Autumn in Tokyo, Day 2

29 October, 2016

We had planned to do a number of things today. First on the list was to go to the Veg Fest at Yoyogi Park. I suggested we walked to the event instead of taking the train since the weather was lovely and I needed some exercise. It was a pleasant walk through the park to get to the event square where the festival was being held. Along the way, we met hordes of tourists and Japanese families decked out in their best clothes making their way to the Meiji Shrine  There were some chrysanthemums on display along the path to the shrine which had intrigued the Western tourists more than the Asian ones, I noticed. We stopped by the souvenir shop at the park just to browse since we were early and the event would only start at 10 a.m. There’s quite a number of interesting items here and wished I had bought something to give away or to keep for myself.

Easy to pick out the Japanese from the other Asians – the former are better-dressed 🙂

Sarah consulting the map of the park
Probably the only gingko tree in the city that was eager to change its colour

Detailed information on the Veg. Fest was in Japanese so locating the event in that vast park posed a real challenge. After walking for almost an hour, we finally found it. Thank God we didn’t give up looking for it or it would have been a wasted trip. It was not held at the park but on the grounds opposite the park (where the fountain was). I had purposely skipped breakfast so that I could try a variety of foods they would have offered at this event. We got a burger, some Japanese wagashi, a bento box, sushi, cookies and cakes – all vegan and all yummy!

The most popular stall here
Oiishikatta desu!

Rice with anko (red bean paste), can’t remember it’s Japanese name (someone help, please)
Only found out when I reached home that they had an outlet at Isetan Shinjuku basement! I would have bought one of each on the day we left Tokyo to bring home if I had known!
Indian vegetarian is gaining popularity among the Japanese

If I’m not wrong, this 2-day event is held only once a year  (sometime in October or November) in Tokyo and also other cities like Kyoto and Nagoya. We were lucky that we happened to be here when this was held.

We crossed the road to get back to the park because I couldn’t wait to eat the foods we had bought. There were many benches at the park and we picked one quickly. There were many joggers at the park that morning . After finishing the bento meal, we made our way to the UN University where the farmer’s market was held. The farmer’s market at the UN University is now held every weekend, from 10 am to 4 pm. Besides dozens of stalls selling farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, there are also a few food trucks selling coffee, snacks and curry dishes. Do check it out if you happen to be in Tokyo during the weekends and buy produce direct from the farmers who grow them. You can either get off at Shibuya (exit 11) or Omotesando station (exit B2) to get to this market.

The goat was not for sale, ok!

Sarah had made an appointment to dye her hair at Assort Salon in Aoyama. As we were walking to the salon from the university, we chanced upon a rather interesting and cozy nook. There were stalls selling mostly foods and drinks. Sarah got a chai soya latte from a vegan foodstand.

While the princess got her tresses tended to, I walked around Aoyama. There’s a huge Franc Franc store located along the main road (address is 3–1–3 Minami-Aoyama) and for those of you who have missed the store since its departure from our sunny island, this is a must-visit. It’s a 4-minute walk from Gaienmae station. There’s a cosy cafe on the 2nd floor of this store should you need to take a break from all that walking.

I have always wanted to get one of these pretty aprons!

After walking for half an hour or so, I decided to go back to the salon, thinking that the treatment was going to be over soon. I couldn’t believe she was not even halfway through! Since she had asked for blue streaks in her hair, they had to bleach it first and then dyed it blue. The whole process took 4 hours! With a lot of time to kill, I asked if I could do a hair treatment since it looked and felt like it needed some pampering. I opted for the ‘Relaxation Head Spa, 45-minute’ treatment. It was stated on the menu that it would cost 6000 yen but I found out later that the cost did not include the cost for washing and blow-drying. Those two would add another 3000 yen.:( The head and shoulder massage I got was heavenly though. So good that at some point I think I fell asleep!

See how clean the floor is?

We left the salon 30 000 yen poorer. Service was good but not sure if it was worth spending that much amount of money. Anyway, money has been spent and lesson learnt, so move on.

It was already dark when we stepped out of the salon. There were a few vegan/vegetarian restaurants nearby and we settled for Brown Rice by Neal’s Yard Remedies in Omotesando because it was closest to where we were. We almost missed the path that would lead us to the restaurant. As you can tell from the picture below, the front of the restaurant is not visible from the street. The cafe specialises in healthy whole foods with most recipes based on Japanese cooking. Everything on the menu is vegetarian (and mostly vegan). Next to the cafe is Neal’s Yard Remedies, a natural cosmetics shop. After I paid for the meal, the cashier handed me a coupon which entitled me to a free ‘something’ from the cosmetics shop. I wasn’t sure what I was entitled to as she rattled on in Japanese while handing me the coupon but from the gestures she made, I guessed it could either be a free hand massage or free hand cream. I didn’t bother to go to the shop to claim my free gift/treatment. I was afraid that I would feel obliged to get something I didn’t need.

I wasn’t hungry since I had already eaten a lot earlier so I ordered one set dish for Sarah.

This meal cost 1300 yen

There was another item on the list that we did not manage to do today and that was to visit Shimokitazawa. We totally underestimated the time that Sarah would take to do her hair. By the time she was done, it was already past 5 p.m. So after dinner, we went back to the hotel and called it a day. We had walked more than 12 km and thought that was enough for the day.

Day 2, Christchurch, NZ

Saturday, 3 September

I picked out the Christchurch Farmer’s Market (at Riccarton House) from a list of 10 markets featured on a website because from whatever information was given, it sounded the most appealing to me. Also, not all of them were open on Saturdays. The market is situated on a lovely ground in a lovely neighbourhood. It is open only on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm. Get there early as there is limited parking space. That didn’t concern us because hubby just dropped us girls at the entrance and drove to the Air Force museum with Adam. You might want to consider doing the same arrangement if the male members of your party aren’t keen to visit the market.

We arrived slightly after 10 and the market wasn’t too crowded yet.

Sarah was delighted to see a wide variety of vegan foods she never had before. The vegan cheese made of nuts was surprisingly tasty!

The raw carrot cake reminded me of an Indian sweet.
Not all cakes were vegan. There were ‘normal’ cakes too. 😉

Have I tempted you yet?

This market runs all year round but only on Saturday mornings. The stalls, more than 80 of them, offer a wide variety ranging from fresh produce to artisinal bakes, both sweet and savoury. Please click on the link I provided above to check out what’s available in the market. Click ‘Traders Info’ and that page will provide you with links to the pictures of the goods sold at the market. There is plenty of space on the ground for you to lay out your mat and enjoy your purchase.  If there’s only one thing that I could suggest you buy from this market, it would have to be the Ashley River organic pear juice. It cost $5.50 for a 1-litre bottle. It is very cheap for an organic juice!  You can’t miss the stall because it only sells bottled juices.  Most of the vegetables sold here are organic and they are not pricey. If you have booked an apartment so that you can cook, do buy your vegetables here to support the farmers who care about sustainability and the environment.

One of the top things to do here according to trip advisor is to visit Akaroa. It is a historic French settlement about 75 km from Christchurch. There seems to be plenty of things to do here, from visiting museums to swimming with the dolphins, but we only wanted to have lunch and do an easy stroll around the bay area. We set off from the Farmer’s Market at 11.30 and arrived in Akaroa just in time for lunch.  I don’t have pictures to show how scenic the route to Akaroa was but Sarah made a video of the trip. Do check it out here!

A busker singing under the cherry blossom
We had lunch at this French restaurant. Food took quite some time to arrive.
Possibly the only person who’s fascinated with the blossoms

There’s a visitor centre, a small supermarket and a few shops selling souvenirs and housewares in this part of the town. We made a mistake of not driving around the town centre before settling for a restaurant. There were more restaurants and shops further down the road and that part of the town was more bustling. You might want to check out what else you can do at Akaroa and other side trips you can take from Christchurch here.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by Westfields at Riccarton. If you’ve never heard of Westfields, it is a huge shopping centre and you can find them everywhere in Australia. There has not been a trip down under without a visit to Westfields. 🙂 If I’m not wrong, there’s usually at least one huge store like Kmart or Target, and one huge supermarket like Coles or Woolworths (Countdown in NZ) in every Westfields. I usually do some research on what’s on sale in stores like Kmart, Target, Big W and the supermarkets before I make the trip (will give you shopping tips on a post specially dedicated to this later) but this time I didn’t because I didn’t have any intention to shop. Still, when I walked into Kmart and saw several household items like jars and serving wares that were just so pretty pretty, I was tempted. I picked up a set of a marble base with a glass dome cover that was going for only $19 (really!) but had to put it back on the rack grudgingly when my daughter said, “Mummy, do you really need that?”

The only other store I was interested to go to was the supermarket. They have a huge supermarket like Costco here called Pak’ n Save. Items that I spotted to be cheaper than back home were the cereals and granola bars. I didn’t spend much time here because I didn’t want to hold up everyone else with me. I usually and prefer to shop alone. So I can’t tell you what else is worth buying here except for the two items I mentioned before and some baking ingredients like flour and sugar.

Day 1: Christchurch, New Zealand

2 September, 2016

We arrived in Christchurch on a Friday morning. Hubby picked up the car while I purchased the sim cards at Vodafone for the four of us. Not sure if Vodafone offered the best plan because I didn’t shop around. Hubby rented a Toyota Highlander, an AWD 7-seater from Europcar. We needed a car that offered a lot of space for 4 suitcases and 2 big bags. Rental only cost $65 a day!

If you are feeling peckish and need some snacks before you check in to your hotel, drive to  Countdown supermarket (bearing the same logo as Woolworths) which is just about 700 m away from the airport. To be exact, the address is 530-546A Memorial Ave, Christchurch Airport, Christchurch 8053. We spotted it enroute to the hotel. Parking is free. If you’re familiar with those big supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths in Australia (Ozland I prefer to call it), this supermarket offers the same kind of fare.

If you are a big cherry blossom fan like myself, this is a good time to visit the South Island. You would be able to spot some spring/cherry blossoms along the roads as you make your way to the hotel. Read where to view the blossoms here.

I chose to book 2 rooms at Rendezvous Hotel instead of a family room so that we didn’t have to fight for one bathroom. Hotel was also preferred to a self-catering accommodation as I didn’t have the intention to cook while staying in the city. I assumed restaurants would be aplenty and it would also not be too difficult to find a halal one. The rate for one room/night was NZ$115, very reasonable for a hotel located in a good area and the rooms have a contemporary design (which was the main selling point for me). You can get your meals easily here as there are eateries below and some across the road at the New Regent Street. Parking at the hotel costs $20 overnight. You can leave your car at the porch when you arrive and they’ll provide a valet parking for you. Alternatively, you can park at the public car park just 30 m from the hotel. That will cost you $2/hr or $8 for a 12-hr parking period.

That Friday afternoon seemed to be a good time to visit the Botanical Gardens. There was hardly any other visitors so we felt like we had the park all to ourselves. Admission to the garden is free. There are parking spaces outside and you have to buy a ticket. I think parking costs about $4/hr. The visitor centre houses a cafe and a permanent exhibition which tells the story of Christchurch and Canterbury through plants and gardening. The cafe is bright and offers quite an extensive menu. We just wanted to sit and have coffee and cakes. I would have opted for something I usually don’t make, like perhaps the citrus slice, but before I could suggest that, hubby picked the banana cake with cream cheese frosting. It was delicious, nonetheless.

A riot of spring blossoms!

Tis’ the season for daffodils!
Another Sakura tree. Yes I’m obsessed with them!

Some trees are still bare though.

You can’t expect to see here the kind of spectacle the cherry blossoms in Japan create in springime. They are not grown in clusters that would result in a dramatic display like they do in Nipponland.

We headed to Nando’s (halal) for dinner. You can park at the designated lots along the road for free but it’s limited to half an hour only. If you’re a vegan like my daughter, there’s not much choice in this restaurant. She ordered a vegetarian paella which was too spicy though we had requested for ‘mild’.

I must say it was quite tricky to drive around the city because several roads were closed for repairs and the GPS wasn’t updated. Hubby used his wit and his good sense of direction to find our way back to the hotel. The city was pretty quiet. I read that many people left after the earthquake. It did look abandoned. Many buildings were being constructed/reconstructed and in varying degrees of completion. There’s not much to do in this city but I would still encourage you to come and stay for a day or two. I guessed the support it needs to rebuild the city would be boosted if more tourists come to visit. Give them your love and tourist dollars, ok. Watch Sarah’s video of Christchurch here to get a glimpse of the city.

Introduction

I’ve been sharing pictures of my travel on my facebook page to entice people to places I think are worth visiting but I want to be more helpful in providing information to friends who seek for more details. That’s how this blog came about. I don’t quite enjoy writing, to be honest, but some places and establishments that I have visited do deserve some shoutout. I wonder how long I can keep up with this blog. There are several places that I have visited the past few years that I really want to write about because the experiences there have been memorable. Most of these places don’t need much promotion from me actually (judging from the increasing number of tourists that have been flocking there) but there are some things that I’d like to share that could be useful to first-timers (hopefully). If you seek adventure in your travel, you have come to the wrong blog. Safety is high on my priority. So is cleanliness. 🙂

Coming right up is a post on my recent trip to the South Island, New Zealand.

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