Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Springtime Escapades #1

Hi all!! Gosh, it feels like it's been AGES since I've last blogged. And I mean ages. Seems like there's always so much happening in life all the time. For one, I've finally finished the arduous first year of work post-graduation which has historically been the toughest one for everyone who's gone through it... I'm so relieved that part of my life is over. I've started on another rotation now and while the hours are definitely more erratic, I've started to really appreciate the shift work and the beauty that comes with being able to do things in the hours before and after the shift ends. It's definitely an art ending work on time since there are times when things need to be followed up on or handed over at the last minute but I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of it. 

One thing that was really amazing that I managed to do before my first year of work ended was this - a family trip to Japan for for Sakura viewing! :) It's something that's been on my bucket list since forever and it was amazing how my whole family happened to be keen AND available for the trip at the same time. I was a little apprehensive at first because you know how these family trips can be... and we hadn't taken one complete family holiday in what 10 years? So I was definitely a tad worried at the start... but thankfully, my dearest boyfriend Donald stepped in and helped with the planning at the last minute which was an incredible help because if left to me, I would've decided on train routes and attractions upon arrival in Japan itself (as is the spontaneous and easy way to do things but often only works when traveling alone and not with family ;p)... so that definitely saved the trip. And in fact, it turned out soooo well. Far better than expected. :) Which goes to show that often times we worry too much about things in advance when really...if we focus on making things work out in the moment, they usually do. 

Here are some shots on film.

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Our first sighting of Sakura! Along the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto. It was such a lovely moment; finally getting the chance to appreciate the beauty of those gorgeous flowers. Unfortunately we had arrived there in that golden period right before sunset (one of the most beautiful parts of the day any other day except the one which we wanted to enjoy the sakura in good photography lighting lol). I could feel the light slipping by by the second. It was that fleeting. So we got along snapping as much as we could, doing random Philosopher poses (my dad's cool that way ;)) until it was way too dark and we had to resign ourselves to going off for dinner instead. 

 photo sakura1smaller.jpgI could've spent a whole afternoon there, stretched out on a grass patch/bench with a thermos flask of green tea in one hand and a sakura mochi in the other. Ooo that's a plan for the next time.

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A sushi platter at Bikkuri Sushi. I'm sorry but this is one place I would NOT recommend going to. It was our first day in Tokyo and my sis had been craving sushi for dinner (and this was after our tea time snack of Ippudo Ramen which was EXCELLENT) so we'd gotten a recommendation from the hotel concierge for a sushi restaurant in the neighbourhood. They pointed this out to us and it looked really legit from the outside. But there has to be a problem when the tempura turns out to be better than the sushi in a Sushi-ya. It was such a disappointment because I'd been looking forward to some delicious slabs of melt-in-your-mouth quality Ootoro. But when it turned out to be stringy-er, requiring more colossal teeth strength than expected... I'd say, try to find an outlet of Sushi Zanmai instead. When Donald and I went to Tokyo last year we actually stumbled upon Sushi Zanmai by accident and ended up going back there another time during our stay for some really awesome (and decently priced sushi).

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Bento on board the Shinkansen to Kyoto. X)) Don't you love a beautiful bento? Of course, nothing beats a freshly made, hot one but these are so amazing for their variety, convenience and sheer aesthetic. It was hilarious seeing my dad get so excited about his train bentos but he was right - how often do you get the chance to enjoy a bento on board a train? It's worth devoting some time before the train ride selecting just the right one.

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At our cooking class in Kyoto. :D This is something I'd highly recommend going to if you happen to be travelling to Kyoto! In fact, I would probably want to do it again in another city just because it's so fun to see how the Japanese cook even the most basic dishes. I'd booked a session for my family for a Vegetarian cooking class at this guesthouse called Roujiya (and conveniently did not mention this to them till they arrived heheheh. My dad got a shock when the sensei asked, 'how long have you been Vegetarian?'. I could almost hear the thump of his jaw on the table. He'd be a 100% carnivore if it were up to him) and due to the limited slots, ours happened to be at 2pm and we rushed there after arriving in Kyoto itself at about noon. It was such fun! The sensei, Kaori, was dressed in a lovely kimono and spoke really great English. There was even a substantial hand-out about the basics of Japanese cooking. Did you know that there are so many rules that govern the sort of dishes served in traditional Japanese cuisine? Everything is seasonal and tries to obtain a mix of Yin and Yang foods. Even the sort of small dishes used are selected based on their appearance and suitability for the season (e.g. flower shaped dish for the Spring season). Back to the photo - these were little rice crackers used for our chopsticks practice. Turns out almost everyone except the Swedish guy in our class had been holding their chopsticks wrong for donkey years. ;p I certainly have been. But it works.

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Our final assortment of dishes. We had made mini sushi balls (apparently so small because they're meant for Maiko (Geisha apprentices) to eat or nibble at so that their immaculately done up makeup/lipstick doesn't get smudged), cucumber + yuzu paste sushi, plus a yummy Japanese cucumber and sesame paste side dish. It's amazing, the amount of effort that's put into these seemingly simple dishes. And what amazed me was the attention to detail - the sensei was like, 'put 2-3 of these small leaves for decoration into your soup'. 2-3 only. Not more, not less - for optimal aesthetic.

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Cutie cat spotted outside our cooking class ryokan.

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Takoyaki man! I kept seeing him at the same spot near our hotel in Kyoto (really near the main Kyoto station too) but he'd always give a big X sign whenever I approached. ;p Did he mean 'no photos allowed' or did he mean 'not selling anymore'. I never saw him serve anyone either so... I'm more inclined to think it was the latter. ;p

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Our walk along the Kamo River in Kyoto. <3 One of my favorite parts of the trip. You can't go to Kyoto and not walk by the Kamogawa without falling in love with it. We didn't have much time to spend there because dinner was looming and my dad had to rest his back but we did manage to get quite a lot of lovely family shots at the same spot. :) I just loved seeing the Japanese relax along the river with their picnic baskets and blankets...That's the life. 

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I would've wanted to have gone further down the river to the stone steps shaped like turtles' backs which you can step on to get across the river. But that was a little further down. Once again, plans for the future. 

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One of my favorite afternoons from the trip was when we were in this restaurant in Nara. We'd just arrived that afternoon and were going to take our time at the National Park chasing deer. But before that, because we were all too famished, we stumbled into the nearest restaurant from our ryokan. And this was it - a soba place that also specialized in Kuzu, a type of Japanese arrowroot, that's usually made into jelly form (like a softer version of Konnyaku), often topped with molasses or kinako powder. Wayyy too much like jello to me. And it wasn't even easy to eat because it was much softer and more slippery compared to typical konnyaku jelly. >< So after that afternoon, I was more or less done with Kuzu. But the best bit was after the meal, when we were admiring our full bellies, enjoying the moments of contentment that come with being on a holiday and not needing to rush to the next destination...and the sun came through beautifully through the shuttered windows. It was one of the best moments. 

Needless to say, there were too many great moments on this trip. And looking back...I'm so glad we were able to do this family trip together. We didn't even get those huge family squabbles that often accompany any holiday abroad. Doesn't it seem like the older you get the harder it is to do things as a family together? But it's something I'm going to try to devote more time towards. 

Oooookiee...time for a snooze now. It's my day off. And I'm trying to make the minutes stretch out as much as possible. X) 

Have a great week ahead! 

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