Sunday, 1 March 2015

Lifestyle // The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China, Beijing

Our first stop on our China travels was the capital city of Beijing. The city itself was a little underwhelming. There is almost a constant smog lying over the city and it's not surprising with the amount of people that live there. With a country of over 1 billion it's understandable that the major cities in particular are going to be polluted. But I wasn't prepared for just how dusty and stark the city was.

The Great Wall of China, Beijing
The Great Wall of China, Beijing

However Beijing is a must on any tourist route as it's home to the Great Wall of China! And it's nothing short of a phenomenal sight. We were blown away by the sheer size and expanse of this incredible feat of engineering. We only visited one small section (a 2 hour walk) of the wall, so we can't even begin to fathom just how big the entire thing is.

The Great Wall of China, Beijing
The Great Wall of China, Beijing

Words can't really describe the feeling when you reach the top of the wall and walk along it. There's so much to take in, it's overwhelming. To think that construction began around 200bc is also hard to get your head around. It really is one of the world's if not the greatest piece of engineering. Although unfortunately the wall never quite served it's purpose… Taking thousands of years to complete, China was still invaded by Mongolia in 1279 and later by Europeans who simply landed by boat. And by time the Japanese invaded aeroplanes had been invented so the wall became obsolete.

However it is now one of the most popular landmarks in the World, bringing China a wealth of tourism.

The Great Wall of China, Beijing

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Monday, 23 February 2015

Lifestyle // Japan Food Diary

Sorry I've been a bit mia recently. All social media and Google is blocked in China so it's been impossible for me to get online. So be prepared for an overload of blog posts coming up :)

I just had to share a food diary style post of our time spent in Japan eating quite possibly the best food of our lives! I thought I'd start with Tokyo as it's one of the world's most densely populated cities and therefore has more restaurants, cafes, and fast food chains than most other international cities. In Shibuya (a suburb of Tokyo) there are over 6000 restaurants alone!!

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Tokyo, Sushi Kanesaka, Ginza
Sushi Kanesaka, Ginza, Tokyo

Japan is of course famed for it's sushi but it's not quite like sushi anywhere else in the world. Here it is an art form! And good sushi will set you back at least £50-£100. But it's worth it! These top sushi restaurants are world renowned and it is honestly like nothing we've ever tasted before. Their expert chefs carefully prepare each dish in front of you, from the expensive cut of fish to the room temperature rice to the hint of wasabi. It's perfection! The dining experience was one of our favourites from the whole trip. If you can afford it you have to do it. It's a once in a lifetime!

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Tokyo, Uobei sushi, Shibuya
Uobei (sushi), Shibuya, Tokyo

On the other end of the sushi spectrum is of course fast food sushi, similar to what we're used to eating. If you want to experience Tokyo at it's most hi-tech you have to visit Uobei. This super cool sushi diner features touch screen menus where you can choose up to 3 dishes at a time. They then get express delivered to your seat, you remove the dish and send the tray back to the kitchen by the press of a button! It's also worth mentioning that each dish contains 1-3 pieces of sushi depending on the fish and only costs roughly 50p per dish!!! Ridiculously cheap and that is something hard to find in Tokyo so this place is a must if you're on a budget. If you want to see the whole thing in action check out the video on my Instagram.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Harajuku Gyoza Ro, Tokyo
Harajuku Gyoza Ro, Harajuku, Tokyo

Who loves gyoza? Who doesn't! Especially when they're fried, mm mm!! In Harajuku there is a restaurant who does gyoza like no other. Here you will find a simple menu of two flavoured gyoza and you can choose fried or steamed. With seating around the kitchen you can watch the chefs in action, each specialising in a different stage of the gyoza process. If you want some sides with you gyoza go for the cucumber which comes with a miso paste which is to die for! Their warm sake is pretty damn good too.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Tonki, Tonkatsu, Meguro, Tokyo
Tonki (tonkatsu), Meguro, Tokyo

A big thank you goes to friends of ours for recommending this tonkatsu restaurant in Meguro. Tonkatsu basically means breaded pork cutlet. It's very popular in Japan but this place served up the best tasting ones we tried. Dating back years and years the family run business has a traditional menu with a modern flare of interior design. It's a very cool place to eat, again sat around the bar watching the chefs at work. Like Gyoza Ro, Tonki specialises in just one dish. You'll find this in most restaurants in Japan. So no wonder they're food tastes incredible when they focus on just one dish and have been perfecting it for years.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Hantei, Ueno, Tokyo
Hantei (traditional Japanese), Ueno, Tokyo

Hantei is a traditional Japanese restaurant, housed in one of the oldest buildings in Tokyo. Here you will experience traditional dining of removing your shoes and sitting on tatami flooring. The menu is a set menu and you just choose which price you want to pay (the more you pay the more delicious tempura you receive!). As well as tempura there are light refreshing snacks of carrot, cabbage and cucumber which you dip in a dark miso paste. If like me you have a bit of a sweet tooth you'll want to gobble this dip up! To finish you can enjoy a seaweed tea soup. Sounds strange but it tasted nice and rounded off the meal perfectly.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Shabu shabu, Tokyo
Shabu shabu, Tokyo

Annoyingly I can't remember the name of this restaurant but shabu shabu is a famous dish in Japan and is served all over. There's certainly plenty of places to try it in Tokyo. Basically the word 'shabu' refers to the swishing movement you make when dipping your meat or vegetables into the boiling broth. Normally you can pay a set price and you will get an unlimited amount of either pork or beef (or both) and vegetables of your choosing plus unlimited drinks for 2 hours. The times and prices vary but they're all in this style. So you can imagine how much you can eat and drink in 2 hours making the meal one of the cheapest we had. We were lucky enough to go here with a friend of ours that is from Tokyo so he was able to translate the menu and help us know what to do. Otherwise I think we would have found this a little daunting. It also doesn't help that most restaurants in Tokyo are high up, off the street, above shops. So you have to get a lift up to them and once you step out you're straight into the restaurant, unable to really turn around and make a quick escape if it isn't for you! Haha!

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Ramen, Tokyo
Ramen, ramen, ramen!!

Found all over Japan (and all over the world) is ramen! The traditional Japanese noodle soup. It's not the healthiest of options being made with animal fat and plenty of salt and sugar. But it's tasty and cheap! Most Japanese people will probably only dine on this maybe once or twice a month but we had it once or twice a week!! And every where we tried it it tasted different. Every restaurant has it's own secret recipe but we loved them all. Ramen is fast food at it's best. The restaurants get really busy and you often have to queue out the door but there are hundreds around everywhere you go and because it's a quick in and out service the queues disappear quickly. Traditionally pork is used in ramen but you can choose vegetarian, beef, duck etc. You can also have it light, fatty or super fatty and sometimes choose your level of spice. The picture in the bottom right came with a serve of collagen!! Yes you heard right, collagen! In this ramen restaurant every girl that orders a bowl gets given a side of collagen to help with their skin?! Perhaps because the ramen is so fatty and technically bad for your skin they think the collagen is going to counteract it… who knows. As we often said… 'Only in Japan!'.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, okonomiyaki, Kyoto
Okonomiyaki, Kyoto

Another popular dish in Japan is okonomiyaki, and another popular city is Kyoto. Here the two come hand in hand. Okonomiyaki is an omelette style pancake made of egg, meat or veg and lots of leaks. Chefs make it expertly, often in front of you at your table and then serve it on a hot plate and you're given a spatula to cut it up with. The hot plate is a great addition to Japanese restaurants to keep your food hot and we found it at a few different places.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, kaiseki, Kyoto
Kaiseki, Kyoto

Another traditional dining experience in Japan is called Kaiseki, whereby you enjoy a set menu of small, intricately prepared dishes. It's often not cheap but uses the finest ingredients and the chefs are leagues above most chefs! To work in a kaiseki restaurant takes years of practice and experience, similar to that of sushi. We found this particular restaurant down a little side street in Kyoto. Once seated at the bar our chef prepared each dish in front of us explaining what she was doing and what the ingredients were as she went. The tempura was heavenly and I can't even begin to describe how good the black sesame honey ice-cream was! Lots of savoury and sweet dishes include sesame in Japan and I loved it.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, hotpot, Kyoto
Hotpot, Kyoto

Similar to shabu shabby is the hot pot. A pot of boiling water and raw ingredients that you cook yourself! A little scary at first but it cooked almost instantly. These are to share and are pretty big so don't go ordering one for yourself! Again I can't remember the name of this restaurant as we stumbled up on it down some laneway in Kyoto - often the best way of finding good food.

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Kobe, kobe beef
Wakkoqu, Kobe

Kobe, a name you may have only heard of when referenced to kobe beef. Kobe is quite a large city in Japan and is famed for just that, deliciously succulent kobe beef. It's all in the marbling effect of the meat, it comes from a well bread type of cattle and comes at a high price. But for any meat lover it's a must in Japan! We stopped in Kobe literally just for this on our way to Hiroshima from Kyoto. Each chef serves 6-8 customers, carefully preparing, cooking and serving all the ingredients in front of you. It's a real taste experience with the chef recommending which herbs and spices to put with which cut of meat. The fried garlic and pepper were my favourite combo. We were also given tofu, vegetables and potatoes as well as rice, a drink and to finish sorbet and coffee for our set price.
Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, robatayaki, Matsumoto
Robatayaki, Matsumoto

Whilst visiting the snow monkeys we stopped for a night in Matusumoto where we found a robatayaki restaurant. Here they serve up meat and vegetables on sticks. Each chef has a different job and you can pick from a long list of different meats, fish and vegetables with the added option of fried in batter. The sticks come out to you as when they're ready and are served on a hot plate in front of you to keep them warm like I mentioned earlier. You can also choose larger meals of rice or noodle dishes but it's all about the meat on sticks!

Japan food diary, things to eat in Japan, Mijajima, oysters, kaki-ya
Kaki-ya, Miyajima

Miyajima is famed for it's floating arch and it's oysters! A Google search will bring up both. This place is possibly the best place for oysters in the world. Not having been a fan of them before (mainly because I've only ever tasted them in awful restaurants and raw) I was a little hesitant. However once I tried a hot one I couldn't help but eat another 3 and then tuck into some covered in cheese and herbs. Delicious!! There are restaurants all over the island serving them but Kaki-ya is one of the more famous with long queues out the door. We had to wait a while but we found everywhere on our travels - if in doubt just join the longest queue! If there's a long line of locals you know it's going to be worth the wait!

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Lifestyle // Tokyo Skytree

Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree

If there's one thing you must do in Tokyo, it's visit the Tokyo Skytree. This huge building quite literally towers over the city as it's the world's tallest tower! Tokyo is a huge city in terms of landmass but because it doesn't have too many skyscrapers and the tower is located out of the business district it means that the views from the top of the tower are incredible!!!

My photos really don't do it justice. It's hands down the best view I've seen. Both myself and Stew felt it beat the Sydney view we saw from our amazing dining experience there, and it also beat the view from the top of the Empire State Building (bold words I know!). 

Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree

It was so breathtaking and because we went up at sunset (around 5pm in January) it meant we got to see the city change from daylight to nighttime, lighting up as far as the eye could see. We were also told that on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji in the distance too. 

The Tokyo Skytree is very reasonable too at just £10 for the initial viewing platform and then an extra £5 if you want to go up a further 5 floors to the highest point. There is also a cafe at the top for you to have a coffee and gaze out at this magical landscape. 

Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree Sweet Monday blog, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Lifestyle // Tokyo, Japan

Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree

We have now left Japan and are beginning the next chapter of our travels in China. Japan is a beautiful country and I would highly recommend visiting if you haven't already. It's steeped in natural beauty, fantastic architecture (both old and new), phenomenal food and home to wonderful people. Nothing was ever too much trouble for anyone to help us with, even when they couldn't speak English they were still willing to help us if we were stuck. It really struck us just how kind Japanese people are, especially to tourists. 

Highlights for me included Kyoto, seeing snow monkeys and visiting Hiroshima. But of course the piece de resistance has to be Tokyo!! We ended our 3 weeks in Japan in the capital city, spending 9 incredible days soaking up the hustle and bustle. 

Below are a few of my favourite snaps from this wonderful city including Shibuya Crossing (the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world), our first experience of sumo, Sega and the many other Japanese arcades, Uobei (the most fun sushi dining experience we've had), feeding birds, eating ramen (LOTS OF RAMEN), fresh wasabi and colourful seafood at the Tsukiji fish market, the view from the Tokyo Skytree and finally the first blossom of the year. 

Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Shibuya Crossing Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Sumo Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Sega Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Uobei, Sushi Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Ramen Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, fresh wasabi, fish market, tsukiji Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, fish market, tsukiji Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Skytree Sweet Monday, Tokyo, Japan, blossom

I plan to do a food diary of our time in Japan as there were just too many great places that we ate at to blog about individually. 

If you have any questions about Japan, are planning to travel here and what some info, I'd love to hear from you and try to help as best I can :) Feel free to email me on kim.parslow@gmail.com

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Lifestyle // Snow Monkeys!

Snow Monkey Park, Snow Monkeys, Nagano, Japan

I can't wait to share this post with you. Just looking at these photos again makes me squeal with excitement. This was by far the best day of our trip in Japan. From Nagano in the Japanese Alps, we took a day trip to Snow Monkey Park to see snow monkeys in their natural habitat - and the trip most definitely didn't disappoint!

Snow Monkey Park, Snow Monkeys, Nagano, Japan Snow Monkey Park, Snow Monkeys, Nagano, Japan

We were really lucky with what time of year we visited Snow Monkey Park as it's Winter there were huge amounts of snow making the hike up the mountain look so so beautiful. We hadn't seen snow this deep in years so it was super exciting for us!

The walk itself is breathtaking and we had to keep stopping to take a zillion photos but then once at the top you can see the snow monkeys immediately and it's literally the most special moment. 

Although there are humans everywhere they don't care whatsoever and run all over the pathways, fences, up the trees, all over! They were getting in between our legs squealing and play fighting with each other. It was a real sight! And in the midst of all the chaos is a hot spring where they bathe and keep warm. Because they go from being so cold to so hot their faces light up a bright red colour!


Snow Monkey Park, Snow Monkeys, Nagano, Japan Snow Monkey Park, Snow Monkeys, Nagano, Japan

It was like seeing something on David Attenborough! I couldn't believe that we were seeing snow monkeys up close and personal. It was really fantastic! Although they are fed occasionally to keep them in the area, the landscape is still very much their natural home and minus the other onlookers it's really the most beautiful sight!

It's a little tricky to get to if you're only in Japan for a couple of weeks but it is possible to take a day trip from Tokyo. It's just a very very long day as it takes a while to get there on the bus. Because we have over 3 weeks in Japan we were able to add Nagano into our loop of southern Japan and stay there the night. Either way it's a must see!

Snow Monkey Park, Snow Monkeys, Nagano, Japan

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