Travel Roundup: Hong Kong & Macau 2019

Public art is showcased at PMQ

I thought I’d write a post about my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau (we returned home about a month ago). It’d been about two and a half years since my previous visit, and this time I had my parents and Kirk in tow with me.

While we still did some of the usual things a tourist would do (it was Kirk’s first time there, after all), the primary reason for our vacation was to see my extended family, especially my grandparents who are both in their nineties. We wanted to have a big reunion ahead of our upcoming wedding in the fall as it’d allow us a chance to celebrate with them in case they couldn’t make it to Edmonton for the real deal.

From the standpoint of culture shock, I’d say that Kirk did better than me with aspects like the crazy crowds while I fared better when it came to heights; three of the world’s 50 tallest buildings reside in this territory and being the fourth most densely populated region on the globe, you can image that everything is built up, not out. What’s great about Hong Kong, though, is it’s quite easy to navigate. English and Chinese signage is everywhere, and a large portion of the residents speak English, too.

I’ll try to do a short recap of each day of our trip here. If there’s anything that was covered in detail in my past write up, I’ll refer you to that. Hopefully, for the restaurants that we had a chance to try, I’ll be doing separate posts at a later date.

Day 1 – Hong Kong

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We arrived in Hong Kong around supper time. Once my parents had gotten their suitcases from the luggage carousel (Kirk and I only packed carry on for the two week vacation), we picked up Airport Express passes and made our way on the train to Hong Kong Station. From there, my uncle and aunt picked us up. Being around rush hour — many people work from about 10:00am to 6:00 or 7:00pm daily — we hit some traffic. However, it didn’t take too long, and next thing you know, we were in the super convenient area of Causeway Bay being dropped off at the Holiday Inn Express (my cousins were very kind to treat us to our stay there).

Once we’d checked into our room, put away our bags, and freshened up, we walked across the street to Times Square to meet up with the four of them for dinner. On the tenth floor of the mall was Greenhouse, a Southeast Asian restaurant. Honestly, we stuffed our faces here with roast chicken, pizza, salads, and steak. When we finished our meal, Kirk and I decided to walk off the food by perusing some of the shops, including a very cool whiskey store with lots of limited edition bottles, and a business that only sold Totoro items.

After twenty hours or so of travel, we were exhausted. We settled in and went to bed. Best of all, it was late in the evening in Hong Kong, so we got into a good rhythm right away. Thankfully, we didn’t experience much, if any, jet lag during our time there.

Day 2 – Hong Kong

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We took it pretty easy on our first full day in Hong Kong. Once we’d gotten ready to go, we actually went to visit with my grandma in Wanchai before doing anything else. It was so great to see her again and she finally got to meet Kirk. Language barrier aside, they were pretty adorable.

For lunch, we headed back to Causeway Bay where we ate at Din Tai Fung. While it’s not a local restaurant, it’s famous for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). My mom wasn’t overly impressed with them because the dumplings weren’t hot enough. Although I agreed with her on that point, I still love their too expensive (over $30 CDN for six) black truffle and pork variety. Their wontons are pretty delicious as well.

After that, we explored Causeway Bay, giving Kirk a chance to get a lay of the land. We stopped in SOGO, a fancy department store in the middle of the area. My mom wanted to show Kirk the basement-level grocery store with the pricey imported fruits. Honestly, they’re beautifully packaged, looking pristine and at peak ripeness, but I still can’t fathom why any of them cost as much as they do.

As we walked around that area, we found a kiosk for BAKE Cheese Tart (actually a Japanese chain). They’re famous for their pastries and they literally sell only one item. These bright yellow rays of sunshine look sort of like an egg tart, but they’re a little more savoury because of the cheese and the consistency of the crust is more like a cookie than a pie.

If you haven’t guessed yet, a lot of our time in Hong Kong consisted of eating. That night was no different. We met up with another uncle and two of my aunts for dinner inside the Conrad Hotel at Brassarie on the Eighth. To my family’s dismay, they had sold out of the Tomahawk steaks that they had their eyes on. But, in the end, everything that we had (minus the undercooked souffles) were wonderfully prepared. I quite enjoyed my indulgent four-course meal.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

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The smog cleared up a bit on our third day in the city, so we decided it’d be an opportune time to take Kirk to Victoria Peak. From there, you can see expansive vistas of the valley. My dad insisted that we walk along Victoria Peak Loop (from what I could find online, I believe it’s 4.5 kilometers in length) as he wanted to reminisce about his childhood days when he and his brothers would adventure nearby. He kept saying that there were great views. Initially, I didn’t believe him because all I could see were trees along the edge, but eventually, they opened up to reveal those postcard images.

Even though the path was even and paved, it was a slower walk than we’d hoped. No one had really prepared for the distance (because we didn’t know we’d be walking this trail) and the creeping heat. So, it was nice when we made it to the end and sustenance was in sight. My relatives had told us about the new Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay on the Peak, and I had my heart set on going there for lunch.

The restaurant serves elevated pub-style dishes. Both my dad and Kirk went for the Dry Aged British Beef Burgers. My mom ate the Fried Buffalo Chicken Burger. Me being me, I had to sample a few different things, including Mushroom Arancini, Mixed Grain Salad, and Smoked Steak Tartare. Nothing disappointed. Everything was prepared well with ample flavour.

When we finished our meal, we caught the bus back down the mountain (double decker buses driving along the narrow winding roads with very short barriers are always a little hard to get used to). We rode it all the way to Central Station. That’s where you can catch a Star Ferry boat over to the Kowloon side. Fun fact: the reliable ferries have been in use since 1888 and many still retain their original wooden seats.

On the Kowloon side, we stopped into the famous Peninsula Hotel. Our original plan was to have high tea there, but at a minimum of $350 HKD (approximately $70 CDN) per person, we opted not to stay. Instead, we walked around the Avenue of the Stars and 1881 Heritage — the past Old Marine Police Headquarters now reestablished as a luxury shopping landmark — before heading back over to the island. It was our intention to stay on the Kowloon side longer, so that we could see the nightly light show across the water, but it would have meant killing quite a bit of time, and everyone was rather tired, especially my father.

Day 4 – Hong Kong

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One thing I can never recall doing during all of my past trips to Hong Kong is riding the tram. Yet, I’d highly recommend this affordable transportation now. Each of these cars have two stories on them and if you can snag the topside seats at the front (or even the back), you’ll have fantastic views of the streets that you pass by. It’s definitely a more leisurely ride, so don’t expect to get anywhere as quickly as you would compared to the subway or the bus. We rode all the way from one end of the line at Happy Valley to the very end at Sheung Wan.

In Sheung Wan, we stopped to check out the views of the harbour and then we sought out a place for lunch. Gioia caught our attention with their lunch special: purchase three meals and the fourth was free. Plus, the set lunch menu of three-courses and a beverage for about $20 each was already a steal.

Once we completed our meal, we explored the area on foot, passing through wet markets and stopping to look at real estate listings. We also noticed that there were more elderly milling about. It seemed like they had regular routines and most were still going about their days on their own even though they were probably in their eighties or nineties. Lots of props to them for keeping up with an active lifestyle.

That night, we took it easy with dinner at my grandma’s. Her helpers prepared such wonderful Indonesian-style dishes for us. They pulled out all of the stops, and we were stuffed silly.

Day 5 – Hong Kong

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On this day, we ventured to the Diamond Hill district where we paused for lunch at Genki Sushi. They’ve revamped these restaurants to utilize online phone ordering and the trains that come right to your table to drop off each plate (similar to what you might find in Japan). While my cousin has stated that the sushi from here is next to inedible, it’s still pretty decent to me. Coming from landlocked Edmonton (where, don’t get me wrong, we do have some good sushi available), anything we can get in Hong Kong, due to it’s closer proximity to water, is going to be fresher than home. Also, sear the seafood and toss some sauce on it, and it will be good.

For dessert, there was a Mamma Mia Gelato kiosk right outside the doors of Genki Sushi. I couldn’t pass up some scoops of the black sesame, matcha, and pistachio flavours.

We followed lunch up with a trek across the street to the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. I’ve gone to this spot every single time on each of the last few trips I’ve taken to Hong Kong. It’s because it’s one of the most tranquil locations in the city. Whenever you step into the fenced garden, it’s like quiet envelops the entire area, making it a respite from all of the hustle and bustle.

In the evening, we had our big family dinner with all of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces on my mom’s side. This was Kirk’s opportunity to meet everyone (before they all jetted off on their own holidays or work trips). We had a traditional multi-course Chinese meal and we passed out our wedding invitations in person.

To cap off the night, we stayed at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse bar for drinks and snacks. The bartender really knew his stuff when it came to whiskeys and cocktails, and there was live music, which my dad loved.

Day 6 – Hong Kong

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We spent most of this morning and afternoon visiting with my cousin and her family. They made us brunch (delicious Australian wagyu burgers) and gave Kirk whiskeys to taste while we held and played with their baby girls.

When it came to supper, my aunt, uncle, and cousin took us to the iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Reaching the marina, we then hopped on a boat that brought us across the water to the entrance of the building. The restaurant has so many ornate details to it, and I get why it’s become such a landmark. The Queen of England has dined there, and my grandparents even celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Jumbo when I was just in my early teens. I hadn’t been back since.

The food was incredible and they really put on a show for their customers with certain dishes like our drunken prawns prepared tableside. It’s certainly a spot that’s unforgettable.

Day 7 – Hong Kong

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We head back to Kowloon to meet with my dad’s side of the family over dim sum and roast pigeon. They even bought us a personalized cake to celebrate our engagement. It was a really nice get together.

Since we were at Olympia Plaza, we decided to do some shopping. Hong Kong is littered with shops along every street and corner. There are malls all over the place, too. However, if you find yourself there, you’ll likely notice that most of the stores are high end brands that the average tourist probably can’t afford to shop at. Olympia Plaza is a great mall with a variety of businesses that sell goods at much more reasonable price points. They even had a Muji! In the vein of IKEA, but born out of Japan, their food section sells ample matcha flavoured snacks. I filled up a basket with every single matcha item I could find.

More relatives of ours wanted to meet up, so we arranged dinner with them at Fini’s. An Italian American restaurant, we were served burrata, eggplant parm, a huge pizza, and pasta galore. It was such a filling, yet satisfying meal.

When we finished supper, my cousin wanted to show us the SoHo area where most of the nightlife can be found, particularly around Lan Kwai Fong. We found some of the staff at the busier bars to be quite aggressive as they attempted to lure customers in as we walked by. Rather than go to any of those places, though, my cousin treated us to customized drinks at the hidden J.Boroski. We also popped into Iron Fairies next door to see the hanging butterflies prior to catching a cab back to the hotel for the night.

Day 8 – Macau

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In the morning, once we were out and about, I started noticing weird red welts on my left foot. I’m not sure what happened and when exactly, but I must have been bitten by one vicious bug. I mean, no trip of mine is ever complete without me having some sort of reaction to a bug bite and a potential infection, right?

Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much. We got to the ferry terminal to take us to Macau. TIP: Don’t forget your passport as they are required (Kirk had to hilariously crouch down for the camera after he scanned his documents to get through the customs area). Our tickets were for the regular class on the TurboJET ferry. It takes about an hour on the hydrofoil boats to get from Hong Kong to Macau, so we arrived well before noon. From the Macau ferry terminal, we caught a shuttle bus to The Venetian. Kirk wanted to try his hand at the roulette tables at the casino there. However, with a gaming industry that is seven times larger than that of Las Vegas, required bets were high, and our small amount of money didn’t last very long.

Still, we wandered around to the Parisian (gorgeous marbled building, by the way) where we found a lovely set lunch menu at a French restaurant called Brassarie. With full stomachs, we then took another shuttle bus back over to the Sands where we caught a cab that dropped us within walking distance of the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s was a Catholic church and college that were destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Only the facade of the church remains standing at the top of the steps. This is one of Macau’s main attractions and, thus, it’s always crowded with tourists. Slightly to the east, you’ll find the Monte Fort (a.k.a. Fortaleza do Monte), which provides 360 degree views overlooking the city.

No trip to Macau would be complete without purchasing some almond cookies from Koi Kei Bakery (and probably some fresh Portugese egg tarts, which we failed to seek out). These are a very popular souvenir to take home. My mom told me that these are currently the favourite, but back in the day, another bakery was actually considered the best until a Chinese soap opera advertised the Koi Kei brand, allowing it to surpass the other in sales.

We returned to Hong Kong right before the dinner rush, so we popped into Genki Sushi at the ferry terminal for a quick meal. The rest of the evening was pretty lax with a run to 7-11 for treats.

Day 9 – Hong Kong

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We spent the day in Stanley where we perused the market stalls, checked out the pier and Murray House, investigated the shops at the plaza, and grabbed burgers for lunch at Beef & Liberty. On the way back to Causeway Bay, we made a pit stop at Repulse Bay, so Kirk could dip his feet into the water at the beach.

Returning to the city center, we made our way to a street market stall to buy socks ($15 CDN for 10 pairs of quality Korean knitwear). Then, we walked to the Fashion Walk food district for dinner at MINH & KOK, a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant.

Day 10 – Hong Kong

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Kirk saw an ad in one of the local papers for a tailor offering a deal on custom made suits, so my mom made him an appointment. Much to my dismay, the weather gods were not our friends, and we ended up leaving the metro station to find it pouring outside. We did more running around than we needed to, but we eventually found the teeny tiny shop. Alas, it was decided that they were not our best option, and we ventured back underground where it was dry and warm.

The metro station led us to K11 Art Mall (also a mall with a variety of stores that are much more affordable and it doubles as an art museum). There, my dad settled on us having lunch at an eatery called BU Healthy Dining & Gathering. The prices were right. I can’t say much for the service as it was pretty shoddy, and the soup was so-so as was my iced milk tea. Nevertheless, I found my Thai curry pasta to be quite good. It hit the spot with its creamy sauce and level of spice.

While we were at the mall, we decided to do some shopping before we headed back to Causeway Bay. We killed some time at Lane Crawford Times Square and then we got ready to go to the horse races.

My aunt and uncle were kind enough to bring us along to a buffet dinner in one of the members only areas of the Happy Valley Racecourse. Throughout our meal, we were able to place bets on the eight races that ran throughout the evening. I think, all in, Kirk and I spent about $50 CDN between six or seven of the races over a four hour period. Considering the amount of time we spent there and the entertainment value, we thought it was worth the money even though we didn’t take home any winnings.

Day 11 – Hong Kong

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It turned out to be another rainy day in Hong Kong, which meant our initial plans of walking around Sheung Wan’s outdoor markets (specifically in search of Chop Alley) were thwarted. We ended up staying indoors at the IFC Mall, using pedways to connect through to LANDMARK and the HSBC Building.

When we got hungry, all of the places in LANDMARK were full for high tea, so my mom took us to a cafe she knew about in a neighbouring mall. The building (2 Chinachem Plaza) that we found ourselves in was pretty run down, but Delifrance was alright. The place was clean and bright, and the food was tasty with the tea served hot. Just don’t ever go into the bathrooms in the building. If Kirk’s not willing to use them, you know it’s bad.

Eventually, it was time for dinner. We met up with my uncle, aunt, cousin, and my dad back at IFC for a pretty memorable meal at La Rambla by Catalunya. The authentic Spanish dishes were to die for with some pretty succulent seafood. Additionally, meat like the Tomahawk steak and the beef tartare just took things to a whole new level. Kirk was in his happy place before being surprised with cake and a sparkler for his upcoming birthday.

Day 12 – Hong Kong

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After passing by Mother of Pizzas several times during our vacation, we thought it was time to sit down and try it. It costs a pretty penny for food there and the pizza is a tad greasy (at least the one with pepperoni), but it was damn good.

With that satisfying lunch out of the way, we made it to Chop Alley. This narrow street is full of stalls that sell hand carved stone stamps. We were told that they made the best ones, but for the price and the quality, we actually thought that the ones we found in Stanley Market were better.

Talking about hand-crafted items, we then ventured to PMQ (formerly the Police Married Quarters), a building that has been restructured into an arts district. The main courtyard serves as a showcase for work from local artists and the surrounding units are filled with shops that sell their own locally made items and designs. I could have spent hours there.

Lastly, we passed by Ladder Street and the Cat Street Market, specifically known for antiques (I do wonder if they’re legit antiques though). With the rain and the time of day, most of the stalls were beginning to pack up for the evening.

Our final dinner on the trip was back at the Fashion Walk. I’d seen a sign for a place called Little Bao during our previous visit to MINH & KOK, and I sought it out on this night. It’s a contemporary take on those traditional Chinese bao pockets filled with meat. Here, they served their baos like burgers. My favourites were definitely the pork belly and the salted ice cream baos.

The next day, we had several hours left before our flight home. We spent it with my mom’s family at their weekly Saturday lunch gathering and then at my aunt and uncle’s home. After one last visit with my grandma, we took off for the airport.

We were totally spoiled on this trip. My family showed such hospitality to us and Kirk has been having Hong Kong withdrawal ever since we got back to Edmonton. It’s safe to say that Kirk loved it there, and he’s already been asking when we’ll be returning. I’m so lucky to have these opportunities to explore the world and I’m even luckier to have Kirk who’s willing to do so with me.

Maritimes 2018 Trip Recap: Halifax to Cape Breton

Lakies Head on Cabot Trail

Much has changed over the past twelve months. My boyfriend became my fiancé just after Christmas this year, and we’re now busily planning a wedding that simultaneously feels ages away, but also like it’ll be here before we know it. Marking another milestone was our second trip to the Maritimes to see his family earlier this month.

My first visit to the East Coast of Canada took place last summer. Our goal was to relax in Dalhousie, NB and explore PEI. This time around, we, of course, spent a few days with relatives in New Brunswick. However, the remainder of our week was split between Halifax and Cape Breton Island.

Halifax, NS

Crossing the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge in Halifax

The handful of days we spent in Dalhousie were book-ended by a few evenings in Halifax. Having been a year prior, the sights weren’t the priority. What was important was giving my fiancé a chance to catch up with friends while we experienced the food and nightlife.

I’ll start off by saying that The Lower Deck on the Waterfront, although it may be a Nova Scotia institution, is not my cup of tea. I just felt out of place. It’s true that there are more casual, quiet spots in the pub, but, late at night, when it turns into a club, it’s not for me. I was uncomfortable being around a ton of rowdy people, so we didn’t stay long. If live music out in their courtyard or dancing to top 40 hits in dim lighting on their second floor is your thing, I’d tell you to give it a go because a lot of people have told me this is where it’s at.

The spot my fiancé really wanted to show me was Durty Nelly’s. It’s located right on Argyle Street (across from the new Halifax Convention Centre), making it a part of the lively downtown scene on the weekend. He has reminisced about the Irish pub often, and I didn’t mind it. Sure, it’s a bit noisy, especially when trying to make conversation. Yet, the atmosphere is decent and there is also live music playing later in the evening.

Deciding to continue on after a couple of drinks, we strolled down the hill towards Barrington Street to hang out at Stillwell Bar. Designed with a NYC subway station aesthetic in mind, I found it to be fun. The place was packed when we arrived with just a few seats left at the bar. The guys stuck to beer, available by bottle or on tap. I opted to grab their Peanut Butter & Jelly brownie for dessert. It was incredibly rich and decadent with a sort of salty caramel top, whipped cream and hints of mint. It got a full thumbs up from me.

On our second night we ventured to the Dartmouth side of the Halifax municipality for dinner with one of my fiancé’s old colleagues. We ate at Boondocks Restaurant, which has prime real estate along the boardwalk of Fisherman’s Cove. The seafood focused menu is decent. I wouldn’t say it’s anything to write home about. Nevertheless, the salmon and scallops we had were cooked quite nicely and flavoured well.

Best Places to Eat issue of Curated Food & Drink Magazine

Canada Day ended off with a view of the fireworks from Kings Wharf Place next to the Dartmouth Cove. Should there ever be an opportunity to watch the festivities from that vantage point, I’d highly recommend going there. Parking can be an issue, but we managed to find a spot. Also, once the fireworks started, people literally just parked in the middle of the street and stopped there until the pyrotechnics were over before driving off again. The fireworks look huge from there. Plus, sticking to that side of the water means avoiding the downtown crowds. On another note, my fiancé’s friend generously gave me his issue of Halifax’s Curated Food & Drink Magazine’s 25 Best Local Eateries, so I could plan for future holidays.

When we returned to Halifax from Dalhousie at the end of the week, we had date night in the city. Named as one of the top restaurants in Curated, Agricola Street Brasserie was our eatery of choice and it absolutely did not disappoint (watch for a full review to come). The space is very cool with a converted warehouse style. Brick walls, exposed beams, an open kitchen with bar seating, lots of floating pendant lights, and a striking backdrop to their main bar created an excellent setting. They have several local beers on tap, and their cocktails were stellar. The menu items we sampled were fantastic, too. The chef definitely seems to be adventurous with flavour combos and textures. I actually wish we could have fit in more of the food in one sitting.

Dalhousie, NB

 

This is my fiancé’s hometown. Here, I was reunited with my future mother-in-law’s younger cats, Mika and Mini. We also went on their annual (my second) family canoe trip down the Restigouche River (please read my post from last year for more info on booking something like this). Not one of us walked away without some sort of sun burn — thankfully, mine was minor — after several hours paddling on a very warm and sunny day. We also had a fire in the backyard most nights and set off our own fireworks over the water.

Canoe trip!

The town used to house a successful paper mill and power plant, which employed many of its residents. Today, both of those businesses are no longer. As we drove into and out of Dalhousie and around the neighbourhoods, we noticed an abundance of homes for sale. I’m not sure what’s spurring so many people to pick up and go, but if anyone is looking for an affordable summer home near the water in Canada, this may be a good option.

The main church in Dalhousie is so pretty.

Dalhousie is super quaint and I think this is why it becomes a bustling place during the warmer months. Plenty of visitors come into town to camp in their RVs and just get away from all of their cares. I got to visit the seasonal ice cream shop pretty much every day we were there. They are often so busy that the line snakes through the store. It’s literally the place everyone wants to be. It’s no wonder though. They offer the most options with dozens of flavours of hard ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt, and sundaes available.

The town has also beautified the area around their Inch Arran Lighthouse with the addition of a sundial and stone seating encircling it. There are even a couple of pieces of public art near the shops, including a new statue of Mr. Bon Ami.

We lucked out with a ride on a family friend’s boat as well. We took the vessel out on the water, travelling from the marina out into Chaleur Bay. From afar, Dalhousie is the epitome of picturesque.

Cape Breton Island, NS

Along Cabot Trail

Despite growing up in New Brunswick, my fiancé had never been to Cape Breton Island, so we thought it’d be something new to experience together. We spent about a day and a half there, staying each night in Sydney. During our one full day, we drove the entire length of the World Famous Cabot Trail.

As a heads up, the roads on Cabot Trail are narrow, winding, and quite worn out in certain stretches. Much of the trail allows for speed limits of 80 kilometers per hour. Some sharp turns have warning signs. But, there are many spots along the way where there aren’t any indications of those turns or lower speeds posted. If in doubt, just slow it down.

 

Should you want to complete a few of the hiking trails throughout the area, plan ahead. Find out the distance and estimated time it takes to finish them. You will have to bring the proper gear and work with the daylight to ensure you make it back to the starting point before it’s dark. Additionally, pets may or may not be allowed, so check in advance. Also, consider staying overnight at some of the smaller inns rather than heading back to Sydney each night as it’ll give you more flexibility. Well-known hikes like the Skyline Trail Loop are almost 10 kilometers.

In our case, we didn’t have the time to fit in anything like that. All we were able to do was the loop by car. However, we did peruse works by local artisans (Leather Works by Jolene and Glass Artisans Studio & Gallery) and we made several stops for photo ops. Highlights included: Ingonish Beach, Lakies Head Look-out, Neil’s Harbour (cheap, ginormous scoops at The Lighthouse Ice Cream Parlour), Lone Shieling (within Cape Breton Highlands National Park, this is considered a historic example of a traditional shelter used by shepherds in Scotland and those who settled in the Maritimes), and the village of Baddeck.

 

If in search of a meal, many of the small coastal towns have local restaurants. Usually, the hotels, motels and inns have a kitchen. We ate lunch on our second day at the MidTrail Motel. Nothing fancy, but it was alright and it helped to sustain us for the last few hours of the drive. Otherwise, in Mabou, closer to the southwest side of the island (but off of Cabot Trail), you’ll find the wonderful Red Shoe Pub. The proprietors are the Rankin Sisters of the Canadian musical family. The lobster sandwich special was simple yet tasty (the side of lobster bisque could use some improvements though), and the pulled pork poutine with sweet potato fries was delicious and filling.

Both evenings, we drove back into Sydney. We called the Cambridge Suites Hotel home the first night and The Hampton Inn by Hilton our abode on the second. There’s no question, the facilities at the Hampton Inn were far nicer. We splurged just a little bit more (the cost difference wasn’t much) to get their Boardroom Suite, and it was amazing. There was a full boardroom table in the living room, which had a dual-sided fireplace that also faced into the king size bedroom. A bar with a mini fridge, sink, and microwave was built in as well. Lastly, the bathroom was huge! We could have had a dance party in there. The complimentary breakfasts at each location were similar with meat (bacon or sausage), eggs, toast, yogurt, pastries, juices, etc.

In Sydney, I was surprised to find quite a few public mural paintings around the city as well as the World’s Largest Fiddle (I got a photo with something giant again!) at the port. There were also some satisfying restaurants.

The two we tried were Naru Sushi and Govenor’s Pub. The former was such a surprise. The rolls we ordered maybe had a tad too much rice, but the texture was just right and the ingredients tasted fresh. It was a far cry from our terrible sushi lunch in Shediac, NB the year before (it made me think the East Coast didn’t know how to do sushi). If you go, make sure you try their tempura banana dessert, too. It’s so good, and the portion is ridiculous for the price. We thought they accidentally gave us two orders until we saw the bill. As for Govenor’s Pub, the service wasn’t the greatest, but it’s a really nice spot that overlooks the water with two patio spaces. I’ll admit, I didn’t love that they put celery in their lobster sandwich. Nonetheless, they won me over with their Maple-Curry Seafood Linguine. The spicy-sweet sauce was creamy and the mix of mussels, scallops and shrimp were all prepared well.

Literally my favourite store name ever. It’s so punny.

All-in-all, we fit in a ton — family, friends, food, and plenty of sights — over our vacation. We clocked 3,000 kilometers on our rental vehicle by the time we returned it at the airport. The thing is, there’s still so much more to see in the Maritimes. I’m looking forward to our next trip either next year or in 2020. Newfoundland, here we come!

Iceland & Munich: Scenery, History & Breweries

Diamond Beach in Iceland

My boyfriend and I recently returned home from a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland and Munich, Germany. While we were away, we spent three days exploring the various landscapes of the northern country of Iceland as well as another six days or so taking in the history and breweries of the capital of Bavaria. I’m going to try to keep this as short and simple as possible by sharing a quick daily recap as well as some photos. I hope you enjoy. Please also feel free to share your experiences of these two places in the comments below.

Day 1 – Reykjavik

Entering the city centre of Reykjavik.

At about 6:30am in the morning on our first day in Reykjavik, we hopped onto a shuttle bus that took us to the nearby Sixt car rental location. There, we picked up our vehicle, which we had rented for the next three days in Iceland. (TIP: If you already have car insurance built into your credit card, don’t worry about paying for extra coverage. As long as you don’t intend to go off-roading, it’ll be fine when you take the rental back. Just beware that they will put a hold on your card equivalent to about 1,500€ until they see it’s in good condition upon return.)

It’s about a 45 minute drive from Keflavik airport into Reykjavik. Since we couldn’t check into our hotel until the afternoon, we decided to meander around by car. With a stop at the Perlan Museum, a coast along the harbour, a visit into the Hallgrimskirkja Church, a stroll around the city centre (tons of street art and Instagrammable walls; I sadly watched as an amazing piece was painted over), a midday snack at ROK, and an evening walk not too far from our accommodations, CentreHotel Arnarhvoll (not worth the money for what you get and the rooms have no air circulation), we fit in as much as we could in a single day.

Best of all, we drove out of the city to a dark spot to watch for the northern lights. Neither of us had ever seen them with our own eyes, but we lucked out on this occasion because the sky lit up for us. It was magical, to say the least.

The Aurora Borealis

Of note:

  1. We noticed that there is a ton of construction happening in Reykjavik, which is great. There economy is obviously doing well, likely boosted by the upsurge in tourism in recent years.
  2. It’s expensive in Iceland. Small sharing plates at ROK cost about $20 CDN each. Although the food was delicious, our money didn’t go that far there. Drinks are especially marked up. I would recommend picking some liquor up at the duty free shop before leaving the airport. Lastly, gas was our largest expense at over $2 per litre. While the car we were given was pretty economical, we did a lot of driving and every fill-up was a hit to the wallet. Make sure to budget in advance.
  3. Most of the restaurants close relatively early in Reykjavik. Some bars do stay open later, but they may not serve true meals, so plan to eat a bit earlier.

Day 2 – South Iceland

Öxarárfoss in Iceland

On our second day in Iceland, we opted to hit the road and venture south. In the morning we went to Öxarárfoss, one of their famous waterfalls. It’s situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir National Park, which we took some time to walk through as well.

Back on the highway, we needed some sustenance, but we didn’t have a lot of time to stop for a sit-down meal. After all, we were chasing daylight. So, where did we go when we reached Selfoss? Domino’s. Now, I’m not going to knock the pizza chain. The food hit the spot. Even though it was super greasy, I could not get over the brilliant option of having fresh garlic added into the cheese for free. Game changer. We need that in Canada.

Before it got dark, we made it to Skógafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. It’s worth a stop, and with good shoes it’s possible to walk right up to the falls.

That evening we stayed in the countryside at the quaint Country Hotel Anna. It’s got a vintage charm to it, but it’s quite well-equipped. They even offer a free breakfast in the mornings (as did the other hotel in Reykjavik). Once it’s dark out, head out a little ways from the building. It’s the perfect spot to stargaze.

Day 3 – South Iceland

Glacier lake in Iceland

We were on the road the longest during our third day in Iceland. It took much longer to make it from Vik to Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lagoon on the southeast side of the country. Just across the highway from there is Diamond Beach. Covered in black sand and small icebergs, it’s absolutely gorgeous on a sunny day. I’m so glad that we pushed ourselves to get there because the visuals were spectacular. This was one of my favourite spots.

On the way back towards Keflavik, we also took in the Laufskálavarða, a lava ridge that is surrounded by a number of stone cairns. The stacks of rocks are a tradition meant to signal good fortune on the journey.

Finally, as we reached the village of Vik once more, we stopped at Reynisfjara, a unique black-sand beach surrounded by huge basalt stacks that form an otherworldly looking cave. I have no doubt that on nicer day, this would have been an amazing site. Unfortunately, it was incredibly windy (I could barely stay standing) and cold, so we got a few photos and then we left.

That evening, we checked into the Bergás Guesthouse in Keflavik. It was run by a friendly husband and wife. In all, I think we spent only about eight hours in the room. Ultimately, it met our needs though. It was very close to the airport for our early morning departure, and it was spacious and clean.

Of note:

Iceland has a very diverse landscape with rocky mountains that reminded me of the Nevada and Arizona desserts, fields of lava that are now covered in bright green, squishy moss, snow covered peaks as if we were in Switzerland or Whistler, and pools filled with the icy remnants of a glacier. Account for the time it actually takes to get to each place, and then tack on an extra hour or two for all the abrupt halts that will be made to snap photos.

Day 4 – Munich, Germany

The view from our apartment in Munich.

I just want to make a quick note about the Reykjavik airport. It’s not a fun place. The check-in area is a complete gong show in the morning with people everywhere you look. There also didn’t seem to be great signage indicating where to head to for security. As it turns out, there’s only one spot and it’s upstairs. Security was quick to get through though (they have a machine that feeds out the bins; I’ve never seen that anywhere else). After that, it’s kind of a nice looking terminal, but past the food vendors and shops, it becomes cramped and it feels like all the passengers are just cattle. There’s no sense of organization and they never seem to make announcements about flights boarding, so we really had to be aware of our gate and watch for movement in the lines.

In any case, we made it to Germany! The S-Bahn train (S1 or S8) took us to the closest station near the apartment we booked through Airbnb. The neighbourhood of München-Neuhausen was wonderful. It seemed to be a wealthier area of town that was very family friendly and safe. From there, we were able to walk to a lot of the popular spots in Munich.

Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we settled into the apartment and then we went for an amble around the nearby blocks. We also took advantage of the suggestions made by our Airbnb hosts, trying out a restaurant called Holy Burger. They specialize in organic ingredients. The burgers were delicious; however, the side of veggie fries — made of carrots, beets, and a vegetable that our server didn’t quite know how to translate into English — was tasty, but lacking in portion size. Plus, it was costly. For two burgers, the shared side, a beer, and a hot chocolate, we paid 45€.

After supper, we wandered further and came across one of the grocery stores, Rewe Dien Markt. My boyfriend picked up three half litres of beer for less than four Euro, a total steal compared to what we pay for drinks in Edmonton, Alberta.

Day 5 & 6 – Munich, Germany

So many beer steins!

I’m not sure what it was about being in Germany, but we really slept in almost every single day. I’ll chalk it up to a lack of sleep during our few days in Iceland. I also think I was a bit under the weather. Regardless, it was a lax couple of days after our arrival.

When we woke on our second day, we went back to the grocery store and stocked up on meats, cheeses, eggs, bread, condiments, and beer. With access to a kitchen, our plan was to make ourselves breakfast each morning. We spent the rest of the day just putting together an itinerary for the remainder of the trip. We did eventually leave the house to grab some dinner. Our intention was to try another recommendation from our hosts, a pizza place called Neuhauser. We arrived to find it absolutely packed full of patrons. There was no order to anything in terms of getting a name down for a table, so we ended up ordering food to go. It turned out to be quite tasty and we got a lot for our money (22€ for both of us).

Our third day was quite uneventful until the evening. A friend who is living in Munich was able to meet up with us for dinner and drinks. We arranged to connect at Marienplatz under the tower of the New Town Hall (don’t confuse it with the Old Town Hall even though it looks like the older one). He took us for a walk and then he whisked us over to Augustiner Klosterwirt for a delightfully “refined” meal of traditional German food. We shared a mixed sausage platter (so much sauerkraut) and the veal schnitzel. I was happily full by the time we left. Not to mention, the beer is fantastic (the radler — lager with Sprite or 7-Up — is my go to). The Augustiner brand is a local favourite because it’s almost exclusively found in the city of Munich.

After our filling meal, we trekked back the way we’d come. Ending up at Augustiner-Keller, another branch of the brand. This location is home to a huge outdoor beer garden during warmer weather. Plus, inside the building is an awesome underground bunker that’s now used as a beer hall.

On our way home, our friend led us to the München Hauptbahnhof (central station) to show us how to buy our train tickets to Salzburg. For just 31€ for the two of us, we could do a round trip past the border into Austria.

Day 7 – Munich, Germany

The immaculate upper church inside the Bürgersaalkirche.

We explored much more of the city on our fourth day. Again, we went on foot towards Karlsplatz (Stachus) and Marienplatz. It was incredibly busy with tourists, which I didn’t love (even though I was a tourist as well). But, it was still a great experience.

We came across the Bürgersaalkirche, a historical building that is split into an upper church and lower church. The one on the second floor is a stunner and was quite a surprise. Eventually, we made it to the Munich Residenz where we went through the Museum. I would also have liked to visit the theatre and treasury, but we didn’t have enough time to fit that in. At the end of the day, we stopped at Odeonsplatz. It’s mired in the history of World War II when Munich became a Nazi stronghold and one of Hitler’s main bases of operation. Seeing these spots where such darkness took place was sobering and also somewhat enlightening. Today, the people of Munich and Germany teach their youngsters about what happened, so that they can learn from the past. They’re not hiding it. It’s too important a lesson to shy away from.

Dinner on this night was had at Bollywood, a cozy Indian restaurant that made an amazing mango lamb dish (using real pureed mangos). It was probably one of the best meals we had on the entire trip.

Day 8 – Salzburg, Austria

Love locks on a bridge in Salzburg, Austria.

In Munich, Tuesday, October 31 was considered a holiday. I believe it was the 500th year of Reformation. Therefore, all shops and stores would be closed. Save for main city attractions, there wouldn’t be much to do except eat at a restaurant or drink at a bar. I checked and Salzburg, Austria was not celebrating the same holiday. I deemed it the ideal day to check entering another country off our list. It took about two hours to get there by train.

I’ve actually been to Salzburg before. I remember it as the birthplace of Mozart. But, beyond that, I can’t say I recall too much of it. It’s not very big, so it’s incredibly walkable. Granted, I couldn’t talk myself into trekking up the steep path to the castle, nor did I want to wait in the long line to get into the building. It seemed that a number of tourists thought this was also a great day to visit this city.

There are a number of gypsies begging for money in Salzburg, which is something we didn’t see much of in Munich. One sat outside the Stiftskirche Sankt Peter Salzburg as we entered the church. Behind that spot is Petersfriedhof Salzburg, a peaceful cemetery — the oldest in the city — where it seems whole families are laid to rest.

Prior to leaving, we also visited the Salzburg Cathedral (the Dom). It’s a much busier church that all the tourists go to. The door is monitored and there does seem to be an expectation of some sort of donation as one leaves.

We were in Salzburg for all of about four hours. It’s plenty of time if you’re not going through any museums or stopping for food or drinks. We made it back to Munich in the early evening. It’d been a pretty long day of travelling, so we opted to stick close to the apartment for dinner. Just around the corner from where we were staying is a pub called Hirschenwirt. The beer was fine, but the food was so-so. What made up for mediocre meal was the hospitality of the owners. The woman who served us was also the cook. As soon as we gave her our order, she opened the door to the kitchen, flicked on the lights and got going. We could tell it was the neighbourhood hangout full of regulars and that made it fun.

Of note:

On holidays, shops and grocery stores will be closed in Munich. The exception to that is at the central station where groceries can still be purchased and a number of food vendors will be open. It can be a lifesaver, if one forgets to stock up beforehand.

Day 9 – Munich, Germany

The interior of Nymphenburg Palace.

This was a wonderful day! We walked the 45 minutes or so from our apartment to the Nymphenburg Palace and Park. I’d love to see it in the summertime with the greenery and everything in full bloom.

When we finished there, we headed back towards our neighbourhood. My boyfriend wanted to check out the McDonald’s. He was so impressed with the separate McCafe side of the shop. I’d already seen that split in Hong Kong, so I wasn’t as enamored with that, but I was excited for the desserts as we don’t have them available at home (chocolate cake, cheesecake, and apple crumble). They were all much better than I expected. Fresh, moist, flavourful, and not overly sweet.

In the evening, we met our friend and his classmate for supper at Paulaner Brauhaus. It’s another Munich Brewery. Food-wise, it was still German cuisine, but it was elevated. The presentation and the preparation was just a lot more highbrow than Augustiner (and that was already supposed to be better than other places). I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I also learned here that schnapps are to be slowly sipped and not downed like a shot. It’s a strong liquor that isn’t sweetened to death like it is in North America.

As this was still a holiday in Munich, it was pretty difficult to find places open late in the evening. However, we found a haunt by the name of Neiderlassung for a nightcap. It was a laid back spot that played toned down versions of recent pop hits; quiet enough to actually have a conversation with friends. They also make a spectacular sloe gin.

Late at night, we were back at Marienplatz. Everything was closed and the square was empty. It’s a bit surreal to see it that way, but I highly recommend going there when it’s quiet.

Day 10 – Munich, Germany

The 1979 BMW Art Car seen at the BMW Museum.

This was our final full day in Munich (we had to leave the next morning for the airport), and we decided to spend it at the BMW Museum and BMW Welt. The Welt is free to enter. It’s basically a showroom for all of their products and there are a few cafes and restaurants inside as well. The BMW Museum cost 10€ per person. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a car person per say. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the craftsmanship of some vehicles, and I have to say that this was an incredibly well-designed building and the exhibits were put together with care and precision. We really enjoyed ourselves here. My only wish is that I had also gotten to do the tour of the plant. Unfortunately, the plant was closed for holidays until a week into November, so we didn’t get to do that this time.

In the evening, while we were back in Marienplatz, we couldn’t decide on where to go for dinner, so we paused to buy a sausage in a bun from a vendor. It was alright. I would have preferred a bratwurst.

No matter though. We chose to finish off our trip with one last visit to Augustiner Klosterwirt. We imbibed in some more local beer, sausages, pork shoulder and spinach dumplings. It was warm, comforting food, and I couldn’t think of any better send off.

Mellow & Magnificent Maritimes: Trip Recap & Gallery

About a week and a half before Canada celebrated 150 years of confederation, I found myself travelling to the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for the first time. Had I not met my boyfriend, who knows when I would have taken the time to visit the eastern side of the country. After all, it’s usually less expensive to fly half way around the world than it is to make your way from one end of Canada to the other.

But, we had good reason to go. We were off to visit his family in Dalhousie, New Brunswick with plans for stops in Charlottetown, P.E. I. and Halifax, Nova Scotia. With no set itinerary in place, each day ended up being a surprise. I’ll recap everything as best as I can. Should anyone be interested in more details about sights or activities mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the comments below.

P.E.I.

We took a red eye flight from Edmonton to Halifax. Early the next morning, as soon as we deplaned, we picked up our rental car and drove straight to Prince Edward Island. Along the way we grabbed photos with the giant blueberry in Oxford, Nova Scotia and the friendly potato statue in front of Blue Roof Distillers (tours and vodka tastings are available) in Malden, New Brunswick.

The Confederation Bridge

A few hours later, we eventually made it to the New Brunswick side of the Confederation Bridge. We took a quick break there and walked up to a viewpoint to snap a few pictures of the 12.9 km bridge. I wasn’t aware of the fact that it’s the longest bridge in the world to cross over ice-covered water, and the sheer length of it didn’t actually hit me until we were driving the full distance. From a construction standpoint, it truly is a feat of engineering.

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Once we set foot on the other side of the bridge, we decided to pop into the information centre. There, we picked up a pamphlet called “The Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island.” It just seemed like the appropriate way to spend our time in this province. I immediately recognized one of the photos from my research before the trip, so we headed there as soon as we’d gotten a scoop of Cowconut Cream Pie ice cream in a fresh waffle cone from the Cows shop.

As we continued, we paused for pictures of the cheeky signs at the Kool Breeze Ice Cream Barn and we also picked up some much needed sustenance from the Da Mama’s Kitchen shack.

West Point Lighthouse

The drive from the visitor centre to the West Point Lighthouse was about an hour and a half. The 69 foot tall navy and white lighthouse was built in 1875 and manned until 1963. It is one of the most recognizable spots on the island and it has actually been converted into an inn and museum. Those who are keen to stay the night there have the option to do so. From the lighthouse is easy access to the beach and boardwalk.

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When we were done exploring the area around the lighthouse, we made our way back to Charlottetown. We’d booked a room at the new Sydney Boutique Inn & Suites. Recently opened, a portion of the building and grounds were still under construction, but that didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Unique touches from the converted 1857 Notre Dame Convent still remain alongside the updated, luxurious rooms. Shortly after checking in, we washed up and took a quick nap before returning to our adventures.

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Charlottetown is fairly small, so it’s easy to walk to most places. My boyfriend led us to The Gahan House, which is both a brewery and restaurant. On a Thursday night, it was full of people. However, we lucked out and snagged a comfortable window-side table that overlooked the patio and the street. We shared some beer tasters and ordered a much deserved dinner. While I have to say that my Lobster Gnocchi seemed to lack in the lobster (and rock crab) department, it was still pretty delicious. Yet, the definite star of the show was the Big G Burger. Stacked with beef, Cows white cheddar, maple stout pulled pork, Sriracha slaw, bacon and apple chutney, it was phenomenal.

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We ended the evening with a stroll along the waterfront where it looked like the city was gearing up for Canada Day celebrations.

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The next morning, before we left, we checked out Prince Edward Battery in Victoria Park. Then, on the drive out of Charlottetown, we spotted the flagship Cows Creamery that advertised factory tours. The tour itself is self-guided with a video introduction at the beginning and video screens as you move throughout the glass-protected areas of t-shirt production, ice cream making and cheese aging. No visit to a Cows shop is complete without a cone.

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Halifax

Welcome to Nova Scotia

With Charlottetown in our rear view mirror, we were on our way back to Halifax for the start of the weekend. It’s a must to take a photo at the beautiful “Welcome to Nova Scotia” sign with it’s miniature lighthouse and pretty landscaping. We also noticed wind turbines galore as we drove down the highway.

Upon entering Halifax, my boyfriend gave me a quick tour of the city by car; he showed me where he used to live in the city and then he pointed out the Dalhousie campus where my dad went to university for architecture. Afterwards, we quickly checked into the Hampton Inn by Hilton Halifax Downtown, which provided us with a comfortable two-night stay and free breakfast in a revitalized part of the city. Parking along the street was free over the weekend, so we found a spot for our rental and hoofed it the majority of the time.

As we wandered around Halifax, we noted an abundance of new development towards the waterfront and major construction down the usually busy Argyle Street. The latter was a bit of a disappointment as my boyfriend was hoping for me to experience the usual lively atmosphere found at the bars and restaurants along that stretch. No matter though. We made the best of it.

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Late reservations were made for dinner at The Bicycle Thief, which meant we had some time to kill before we ate. Therefore, a good chunk of our evening was spent at the Public Gardens. The grounds are pristine, green and lush. Each space felt inviting. Had the weather not taken a turn, we could have lingered a lot longer. Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up and the sky became cloudy and we needed to find an alternative venue. As fast as we tried to book it towards the waterfront, we still got caught in the rain. Thankfully, we were able to take cover under a doorway until the downpour subsided and we remained minimally wet.

With the storm quieted, we sprinted down the street and, in a split second, we opted to pop into what turned out to be Shuck Seafood & Raw Bar. Had we not already made plans for supper, I would have just stayed here instead. But, since we only had about half an hour to fill, we stuck with drinks only. My boyfriend kept it simple by ordering a pint of beer. I, on the other hand, asked what kind of non-alcoholic beverages they had. To my amazement, they were very attentive. The bartender came over to find out more about what flavours I like in my drinks and then he went back to his station to whip something up for me. What arose was a concoction that included mango puree, peppercorn flower, grenadine and pineapple foam. When the bartender dropped it off, he told me that if I wasn’t happy with it, he’d try his hand at creating another mocktail to my liking. That wasn’t necessary though. It was just slightly sweet and finished off with a sour note, and that was good enough. The best part was that my drink only cost $4. Not too shabby for an impromptu drop-in.

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Finally, it was time for dinner. The Bicycle Thief (paying homage to the classic film of the same name) is a happening Italian restaurant situated right along the waterfront. Despite the chilly weather, a few guests braved the cold by sitting out on the patio. We, however, we sat inside. My first impression of the place was that it was incredibly crowded and loud. Then, when we were brought to our seats, I observed how out of place this particular table was. It was angled oddly at a sharp corner in the restaurant and my chair backed into the couple next to us. Yet, the place was full, it was late and we were hungry, so we settled in and perused the menu. I will say that the complimentary focaccia bread and butter provided at the start of the meal was soft and fresh. The pasta dishes were so-so though. We didn’t feel that they were anything special; the Spaghettini ‘Aglio e Olio’ in a fresh herb and lemon gremolata with jumbo shrimp, scallops and mussels fared better with a decent amount of seafood and punchy flavours, but my boyfriend said his Linguini Fra Diavola was bland. Paired with the fact that our table was jostled by passing staff on a couple of occasions (it actually slid away at one point), our experience was severely dampened. We politely mentioned our feelings to the server and she promptly spoke with management about the situation. When she returned, she offered us free dessert, which we accepted (the chocolate cake was wonderful), and we saw that the staff was actually taking our complaint seriously by making arrangements to have the table removed.

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On our second morning in Halifax, we took a drive to Peggy’s Cove. Heavy fog enveloped us almost the entire way there and didn’t dissipate as we arrived at the lighthouse. A biting wind also deterred us from staying longer. The misty air provided some interesting photos, but it’s nothing like what I imagine it would be to see the place on a clear day. Maybe next time.

Not ready to head straight back to the city, we made a detour to Fisherman’s Cove. The fishing village has been in existence for 200 years and has since been restored to house several shops and studios along the boardwalk. The tide was low while we were there, so it was also possible to step off of the walkway and right onto the sandy beach.

A drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co.

When we got back into the city, we made our way to a friend’s home for dinner. Then, before calling it a night, we capped off our evening with a drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co., conveniently located right next door to our hotel. The space is awesome as the brewery is completely open and in view of patrons as they sit and drink. There’s also an expansive outdoor sidewalk patio that would be lovely on a warm day.

A gorgeous day out at Point Pleasant Park.

The following morning was our last in Halifax. Prior to leaving, we trekked through some of the wooded paths and along the water of Point Pleasant Park. On a sunny, blue sky day, it was an excellent way to finish our time in the city.

Shediac, NB

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Shediac is known as the lobster capital of the world. Hence the World’s Largest Lobster that greets visitors. It’s a cute place with pretty beaches. Yet, we simply stopped through for the photo op and some lunch. We took a chance on Kuro Sushi. The online reviews were top notch. Since it was mid-afternoon, the place was empty. My boyfriend ordered the California roll and tempura shrimp roll. The latter was fine, but the California roll left much to be desired. The issue with his and mine was that the avocado was nowhere near ripe enough, but they served it anyway. My combo also included six pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna and white tuna). Those were fine. The fish was thinly sliced on top of the rice, but it tasted good.

Dalhousie, NB

Inch Arran Beach

Our main stop on the Maritimes tour was Dalhousie, New Brunswick. This is where my boyfriend’s parents live. The town has lost a couple of its largest employers over the years, so the majority of residents are often retired or live there part-time during the summer. It’s small and charming with many properties that overlook the water and provide views of Quebec across the way. There’s a great gift shop in town that offers visitors a chance to purchase handcrafted items made by local artisans. My favourite thing? The Bon Ami ice cream shop where I went three times during our week there.

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The day after we arrived, we ventured to the Inch Arran Lighthouse and followed the shoreline as far as we could go before turning back towards town. There are an abundance of mussel shells scattered along the beach by birds. But, if you look closely enough, you may find tiny crabs and seashells as well as coveted sea glass.

One of the things I looked forward to most while there was lobster dinner. The family had ordered 20 pounds of fresh fished lobster for a mid-week supper. They boiled the lobster and then let it cool for about 15 minutes in salted water. When they were served, the meat was still warm and juicy. The lobster was succulent and flavourful with absolutely no need for anything like garlic or butter. My only qualm is that it makes for a messy meal. Yet, the divine and filling meat is worth it.

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I also loved our day canoeing. The weather cooperated and plenty of sunscreen had to be slathered on in preparation for time out on the Restigouche River. This was considered a beginner-level run on the water and it was very easy going. All of our boating equipment (canoes, kayaks, paddles and life jackets) were rented from Nature Adventure out of the village of Matapédia in Gaspésie, Quebec. For the day it worked out to $50 per person.

That same evening, we waited until dark to set off fireworks, which were also purchased from the reserve in Quebec. They sell huge packages of fireworks at a more reasonable cost (although smaller boxes could be found at Walmart or even at the local Bon Ami). Although the fireworks didn’t go as high as the ones set up by professionals, they were still impressive and just as sparkly. These also served as our own early Canada Day celebration.

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If anyone is interested, we also took a couple of drives out of Dalhousie to neighbouring villages and cities, including: Charlo, Campbellton and Bathurst. Charlo was passed by a few times during our visit, but the best stop we made while there was for a freshly baked pie from Le Moulin a Café. They’ve won numerous accolades for their food and baking. In Campbellton, one will find Sugarloaf Provincial Park. While there, my boyfriend and his brothers climbed Sugarloaf Mountain. Admittedly, I did not join them at the top. I let them do their thing. I was not equipped with the proper footwear and it’s my understanding that it gets a little perilous towards the peak. I did see the photos of the view from the apex though, and it looked spectacular. Bathurst was more of an excuse to take a scenic drive, but we found ourselves at Nectar for lunch. It’s situated right next to the Bay of Chaleur, so there is a pretty vista while dining. Our one complaint was with the portion of meat in the sandwich my boyfriend ordered (four ounces of chicken barely made a dent in the pretzel bun). Otherwise, the food tasted decent and the prices were fair.

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When our vacation was all over, we had to drive back from Dalhousie, New Brunswick to Halifax. There was break for food at Joey’s Pizza & Pasta in Sackville, the town of my boyfriend’s alma mater, Mount Allison University. They make some great pizzas and garlic fingers with a super fluffy donair sauce.

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If I could sum up our holiday in five words, they’d be: quaint, relaxed, picturesque, welcoming and lobster. This type of trip is essentially the complete opposite of what I typically do when I’m away from home. Most days in the Maritimes were extremely laid-back. We spent them ambling to the ice cream shop, hanging out along the waterfronts, driving about town or down the highway just for the sake of exploring and sitting by the fire pit at night. While it may not be the ideal trip for someone as antsy as me, it’s certainly perfect for those who really want to get away from the hustle and bustle and just unwind without a care in the world.

Travel Roundup: Hong Kong, Macau & Japan 2016

Victoria Harbour

Victoria Harbour

It’s a brand new year, and four weeks in, I find myself looking back at 2016. It was quite the whirlwind, and I’m reminded of just how lucky I am, especially when it comes to travelling.

This past November was a big month for me. Not only did I spend another birthday in Vegas, but I was also able to take a fortnight off from work to do some exploring with friends in Asia, specifically Hong Kong, Macau and Japan.

Admittedly, I was slightly worried about being the so-called “guide” for our trio in Hong Kong. When my friends suggested that I go with them because my family is from there and I’ve been several times before, I smiled and agreed. Yet, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I could totally disappoint them. Sure, I’d gone in the past, but I was no expert. My trips to Hong Kong were always oriented around plans with relatives, often leaving very little time to be an actual tourist. They trusted me though, so we forged ahead with putting together a holiday.

What I originally thought was going to be a break primarily situated in Hong Kong ended up including a mini trek across Japan. About eight months before we travelled, the YEG Deals website flagged a round trip flight from Edmonton to Tokyo for a fantastic price and we opted to go for it. This was much to my mother’s dismay. My mom kept telling me that we would have saved money had we booked connecting flights from the start or if we waited for a special on a direct flight to Hong Kong. It was too late to change the booking though and we were determined to make it work.

When November rolled around, I wouldn’t say we were exactly ready. Personally, I felt slightly discombobulated because, for the first time in a while, I wasn’t leaving for a holiday with any sort of itinerary in hand. We did pull it together enough to make sure we had accommodations in all of the cities where we’d be staying. We also found comparatively affordable connecting flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Hiroshima through discount airline HK Express before departing Edmonton. The three of us weren’t totally winging it, but this was unusual for me. I was out of my comfort zone with no clue as to what we were going to do on a day-to-day basis.

Thankfully, our trip happened to coincide with my parents’ holiday to Hong Kong, which means we had a good support system, if necessary. The day we flew into Hong Kong (dead tired from 30 straight hours of travel), they actually met up with us upon our arrival in Causeway Bay. My relatives were gracious enough to let us stay in an extra apartment that they own, and my parents were there to let us into the unit. Although we experienced a few hiccups on the first night of our stay, all issues were remedied by the following day. Our adventure had begun.

I have done a previous post (in photo format) about Hong Kong, so feel free to check that out in addition to what I have to say here. Also, I will say that I’m so pleased that I finally got a chance to explore this territory with minimal family obligations required. Being able to see the city from a different perspective with friends who have never been allowed us to take full advantage of what was on offer. We went at our own pace and it made me feel like this was truly a locale to visit (outside of the usual family reasons).

Accounting for all of the travel time between destinations, we really had to make the most of our days at each destination. Hong Kong was our initial stop, and aside from indulging in all of the food, we thought we’d take in some of the highlights.

Day 1 – Hong Kong

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Day one consisted of a bus ride to the top of Victoria Peak where we got a panoramic view of the city below. We also rode the MTR (one of the best city train systems I know of) to the Kowloon side. There, we waited to see the nighttime laser light show that took place across the water. When it was over, we hoofed it to Dim Dim Sum Hong Kong in Jordan. Named one of the world’s 101 best eateries by Newsweek, we wouldn’t relent until we sought it out. Two words: soup dumplings.

Day 2 – Hong Kong

Dim Sum at the famous Din Tai Fung. Truffled xiaolongbao!

Dim Sum at the famous Din Tai Fung. Truffled xiaolongbao!

We began day two with dim sum at Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain with locations worldwide. Two of their branches in Hong Kong, including the one in Causeway Bay, were awarded one Michelin star each. More expensive than the dim sum we ate the night before, it was absolutely worthy of our money. Again, the soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao) were the way to go, but I’d praise the wontons and buns, too. I also love that you can watch the staff in the kitchen. Through the windows, at the entrance to the eatery, we could see them making all the little dumplings and wontons by hand, so we knew the food was fresh!

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When we had our fill, we worked our way to the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. Missing the sign directing us there, we wound up getting a little sidetracked. We spent some time climbing the steps of what looked to be a memorial before we gave up and went back down to level ground. That’s when we happened upon the correct entrance. As we scaled our way up the steep hillside on a particularly hot and muggy day, we took in all of the golden gods lining the trail. Eventually, we made it to the top! It’s a beautiful little space filled with colourful statues. Despite the somewhat challenging ascent and the vertigo inducing descent, this off-the-beaten-track spot is one to see.

Next, we stopped in Diamond Hill to check out the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. This is actually one of my favourite attractions in Hong Kong. Located in Kowloon, it’s a surprising respite from the surrounding hustle and bustle just outside of the garden walls. The nunnery is also a quiet area that magically reverberates with the soul piercing sounds of chants from those who pray within.

Our second evening consisted of barhopping in Central. 001, a “secret” speakeasy with stylish décor and fancy cocktails, kicked off our plans. We then skipped to Brewdog, Tipping Point SoHo and Shack Tapazaka back in Causeway Bay.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

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Day three was sort of a write off when it came to being a tourist. I had lunch with my family at the Crowne Plaza near our apartment, so we spent much of the morning wandering until about one o’clock when we split up for a few hours. When my friends and I reconnected, we chose to take the bus to Stanley Beach. It’s a tranquil site in Hong Kong with sights of the water and a number of restaurants. After we walked the pier and the boardwalk, we settled in for dinner and drinks at Beef & Liberty (suggested to us by the owners of Moonzen Brewery). For a burger joint, they did that type of food really well. The only downside was the slow service, so it’s a good thing we weren’t in a rush.

Day 4 – Macau

A pretty building by Senado Square in Macau.

A pretty building by Senado Square in Macau.

On the fourth day, we ventured to Macau on a TurboJET ferry. Now, most of the hotels in the coastal city offer free shuttles to and from the ferry terminal. It’s simply a matter of finding the right bus. To save a little money and allow ourselves two rooms for our one night stay, we opted to book at the Crowne Plaza. The accommodations are awesome – modern in both style and technology – and, built in 2014, the hotel itself is relatively new and affordable. Unfortunately, the shuttle doesn’t come by to pick up guests as often as some of the larger resorts and it’s also a little further away from the main attractions. In fact, the cabbie who dropped us off at the end of the evening gave me a talking to; he stated that it was too far and we shouldn’t have booked there. That’s just his opinion though. The location certainly isn’t that bad.

Regardless, we had a good time in Macau. Senado Square is an open gathering spot that constantly looks as if it’s filled by a giant mass of people. With its Portuguese origins, the architecture is colourful with intricate details, but it has become pretty commercial. From there, we followed the signage that led up to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The façade of the old church made a nice backdrop for all of those who were taking selfies on the steps. I quite like the Fortress of Macau. The vantage points at the top of the building allow visitors a sprawling outlook over the city.

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Since Macau is the Vegas of China, we also made a point of checking out the major hotels and casinos. That included the Grand Lisboa (I’ve stayed here previously), Wynn and MGM. Interestingly, most of the gamblers weren’t drinking or smoking; this was a total 180 from our observations in Las Vegas.

Dinner and drinks were had at Heart Bar. I had read about this location in a brewing magazine back at Brewdog in Hong Kong and it pretty much materialized in front of us. The pizzas were okay, but the cocktails were stellar and so was the bartender. He happened to be the one who seated us, and he had excellent recommendations. We completed our night by working off those calories as we searched for a way to get to the lighthouse on the peak (Guia Fortress). Venturing towards it, we finally found a route that led us to the structure. We weren’t able to enter it though, so when we were done, we worked our way back to the main part of town. Not ideal in the dark, but we ultimately made it to a more populated area without having to take any pitch black, narrow staircases down the hill.

Day 5 – Macau & Hong Kong

Lunch at North

Lunch at North

Our fifth day was scant in terms of sightseeing. We stopped at the Macau ferry terminal in the morning to book our tickets back to Hong Kong. Knowing we had some time to kill before our boat departed, we jumped onto the shuttle to the Venetian. It’s very similar to the resort in Vegas, so it was somewhat old hat for us. Although, I would argue that our lunch at North – specializing in northern Chinese and Sichuan cuisine – was a great way to end our time in Macau.

When we returned to Hong Kong, we dropped our bags off at the apartment and then we immediately set out for our most indulgent dinner on the trip. Tate Dining Room & Bar, run by Chef Vicky Lau, is another restaurant that has earned its Michelin star. At 980 HKD (approximately $170 CDN) for a 6-course meal – drinks not included – one has to be willing and ready to appreciate the flavours and the visuals. We loved it. From start to finish, this was a dinner that surprised and gratified us.

Day 6 – Hiroshima

The following morning we commenced our journey to Hiroshima, so it was chiefly a travel day. By the time we arrived at the Japanese airport and bused into the city, it was quite late. Another long day of travel exhausted us. Arriving in Hiroshima, we wanted to freshen up. Our apartment was easy enough to find and we had no problems getting into the place; however, it wasn’t exactly as advertised. Essentially a micro unit, this apartment was ideal for one person, two at the most. Advertising the place as able to accommodate three people was surely pushing it, but we managed. Otherwise, it was clean and well-appointed. We finished our evening with a satisfying supper at Orenokushikatsukuroda Hiroshimaminamiguchiekimaeten (what a mouthful) where we stuffed ourselves silly with a bunch of deep fried veggie, meat and cheese tempura battered skewers.

Day 7 – Hiroshima

The ferry from Tadanoumi to Rabbit Island.

The ferry from Tadanoumi to Rabbit Island.

Day seven marked a full week of vacation and our second day in Hiroshima. It actually brings up mixed feelings for me. My morning consisted of attempts to exchange my Hong Kong Dollars for Japanese Yen. I wasn’t able to find a nearby money exchange, and the first bank didn’t accept my cash. The second bank did, but at a hefty fee. Since I didn’t have the option to go elsewhere, I went ahead with the transaction.

When that was completed, we rode the train to Tadanoumi. From there, we caught a ferry that took us to Rabbit Island (Ōkunoshima). This was the single reason why Hiroshima was tacked onto our itinerary. My friend has a pet bunny and is basically obsessed with rabbits in general, so when she learned of the isle’s existence, there was no question we were going there. All-in-all, it was an enjoyable time. The bunnies that have somehow occupied the landmass (they’re apparently not the ones from the old labs that used to be there) are very friendly and will approach if there’s food. Indeed, they can be extremely excitable. One rabbit, found in a more secluded area, came up to me, and upon being fed, was so thrilled that it not only did a full 360 degree leap in the air, but while doing so, it also managed to pee itself at the same time. That urine struck me square in the right arm and leg. My jacket and jeans ended up moderately soaked. So, cute as these rabbits were, it ended up being a damper (pun intended) to the visit for me. Thankfully, my clothes dried quickly due to the windy conditions on the island and there was no stench. I was able to last the rest of the day without needing to detour for a change of clothes.

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For me, the day was saved with a meal at this amazing little ramen shop called Ippeiya. We learned of the joint through a Google search, and wow. The scrumptious bowls served to us were absolutely worth the chilly walk. I’d even go as far as to say I’d fly back to Hiroshima just to have another helping of their curry ramen.

Day 8 – Hiroshima & Kyoto

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Week two started with our last day in Hiroshima. Once we stored our luggage at the train station, we used our last few hours before departure to amble over to Hiroshima Castle, and, in fairly ominous fashion, we also took in the remaining ruins of the Atomic Bomb Dome (Hiroshima Peace Memorial) and Peace Park. Oddly, this was a rather fitting place to be seeing as how, just the day before, we had witnessed the results of the U.S. Presidential election and Donald Trump’s victory. The location isn’t without its beauty though. I’m glad we stopped there to stand in the presence of history.

Once we had perused the whole park, we realized we had better hoof it back to the station. While we missed the bullet train for the hour we booked (they are super punctual), our seats were non-reserved, so we were able to catch the subsequent one without any penalty. Approximately three hours later, we were in Kyoto. Our Airbnb here was more than we expected, mainly in comparison to the accommodations in Hiroshima. This place was huge! It was an open concept apartment with six single beds, a big closet, full kitchen, a large shower room, separate toilet and in-suite laundry (desirable after the rabbit incident). The only difficulty we encountered was the terrible portable Wi-Fi. Other than that, we couldn’t have asked for more.

My one travel companion knew someone in Kyoto, so we got a hold of this friend who graciously took us out on the town. The three of us were dying for some kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, so he drove us to one where the majority of the plates are 100 yen each (roughly $1 CDN).

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If I’m correct, the one we went to was called Muten Kura Sushi Kyotogaidaimae. It was amazing. Not only was there a constant stream of plates running by at table-level (although, we did see a very rare crash on the course, which stalled things), but there was also a second conveyor belt that was used specifically for dishes we ordered through the tablet. Whenever we had a craving for something that we didn’t roll by ready-made, all we had to do was press a few buttons and it’d be there in minutes. Plus, for every five plates returned through a slot at the far end of the table, a game would be triggered on the tablet, providing diners with a chance to win a prize from the machine located at the top of the conveyor shelf. We only got one toy after giving back about thirty plates, so the system may be rigged. That’s okay though. It was still a lot of fun, and everything was delicious and fresh.

Next, we were taken to Shogun-zuka Seiryu-den Temple where I attempted to snap dozens of photos of the temple, grounds, red maple trees (still in the midst of the transition from summer to fall) and city in the dark. Inside the temple is a replica painting of Aofudo (Blue Acala). Considered a masterpiece of Japanese Buddhist art, the actual piece is enshrined out of sight. The temple also has a huge observation deck that provides views of various Kyoto landmarks.

Our new Kyoto guide then led us to his friend’s bar, Loop Salon. There, we spent the rest of our evening imbibing on some refreshing cocktails (I NEED that bottle of FAUCHON Paris tea liqueur!), gin from the fairly new Kyoto Distillery and gyoza that we had delivered as a late night snack. A few hours passed and we determined that it was time to hit up a 7/11 before heading home.

Day 9 – Kyoto

Ramen at Kobushi

Ramen at Kobushi

When the four of us awoke in the morning, we didn’t have to go too far for food. Within a block from our apartment building, on either side, were several eateries. Failing to get a table at the first place we selected, ramen felt like an excellent second choice, so we opted to try Kobushi. With fish broths, we were taking a bit of a chance since my one friend is allergic to shellfish, but we managed okay having a local there to ask questions for us. The restaurant itself is tiny and all the table/counter space is shared. Rather than going with a soup ramen, I went for an oil-based dish instead. I appreciated trying a different take on this Japanese staple, and I’d undoubtedly eat it again.

Once we ate enough, we hopped on a bus that took us to the Zen Buddhist Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinjaju-ji or Rokuon-ji). What a gorgeous and bright day to see this National Special Historic Site. The sunlight reflecting off of the pavilion and the water was picturesque. Following that, we rode another bus to the Ryōan-ji Temple. Known for its large rock formations in the Japanese Zen garden, I found this to be an interesting locale. Maybe I’m a little too restless for a place like the garden. Nevertheless, the land was lovely with its large pond, unusual landscaping and colour-changing trees. Our last stop on the historical tour was the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Regrettably, we got to the grounds a tad too late to make the last entrance.

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With nothing more to see in the area, we went back to downtown Kyoto where we picked up some alcoholic beverages from a shop, cracked them open (yes, you can drink in public), and then perused the Nishiki Market. Basically a long, narrow alleyway filled with stalls and storefronts, it was a lot of fun to see all of the different trinkets and traditional Japanese food available for purchase. For supper, we went to Yamachan for maboroshi no tebasaki (deep-fried chicken wings). These were ridiculously delicious. Complete with instructions on how best to eat them, the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and these wings satisfied any salty cravings we may have had.

Dessert followed at Saryo Tsujiri Gion where we ordered fancy parfait glasses filled high with matcha flavoured ice cream, mochi, cake and whipped cream. We then investigated the maze-like streets, which led us to the Hokanji Temple and Yasaka-no-to-Pagoda. The structure was subtly lit against the backdrop of the dark sky, making for a striking image. We then returned to Loop Salon for a second low-key evening of drinks.

Day 10 – Kyoto

The gates into Fushimi Inari Shrine.

The gates into Fushimi Inari Shrine.

On day three in Kyoto, we ventured out as a trio and made our way to the train station where we had soba noodle set lunches at Kyoto Tagoto and dessert at Mister Donut. Afterwards, the train took us to Fushimi Inari Shrine where we climbed Mount Inari. It’s no Mount Fuji, but it was enough of a workout for me. The higher you go, the quieter it gets though. I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile hike.

To-ji Temple was next on our list. There, we saw the pagoda and exhibits featuring Esoteric Buddhist art. Getting a chance to go inside the main floor of the pagoda to see the interior was neat. All of the detail was spectacular. Some of the larger statues are also very remarkable when seen close-up, especially the statue of Yakushi (circa 1603) found in the Kondo.

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Done with the temple, we wandered to Kyoto Brewing Company where we had a few drinks on their makeshift patio. Complete with a food truck to feed the masses, it’s a cool venue to hangout for an hour or two.

Beers were followed by some shopping and sustenance at Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese BBQ restaurant. We tried everything from fondue chicken to beef tongue and pork belly to horse meat tartare. The flavours were delightful and the cuts of meat were easy to cook ourselves.

Now, I’m certain that our local friend picked Gyu-Kaku on purpose. Situated on the second story of a building, the main floor housed part of Club World. We’d heard stories of the latter throughout our holiday, so it seemed fitting to the guys that we should go. My girlfriend and I reluctantly went in with them. Although we had our reservations, it turned out to be a blast. The main space of the nightclub is much smaller than we expected, meaning it got cramped. But, the other room, where a different DJ was playing, had a lounge-like atmosphere that we appreciated for a good chunk of the evening. Festivities for our last day in Kyoto ended with the worst bowl of ramen I’ve ever had. Apparently, the food at this one shop only tastes okay if you’re drunk. I guess I didn’t get near that point because I couldn’t even eat it. Those noodles were just too undercooked.

Day 11 – Tokyo

Chicken wings at Kawara Cafe.

Chicken wings at Kawara Cafe.

Day 11 consisted mostly of travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo. When we arrived in Tokyo, our Airbnb in Shibuya wasn’t available for another couple of hours, so we hunkered down at Kawara Café & Kitchen for a late lunch. Once we were able to drop off all of our stuff at the apartment (also wonderful with a small kitchen, two beds in the living room, a separate bed room, full bathroom and laundry), we went back out to explore the neighbourhood.

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To satiate ourselves, we combed the internet for sushi places and came across Uobei, another conveyor belt restaurant that is actually owned by the Genki Sushi chain. Rather than having plates that constantly make their rounds, diners are actually seated in rows where each line has their own belts. A tablet assigned to an individual is used to place orders of up to three items at a time, ensuring that every plate comes fresh from the kitchen. To avoid any wait, the belts are stack three high, so food can be delivered on multiple levels. Admittedly, the atmosphere does make one feel as if they’re part of a weird assembly line; however, it’s efficient. I also loved that the tablet had buttons that provided multiple options for each sushi order (i.e. no wasabi). Plus, it’s affordable.

Day 12 – Tokyo

Good Town Doughnuts

Good Town Doughnuts

A dozen days into the trip and it occurred to us that our vacation was coming to a quick end, so we packed it in on our last full day in Tokyo. We started off by seeking out the Good Town Doughnuts shop (I read about it in a Japanese magazine). Since we kind of ambled and popped into other stores along the way, by the time we got there, our snack ended up being our lunch. What a treat though. I’d say their fluffy pastries are the closest rival to Lucky’s Doughnuts (in Vancouver) that I’ve managed to find. Turns out I just had to travel half way around the world to do it.

Eating completed, we strolled to Harajuku (Takeshita-dori) where we did a bit of shopping. Towards the end of the area, we made a turn down a narrow street where I found a stall selling some clothing, including the now ubiquitous bomber jacket. Instead of a satin one, as seems to be very popular, I noticed one hanging there made using black velvet. Decorated with appliques of embroidered flowers and tiger heads, it was the best one I’d seen. I didn’t think it was my size, but the vendor had already pulled a mirror out, so I could see how it looked on me. It fit like a glove and I adored it. It was also a steal at about $60 CDN. That’s about half of what I would have paid at home for something similar and of the same quality. Looking at Wikipedia as I wrote this post, I learned that some of the stores in Harajuku are known as “antenna shops” where manufacturers provide prototypes as a way to test the market. That’s really cool because that means one can walk away a trendsetter and not even know it.

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We continued our walk by heading to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower (Tocho) in Shinjuku. There, we were able to take the elevator up, free of charge, to one of the observation decks on the 45th floor. My friend said that on the other side of the block is where he remembered seeing the homeless cardboard housing, and that’s something I had wondered about. As a child, I had been to Tokyo, and I distinctly remember seeing dozens of large cardboard boxes lined up outside the train stations. Those were people’s homes. They probably still exist, but we never saw them during our holiday.

Ready to head back to Shibuya after a long day, our quest for a good spot to dine turned into our goal. It was raining out (the only time during our whole trip), so we didn’t go too far from our apartment. Yet, we still lucked out when we stumbled upon a dining room called Jibieno Hut (I found the site by Google translating while in Tokyo, but it eludes me now; if you’d like the logo/Japanese name, email me for a photo. I found the website again!), specializing in wild game. Our night was completed with shopping at Loft department store and one last ice cream bar from 7/11.

Day 13 – Tokyo

The final day of our vacation crept up all too fast. We had to be out of our apartment pretty early, so we stored our luggage in lockers at Shibuya train station first thing in the morning. With our few remaining hours, we decided to take a look at what was on the other side of the building (not a whole lot). We did, however, get to use a vending machine that dispensed tickets, which we gave to the restaurant cook who then whipped up a fresh order of food for us. That was different. We don’t know how to read Japanese, so we relied on the photos. If there are no pictures and only text on the buttons, it’s a chance one has to take when making their selection.

A bit more shopping at UNIQLO and 109 Men’s, a snack at Uobei Sushi, a ride on the Narita Express train, and then we were back on a plane to Edmonton. Just like that, it was over.

I’m so happy to have had this experience. I know that my travel companions are people that I can get along with for a prolonged period of time and I made a new friend in Kyoto. My single disappointment is that my passport is only one “stamp” fuller as Hong Kong and Macau no longer issues them. Japan was the only place where I received a sticker. My one regret is that my boyfriend couldn’t join us this time. The upside is that I know I’ll be going on more adventures, so there will be more chances in the future.