Thursday, 30 April 2015

Caroline vs. Hong Kong (Arrival)

Waiting at our gate at Narita Airport

Leaving rainy Tokyo!

Hong Kong Island skyline from the ferry to Kowloon

Sunset in Kowloon

Back in February Clem and I took a vacation.  UTokyo (and most Japanese schools) have a major break in February and March, as opposed to the conventional May/June - August summer break most North American schools get, so we took the opportunity to leave Japan for a couple weeks.  Our first stop was Hong Kong; Clem had been once before, but this was my first time.  I was excited to see someplace new, and to hang out with some university friends I hadn't seen in a while.

We left grey, rainy Tokyo early in the morning, and were in sunny, humid Hong Kong by early afternoon.  Once through customs we stopped at an airport information centre to change our Japanese Yen to Hong Kong Dollars, and get sim cards and train tickets into town.  The sim cards ended up being great value: a five day connection with data capability for only $80 HKD each (roughly $12.50 CAD).  I wish it were this easy to get sim cards everywhere else in the world!  Getting to Hong Kong's Central Station was also really easy, as the airport is directly connected to the city with the Airport Express train, which is part of the MTR, and not that expensive: only$100 HKD (roughly $15.50 CAD) for a round trip ticket.

Once at Central we picked up Octopus Cards (Hong Kong's transit pass) and headed down to the ferry terminal to get across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon, where we were staying.  The ferry ride was quick, and offered a great view of the famous Hong Kong skyline.  It's also part of the Hong Kong transit system, so it is very cheap to use.  Once arriving at the Kowloon ferry terminal, our hostel was only about a 7 minute walk, including time spent dodging the people out in droves to enjoy the weather and take part in pre-Chinese New Year activities (read: shopping).

We stayed at one of many small hostels in Mirador Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui, which, to be frank, I did not love.  I was expecting a small place since Hong Kong is the most densely populated city in the world, and even though it was decently clean we still got what we paid for, i.e. not a lot.  I've stayed in some pretty crazy places around the world so I have a pretty high threshold for what I'm able to deal with, but I was just not happy at this place.  The location of the hostel was great and the owner was a lovely woman, but next time I'm in Hong Kong I might splurge a little more, and maaaaaaybe I might get a room with a window wand walls thicker than paper.

After checking in and doing quick outfit change, we escaped from Mirador Mansion and went to a nearby mall for a much-needed snack and cup of coffee.  Once our bellies were satisfied, we left the mall and walked along the Avenue of Stars, checking out some of the statues on the way.  Unfortunately there were so many other tourists milling about that I wasn't able to get any photos of them - so I just snapped the skyline instead.

Once the sun was setting we headed back up into TST and met our friend Vanessa for dinner.  We ate at Chicken HOF & Soju Korean (also known as Lee's Fried Chicken), which was just one in a line of Korean restaurants along Kimberley Road.  We ordered way too much (delicious) food, drank a giant pitcher of beer, and caught up on our lives.  After dinner we went right back to the hostel and straight to bed, after a long day.

xx, C.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Caroline vs. Omotesando Street Style

A few months ago, walking through the crowded and fashionable districts of Omotesando and Harajuku on my way to grab a cup of coffee, I scrambled to balance my camera and umbrella to capture a photo of these two girls.  Harajuku is known the world over as the home of some of Japan's most inventive, experimental and exciting fashion, and Omotesando is where likely fashion bloggers and future street style stars strut their stuff.  Even in the cold, rainy weather, people were dressing for style, not for comfort.  These two caught my eye because even though one is in a school uniform, they are wearing virtually the same outfit: flat shoes, knee socks, short skirt, big jacket, backpack, and the same transparent umbrella sold at every konbini across Japan.

I haven't been to this area in a while, but for more Harajuku street style check out Tokyo Fashion, which is regularly updated with eye-catching looks spotted around the district.

xx, C.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Caroline vs. Tsukiji Market

Back in February, when the days were shorter and colder, Clem and I decided to forego a full night's sleep one night and got up before the crack of dawn to have breakfast at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Market.  Getting tickets to the tuna auction is difficult (though recommended for people wanting the full market experience), so we decided to just go for a sushi breakfast.

The restaurants open around 5am, but lines start forming long before.  We headed straight for Daiwa Sushi, which is highly recommended.  It was still dark when we arrived, and pretty cold because of the wind and dampness coming off the harbour, but within about 45 minutes we were beckoned inside the cozy restaurant, with about 12 seats lining the counter, on the other side of which the sushi masters were at work.

Confession time: I actually really don't like a lot of seafood.  I wish this were not the case since I love eating well and trying local dishes when I travel, but it is what it is.  So I was a little nervous as we were getting ready to eat.  There was no set menu from which to pick and choose; the sushi was prepared from whatever the restaurant had purchased that morning.  And not only is it rude not to eat what the chefs put down in front of you, but they also want you to eat quickly so they can keep the line moving (though, in true Japanese fashion, they won't actually tell you this).  So I armed myself with some tea and a beer, in case I needed some help getting the sushi down.

The sun slowly rising as we wait for breakfast
One side of Daiwa Sushi - looking in as we wait to be seated
Our sushi master

It was all pretty good - even for someone as picky with seafood as I am.  I ate everything, with the exception of one very strongly flavoured piece of mackerel that I just could not swallow.  Thankfully Clem eats everything, so I covertly put the piece on his plate and he ate it for me.  I did really enjoy a piece of fresh, fatty tuna, and I even ate a crispy shrimp head!  The chef could tell I was struggling, but he was a pretty good-natured guy and I think he appreciated that I gave it a solid effort.

After breakfast we had a wander around some market stalls.  We picked up some adorable cat bowls; I may actually go back before we leave and get some more so we have a full set of four or six.  The sun was up by this point and the outdoor market was buzzing, but unfortunately shop and stall owners are not keen on having photos taken, so I just observed quietly.  That morning was quite cold, so after a quick walk around we headed back home for a nap.

Tsukiji is definitely one of those quintessential Japanese things that all travellers to Tokyo should see.  Breakfast sushi is definitely more expensive than it would be at a conveyor-belt place in Shibuya, but the sushi served at Tsukiji is top notch.  Having a big glass of beer was a good strategy for me, and might be something to keep in mind if you want this experience but are on the fence about seafood.  If you enjoy seafood and sushi, however, I have been told by multiple people that the sushi at Tsukiji is the best sushi they have ever had.

My parents and brother are visiting in a few weeks, I hope they are ready for the Tsukiji experience!

xx, C.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Caroline vs. Omotesando Koffee

Omotesando Koffee

Over the past few years I've really cultivated a love for cafés.  It really started the summer I lived in Berlin, since my apartment wasn't set up with WiFi and I had to venture around the city for places to work and eat.  In the subsequent couple years I frequented some great places in Toronto and Ottawa (favourites include Café Pamenar, l'Espresso Bar Mercurio, Blue Bird Coffee, Planet name just a few), and was looking forward to doing the same in Tokyo.

At first there didn't seem to be a typical "café culture" like I'd expected - I had no trouble finding a Starbucks wherever I went, but there was little evidence of the indie cafés I'd been hoping for.  Eventually though, with a little help from the trusty people at Phaidon's Wallpaper* City Guides and some Instagram stalking, I discovered a new favourite.

Omotesando Koffee is a tiny (and I do mean TINY) place in Harajuku/Omotesando, very well hidden off the main streets of the popular neighbourhood.  It is on the main floor a traditional Japanese style building, and has a small outdoor garden with a couple benches - not the sit-down-and-work-for-a-while place I was looking for, but it has a charm that draws constant business.  On sunny days, holidays and weekends the line can get pretty long, but on rainy days I've been able to walk right in, and even stand inside while I drink my delicious (and often much-needed) cup of coffee.  The whole operation is run buy one guy (who just exudes Tokyo-coolness), so it is extra amazing to see how fast he can produce drinks.

A cup of coffee is definitely not cheap in Tokyo, and Omotesando Koffee is no exception.  I just love this little place, though, so I will keep going back.  They also have beans for sale, so I can have a cup of this caffeinated goodness at home.

Do any of you have favourite Tokyo cafés?

xx, C.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Caroline vs. The Chic Canuck

Early last autumn one of my favourite bloggers Gracie Carroll launched an all-Canadian e-commerce site, The Chic Canuck.  They not only feature all kinds of goods designed and made in Canada, (including my favourite touch-screen gloves) but they also have a great blog highlighting Canadian style, food, and local tips and tricks for different Canadian cities.

I made my first TCC purchase in early November, when they offered free shipping for a weekend.  I got this sweet limited edition President's Choice tin that featured one of the best parts of my hometown: skating on the Rideau Canal.  I couldn't take it with me to Tokyo, but it's in a box at my parents' place, waiting for me to get home and decorate a place of my own.

From my Instagram, ft. a Dutch postcard from a good friend.

Recently TCC had some tote bags made up, and were offered free with any purchase.  Well, my friends, I love a good tote bag.  My obsession started the sumer I lived in Berlin - it seemed like EVERYONE was carrying a simple tote, and they all just looked so effortlessly cool.  I have built a small collection of my own, and I really wanted one from TCC - I mean, not only is their logo amazing and looks fab on a tote, but I genuinely love what they are doing for the shop local movement.  I'd been eying Ella's Botanicals Magic Balm for a little bit and thought about ordering it to my parent's place so I'd have a tote waiting for me when I get home in August.  But lucky for me, the TCC team very generously waived the international shipping fee, and I got to order the goodies right to my apartment in Tokyo!

The package arrived on a gorgeous day in the middle of sakura season, so I swapped out my regular bag for the TCC tote and went for a brief hanami and coffee with Clem.

I've also fallen deeply in love with the Ella's Botanicals Magic Balm.  I get rashy hands in both the dryness of winter and the sticky humidity of summer (I'm sure the fact that I wear multiple rings at all times does not help, but I will not stop!), so I've been trying a bunch of different balms and lotions to help soothe the irritated patches.  I like this one a lot because even though it leaves a shiny look to my skin, it doesn't leave oily residue, so I can keep doing whatever and not worry about getting any on my clothes or electronics.  So far it's been really good for eliminating the flaky skin and itchiness on my hands, and I've also been using it on my elbows to get a little extra softness back there.  It also smells amazing.  Lavender, you guys.  One of the best scents there is.

So thank you Ella's Botanicals for making local and natural products that actually work, and for The Chic Canuck for doing amazing work promoting Canadian design!

xx, C.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Caroline vs. The Bell Jar

I'm in a book club with some girlfriends back home, and even though I can't meet up with them to discuss the books, I'm still reading them.  I've been feeling a little homesick lately, so knowing I'm on the same page (literally) as some of my friends helps me feel a little better.

One of our recent books was The Bell Jar, the only novel published by Sylvia Plath and based partly on her life.  It is a modern feminist classic, and I'm glad I finally read it.  The main character, like Plath herself, suffers from mental health problems, and Plath explores how young women in 1950s New England were dealt with when mental health issues bubbled to the surface.  This book resonated with me because here we are, nearly sixty years later, and mental illness is still stigmatized, especially among people of privilege.  The Bell Jar isn't very long but covers some profound themes, and I would definitely recommend picking it up if you've been thinking of reading it.

Here are a few passages that I liked:
"...all the little successes I'd totted up so happily at college fizzled to nothing outside the slick marble and plate-glass fronts along Madison Avenue.  I was supposed to be having the time of my life." (p.2)
"It was my first big chance , but here I was, sitting back and letting it run through my fingers like so much water." (p.4)
"This kind of detail impressed me.  It suggested a whole life of marvellous, elaborate decadence that attracted me like a magnet." (p.5)
"Jay Cee had brains, so her plug-ugly looks didn't seem to matter." (p.5)
"They had the windows fixed so you couldn't really open them and lean out, and for some reason this made me furious." (p.17)
"I started adding up all the things I couldn't do.  I began with cooking." (p.71)
"The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from.  I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a Fourth of July rocket." (p.79)
"Marco looked at me.  'No,' I said.  'What do you mean, no?'" (p.102)
"A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death." (p.109)
"It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next.  It made me tired just to think of it.  I wanted to do everything once and for all and be through with it." (p.123)
"I felt surprisingly at peace.  The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head.  I was open to the circulating air." (p.206)
"Everybody would know about me, of course.  Doctor Nolan had said, quite bluntly, that a lot of people would treat me gingerly, or even avoid me, like a leper with a warning bell." (p.226)
"Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind snow, should numb and cover them.  But they were part of me.  They were my landscape." (p.227)

xx, C.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Caroline vs. Pinterest

It's been a rainy few days in Tokyo, so I thought I'd spend an afternoon reorganizing some items on my Pinterest.  I used to save pictures I liked straight onto my hard drive, which has left we with a gazillion photos with no sources.  Now with Pinterest I can save them all in one place and have sources at the ready! (Well, for the most part...).  What was supposed to be a quick project to decentralize my recipes turned into a whole thing, and I ended up reorganizing everything.  I love Pinterest, but man can it ever be a time-suck.  Here are some lovely things I've found on my reorganizing spree:

From my board DIYs To Attempt: "DIY | Easy Rope Shelf" from Burkatron
From by board People To See: "Breakout the Black" from Man Repeller
From my board Things To Eat: These pancakes posted on Vanita's Still Life
From my board Recipes: Dips & Spreads: "The Best Pesto You'll Ever Have" from A Cup Of Jo
From my board Recipes: Desserts: "Giant Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies" from What Megan's Making
From my board Future Children: "1930's Teen Delinquents" posted on Give Me Excess Of It
From my board Interiors: "Paris, France 1970 from Édouard Boubat: A Gentle Eye | Monochrome" posted on The Gifts Of Life
From my board Exteriors: "One Step, Two..." from Atelier Pour Enfants
From my board Flora: "Lavender Silhouettes" from Laurette van der Merwe on Flickr
From my board Cats: This chill cat posted on Golden Ponies
From my board Stripes: "YSL Coat, photo by Frank Horvat, 1964" from No Ones Nemesis
From my board All That Glitters: "Collector's Lockets" from BHLDN
From my board Hats: "Paris Fashion Week AW 2012...Peony" from Vanessa Jackman
From my board Wine & Champagne: "Like today, for example" from Indexed
From my board Odds & Ends: Mint balloons posted on Painting The Town Blonde
From my board Where I've Lived: Killeen: Postcard from the city I was born in on Texas Postcards
From my board Where I've Lived: Ottawa: "Fresh snow at UCV" from Dean on Flickr
From my board Where I've Lived: Valencia: "Day 28 - Dreaming of Valencia" from Paper Blog
From my board Where I've Lived: Toronto: "Year-long exposure of Toronto skyline produces 'dreamy' image" from the Toronto Star
From my board Where I've Lived: Berlin: "So You Think You Don't Know Freidrich Seidenstücker" from Kreuzberg'd
From my board Where I've Lived: Tokyo: This Yohji Yamamoto quotation posted on Style4Style
xx, C.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Caroline vs. Hanami

Golden Hour on the sakura in Yoyogi Park

It is officially spring in Tokyo!  The cherry blossoms ("sakura" in Japanese) have been in bloom for about a week, and everyone in the city is taking the time to see the blossoms and celebrate the arrival of longer days and warmer weather.

We have cherry blossoms in Canada, but "hanami," or blossom-viewing, is new to me.  Hanami is best celebrated with a group of friends and/or family on a big blue tarp laid out under a sakura tree, with lots of food and drinks.  Last weekend Clem and I went to a hanami picnic with some friends in Yoyogi Park, which was packed!  The first person from our group arrived mid-morning, and already the spots under the fullest trees were taken.  Apparently it's not unusual for people to camp out overnight, and there are even some companies that will stake out a prime sakura-viewing location and hold it for you (for a large fee).  We had a very relaxing afternoon catching up with friends, meeting new people, and drinking beer from sakura-themed cans.

Yesterday, Clem and I had another go at hanami, this time along the canals running through our neighbourhood.  The sakura trees drape over the water from a narrow path along the banks, so there is no room for people to lay out on tarps.  Instead, the area was pretty quiet - only a few small groups of people were walking along the paths, occasionally stopping to take some photos.  I was one of those people, and Clem kept exclaiming, "they all look the same!" but I paid him no mind and kept snapping away.

Some other popular places for hanami in Tokyo are Ueno Park and in Nakameguro, but since sakura trees are planted all over the city there is no shortage of blossoms available for Instagrams.