.: Looking back 2016 :.

It’s that time of the year where everyone looks back and does some reflections. Even though I like to reassess what I’ve been doing throughout the year, especially when we’re talking about resolutions, but I find I also like this time of the year for that.

I still have an old notebook where we both do yearly resolutions and plan the trips we want to do and stuff we want to buy for the year. It’s been quite a tradition since we’ve started to live together (pretty much almost 10 years ago) and this year we’ll definitely carry on.

13613361_10207773213143086_4409577126378861121_o

2016 will be a year I won’t forget. Not because a lot of celebs seem to have died (yap, it was quite something), but because my life was changed forever. In the first week of January I discovered I was pregnant. I just couldn’t believe it! My work life was an absolute mess and I ended up working crazy hours under stress for a good 6 months, then I’ve decided I couldn’t be doing that, so started to take it easy.

It was the year I’ve started meditation, even though I haven’t been back pretty much after she was born and also started pregnancy yoga. 2017 will start with Mom & Baby yoga, really looking forward to that!

Baby Em was born in September and ever since I haven’t done anything but baby (she’s having a nap now, hope she doesn’t wake up for a bit).

Travel wise, the number of trips was quite reduced due to the pregnancy but it was the year I finally did my dream trip to Japan. I’m jumping ahead a bit…

First, I started the year by going to Bordeaux just with my sister. It felt a bit rubbish to go to a wine paradise and not be able to drink anything! Still I loved the weekend, it was fab to have some sister time, just the two of us and no one else. I love my sis loads! Next time we do something like this it will be the 3 of us 🙂

12525302_10206906613598639_945969529757027130_o 12819239_10206906614518662_314068319297110540_o 12778907_10206906609598539_8850218479008433145_o

March we went to Lisbon and it was my last time in Portugal for the year. It’s been almost a year and I miss it loads!

13086830_10207230560657113_6856670749926172115_o 13086883_10207230556257003_8825093354356380729_o 13055119_10207230555056973_8259148408465085905_o

Then April was the time for our dream trip, Japan. For 10 years we had been talking about going and back in 2015 I’ve decided I couldn’t wait any longer so booked the trip. I’m so glad I did! It’s my most memorable trip ever, the sense of peace and quiet is something I’ll always carry with me. And then the food, ahhh alll the food! (Again, couldn’t even touch any sushi and fresh tuna….. or sake for the matter)

14047119_10208088617708003_4428240017535482283_o 14124965_10208088609147789_6230860497518336812_o 13613632_10207773214303115_540681842723011458_o 13662247_10207773213583097_5294872051155170196_o 13613361_10207773213143086_4409577126378861121_o-1 13661807_10207773213063084_3128726202501291554_o 13613484_10207773103460344_436448081584164280_o 13000284_10207163297975588_7404580680721637174_n 13055138_10207212096315516_6414764924205993303_o

Really looking forward to be back!

In May we went to Wales, which to me was quite an important weekend. It was the weekend I’ve started to finally relax and understand that I had to take better care of me and the baby

June I had my sister over for a kind of a “baby shower”, so we both went together for a lovely afternoon tea

Also in June went back to Bristol for a weekend away. After working 2 years and a bit in Bristol I have to say I was really missing the city. Aside from London it’s the only place in UK I can imagine myself living

In July I did a ladies weekend in Bath, just with my girl friends! It was so nice 😀

End of July we did our last weekend away just to relax before baby was born.

I’ve spent August around my area and eating and relaxing a lot. Then in September baby Em was born. Looking forward to be on a plane again, which will be in February for a visit to the rest of the family in Portugal.

Yes indeed 2016 was quite a memorable year! Looking forward to 2017, which I hope will bring me more sleep and more smiles 🙂

Any lessons from 2016? Any major plans for 2017?

Advertisements

.: Last night in Japan :.

And to end the series…

Our last night in Japan was actually back in Tokyo, because we had book round trip from London – Tokyo. Now here’s a funny story on our last day… after leaving the shinkansen (bullet train) all we had to do pretty much was to cross the street and we would reach our hotel. But he decided to run with the luggage and we’ve ended up breaking a wheel. Let’s just say it was quite a warm day, so having a piece of metal frictioning on the floor… let’s just say I was fearing our luggage would go on fire!

Once we’ve finally approached the hotel, the guys were absolutely amazing with us, and they’ve helped us with our broken (and heavy!) luggage. How to make an entrance in style!

Although we’ve stayed all our journey in AirBnB so we could explore life as locals and be closer to the centre, on our last night I wanted the convenience of being both close to the shinkansen (for our return from Kyoto), but also on a central line to go straight to the airport the next morning. The perfect choice was the Prince Sakura Tokyo from Marriott.

Photos below from the official website

There was also a private garden inside the hotel, which we’ve ended up not exploring

We were really exhausted by the time we’ve reached our room, but we had now an important mission…. find a bag so we could swap before flying back home next morning.

11246363_10207196347841814_1176497451950245661_n

13007093_10207196348721836_6589530134734255690_n

12990896_10207196349241849_1882696913215268595_n 13015375_10207196349041844_6937068107931998482_n 13006714_10207196348841839_1251978622068189527_n

View from the lift

13043230_10207196348521831_4920812834610822289_n 13000153_10207196348361827_3512022249029423626_n

We went outside to try to find our bag, which eventually we did in a small market place. But I’ve started to get worst from my morning sickness (I had the story with that too, but I won’t dig in details because it was too embarrassing! Let’s just say I was really glad he knew a few words in Japanese such as pregnant and help)

Back in the hotel room I had a basked of fruits waiting for me. It came in brilliant timing! Fruits has been my survival food ever since I’ve became pregnant (while I’m writing this post at more than 38 weeks I can tell you it still is as I still have the “morning sickness”)

12998729_10207196348161822_1438494985830120081_n

12998738_10207200589307848_1467906344407250568_n

Rather than exploring more of Tokyo, we’ve decided to stay in the room and rest before our dinner with our friend. Obviously the meeting point was the  Hachiko Statue again

13001330_10207163246214294_1664011868102712812_n

We’ve explored really nice neighbourhoods (I didn’t had the camera with me 😦 )

13047696_10153764477262479_1391618212266204661_o

His photo

We also went up to a tower to enjoy an amazing free view over Shibuya

13086885_10153781250032479_7922124807526337966_o

His Photo

Then we’ve ended up the evening in this amazing sake place. It felt like going inside a rabbit hole, with a tiny door

12990857_10207200589707858_3239297111533717736_n 12592367_10207200589507853_7829676715615612637_n

And the guys had lots of sake. I could just smell it and all I can say is the smell was divine!

Next morning it was time to go back home. Oh what a journey!!!

Have you been in Japan? Any thoughts you would like to share?

.: Exploring Kyoto – final round :.

Hard to believe after months I’ve finally managed to check all my photos from Japan. It was really good to revisit them, it made my wish to come back even stronger!

I only had the chance to visit Tokyo and Kyoto – which means a good excuse to be back and explore the mountains and other cities – but I have to say it was the best trip I’ve ever done. Not only because I loved all the places, but because it was a full journey: a journey on my mind discovering peace like never before, a journey through Japan’s amazing cuisine, and then all the history around it.

Food-wise we’ve discover not only their cuisine is amazing: not just sushi, but the ramen, yakitori, any rice dishes, all of it! Funnily enough the only thing I avoid is tempura which was introduced by the Portuguese (I avoid fried stuff) – but they also master anything else. I swear I had the best donuts in my life there! We found an amazing cafe at the Kyoto station where we would have a 2nd breakfast almost daily (we were still jet lagged, so we would wake up and have breakfast before 06a.m)

13043525_10207183694765495_2133670412355189175_n

(I found really amazing the contrast between the gigantic Kyoto station and the rest of the city! we’ve got lost a few times in there and I think there are around 3 shopping malls inside. Yap!)

12994477_10207183691725419_5094074441791195995_n 13001303_10207183679885123_6795186387373147984_n 13001204_10207183672404936_5284307092981805388_n 13006500_10207171152371943_330581401186835390_n

Even street food was also quite amazing

12985475_10207183690725394_8571770048725011369_n

I love gyoza!!!

13015223_10207183687845322_2315776502905555608_n 13010682_10207183684005226_7309450180706121832_n 13043645_10207183671524914_4287894387666251380_n 12994344_10207171153091961_8136016682326875099_n

One of the most famous places in Kyoto is the Bamboo Grove, which is set in the pretty village of Arashiyama. Again totally recommended that you go early in the morning to avoid the crowds, plus the morning light really transforms this place

Even at the time we went, we’ve already struggled to get photos without any people on the frame.

Then we went back to central Kyoto to explore the neighbourhoods

And more temples in the afternoon. This was one of my favourite, especially closer to the end of the day, where it was really peaceful (Chion-in)

Next morning our mission was to visit the famous red doors (Fushimi Inari Taisha). Whereas we’ve managed to arrive before the crowds, it was actually raining cats & dogs

Here’s the funny bit. I thought these was just a long corridor, what I hadn’t realised was it’s a whole mountain to climb full of red doors!!! I didn’t made it to the top, as I was struggling with all the stairs (the perks of pregnancy I guess). It’s more than 1h up! Because it was raining so much, I was struggling to hold the umbrella and the camera at the same time!

It’s a place I have to go back too, because I felt I hadn’t explored enough of it. After that we went to another really famous place, the Golden Temple     (Kinkaku-ji)

Again it was still raining quite a lot, and this is where I’ve really struggled to make the most of my 28mm lens. Yap, because I gave him my zoom lens, I’ve spend all our journey using nothing else but the 28mm.

And back to Kyoto centre

I really miss it! This journey will always be special in our hearts, because it was my dream trip and because it was the last trip we’ve done together before baby arrives 🙂

.: Exploring Kyoto :.

If there’s a city that’s now special in my heart, that’s definitely Kyoto. I loved Tokyo too, it’s so diverse, the amazing buildings, a city that doesn’t seem to sleep and yet you can find amazing quiet places. And the food…. ahhh all the food available. But Kyoto brought be down to tranquillity, exploring the temples and just walking around in the gardens. It was absolutely inspiring. Yes we were in areas that were crowded with tourists, but overall the feeling was peaceful. The jet lag was worth so we would wake up quite early in the mornings and avoid the crowds.

But first let me start with something interesting. On our last night in Tokyo I’ve accidentally discovered that another friend of mine was in Kyoto, next day would be her last night in Kyoto, whereas it would be our first night there. What a coincidence! So our first stop in Kyoto after checking in the house was to meet her for dinner

We went to this traditional sake house in Gion. There was a significant wait, but I dare to say it was worth it

13040979_10153759646102479_7340718474744790040_o 13055732_10153759645807479_5114990022359120381_o 13015345_10207183669364860_3344126525123926838_n

Really delicious food! It was also amazing to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 2 years!!! Next morning we were ready to start exploring around. We took a bus to an area which has a lot of temples to explore. There was almost no one outside and it felt so peaceful and quiet. On our way we’ve even seen the kids going to the school (exactly like in the anime movies, including the kids at the windows waving to their friends).

(Nazen-Ji temple). You can go upstairs on this one, and it’s worth it as the view is pretty good

(Tenjuan temple)

Konchi-in Temple

More than in Tokyo, you’ll see lots of tourists renting a kimono. They are so gorgeous after all! We were having fun trying to identify Japanese ladies (who can wear them with such a finesse and class!) from tourists.

Some Geishas seem to work as tour-guides as well.

Then we’ve reached one of the most touristic areas in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. On the way there you’ll be crossing the old part of town. It’s such a pretty area!

Inspiring isn’t it? Have you been in Kyoto before?

.: Zen Garden – Kyoto :.

You know those places that really become so special to you that it starts to become really easy to imagine you’re there again? Well, while exploring Kyoto I found one of those places, a beautiful Japanese Zen Garden. Just walking in the tatami felt so relaxing! The only thing that really spoiled the moment was this annoying kid running around all over the place and screaming a few times, but we’ve stayed long enough to be able to enjoy the place without him (I still can’t  believe the parents said nothing! In such a gorgeous quiet place, he was really disturbing everyone)

So welcome to Shorenin Temple

Just by looking at the pictures again I already feel so relaxed. This place is so beautiful!

We’ve spent a lot of time just sitting down and appreciating the beauty of the gardens (and also waiting for the annoying kid to go away)

Unlike many touristic attractions in Kyoto, this was actually pretty quiet, so we’ve managed to really enjoy it

Could explore these corridors for hours, just love them! And walking bare-feet on the wood or the tatami is soooo good!

So if I need to imagine a place my heart feels in peace, this is it! I have to go back to this place one day. Seriously!

Do you have a magical place where you really feel happy and relaxed?

.: Exploring Tokyo :.

Ah Japan, just the thought of it makes me teleport again in there 🙂 Before I start showing the pictures from Tokyo a few useful things to know.

Aiports
* Tokyo has 2 main airports, Haneda and Narita. Haneda is definitely the closest one and it’s really easy to reach the city centre. If you have a Japan Rail pass (which I recommend you that you d0), you can use the monorail and the trains without any extra cost.

We’ve ended up using both, as British airways landed in Haneda but our flight took off from Narita. Narita takes more than 1h to get there by train and it’s a lot more expensive too. Plus I found the airport really boring, almost no shops and restaurants available. If you have a choice, go via Haneda.

Transportation
Japan has a lot of private managed underground networks, but there’s also trains all around the city. Most of the time we’ve manage to use only the JR line which is included in the JR pass. The JR pass is the best way to travel around Japan. If you are only staying in one city it’s probably not worth it, but as soon as you want to visit a different city and use the shinkansen (bullet train) it will be worth it. The best is to pick your JR pass at the airport, but expect quite a big queue! Pretty much all tourists landing in Japan will be on the queue to get their pass as well. The price of the pass will depend on the number of the days you need it for.

Access to 3G / Wi-fi
What we normally do when we travel to a different place is to get a local sim card and use it for the 3G services. It’s a lot cheaper than rely on roaming. You can do this in most parts of the world, except in Japan. Only if you live in Japan you will be able to get a pay as you go card. You can check online as there are companies that allow you to buy one online if you are a foreigner, which is what we did. We choose to pick up our card in the post office of the Haneda airport. What we hadn’t considered is that there are several terminals in Haneda. We’ve landed at terminal 1 for international arrivals and the post office was terminal 2 (I think). Anyway it was well worth it. Can’t survive without google maps.

In most places you can get free wifi, but if you are on the move you might want to have 3G on your phone. It was really handy when in our flat in Kyoto we’ve ended up without any wifi!

I don’t need to cover food or safety. Food is internationally known and safety… well Japan is one of the safest places in the world!

Right, Tokyo. As soon as we’ve reached Tokyo we’ve headed for Shibuya where we had our AirBnB reservation.

Tip: AirBnB is not necessarily legal in Japan. It’s one of those grey areas where it’s not a crime, but it’s not necessarily legal either, so you need to be mindful when getting into your flat. Ensure you’re silent all the time and avoid unnecessary attention. You already look like a Gaijin (foreigner). I do however recommend AirBnB quite a lot, as it’s a lot cheaper than the hotels in Japan and you will be able to afford a better location

After we left our bags in the flat we’ve headed for a walk and food. Shibuya is one of the most famous areas within Tokyo, as you have the famous Shibuya crossing as well as lots of really nice restaurants

One of the most famous temples is also in this area: Meiji Jingu. It’s really easy to forget you are within Tokyo once you reach the garden area. So peaceful and beautiful, even with the number of tourists in the area as well

We were so tired that we’ve decided to head back to the flat and have a proper nap.

Next day we’ve started our day by heading to the famous Tokyo Fish Market. You can only visit the Fish Market in the original location until Nov 2016, after which the market will move to a different location. So timing wise we were really lucky to go this year. You can visit the auction that happens quite early in the morning, but only 60 people are allowed at a time (in total only 120 people can go in per day). For all other regular visits you can only go after 09a.m, which is what we did.

Before we’ve headed to the market, we went to the Startbucks at Shibuya which offers quite a nice view of the crossing

I took this photo with my phone rather than the camera

After the market and a quick lunch we’ve headed to the imperial gardens

That evening we’ve ended out going out with a friend of a friend that happens to work in Shibuya! This was quite a nice story actually, a friend of ours noticed that we were posting pictures of Japan, so he introduced us one of his good friends that was living in Japan. We’ve agreed to go out for dinner that evening. Meeting point? The Hachiko Statue which you might recognise from the movie (Hachi)

I’ve cried loads watching this movie!

For dinner we went to a Yakitori place, called  Jomon.

Yakitori is a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The preparation of Yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi, a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials. Afterwards, they are grilled over a charcoal fire.

13010218_10101467450529783_1706701872_o

Really delicious food!

Next day time it was time to travel to Kyoto.

.: Learnings from Japan :.

Feels hard to believe we’re back home after an extraordinary journey to Japan! I had really high expectations, as it was my dream trip, but they were absolutely met. The best part of it was the cultural journey! We’ve learnt a lot about the country in the few days we were there. So here’s a few things I’ve learnt

Honour and keeping the face

In Japan honour is really important. Unlike western countries where we praise the individuality, in Japan everyone wants to be average, and being average means following the rules, what society expects of you, being a good and dedicated worker and keeping your face. They will do whatever it takes to maintain “their face”. For this same reason, Japan ends up having one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Just the thought of the shame of being caught doing something wrong is enough for them to follow the rules and not commit crimes. The downside is that they swallow their feelings and they don’t say what they really feel. They avoid looking you in the eye, they really do.

Commitment

I have never met another culture where work is so important and so central for the society as it is for Japan. Every work is perceived as an important one for society and all of them are done with commitment and perfection. In most western countries certain jobs are always avoided unless if there’s no other choice like cleaning the streets. Not in Japan. It’s work and it’s needed, so they really commit into doing their best no matter what. I’ve found this really impressive. I think it wouldn’t be bad for the rest of the world to learn a bit with them. They really value people committed to the company and that have stayed there for a lot of years. The more experience you have the more respectful you will be. They also work really long hours. Unlike most big cities, the rush hour in Tokyo starts around 19h and it’s quite normal for people to leave the work at 22h! They avoid confrontation and they try not to lose their “baka” (patience), this is why they have a lot of funky places like karaoke and sake bars. Which leads me to a funny learning:

Platform Pizza

This is a term only used in Japan and it describes the alcohol effects while people are going back home after a few drinks after office hours. This is not shameful, as people excuse it because he’s been too overworked. Japan has quite an issue with alcohol, as it’s one of the only escape routes they have after behaving according to the rules 24/7 and never breaking up. If you are travelling to Japan please check the status of the platform, I almost fell because I was not paying attention and it was literally on the platform. Disgusting!

Peaceful 

Linked to the point of honour and keeping the face, I found them so respectful, peaceful and humble. They are always really polite to you everywhere you go. Ladies are really elegant and classy, both in the way they dress but also the way they behave. There’s no shouting, no talking loud. We seriously ended up whispering in the middle of the street. No joke! It’s just so peaceful and quiet in 99% of the places, we really don’t wanted to disturb that quietness. Even on the trains we’ve avoided talking to each other to keep the silence. There’s no one with loud music on their phones or talking loud. It can be such a bless, really! I wish we had more of that in London!

Perfection and Kaizen

They really strive for perfection and they know they can’t get perfection on their own, so all of them work together to get there. I had the best cappuccino, the best doughnuts and some few other things in Japan which I wasn’t expecting. This happens because whatever they do, they try to perfect it, step by step.

Money and tips

When paying for your bill ensure you leave the money in the metal tray and avoid giving it directly to them. The reason being is that they don’t like to have money in their hands as only the prostitutes would be paid directly like that. Most places have a small metal tray. The other thing is, because of the honour and perfection they don’t accept tips. Everyone is expected to exceed at their job so they don’t tip.

Overall I felt quite at peace in Japan and was easily following the same principles everyone else was like the little bows, the “arigatou gozaimasu” and the whispering when talking to each other. You don’t see much differences between rich and poor and you will see in other countries. Richer people will dress in better clothes, but they are not flashy as they always try to fit in and follow the average. Same reason you will barely see fat people, if you do they are most likely to be foreigners. I’m so looking forward to be back!

LOVE JAPAN from David Parkinson on Vimeo.

Have you been in Japan? Any lessons you would like to share?