Let’s Go On A Road Trip

Hello! It’s been awhile since we got together for coffee. Let’s change things up a bit and go on a road trip, grab coffee on the way, shall we? Let’s go.

First early Christmas decor spotted. No halloween things spotted so I guess that’s off the table for most people.

Phew! Didn’t really expect to hit some traffic this early. The skies are a bit gray but I don’t think it will rain, not soon anyway. First order of business: let’s get you and me some coffee in our system.

View of Taal Volcano
More of Taal Volcano, a unique and dangerous beauty found in the south of Manila, Philippines, arguably the smallest active complex supervolcano on the planet. Taal lake partially covers its caldera or crater.
And more. First road trip and nature walk in months!
All squared up for kindasquare

I ordered a latte for myself and a cappuccino for you. These cakes/pastries are making my mouth water. I’ll let you pick this time.

A square cake from a bistro
Burnt Ube (water yam/winged yam/purple sweet potato among its names) Cheesecake goes really well with brewed coffee.
Hubs been craving this for days: apple tart from Rowena’s.
How about some chocolate crinkles?
Sylvannas, anyone?

I haven’t told you, one of the reasons we’re here is to do a site survey. We’re building our first house over there, leaving the busy city and trading condo living for this, maybe for good. Work and business are lining up especially these past months such that we can all work remotely with the teams and hold most meetings online. We’ll probably just go back to the city once or twice a month with the processes we put in place, fingers crossed. I just know I can get more writing done here, go for a hike every week and swim in the lake or nearby beach any time we fancy. And hubs can finally have some space for a workshop for his furniture projects. Having this to look forward to definitely makes the long hours and everything else thrown our way this year more bearable.

How about you, what gets you going/how do you pick yourself up especially on days when getting up seems harder, you feel sluggish or too crazy to work? Do you get those days, too?

Let’s drop by the garden near the fruit stands and souvenir shops we wanted to check out last time. Don’t forget to wear both face masks and shield as some shops don’t let people in without both on. I’m picking a random spotify playlist on. Any rock out song you have in mind for the drive back? Ooh, these are good ones.

Thanks for playing along. You got some nice set of pipes, my friend. Bye for now. Take care and until out next road trip.

The coffee share is hosted over on Eclectic AlliHere’s the link to join in. Also linking to Kinda Square for the cakes and Taal volcano shots.

Bread Talk

This week, Dr. Tanya’s 5 Things is all about bread. I had a hard time picking just five, though. What can I say, I’m still a foodie, pandemic or not.

Banana bread

Photo by Mimi Moromisato on Pexels.com

Here’s another one.

Photo by Mimi Moromisato on Pexels.com

Baguette

Photo by Mariana Kurnyk on Pexels.com

Garlic bread

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com

Flatbread

This feels like cheating, but I love me some flatbread. Tortilla, naan, roti, paratha, focaccia, even some frybread. Yum…

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com
Photo by Jep Gambardella on Pexels.com

Shokupan or Japanese Milk Bread

There’s a method to this pillowy soft, fluffy, delicious goodness. Read more here.

a freshly baked shokupan Japanese milk bread loaf on a cooling rack
Photo from http://www.chopstickchronicles.com

Filipino bread

Again, feels like cheating but I want to mention some of them for posterity lol. From the humble pan de sal, asado roll, siopao, hopia to ensaymada, egg pies, buco pies (ok, the latter three are more pastries).

Pandesal
pan de coco
Image from https://www.thespruceeats.com/inside-a-filipino-panaderia-3030321

Dang, that went over 5, not even including bagel. These days, or for almost a year now, I’ve been trying to pick the healthier options like whole wheat, multi-grain bread more often than not and indulge on some of my faves only once in a while.

#5things

Oojamaflip

British slang for something un-nameable or unspecified or temporarily forgotten.  Don’t I get that a lot these days..

taipei_street2
Exploring food street in Taipei, tried all sorts of who-knows-what

 

46-boodle
During a boodle fight – there was a time when I used to eat a LOT and not gain a pound; good times

Posted as part of One Word Sunday

Liquid Trail

Tinipakriver
Tinipak River in Rizal

 

lakeside
Lakeside in Tagaytay at sunrise one summer

coffee
All-time fave coffee with lava sugar while enjoying a view of Mt. Fuji

 

 

fish.jpg
Clearest pond I’ve seen during spring in Japan

 

well.jpg
A sacred well in Japan – can’t touch it!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Liquid

A Big Slice of Culinary Heaven that is Japan

My first trip to Japan with hubby was nothing short of wonderful.  I did expect it to be very enjoyable, having read and studied about the Japanese, their language and culture, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the sensory overload, the cultural experience.  The weeklong experience deserves several posts, but I’ll try to keep them few and cohesive.

Back in university and when I started traveling around the country and across Asia was when I realized that the best ways to learn about and immerse in a culture was to learn the language system and culinary influences.  But who has time to learn a language before every trip, right?  That makes food the best and most enjoyable starting point, at least for me.  Oh, I know plenty (or some) about Japanese food and language alright, but that’s nothing compared to experiencing Japan on the ground; the sensory impressions will have you stay or at least, come back for more.  Let’s start with the food crawl (part 1).

Tempura course, Edomae set plate from historical tempura restaurant Tsunahachi in Shinjuku

tempura platter
Tempura at its finest

The tsukemen (special dipping noodles) and special ramen from Fu-unji were quite unforgettable

fu unji
Discover umami in a bowl

fu unji2

Probably the cheapest Michelin star meal you can get in Tokyo, but nothing short of fantastic, from Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima

nakajima

sardines
Sardine sashimi and fried sardines.  Super fresh and tasted soOo good!

Try one of the best gyoza in Tokyo from Gyozaro/Gyoza lou in Harajuku

gyoza

In Tokyo, you will not run out of good food at reasonable prices; you do not have to search long to find good chow, you just bump into it.

Satisfy your Takoyaki cravings at The Gindaco. 

Gindaco

takoyaki
Takoyaki cravings satisfied

You’ll never go wrong with rotation-sushi or sushi-go-round

sushi go round

Try the lava rock roasted coffee and lava hotdog from Lava Café in Mt. Fuji Heritage Center

lava meal

Learn the proper way to enjoy matcha

Matcha
It’s all in the preparation

Japan’s food game is strong, period.  And street food is no exception

street food2

Hoard-worthy street food during tours

street food

Sushi fest at Midori Sushi

sushi platter
Don’t miss that sushi experience unlike any other

If you need a break from Japanese food (but who would wanna…??), check out Shin-Okubo, Tokyo’s Korea Town for some Korean food well-loved by the Japanese.

dak galbi
One of the current faves at the time of our visit — Cheese Dak Galbi

There goes part 1.  Itadakimasu! 🙂

Wandering in Japan

It was decided a month or two before our wedding, ‘why don’t we go to Japan?’.  Sure, new hubby and I both studied Japanese in school, we both were (still are) anime fans, we are familiar and greatly admire the trust culture and discipline that is the Japanese brand.  But I was still pleasantly surprised to learn that this country is both in our bucket list.  That’s it, then, our honeymoon (series, I might add) will start in Japan.

Blooms pictured in Ueno Park

Spring blooms

Hubby and I are both city people, but I have a frequent yearning for the outdoors and nature, and will probably survive if not love living in a farm given the chance.  We’re both foodies, and love to localize.  So we decided to stay mostly in Tokyo for food crawls and spend a day touring Mt. Fuji.

Long Walks in Shinjuku

On our first day we decided to check out the train systems, navigate the streets near the hotel — in the process, tried to practice our very rusty Japanese — and enjoy our first meal in Japan.  We weren’t disappointed; Tokyo IS a culinary heaven.  More details on our food stops here  😉

Harajuku Bargain Shopping

Takeshita

We didn’t expect it to still be very cold when we arrived (3-16 degrees Celsius) days before the cherry blossoms start to bloom.  We took this as an opportunity to explore and maybe score good finds in trendy Takeshita Street in Harajuku, said to be the hub of Tokyo Street Fashion.  I scored a pair of low-heeled boots for $4, some souvenirs good for family and colleagues for less than $5, an irresistible black coat for me and leather shoes for hubby.  At this point we knew it was time to go and resist temptation.

Now we heard and read from a lot of people that Japan and Tokyo in particular can be very expensive, and so we were both surprised to discover that it’s not, If you knew where to book and dine.  More on this in another post 😉

Gindaco

Shibuya Crossing aka The Scramble

The Scramble

Since Harajuku and Shinjuku are not so far apart, we just had to check out what the Scramble was about 😉

We can’t help but admire how the Japanese revere their elders, history and culture in the way they preserve and frequent shrines and museums.  Not only were there a lot of foreigners (us included) visiting the parks, shrines and museums, there were many locals visiting as well.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji2

Meiji

We devoted a day to explore the parks and museums near Ueno Park, the 1st public park of its kind in Japan.  It is surrounded by government museums (Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, Shitamachi Museum), Ueno Zoo and Shrine and is a good viewing spot for cherry blossoms.

National Museum2

Tomb covers

Picture wall

National Museum

The next day, we booked a day tour to Mt. Fuji that included a trip to some nearby villages, 5th Station and some outlet stores.  Mt. Fuji is so majestic, my photos don’t do it justice…The country’s tallest peak, it’s commonly called Fuji-san, and is one of Japan’s 3 sacred/holy mountains.  It’s snow-capped about 5 months in a year and best time to hike or at least, most hikers visit from July to August.

Mt. Fuji

Mt Fuji

How ingenious!  Lava sugar and lava hotdog from a café in Fujisan World Heritage Center

Lava coffee and hotdog

Matcha Ceremony in one of the villages near Mt. Fuji

Matcha

We were so lucky to score free overnight stays in Grand Hyatt for the first 3 days of our time in Tokyo, after which we decided to check out Airbnbs nearby.  The law legalizing airbnb rentals in Japan will take effect in June 2018, but we heard there are more restrictions set by many local government compared to other countries.  So best to coordinate with your airbnb host prior to booking and book in advance.

Exploring Tokyo’s Korea Town in Shin-Okubo

Dak Galbi

On our last day, we explored Korea Town after packing up.  We had to check if our luggage can still be closed and not exceed our limit at this point 😉  I’m not very much into make up, but finding Japanese and Korean skincare products and even make up at 20-50% less than what I normally pay for it is such a delight!  Japan being an expensive city to visit is such a myth.  Just do your due diligence and plan your itinerary (loosely or not) to have some sort of guide while you’re there and check out travel blogs for tips.  Or you can always opt for tours to be on the safe side, but at a higher rate.

Overall, our stay in Japan was so refreshing, it provided us with the needed relaxation, interesting cultural experience and time together after all the wedding fun and excitement and, let’s face it, stress that came along with it.  All the good things you’ve probably seen in social media or heard from other people are true; the clean streets, great food, high tech toilets, respectful people, beautiful cities and countryside, and then some more.  It’s a place and culture you have to see and experience at least once in your life.  It’s becoming our favorite city so far, and maybe country, but check back with me in a year and we’ll see 😉

 

 

Wandering in Taipei

taipei museum

It was a spur-of-the-moment trip that turned out really well; a next visit becomes a must. Taipei turned out to be a gem; a very budget traveler-friendly, culture-rich, foodie paradise. One long weekend spent there would have been enough, but you’ll definitely go for more.

We were supposed to just visit Japan for the 1st time this year, but news of visa suspension in Taipei starting June and promo fares from different airlines for this destination got me curious and gave me itchy feet. So we booked a 3-day weekend trip around mid-July for my birthday. Unfortunately, the visa suspension was moved to September of this year while they’re working out the whole process. We still went anyway; applied for an e-visa online and got them in a couple of days. Kudos to Taiwan embassy for a quick and efficient visa application process.

While there, we tried AirBnB for the first time abroad after the first day at a hotel near the airport. As an AirBnB host myself, I fully support this community and was not disappointed. The listing we booked was a fully-equipped studio minus a kitchen, with basic essentials provided. Having a loosely set itinerary, we were lucky enough to find a room in a hotel the first night in Zhongzheng District, one of the recommended spots where many landmarks like National Museum, Library, Book street are walking distance to. Walking aimlessly, we saw and sampled food stops where the locals flocked; had traditional breakfast at an intersection near Chongqing South Road aka book street before checking out the museums, libraries, stores and parks. If you’re a fan of milk tea, lots of good shops abound and the drinks are really good (and cheap!).

taipei peace park

Taipei_museum2.jpg

After the morning stroll and breakfast, we checked out of the hotel to transfer to our Airbnb booking in Zhongshan district; It would have been easy with the train but we opted to get a cab first what with baggage and all, plus the place is relatively near so it won’t put a dent on our budget. Before hailing a taxi though, we tried if we can successfully ride the train armed with just waze and some guidance from several google searches. We stumbled upon a mall called SYNTREND and some IT shops nearby. Woah, were we tempted to buy some tech stuff. Turns out Taipei can be a good source for your tech/gadget/PC needs (NAS, Hard drive, VR, etc.) if you’re into those (like me!).

After exploring this trendy mall and IT hub, we sampled some snacks, more milk tea, juice tea and hailed a cab to rest a bit in our room before exploring the night markets. If you’re new to this, Nighxia night market is a good place to start; not as overwhelmingly large as Shilin yet food quality and variety is pretty good.

taipei_street2

The street food scene in Taipei is just amazing! At first I wondered why all my search results of Taipei including any other keyword i.e. culture, nature still bring up food recommendations. Will it not be a culture trip as well? But sampling the street food from almost anywhere and in night markets, I eventually understood; Taipei food game is so strong, you can’t mention it enough.

This almond tofu dessert is a light and refreshing treat.

taipei_street1

This peanut roll with ice cream is so flavorful. The peanut shavings are just right, but added with the flavored ice cream scoops and coriander, it becomes something strangely delightful.

taipei_street.jpg

We tried so much more like the giant deep fried seafood wontons, seafood/oyster omelette, fritters, mochi, skewers, we didn’t have room anymore for the other good stuff. We didn’t stuff ourselves silly, and somehow the food, though mostly fried, were not too heavy yet satisfying.

This Hello Kitty Kitchen/Café was a welcome surprise we stumbled into while finding our way around the city.

taipei_street4

By the 2nd day, we were feeling more comfortable, surprisingly settled in and adhering less to the just-in-case itinerary I drafted (I prefer to not be touristy and do as the locals do when I travel). We decided to revisit some places we saw on the first day and explore a bit more around them. I couldn’t help but admire the simplicity yet advancement I was seeing — most of the building were old yet functional in terms of architecture and interior; big commercial buildings coexist with small businesses/shops and do not seem to threaten the other’s existence; bikes, motorcycles abound and share the same roads and lanes with cars and other motorists (no dedicated bike lanes needed) and are highly safe, they can park without locking the wheels and some even leave their bags and helmets on their bikes.

taipei nights3

taipei nights2

Taipei’s transit system is probably one of the best I’ve tried; it was well-connected and user-friendly, you can reach any place in Taipei (haven’t explored outside the city) and even the airport by it. The city seems big but no wonder there were more people using bikes, motorcycles and the MRT than cars. They say this is a sign of advancement and I couldn’t agree more. The traffic volume (cars) seems more or less the same on the weekends and the weekday we were there.

Lastly, there was a modesty about the city, in the age, design and look of their buildings, the cars on the road, the prices of their products and the bustling food (especially street food) scene. There are not many western brands as well as the local businesses seem to thrive and are not ousted by big brands. It seems this is a city that is properly developed, not given in to over commercialization or gentrification. It maintains its cultural identity. Quiet revolutionary comes to mind.

taipei nights

Now before I geek out and overthink, I’ll just go back to vacation mode, enjoying a milktea.

taipei milktea

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