QF127 From Sydney to Hong Kong (II)

Date of Travel:  November 24 2014

ALWAYS stick to your original flight schedule!  NEVER EVER change it!  I received a massive wallop to my wallet to the tune of A$500 – because my fare is “no longer a cheap fare”???

Not happy but anyway, I got a lift to the airport from my friend who brought me for breakfast at Bread & Circus, a very popular cafe in Alexandria.

IMG_9762

‘Breakfast with Gwen’: 2 fried eggs, spinach and quinao & Sour dough, tomato and avocado

I didn’t particularly enjoyed the flight – squeezed in the middle – despite paying Business Class,  I was suspecting I’m going Premium Economy!  Anyhow, these are what I ate…(previous trip here)

I got the side of fruits because somehow in Qantas’ system, I’ve registered for a ‘Fruit Platter’?   But lucky, they had enough food around so I could order off Neil Perry’s Rockpool menu.

IMG_0545

Fruits

APERITIF:  Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc with nibblies.

IMG_0544

 ENTREE:  Quite liked this –  the eggplants and pomegranate

IMG_0547

Smoked Cured Lamb with Roast Eggplant and Capsicum, Pomegranate, Mint and Harissa Dressing

 MAIN:  Ocean trout was way overdone, me no like

IMG_0550

Pan Fried Ocean Trout with Zucchini. Chilli and Tomato Scapece. Polenta and Pine Nut Pesto

 DESSERT: Very enjoyable

IMG_0552

Cheese with Accompaniments

PRE-LANDING SNACK:  So not good…meh!

IMG_0554

Salt and Pepper Quail with Cabbage and Radish Salad

Summer Holidays 2014: South Italy, Malta and Cyprus

Hello Everyone!

I haven’t been blogging for ages but will resume as soon as I can after I finish my summer holidays. A lot has been happening around me and I feel that I need to get away to rejuvenate myself. Here are some pics of the first day of my trip to Capri Island (the anticipated Blue Grotto excursion was cancelled due to bad weather) and the long, winding beauty of the Amalfi Coast.

Speak soon! Ciao! 😘😘😘

20140801-081908-29948681.jpg

20140801-081909-29949741.jpg

20140801-081909-29949646.jpg

20140801-081909-29949045.jpg

A Modern Ryokan Experience @ Oyado The Earth, Toba, Japan

Date of Visit:  February 27 2013 (overnight stay)

To truly enjoy traditional Japanese hospitality, one should at least stay at a ryokan – like what I did for my little R&R after Tokyo Marathon 2013!

Never heard of a ‘ryokan’?  Easy-peasy, let me explain….

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns which became popular in the 17th century (Edo Period) to accommodate travelling merchants and feudal lords along the Japanese highways (gokaidou).

And for a more verbose explanation with historical perspective…

In feudal Japan, vast landholdings were controlled by the Daimyo, ‘territorial lords’.  In order to stop them from becoming too powerful and rebellious, the Shogun, ‘generalissimo’, issued a directive that all Daimyos have to travel to Edo (current day Tokyo) every other year (sankin-koutai) to spend a year in Edo where their wives and children were forced to remain as hostages.   Since the Daimyos travel in an entourage of hundreds of people, they needed frequent stops along the road to rest and eat, and thus the traditional inns were born to serve these needs.

Today, the ryokans continue as the cornerstone of Japanese culture offering retreats to visitors to immerse in traditional customs, cuisines and architecture.

Ditto-ed and onward to my stay at Oyado The Earth!!

*********

Oyado The Earth (OTE) is a 16-suite inn in the City of Toba located at the northeastern end of the Shima-hanto Peninsula in Mie Perfecture.  Bordering the Ise-Shima National Park and facing Ise Bay of the Pacific Ocean, Toba is also a beautiful place for boating and  hiking.  The area is famous for seafood especially oysters and cultured pearls.  Does Mikimoto ring a bell, Ladies?  I am sure that you are all too familiar with the name synonymous with the perfectly round pearls – and this is where it all started – Toba!

Nevertheless, the main reason I travelled down to Mie Perfecture was to visit Ise Grand Shrine – the most sacred shrine in  Shinto religion.  I was also lucky to have Taka, my friend whom I met in Hong Kong ages ago to volunteer as driver for Mom, Bro and I.  (FYI:  If you are not as lucky as us, OTE is 2 hours and 45 minutes by car from Nagoya, or a 1 hour 40 minutes by train from Nagoya station to Toba Station and a further 35 minutes ride by car from the station).

Booking Oyado The Earth (apparently ‘oyado‘ is another word for traditional-style Japanese inn) meant venturing into unfamiliar territory for me and proved an interesting exercise since I could not find much online reviews when I started booking back in December 2012.   And what a wonderful surprise to find out how wonderful The Earth was!

OTE is set in a near total immersion in a relatively pristine natural environment surrounded by forests and Toba Bay.  From the observatory deck in The Earth, one can easily see the numerous islands in the middle distance.  Our trip to OTE took us down the windy narrow and rocky road to the edge of a cliff.  

We were very suprised to find the hotel attendant already waiting for us at the gate to direct us to our carpark.

20131007-182041.jpg

I am impressed with the geometric low-sprawling layout of Oyado The Earth set in harmony with the natural environment

20130413-224055.jpg

Oyado The Earth

The passageway to OTE is quite James Bond-ish – cue in the automatic steel sliding-doors and zig-zag corridors with pockets of landscaping.

20131007-182023.jpg

Passageway to oyado

20131007-182002.jpg

Landscaped niche

While waiting for the key to our room,  we were seated in the lounge and treated to a welcome drink of sparkling wine and Japanese sweets.

20130413-224149.jpg

Welcome drinks and snacks

20130413-224235.jpg

Sweetened Soy Bean

OTE’s common spaces includes gender segregated 24-hour hot-springs bath or onsen (on the ground floor where the rooms are), a cosy library and an adjoining lounge furnished with plush sofas.

20131007-144246.jpg

Bar, Lounge and Library areas

20131014-184915.jpg

Reception Area

20131014-184943.jpg

Entrance

20131007-144238.jpg

L: View into the entrance lobby/ reception
R: View from the entrance lobby looking up to the observatory deck

20131007-181934.jpg

Central stairs: Ground floor = Rooms, Spa and Onsen
1st floor = Entrance, Reception, Restaurant, Lounge
2nd floor = Outdoor observatory deck

20131010-205738.jpg

Ikebena/ Flower arrangements

While each suite in OTE has a  private open-air spring-fed onsen attached, ours went one step further with our own private entertaining room and a guest toilet.  Our Premium Suite is very spacious, we also have a separate sitting area for Bro to close off for his privacy.  He slept on a make-shift futon which was laid out on the heated tatami mat when we were having dinner.  I have to point out that service in Japanese hotels are truly all-inclusive whereby pajamas and toiletries are provided – the guest simply has to turn up!

20130416-204513.jpg

Our room. Note the sliding screen door which can be closed off and the cupboard where extra futons and yutakas are kept.

20130416-204528.jpg

Our room

20130413-224338.jpg

Freebies: Mikimoto facial care kits (Yay!)

20130413-224324.jpg

Bathroom

We had a small outdoor onsen where Mom, Bro and I went to soak our feet after dinner.  Even though we were sitting in the freezing cold,  the hot water warmed us up and  I must say the stiffness in my calves and feet literally melted away in the hot water from the springs!

20130416-204454.jpg

Onsen

20130416-204433.jpg

Our backyard

20131007-144258.jpg

Our private dining room with heated kotatsu seating which is adjoined to our room with a small kitchen.

Our packaged stay came with elaborate set meals for both dinner and breakfast, served at a time set by us.  (‘Confession!’: I had exchanged some emails with the  Eri, the GM of the hotel, regarding dietary requirements and meal times, so even though the attendants did not speak much English, everything went smoothly without a hitch!)  We had the traditional multi-course kaiseki dinner, drawing on freshest produce from the land and sea in the area.

20131010-202722.jpg

1st Course + Orange Juice

20130416-204921.jpg

1st Course – the roe was amazing

20130416-204937.jpg

Sake

20130416-204952.jpg

2nd Course: Sashimi with sea-urchin

20130416-205010.jpg

3rd Course: Soup with white baits

20130717-202519.jpg

4th Course: Asparagus and mushrooms specially prepared at our kitchen by our own private chef!

20130717-202555.jpg

5th Course: Steamed vegies and fish paste

20130717-202623.jpg

6th Course: Seafood – remember to request Ebi lobster, the speciality of Mie Perfecture!

20130717-202707.jpg

7th Course: Kagoshima beef accompanied by the biggest broad pea ever!

20130717-202737.jpg

Palate cleanser: O Cha

20130717-202845.jpg

8th Course: Rice mixed with baby shrimps

20130717-202901.jpg

9th Course: Preserved vegies and a cockle dressed in mustard. Yum!

20130717-202913.jpg

10th Course: Miso Soup

20130717-202924.jpg

Dessert: Ice-cream and fruits

Last, but not least, OTE left no details out, by ensuring that we have our midnight snack of rice and roe on standby in case we wake up in the middle of the night hungry!

20130717-202934.jpg

Midnight Snack

20130717-202956.jpg

Rice and Roe

We woke up early the next day to catch day-break.  Watching the sun-rise was truly a majestic experience and made even more special by catching the sun rising over the the Pacific Ocean.

20131007-144400.jpg

20131007-144343.jpg

20131007-144439.jpg

20131007-144417.jpg

20131007-144452.jpg

20131007-144513.jpg

We had our breakfast at the restaurant at 7:30am as arranged.  Here is our very attentive server.

20131013-210450.jpg

Restaurant

20131007-144810.jpg

Interesting round windows

Our breakfast of assorted small dishes was literally fit for a Daimyo!

20130925-183625.jpg

Breakfast

20130925-183732.jpg

Breakfast

20130925-183743.jpg

Breakfast

20130925-184556.jpg

Rice

Hang on!  That’s not all for breakfast!  We were invited out to the Lounge for fruits and yoghurt while waiting for Taka to pick us up!  More Oishi!

20131014-182821.jpg

Yoghurt with fresh fruits

It was truly a fantastic experience staying at OTE – delicious food, attentive service and beautiful surroundings.   The only regret is that we only stayed overnight, if we revisit Toba in the future, we  will stay for an extra few days to take in attractions of the area such as  Meoto Iwa, Toba Aquarium, Mikimoto Museum and Pearl Island  – maybe even go hiking in the Shima National Park.

We also had a warm send-off from the manager.  As Taka drove out of the oyado, we noticed in our rear-view mirror that the manager maintained his deep-bow position until we lost sight of the oyado!  Wow!  Now, THAT was a real traditional Japanese hospitality!

Before we headed back to Nagoya train station, we detoured to visit Ago Bay which came highly recommended in the Michelin Green Guide.

The winding road to Ago Bay is a bit like the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia – trees and shrubs on one side of the road and scenic water views on the other.  Once we arrived at Ago Bay, we had to climb some steep steps to reach Yokoyama Observatory Deck.  There, at the height of 203m, one can take in the spectacular panorama overlooking the peninsula to see with our own eyes the famous saw-toothed coastline that has more than 60 small islets.   It is said that every season has its natural beauty, such as cherry blossoms and red maple leaves.

20131014-182836.jpg

A steep walk up to the observation deck

20131007-182548.jpg

Walked around the observation deck

20131014-203922.jpg

Views of Ago Bay

After 30 minutes, it’s time to head back to Nagoya train station to drop off our rental and onward journey to Kanazawa!

20131010-210117.jpg

Nagoya station: This is the only 2 modern buildings in Nagoya! (Surprise! Surprise!)

Additional info:  I booked Oyado The Earth through  JAPANiCAN.com (here) and hired our car from  Japan-experience. com (here).

James Turrell’s Skyspace @ National Gallery of Australia

Date of Visit: January 14, 2013

To be honest, I have never heard of James Turrell until I started compiling my daily itinerary for Naoshima Art Island and Kanazawa for my forthcoming trip to Japan.

The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra’s Within Without 2010 is part of a series of Skyspace art installations that James Turrell is doing across the world.  Personally, I find his idea of ‘Light as Art’ sitting a fine line between intuitively-sensitive people and time-sensitive people – since there is a time element involved to slow down in order to pontificate.

What is ‘Skyspace’?  ‘Skyspace is a viewing chamber that effects the way we perceive the sky’, it is a piece of on-site art that we enter via the footbridge into a sunken square pyramid (ie grass mound) surrounded by water.  There is a stupa inside where we take a seat, look up towards the sky and ponder or ‘meditate’.

L1000923

Entrance to the art installation. A mound surrounded by water

The installation was sunken to muffle sound and reduce light pollution.  The grass mound is integral to the landscaping but being in the height of summer, the grass are drying up and dying…

L1000925

An integral part of the garden’s landscaping

The colours were ethereal – turquoise water, terracotta-pink walls contrasting with the white-washed interior in the chamber inside the stupa.  It’s also rather cooling inside.

L1000921

Basalt stupa inside the pyramid

Walk into the stupa via the bridge and take a seat.

What to look for?  The contrast between the artificial light within the installation and the changing external atmosphere affecting the appearance of the sky.  Watch for the changes in colour – dawn and dusk are said to be dramatic.  Sit, be patient and try to notice subtleties.  It’s an experience and takes time.

L1000916

Moonstone echoing the opening (ie ‘cumulus) above

I find this remark of James Turrell very cute, whereby he was alluding the the slow-food movement that is very trendy right now to perhaps start a slow-art movement too!!

L1000914

Look up towards the sky and contemplate the changing light conditions and shifthing climes

L1000922

Back of Stupa – note the colours!

Needless to say, I am looking forward to see the art collaboration between an American cowboy and a Japanese ex-boxer (Tadao Ando) in Naoshima and how the cowboy manipulates light and colour in Kanazawa!

Update (August 2015):  I did not make it to Naoshima Art Island due to a grave family emergency, so Naoshima is still on my bucket list – however, I did manage to make a trip down to to Canberra to see James Turrell’s Retrospective at the NGA in April 2015 (here). ☺️

And for those of you who are interested in more of James Turrell’s works, please do check out Artsy’s James Turrell page which has his biography, over 50 of his works, exclusive articles, as well as an up-to-date  exhibition listings.

 

To Tokyo Marathon 2013 and Bust

There is only 6 weeks to go before I stand at the start line at the Tokyo Marathon 2013 on February 24! Saying that I am nervous is only an understatement since I am seriously undertrained. My stress fracture is stil healing, and I’ve not spent much time on my foot. Bursting my lungs out in the pool deep water running while GR8T, doesn’t cut it especially since that one runs on dry land for a marathon.

Although I have been to Tokyo a few times already and they were all business trips, where I got chauffeured around from hotels, offices and restaurants -so I only have an inkling of an impression of Tokyo. And the last time I was in Tokyo was back in 2010 for a whirlwind museums studies trip. This time, I want to pig-out at Michelin restaurants, be a little more adventurous and take best of all, take a trip out of Tokyo!

20121120-200957.jpg

Newton, my guide books and I preparing for our assault on TM2013

To make my trip to Japan an exciting destination race, I have been browsing through blogs, websites and guides for über chic place to shop, see and eat. So, I am lucky to learn months beforehand that in order to score a table at the Michelin restaurants in Tokyo, one needs an advanced reservation of 2-3 months. One also have to do a bit of research, for example read lots of blogs and peruse all the pictures posted until the dishes become second-nature, in the process, losing some mystique. Still, I hope I can manage to squeeze out some element of surprise when I finally get to sample those exquisite dishes!

Also, most restaurants only accept bookings from the hotel concierge for overseas visitors and require a credit card to secure the booking, neverteless, one still need to reconfirm 1 week ahead. So, that’s why I chose to stay 5-stars – not only for the rooms, but for the services of efficient Concierge services.

The resources that I looked up to besides Google, included:
Chowhound – seems to be a busy forum with lots on ongoing discussion
Bento.com
• TripAdvisor
Andy Hayler – a Brit with serious eating cred
• For some inspiration off the beaten travel path, a good dose of daily pictures of Japan by a lady photographer, Muza-Chan

MY MICHELIN PIG-OUT ITINERARY
Feb 22 (Friday): TOKYO
7pm Dinner @Takazawa
JPY 30,000 (Chef’s Special Tasting Menu of the Day)
Self-booking – emailing the wife of the owner/chef Akiko
Much read and very highly regarded restaurant. Came out TOPS in all reviews. The chef refused the Michelin rating one time a many!

Feb 23 (Saturday): TOKYO
12pm Lunch @Ginza Okuda
JPY16,800 +13% (same menu as the premium dinner course)
This is the 2nd restaurant by the award-wining Chef Okuda. His main restaurant is ‘Ginza Kojyu’. There is much debate online about the qualities and differences of the 2 restaurants, but I read from reviews that he personally come to cook Saturday lunch in this ‘Ginza Okuda’, so thus, a booking made!

Dinner: Not sure what to have on the eve of the Marathon, but perhaps carb-loading via a French- styled soba place at Fumotoya Keio Plaza Hotel?

Feb 24 (Sunday): TOKYO MARATHON DAY
4pm 60min Deep Tissue Massage at hotel (Run fast slow-coach!!)

6pm Dinner @Tapas Molecular Bar, Mandarin Oriental
JPY14000 per person + 13% service charge
Self-booking thru online reservation form, but need a copy of credit card to secure reservation
There are only 8 seats per seating. 2 seatings per night : 6pm or 8:30pm – let’s see if it floats my boat!

Feb 25 (Monday): TOKYO
12pm Lunch @Le Creations de Narisawa
JPY 12,600 + 10%
Self-booking thru online reservation form
Ranked 27th in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Feb 26 (Tuesday) : TOKYO – Outing to KAMAKURA
6:30pm Dinner @RyuGin
JPY 23,100 for the rudimentary Tasting Menu
Wow! Another hard table to get! The table is only available for booking exactly 2 months in advance! Ranked 28th in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Feb 27 (Wednesday): TOBA
Overnight @Oyado the Earth, Toba (Breakfast and dinner included)
I couldn’t find any reviews on TripAdvisor, however the write-ups in glossy mags were really good.

Feb 28 (Thursday) : TAKAYAMA
Overnight @a traditional Japanese Ryoken, with shared bathrooms – YIKES!!

Eat @Ebihachi (A cheap tempura joint highly recommended by TripAdvisor.)

March 1 (Friday): TAKAYAMA – Daytrip to SHIRAKAWA-GO
I am going to join this tour provided by Nouhi Bus (includes an English speaking guide and a lunch), reservation only starts 1 month prior

Overnight @same Ryoken, but am thinking of going direct to Kanazawa after the day trip.
Taking a bus (around 1 hour) is faster than the JR (nearly 3 hours!)

March 2 (Saturday): KANAZAWA
12:30pm Lunch @Miyoshian, Kenrokuen Park (telephone number:076-221-0127)
No website.
Requested a table by the window so I can watch the carps as suggested by Guide Book
(Update: My review here)

6:30pm Dinner@Zeniya (Japanese)
I’ve never heard of this chap Chef Shin Takagi, but he is all over the epicurean blogging world! He’s even been to Sydney for an ‘ international’ cooking event, so naturally, I must check him out! (…his cooking)
Other choice cheap eats for future reference:
Either: Ippudo (Ramen), Tel:076-263-3331
Or: Curiente Kanazawa Higashiyama (Creative French),Tel:078-251-0403

March 3 (Sunday): NARA
7pm@ Wa Yamamura (Japanese) , 2-11-15 Shibatsuhi-Cho, Nara, Tel: 81 742 33 0102
3 Michelin stars
No website found

March 4 (Monday): NARA
6:30pm @Le Benkei (French)
JPY23,100 for Tasting Course

March 5 (Tuesday): HIROSHIMA
Seriously, can it be that HARD to find a luxe eats in Hiroshima, the only place that kept popping up is Kanawa. I read mixed reviews on it, but personally, why would I want to pay top $$$ to dine on an old shabby house boat?

Here is a webpage for travelers by the locals
http://www.nileguide.com/destination/hiroshima/best/five-star-restaurants

Some dinner options:
Kazumaru – oysters, conger eels

Suishin Shinkansenten– tag line ‘Serving Hiroshima for last 60 years’

HITOARIKI KURA – got some serious list of producers , seems very organic

Kakiden – oysters (looks good, but all in Japanese)

March 6 (Wednesday): HIROSHIMA – Day Trip to IWAKUNI AND MIYAJIMA
12pm Lunch: Hope to sample ‘Iwakuni sushi’

Might try a 7pm Dinner @Okonomi – Mura (‘Okonomiyaki Village’)
(tel 082/241-2210) 5-13 Shintenchi, Hiroshima. Open: 11am-9pm, but some stalls stay open later.  NY Times suggested stall is Chii-Chan.

March 7 (THURSDAY ): OKAYAMA
No meals reserved yet. Possible choices for Dinner:
Option A) Perhaps try a Fugu banquet @Suigyokuen, ING building 3F, 6-29, Saiwaicho, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama, 700-0903

Option B) Try a soba dinner @ToriSoba

March 8 (FRIDAY ): NAOSHIMA
Stay @Hotel Benesse House,Check in hotel at 3pm
This is an Art Island, akin to Cockatoo Island here in Sydney.
Exciting Arty Day includes:
Kinza Art House @ 11:15am – 12pm (Viewing times must be pre-booked)
Night program ‘James Turrell’s “Open Sky” Night Programio’ 17:50 – 18:55 (Only for the guests staying at Hotel Benesse House) @ChiChu Museum designed by Tadao Ando!

8pm Dinner @Museum House (Shabu-shabu)

March 9 (Saturday): OSAKA
7:30am -9am Breakfast @Museum House,Check out hotel at 11am
Catch 4pm JR from Uno to Osaka – Arrive Osaka 18:16 (the latest)

@7:30pm Dinner @Hajime, OSAKA (French contemporary)
JPY 25,000 Tasting Menu
3 Michelin stars
This only is another toughie! Booked online through their website, but got a confirmation that they have received my request, but the confirmation will only come through 72 hours prior to my requested date! So, I have to seek my hotel’s concierge for assistance. I managed to secure it after paying up-front via PayPal.

March 10 (Sunday): OSAKA – Daytrip to MIHO MUSEUM, NARA
Miho Museum will only be re-opened on March 9 2013, and this building is designed by I.M.Pei. I’ve visited his works I Paris, Beijing and Hongkong. He was the subject of my undergraduate thesis, BTW

Evening: Visit Umeda area perhaps and find time to squeeze in a meal @La Baie (French), 3 Michelins within the next 2 days

March 11 (Monday): Osaka
12 pm Lunch @Fujiya 1935 (Fusion)
6,500 JPY Tasting Course (tax and service charge not included).
3 Michelin stars

March 12 (Tuesday): HOMEWARD BOUND!
Still deciding on the 9am flight or 6:20pm flight…. Lose some serious weight and Start training for Paris Marathon 2013 pronto!