22 February 2015

Tokyo - Day 1

I took the photograph above in the Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo. It may just look like teaware next to a window but funnily enough, it actually reflects one of my most memorable moments from my visit to the city. Sipping Japanese green tea in the bath as the sun set on that breath-taking view was something special.

And I thought it would be a nice picture to start on.

The view from our room on the 48th floor of this huge skyscraper in Shinjuku was much more than I'd expected.

Although on day one of our visit the heavy rain and fog restricted the view somewhat, on the following much brighter/blue sky days, we could clearly see Mount Fuji in the distance...


I have very good things to say about this hotel. Trip Advisor contributors have put it in the top five and quite rightly so. We had great service, our room was modern and spotless, the view speaks for itself and the food was excellent. 

For that last reason, we ate our breakfast at the hotel buffet in their Girandole restaurant each morning.

And one night dined at their dynamic New York Grill.

Fear not people; I am going to get out and about and see real Tokyo and its local food. It won't all be steak and scrambled egg! I just thought I'd show you what this renowned hotel has to offer first. Also, Alex isn't a fan of fish, sushi and seafood (why did we come to Japan again?) so our evening restaurant choices were made accordingly.

The New York Grill fit the bill and was certainly no letdown. A professional service, wonderful food and spectacular night time views.

Latched on to the side of the restaurant is the New York Bar; the location for many smouldering scenes in Lost In Translation. A jazz band performs there every Sunday night and we were lucky enough to grab a table in the bar after dinner to catch the performance. It was certainly a cool and stylish place to sip a cocktail pre or post meal.

With the help of the internet, my Rough Guide guidebook and lovely blogger Pheebz, I had come up with a half decent tourist itinerary. Day one, unfortunately, was a total wash-out from around noon onwards which did make the whole wandering around thing a little less enjoyable but we still managed to cover some intriguing bases!

Before the rain blessed us with its arrival, we headed to Chiyoda to see the Imperial Palace as well as have a  mooch around the huge and bustling Tokyo Station.

It may have been rather early in the morning for strong food smells but the station's food hall was a must see. In Japan, the department stores have seen plummeting sales over the last decade but one area of constant popularity is the basement food hall. Busy commuters flock here to pick up a last minute meal but for us outsiders, it was a feast for the eyes! There was all kinds of meat and seafood, luxurious bento boxes, tempura, miso and packaged sweets. Much of the food was being prepared freshly by the chefs in tiny kitchens behind the counters.

There was the more unusual stuff too. Chocolate cream sandwich anyone?

Having craved avocado all holiday, I decided to try one of these interesting little items

Quite pretty in a weird way, aren't they? The taste was an unusual combination of savoury avocado with the sweet gel-like coating. I'll be honest with you; I had no idea what I was eating!

As we all know, the Japanese love their ultra cute cartoon characters. Hello Kitty, Moomins and various other cute, big-eyed brands are everywhere!

Alex and I mainly used the subway system to get around the city. Although the tube map is a little intimidating on first inspection, it's actually reasonably simple to get around.

Also, you can use your phone and the internet down there! Great!

It had already started to drizzle by late morning but a slow walk through Chiyoda to the Imperial Palace and through its park was still very pleasant.

The Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. It's a large park-like area containing lots of beautiful trees, water, high walls and of course the main Palace.

Next we moved onto the shopping district of Ginza - an area where you can find copious world class designer boutiques and department stores - then onwards to Akihabara.

Akihabara is known as Tokyo's "electric town". The buildings are towering and colourful with gaming characters slapped all over them.

As Alex went browsing for a new laptop, I had one eye in the guidebook to find us somewhere interesting to have something to eat and drink.

We ended up in Maidreamin.

In hindsight, I'm unsure whether this was a ill-advised idea or pure genius!

Maid cafes are popular in Japan. Waitresses dress in maid costumes and act as servants, treating visitors as masters (and mistresses!) in a private home rather than customers. Sounds a bit odd, right? Well, Maidreamin is just plain bizarre! On arrival we were greeted by several over-excited girls, giggling and trying to talk to us - loudly - in Japanese as they guided us to our table inside a very pink parlour.

 The girls were so funny; we could not stop laughing at the bizarreness of it all! They were running around, shouting into the microphone on a small stage, doing dance routines, taking photos and generally acting like kids on a sugar high!

We spent quite some time trying to make some sense of the mainly indecipherable menu...

After being guided through a short choreographed routine by one of the maids - this included rabbit ears, weeping eyes and love heart actions - Alex and I eventually managed to put an order in for an ice-cream. The food didn't look amazing but we concluded we'd be safe with ice-cream.

And this was it. Unsurprisingly, cute bear-shaped!

Maidreamin walks a thin line between being totally cute and a little bit on the creepy side. It's a bit of a culture shock! But if you arrive with an open mind and fancy a belly laugh at these crazy maid's antics, then it's just a really fun experience.

As if nothing could be any more confusing than that, not long afterwards we ended up (thanks to Alex) in a Pachinko parlour.

Pachinko is an incredibly noisy (almost deafening!) and repetitive form of gambling that plays a big part in the Japanese economy. It involves small steel balls that are shot into a vertical playing field by gripping a round knob on the lower right hand corner of the machines. If a ball enters the 'start' hole, some kind of crazy game starts. Again, we had no idea what was going on or what we had to do. We even had to ask someone where to put our money following twenty minutes of trying to figure it out! But despite our failure to be charmed, the locals sit in lines playing this game for hours and hours. They are totally gripped by it! There was even a shower in the parlour in case you were there so long you needed to freshen up! 

We moved on, still trying to avoid the pounding rain outside.

A darts bar caught our eye. Darts! We could totally do that without too much confusion!

A few beers and several rounds later (I won! woohoo!), we were ready to head back to the hotel.

Day one may be have been a wash out but it had still been utterly fascinating!


13 February 2015

Once In A Blue Moon

With Valentine's Day almost upon us, I thought it would be an apt time to share with you one of my most romantic experiences.

It was our final day at the Four Seasons and I had booked for Alex and I to have our last meal somewhere a little more distinct than in one of the hotel's restaurants. Tonight, we were going to dine under the stars, right on the beach. The evening prior, we had seen another couple enjoying their dinner under a canopy in the middle of the main beach. It had looked very nice, don't get me wrong (how could dining on a Thai beach not be?) but I thought it seemed a little uninspired and a bit too...visible. But it would still be nice!

It's safe to say that we weren't expecting anything as unforgettable as what were given.  

It was a perfectly calm evening. The full moon was glistening on the ocean. We arrived at the beach and were greeted by a sweet man who introduced himself as our personal butler. Because we were expecting to be lead over to the main hotel beach, we were surprised when we were taken by torchlight in the opposite direction down a long, sandy, tree-lined path. It felt as though we were in on a secret! I couldn't help but squeal with delight when I saw our dinner table. We had been taken to such a beautiful secluded cove surrounded by rocks and lantern adorned trees, right next to a isolated piece of beach.

As well as the gentle sound of the waves in the background, we were also graced with our own entertainment; a woman playing lovely, relaxing Thai music the traditional khim.

As I was about to take my seat, Alex presented me with a stunning bouquet of red roses. My heart jumped with happiness! It already felt like the night couldn't be more perfect.

The hotel's executive chef Alex Gares prepared the menu; all we had to do was choose whether we wanted Thai, Western or modern cuisine (we went Thai) and let them know of any dislikes or allergies you might have (no mushrooms or seafood for Alex!). 

We were given a couple of welcome glasses of bubbles to start things off. After that, each course we had was paired with a specially chosen wine from around the world. 

Both the food and drink were wonderful as well as plentiful. Our brilliant butler was at hand for our every whim. It was so amazing that I felt like I could have stayed forever! But we had an early flight to Tokyo to catch the next day; we eventually had to head back.

The evening concluded with the release of a khom loy sky lantern for good fortune. We both made a wish before letting go and watching the lantern float off towards the stars.

And that photo is the closest Alex will ever get to featuring on this blog! 

It was an immensely special evening it was for both Alex and I. The exquisite surroundings, delicious food and wonderful service all under the moonlight was quite simply perfect. I'd never felt more happy and in love.

Whether you're all loved up, on the lookout or happily single; I hope you have a fabulous Valentine's Day!