Monthly Archives: March 2016

4 Things About Japan’s Cherry Blossom Season

30th March 2016

sakura cherry blossom japan

From late March to mid-April, Japan’s cherry blossoms attract visitors from over the world to witness the pink flowers smothering the country in pastel glory and making it pinker than a brand new Barbie collection. I missed the actual hanami bit, but did spot some late bloomers and since I read into it I thought I’d share some things you need to know.

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are only in bloom for about 2 weeks out of the whole year. When this exactly happens varies from year to year, but as soon as the blossoms are in full bloom, they’re already starting to wilt and die. But every year, just like the pumpkin spice latter, they return!

The cherry blossoms are very important to Japanese people as many celebrations and festivals take place during the blooming season. The short blooming period is often compared to the transition nature of life, you know … It’s like that quote one of your friends lives by and reminds her that ‘every beginning has an end and that life may be very short, it’s still very beautiful’. Or even Leonard Nimoy’s “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

cherry blossom japan sakura

The season is very fleeting, with trees reaching mankai (full bloom) roughly one week after kaika (when the first blossoms open). Check japan-guide.com for the latest info on predicted blooming times to make sure you don’t let the pink parcels of paradise pass you by! The exact date for each region differs from year to year as it all depends on the weather, and the whole thing is actually monitored by media (told you it was like pumpkin spice latte season) as the full cherry blossom moves northward.

During hanami (the cherry blossom viewing, or take-as-many-selfies-as-possible) season, Japan goes absolutely cherry blossom mad. Not only are there blossom-themed events and festivals from Fukuoka to Tokyo and Sapporo, but even supermarkets get in on the pink. So don’t just look with your eyes, stuff some limited edition sakura-flavoured foods and drinks down your throat during your stay – can you go a whole day eating just pink things? If that wasn’t enough, even McDonalds introduced cherry blossom burgers with pink buns and sakura cherry soda floats.

Have You Ever Seen the Cherry Blossoms in Japan? Or is it something on your wanderlist?

LONDON HOOD YOU’LL LOVE: KENTISH TOWN

26th March 2016

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So, what’s next in my Hood You’ll Love series? Well, I’ll give you a clue…N5. No, it’s not a coordinates on a board game, but it’s the post code for Kentish Town. It might be close to the tourist-fly-trap that is Camden, but it’s far far from it in style, atmosphere and stuff to do. So next time you want to escape Cyberdog, Stable Markets and the remaining punks all you have to do is head north.

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KENTISH TOWN ROAD

The Abbey Tavern is one of my favourite pubs in London and I reckon I spent 1/3 of my time there when I lived in Kentish Town. If that’s not a great selling point, it’s their outside terrace garden that is the ideal spot for enjoying jugs of Pimms/beers, some food and a board game on a long, hot evening with the gang. Who can say no to a drunk game of Operation??

The Oxford is an ok pub and lunch spot, but what makes it worthwhile are its Puz Quizzes with a twist, clothes swaps and other fun events in their upstairs area. Just follow Wonder Woman and you’ll be in for a surprise.

Craving a bottle of craft beer, or possibly a crate? Well the main street, the imaginitively titled Kentish Town Road is home to two places to get your craft on. Of the two I prefer Clapton Craft, mainly because their logo has a bear, yes sometimes life decisions are very easy for me. And they also do two of my favourite beers from Netherlands. Wish that their location was a little more convenient because I would like to live there and look after the bear they must be keeping in the back room.

And because I haven’t mentioned enough places to drink on Kentish Town Road I have to add cocktail bar Ladies & Gentleman you might fall into at the Y Junction (yes it’s underground). And if you thought ‘HA, that sounds like a toilet.’’ You’d be right, it’s housed in a former underground toilet, but don’t worry, it’s been completely redone so no need to wash your hands, but it’s still chock full of cocks though … cocktails that is.

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HIGHGATE ROAD
Carrots + Daikon is the perfect lunch (and on weekends) brunch spot and my pick for the best Banh Mi in the city. You can’t go wrong chomping on their lunchboxes and pho with perfect flavour (though I can’t compare it to the real deal) which doesn’t drain the wallet. All in all: Carrots + Daikon pho the win! (Don’t tell me you didn’t see that pun coming).

It’s a bit of an odd location, tucked away in Kentish Town, but that way it feels more like a special secret when you find it. If you haven’t been able to get a table at Pizza East in Shoreditch, why not try the Kentish Town location for a slice of Italy? Fed up of dough? Well, there’s a bunch of antipasta dishes and salads too. Warning – be prepared for food coma.

If you look up as you wander around you’ll likely spot the gorgeous art deco Forum venue, that used to be a cinema in the 1930s and is now a live music venue, sadly the quality of bands there isn’t as reliable as the decor.

Right near the Forum is Dirty Burger, which, you guessed it, serves ‘Murican Style burgers. So if you appreciate a good, quality slice of meat with buns, you won’t be let down if you park yourself here. Their ethos is the patty as headliner and the toppings as a support act- the best combo. I know this sounds like a copy and paste from a press release, but trust me.

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FORTRESS ROAD
SK Vintage is a hidden vintage gem of discovery. It’s not extremely pricey like many other vintage places, and it has a large selection of items, though as with any vintage store, it’s hit or miss. What I’m trying to say that it’s basically that dream closet from your old aunt Mildred, but you don’t feel obliged to listen to her story for 100th time and eat stale biscuits.

Cinnamon Village is an organic bakery slash café that’s a healthy lunch spot…or so they try to make you believe. When in doubt go for the scrambled eggs on toast, trust me … they are hard to beat. The downside? The place is popular with young families, so if you want a bit of quiet to quell that hangover, it’s probably best to be avoided on weekends.

You know when as a kid you and your squad tried to keep up with the way cooler girls, but couldn’t? I’m being a bit dramatic, but that’s my take on Rustique, but like just like then you realise being the cooler girl isn’t everything and your squad is all you need in the end. But do give it a shot, if not just to see a coffee table shaped like two giant books – take note IKEA!

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Food I Ate In Japan and Where to Find it in London

20th March 2016

japanese food

My 2½ weeks in Japan were stuffed full with wonderful places, incredible history and delicious food. Today we’re talking food. Food! Food so good even now I look back, salivating, at my culinary photos and imagine the delights in front of me. Sometimes the dishes are memorable because I was a virgin to their tastes, or it was the ingredients, freshness, and preparation. Or, maybe, food is just always better on vacation…

Thankfully, London’s offerings have been so far just enough to satisfy my cravings for nihonryori (so I’m told), or Japanese food.

japanese foodOkonomiyak
Love pancakes? Yep of course you do, well let’s take that wonderful invention and toss in cabbage and a ton of savoury fillings like meat, squid, cheese or kimchi – and there you have it – my favourite dish from Japan. I forced as many down my throat as I could in Japan. From traditional restaurants to ones in shopping malls, I couldn’t get enough, top picks were a little traditional restaurant in Asakusa and in a mall in Osaka – despite it being in a mall it was amazing and had a giant queue to back it up.
Where to have it in London: Abeno, Abeno II in Soho and Okan in Brixton

japanese food
Curry

One of the best ways to plaster a smile on my face is with a full plate of katsu curry. Where meat or veggies are usually breaded with Japanese breadcrumbs called panko, then deep fried and served with a katsu sauce. Nara had my best one, all topped off by the fact I could pick as many sauces as I wanted so didn’t have to spend 20 minutes deciding which one I wanted.
Where to have it in London: Fujiya or Curry Ono in Brixton, Misato or Tokyo Diner in Central London. Don’t neglect Wagamama or Wasabi either.

japanese foodIzakaya
The Japanese equivalent of a pub or Spanish tapas bar, but way better, Izakaya is an ace way to dine. Tons of little bites to help the confused and indecisive diner (i.e. me!). So many flavours and less guilt too, and enjoy a drink why don’t you while there too.
Where to have it in London: The Woodstock Kushiyaki Bar in Soho

Ramen
What’s not to like about a hot bowl of tasty soup and noodles? And it’s cheap? And, it fills you up? I’m sold. On the coldest and wettest day was the perfect time to wrap my lips around some warm soup and noodles to warm me up.
Where to have it in London: Tonkotsu in Central and East London and Bone Daddies in Central London

japanese foodOnigiri
Onigiri is rice made awesome. Well, wrapped in Nori seaweed and combined with fillings or toppings like tuna, pickled plum, salmon, natto or pretty much anything. When I was there I was told they’re kinda the equivalent of sandwiches in Japan, ready to take anywhere. You would think this would be boring but the Japanese even know how to make their plain rice taste good.
Where to have it in London: Japan Centre in Central London.

Sadly I missed out chowing down on …. so I’ll just have to wait till I return to Japan to get my fix or wherever I encounter them, like in London. So let me know if you have any recommendations on these or any other Japanese food?

Experiencing a Long Layover in London Isn’t That Bad After All

8th March 2016

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Travelling to London usually involves visiting the British Museum, taking selfies with Big Ben, and watching the changing of guard at Buckingham Palace. While others take this customary trail, some journey off the beaten track to see a different side of things. However, at the back of everyone’s mind, there lies an often-overlooked yet sometimes inevitable factor that seeps so gently into the consciousness of all travellers: flight delays.

From time to time, being on a prolonged layover at a London airport such as Gatwick can be beneficial in terms of starting an exciting journey on the right foot or capping off an amazing trip. There are tons of fashion boutiques, delicious cuisines, and recreational facilities inside the airport. For this reason alone, it’ll be easy for almost everyone to blow off some steam and take advantage of a world-class landing field.

London Gatwick sits high above some of the world’s most active airports. In some ways, it represents the city’s congested streets by also having the second busiest total passenger traffic in the UK. The West Sussex landing field saw some 38.7 million travellers board 255,711 flights last year. With this comes the problem of finding suitable airport parking spaces. Parking4Less, a reputable aggregator based in the UK, conveniently lists five options passengers can choose from. North Terminal has the long stay and the summer special parking, while South Terminal offers long stay and long stay plus. There’s also short stay parking situated between both terminals.

Once inside Gatwick, travellers are treated to a plethora of places to see and things to do. First off, they can marvel at the beautiful works of art by Sir Peter Blake. The godfather of British pop art has 12 pieces installed on both North and South Terminals that celebrate all things great about the city. Aside from the array shopping and dining choices, London Gatwick has a Let’s Race! game that lets passengers try their hand at F1. The facility features state-of-the-art, full-motion Formula 1 simulators complete with three-panel monitors, surround sound systems, and open-cockpit racecars.

On the other hand, for travellers who have more time to spare, Gatwick Airport is surrounded by a number of leisure areas outside. Just a short commute from the airport is the Gatwick Aviation Museum, where visitors can find classic British aircrafts like Blackburn, Percival, and English Electric. Nestled less than two miles away from is the Archway Theatre. Here, tourists can catch one-of-a-kind productions from the town’s best amateur artists. The 95-seater theatre also got its name from being under the arches of the railway line.

All in all, experiencing a layover at Gatwick can be as straightforward as a trip to a recreational center. Good or bad, at the end of the day, travellers should just embrace the moment and look ahead at the next one.