pay at a machine and hand a slip to the employees. Cheap but still good. Department store restaurants offer more diverse cuisine, so don’t forget to look there to satisfy your non-Japanese craving.

Be sure to pay a visit to the sublevels of those large department stores (B1, B2). There exists an eye-boggling array of ready to eat hot and cold foods, lunchboxes, adorable desserts, packaged foods, snacks, and even grocery stores. I’ve heard it’s cheaper to buy after 5 pm so keep that in mind.

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TOKYO  

We also spent half a day at Tokyo’s fish market. It was super convenient to just take the subway into Tokyo, albeit we didn’t wake up early (4-5am?) to make the morning fish auction. By the time we arrived it was lunch and most of the popular restaurants had 2 hour waiting times. We ended up at a smaller restaurant with no wait but picking one with a short wait might have been better. Further down the street there were streets filled with vendors selling everything from pudding to fishcakes to dried lentils. It was a lot busier than the area in which we’d eaten lunch.

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If you want to explore Tokyo more, you can purchase a day pass for the subway. We didn’t since we decided to go straight back to Shinjuku after our visit.

 

HAKONE 

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Trains are the way to get around Japan, and we booked the Romancecar to Hakone, a town near Mount Fuji. There we stayed at a traditional Japanese style inn, with tatami mat beds, meals served in our room, and hot springs.

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We purchased a “Hakone Freepass” to get around, and the tourist activities are conveniently arranged in a circle to allow for easy navigation and varied sights. We took a bus to a ship port, then a pirate ship to the base of the mountains, gondolas through various sightseeing locations, a tramcar downhill, and finally a train back to where we started. The entire ordeal doesn’t take more than half a day, unless you’re really taking your time or stopping at museums along the way.

 

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Apart from this main loop, you can go to the base of Mount Fuji or out to Hakone’s outlet mall. There are also lots of little shops around Hakone’s center, but keep in mind that they close early (around 6pm). This area by the train station is where most hotels are located, but if you want to stay somewhere more secluded, there are plenty of hotels nestled in the mountains as well.

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Australian Winter

I haven’t been to a new country in awhile, but I’m so glad I got to explore Australia for 10 days, albeit it was a bit chilly.  5 flights in 10 days, we got to see Sydney, Cairns, and Melbourne!  I thought the country was absolutely beautiful, with such clear skies, fresh air, and beautiful flora and fauna.  The food, especially seafood, was delicious as well. ;)

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Japan Trip

Happy Belated New Year!  So sorry this is such a late post, but I’ve been busy and working on it for some time so I thought it would still be nice to post.

I can’t believe it’s 2014, already, but this past year has been so tough yet so good to me.  And I’m glad I get to say that I spent the first four days of the new year in Japan with family.  This time around, we spent our time in a less urban area in Southern Japan, in a city called Kagoshima.  And later, made our way to Fukuoka by train.  The culture, food, people, and way of life I encountered on this trip made me appreciate Japan a little bit more, and made me only more eager for my next visit.

Day 1

We made our way to our hotel (Hotel Dormy Inn), by shuttle bus, and after checking in we went off to explore.  Our first stop was a visit to Sengan-en Garden, where we got to walk around a peaceful villa built by the Shimadzu family.  There were historical objects, lots of restaurants and souvenir shops, and tranquil gardens to explore.  Right next to the gardens there is also the Shoko Shuseikan Museum, where various cultural objects are on display.  Admission to both of these sites can be bought together.

From the gardens, Sakurajima, an active volcano, can be seen across Kinko Bay.  We took a bus to Kagoshima Port, and then rode the Sakurajima ferry to the peninsula, a 15 minute ride.  The ferry runs 24 hours a day, and takes not only people, but cars as well.  We went in the late afternoon, and by the time we arrived, the island was dark and fairly empty.  Many attractions had closed, but we were able to see the Yogan Nagisa Park Foot Spa, one of the longest foot baths in Japan.  It closes at sunset, but access is free and from I could tell, you have to bring your own towels.  There was also a beautiful trail nearby, but as the sun set it became too dark for us to explore any further.  Our last stop was the Hinoshima Megumikan Rest Stop, which supposedly served a specialty ice cream, but we were too late, and that was closed as well.

Once we got back to our hotel, we searched for a place to eat, and by the hotel’s recommendation, found a restaurant serving traditional Kagoshima fare.  We got wonderfully fresh sashimi (raw fish), raw chicken that we stone grilled ourselves (some of the best chicken I’ve ever tasted), pork hot pot (a local specialty), and some sautéed eggplant.

We also each had a bowl of ramen at our hotel since they were serving free late night ramen!

Day 2

Our second day was spent sightseeing in another city called Ibusuki.  Breakfast was delightfully traditional Japanese fare served buffet style.  Knowing bus and train schedules as well as stations was crucial, as it was our method of transportation and entire schedule depended on it.

In Ibusuki we toured a hotel and it’s gardens before going to the famous sand bath.  After getting blue kimono style robes, we lined up outside along the beach to await our turn to be buried in the hot black sand.  A hole is dug into the beach and people lie down to be covered in the sand.  This 10 minute treatment relies on the heat emitted from the ground and is said to have 3-4 times the health benefits of regular hot springs.  After our sand bath, we got to soak in hot springs before getting dressed and leaving.

Afterwards, we visited another hot spring at the top of a hill.  This one was outdoors, overlooking the ocean and offering a beautiful view and sense of tranquility.  Despite it being winter, there were still many people bathing.  As the sun began to set, we headed back to the train station for an early dinner.  Nearby we found a nice sit down restaurant that served everything from kebabs to soba to tempura and we ended up having a little bit of everything!

Once we got back to Kagoshima though, we went in search of a famous local shaved ice store that ended up being closed sadly.  Lesson learnt: things close early in Japan.  Before turning in for the night, we had another bite to eat with lots of fresh vegetables and various types of grilled fish.

Day 3

We spent our last full day sightseeing on trains and heading north from Kagoshima to Fukuoka.  We travelled on the line called Shinkansen, and this is where our Kyoto Rail Pass came in handy.  The trains run special tracks that stop at historically or culturally significant stations and are decorated nicely for tourists.  We also got bento boxes along the way that many travelers like to buy.  Since we went during the wintertime, one of the more scenic routes was closed, but we still got to see great things on our trip.

After getting to Fukuoka, we found  a restaurant to eat at that served huge sashimi platters.  A very filling last dinner in Japan!

Last Day

As our flight out of Japan was in the afternoon, we didn’t have much time to explore Fukuoka.  There was a giant electronics mall across the street from our hotel that seemed to have everything from iPhone cases to DSLR cameras.  The Fukuoka station was also filled with various restaurants and food booths at the lower levels and multiple clothing stores above ground.

Despite the brevity of our trip, it was a great family getaway that blended our love of food and travel.  We got to see Japan from a less urban perspective, and had lots of fun getting in good exercise and getting a little bit lost.

Trains

There is something about trains that make them a special type of transportation.  They take less time than traveling by car, but more than traveling by plane.  Maybe it’s the way that trains are transient, allowing you to catch a head or tail, a blur of color, before disappearing.  Maybe it’s the way that it winds through the most unexpected places, and the fact that there is something extremely enduring about the rusted tracks that wait patiently for wheels to pass overhead each day.  Maybe, it’s the fact that there’s a view, but blink, and you could miss it, for soon enough the surroundings blend into one another and you leave it all behind.  Maybe it has something to do with the soft, ephemeral shadows that flicker and disappear.  Maybe it’s how you have a sense of space, room to breathe and think in silence, and the bodies around you are comforting, not overwhelming.  Or maybe, it’s just the sound of the train moving, a constant, continuous, soft clunking that reminds you you’re going somewhere.