Thursday, October 30, 2003


>> Food/Dim Sum

1) House of Canton (dim sum), 5/F, Lee Gardens, Causeway Bay, MTR exit F. Bright, lots of windows. Tasty, slightly higher end, you mark on paper what dim sum you want, and they bring it to you to order.

2) Metropole dim sum, 4/F, United Centre (MTR exit D?). Big, loud, family oriented, women come around in carts.

3) mango juice - there is a chain named "Hui Lau San" but there is no English name. You'll know it by 3 Chinese kanji characters in gold characters on a red sign. (1 mango drink (+ sago, etc.) for US$2.60, 2 for $4 and totally delicious!) Also, there are tons of juice stands all over town.

4) similar rule in Japan applies to Hong Kong: lots of food places inside shopping malls/high rise buildings. casual food courts generally on basement level, higher end restaurants on the upper floors. Time Square in Causeway Bay has a good variety.

5) dai pai dongs - if you don't mind the dirtiness, the food sold on the streets is really delicious. Temple Street has a lot of good restaurants of this style. My favorite is clay pot rice w/ salted duck.

6) Super Star Seafood - the chef from this restaurant beat Iron Chef Chen Kenichi!

7) if you get bored of Hong Kong island area, you can take a ferry or junk boat to Lamma Island and have fresh seafood there.

8) in general, the food in Hong Kong is quite delicious!

>> Fun areas to check out:

1) The Midlevels / Escalator area on HK Island - "new" Hong Kong. They call it "Soho", south of Hollywood Road, and it is a mixture of western chic along with traditional Chinese wet markets, etc. too. Staunton Street/Elgin Street off the Midlevels Escalator has lots of cute little restaurants and bars. Hollywood Road has antique shops and boutiques. There is a bakery on Lyndhurst Terrace near the Escalator that sells good egg tart (daan taat). It is former governor Patton's favorite place to eat it.

2) Causeway Bay, Central to Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island - relatively cleaner, higher end, more "civilized" Hong Kong.

3) Tsim Sha Tsui to Mongkok - totally insane, crowded, dirty. Typical Hong Kong. In general, things get more local (i.e. crowded, dirty, less English) the more inland you go.

4) Sham Shui Po (only if you like electronics).

5) on Sundays, all of the Filipino maids hang out in Central in Statue Square and it is a mad house.

>> To do @ night

There is tons of nightlife in the Lan Kwai Fong / Escalator area in Central. Here are some cool bars:

One-fifth - in Admiralty - supposedly where the hot stars hang out
C Bar - in Lan Kwai Fong; also good looking people go
Dublin Jack - very popular Irish pub
twentyone bar - in Lan Kwai Fong
Dolce Vita - in Lan Kwai Fong
Post-1997 - in Lan Kwai Fong
Phi-B - in the cobble stoned street one block away from Lan Kwai Fong
Ping Mao Mao - in Happy Valley
Green Spot - sometimes hip, but can get cheesy, in Happy Valley
Le Jardin - outdoor garden-y feel in Lan Kwai Fong
f-stop - small dive bar in Lan Kwai Fong

Here is a snipet of Typical Expat Night Life in Hong Kong:

1) go to Lan Kwai Fong (Central), go to one of the many bars in the area or mingle on the street w/ others, have a drink, check people out

2) after getting slightly (or very) drunk at Lan Kwai Fong, take a cab to Wan Chai (10 mins) where you can go to: (note - the following places are NOT sophisticated)

a) Dusk 'til dawn where a cover band sings modern rock;

b) Carnegie's - American type place where people dance on top of the bar;

c) Rick's cafe - dance bar with lots of Caucasian men picking up on easy Chinese and Filipino women;

d) JJ's - dance club at the top floor of the Hyatt where a little bit more upscale, better dressed men do same as (c);

e) Club Ing - nice dance club w/ karaoke in back in Renaissance Hotel that everyone tells me is popular, but everytime I go there is empty.

f)...there are a ton of places to go dancing, etc. in Wan Chai so just hop from place to place.

g) Phi-Bs bar near Lan Kwai Fong

>> Shopping
1) Pirated DVDs, Playstation Games, software - Sham Sui Po is notorious: follow subway signs to Golden Shopping Arcade. Downstairs is software, DVDs, games, etc.; upstairs is Playstation. You can also find these in Mongkok - Tsim Sha Tsui area but you might have to look harder. If you don't see any pirated stuff, it is because there must be a policemen closeby. If you wait long enough, they'll reappear.

2) Tailored clothes - you're going to Bangkok, so I'd recommend getting your clothes tailored there. If you decide to do it in Hong Kong, go to Maxwell's in Tsim Sha Tsui (Suite A, 7th Floor, Han Hing Mansion 38-40 Hankow, Road). They specialize in men's stuff. shirts are around $35 each, min 3, and you pick the material, style, etc. takes 3? days to make.

3) Cheap clothes - For Gap/Banana Republic-like clothing at ~ 1/2 the price, check out any Bossini, U2, G2000, Giordano.

4) notable Street markets - Temple Street Night Market (all sorts of random shit), Ladies Street in Mongkok, Sham Sui Po (electronics galore).

5) knock-off designer purses, shirts, watches, etc. - all over Hong Kong in general, but especially Tsim Sha Tsui, Mongkok

6) eyeglasses - very cheap to get made in hong kong

7) Random - I suggest exploring the neighborhoods I described above. I like shopping in Causeway Bay (Time Square, World Trade Center, etc., Beverly Shopping Center has crazy Japanese stuff) and Central (Landmark etc.) on Hong Kong Island. The shops are a little higher end. Pacific Place in Admiralty is fine too. You can also find good shopping in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok too; it is a little bit lower end. Shanghai Tang and Yue Hwa Chinese Products has higher end chinese-y stuff if you are into that.

>> Touristy things to do @ night
1) go up to the top of the Peninsula hotel (Tsim Sha Tsui) to Felix's for a drink and go to the bathroom. You feel like you're peeing into the Hong Kong Harbor. Gorgeous view + Philippe Starck - need i say more?

2) walk around the waterside promenade / Tsim Sha Tsui / Jordan / Mongkok (Kowloon side) or Causeway Bay/Central (HK side) and check out the view

3) take a tram to the top of the Peak in Central (beautiful view). You can hike around there too.

4) take the star ferry going either way

5) take a tram around Hong Kong Island and sit on the top deck to check out the lights

6) more shopping. Temple Street Night Market.

>> Other touristy attractions that i think worth going:
1) Big Buddha plus the Po Lin Monastery are neat; you need to take ferry to Lantau Island

2) ...if you get sick of the concrete jungle that is Hong Kong, there are actually lots of greenery, beaches too. The 7 stages of the MacLehose Trail, a 100 km hike through New Territories, is beautiful and quite a strenuous hike especially given the crazy heat and humidity in Hong Kong. But well worth going on stages like 2-3 just to get a flavor of a different kind of Hong Kong.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003


I love visiting Europe, and every country has its own charms which make me so happy just to be there. My favorite countries in Western Europe to visit are tied Italy/Spain but France is up there too. The countryside is beautiful and the food is so good!

Here are my France notes which are very old.

- Paris (Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, take Le Bateau Mouche along the Seine River, Notre Dame Cathedral, Musee d’Orsay, Louvre); we ate at Le Volcan and La Brelinette
- Les Baux de Provence – gorgeous ruins town on top of a hill overlooking Provence
- Chateauneuf du Pape – walk around the town and try different wines
- Beaune – walk around the town and try different wines, caves
- Driving around Burgundy
- taking the TGV to get places really fast

- Fontvielle – we stayed at Hotel Latitia, a little b&b; this is a small village near Les Baux with an open market where we ate food and bought tablecloths
- Bordeaux - but we only went for lunch at Cafe Rouge to eat duck confit and drink Bordeaux wines
- Nice & the French Riviera - rocky beaches so not so comfortable to suntan but you can suntan topless; beautiful but crowded in summer and therefore hard to find accomodations; cute areas of town to walk around in
- Pont du Gard - Roman aqueduct which was pretty impressive
- Tours - Chateau de Chenonceau and Azay le Rideau were impressive chateaux
- Chinon - wine tasting, caves

A Blur:
- Les Camargue - I think we saw storks; it was a lot of driving for an anticlimatic time
- Orange - Roman amphitheater; cool if you’ve never seen one before but if you’ve been to Rome, etc. then may not be all that exciting
- Avignon – bridge was OK
- Lyon – another big French city

Memorable food experiences:
- Aix-en-provence – Aixellent where we had soupe de poisson avec sa rouille for the first time; this was our favorite food discovery in France and after this we tried to have soupe de poisson everywhere we went
- Lyon – Rich had veal brain which grossed him out and Rich doesn’t gross out easily from food

Here are William's notes which I hope to use some day:

The biggest challenge is always too many things to see and too little time. I would consider cutting Lyon out of the itinerary and save the extra time for Provence/Arles/Nice. You can already get the French "big city" experience in Paris; Lyon feels like another big city, good but wouldn't make my cut for a first trip to Europe/France. You'll want the extra time in Provence/Arles/Nice. To get from Paris to Provence quickly, you should take the TGV (high speed train) that zips direct from Paris Gare Lyon to Avignon TGV station in 2.5 hours, highly recommended. Be careful, there are two train stations in Avignon, the best car rental connection is at "Avignon TGV" not "Avignon").

In Arles/Provence:

Arles vs. Avignon: "Italophiles like Arles, Poodles like Avignon." If you are driving in Provence, you will probably find it better to stay in Arles. Avignon is harder to get into and out of with a car. Arles has old Roman ruins, is where Van Gogh painted, and in our opinion is a little more quaint. It's still worth a visit to Avignon though to see the Pont d'Avignon and the Palais des Papes.

Bistros/Cafes: Good restaurants in Arles are: L'Olivier, Le Pistou (sit outdoors next to the Roman Arena).

Go to market days in Arles and Isle sur la Sorgue for people watching and interesting shopping. For relaxed meals (but still excellent), gather picnic food. Try the house ("a la maison") terrines, rotisserie chicken, house pates, local cheeses, freshly baked bread, local wines, fresh fruit, and desserts, from the markets or the local charcuteries/ bakeries/ patisseries.

Isle sur la Sorgue Sunday market is also famous for antiques (our favorite in France).

Beautiful villages: Les Baux de Provence, Luberon hill-towns (Gordes, Roussillon, others). Try to visit towns on market days (and get there early).

Other sights: Isle sur la Sorgue market, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Pont du Gard (this is why extra days in Provence are necessary...)

Nice: we've never been there, sorry. We've heard that Eze village, Villefranche sur Mer, and Monaco are good to visit on the Riviera.

In Paris:

The "must see" sights: Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee D'Orsay, Eiffel Tower, boats on the Seine, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, Versailles chateau and gardens. Also: Gardens in Jardin de Luxembourg and Rodin museum. Wander and discover interesting neighborhoods like the Marais district, Isle St-Louis. Paris flea market is great for antiques. Relax and people watch in the sidewalk cafes. Restaurants change quickly but Zagat guide to Paris restaurants was helpful. We liked two places called "Casa Corsica" and "La Christine" in 7th, but check for latest good spots. Get a sense for crowded/popular places that are not on the beaten tourist track. Look around and listen, if everyone's ordering the same thing and it looks good, order that too. If it's not too busy, ask the waiter for recommendations.

Books: most useful for us have been "Rick Steves France" (the most useful sightseeing and general survival info, but only use the restaurant/hotel recommendations if also mentioned elsewhere), "Small Hotels and Inns of Character and Charm in France" (really good listings), and "French or Foe" and "Savoir Flair" by Polly Platt (great insights for foreign visitors into why French act the way they do). French phrase books are also useful for survival phrases but practice is necessary.

When in France, foie gras is a "must try" food.

Finally: Try to speak French, Pack Light! carry-ons only. wear a money belt to prevent pickpockets. keep a journal for future memories. most of all, have fun!!!

(Good suggestions for any travel!)

Here are some additional suggestions from Roehl re: Southern France


Verger des Papes: restaurant on top of the hill in the middle of
CDP, next to the ruins of the castle: remains a very good, friendly place,
with a nice winelist at great prices. And if the weather is good (as it was
luckily) they have a great terrace with a magnificent view. Always worth a

La Sommellerie (on the road to Roquemaure): we slept there as well
2 nights. Good food (although the gigot was slightly disappointing), decent
winelist at good prices. Good QPR.

Chateau des Fines Roches: horrible. Expensive, fairly poor
winelist, small portions, very stiff atmosphere. In my idea, avoid, unless
fake castles with stuffy interiors are your thing. Food was reasonable, but
not great, and as said the portions too small.

La Table du Meunier in Fontvieille (south of Avignon, close to Les
Baux de Provence): great provencal place, must do for a lunch. Although the
wine list is under par, the food and the provencal ambiance is great. Is a
"Bib'Gourmand" in the Michelin guide, and rightly so.

Hiély-Lucullus in Avignon: mixed. Very classic environment, pretty
classic food but pretty good nonetheless, but a really under par winelist for
such a place. They just lost their Michelin star, and I can see why. But if
you like a classic setting with heavy silverware etc., then this is not bad.
But not the best in Avignon.

Small note: in his Rhône book, RP mentions Restaurant Les
Domaines in Avignon, a provencal-type restaurant with a great winelist
with (and I quote RP) "three to four dozen top quality CDPs that can be
purchased for a song". Well, it is still there, and I walked in just to
check the winelist, and the selection and the prices are still great. Must
visit. I had dinner there with my wife a few years back with a nice Beaucastel


La Sommellerie in CDP: pretty good midrange hotel for a decent
price. As it is located on the busy road to Roquemaure, ask for a room at the
Hotel Kyriad in Avignon: also a pretty good midrange hotel for a
decent price, but more modern (better bathrooms, minibar, and something that
claims to be an air conditioner). Great location on the Place de la Horloge,
smack in the center of Avignon.


One of Paris' best-kept lodging secrets: special hotel floor atop the historic Hôtel-Dieu Hospital

Sunday, October 26, 2003

NOTES FROM BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII TRIP, September 26 - October 4, 2003 



Palms Cliff House - $250 / night for Orchard suite; 15 minute drive from Hilo, luxury bed & breakfast; beautiful view of Pacific Ocean from rooms, delicious breakfast exactly at 8, spa at the window, sparse furniture, rooms not part of original building; John (owner) very mainland & business-like


Cafe Pesto - cute, tasty restaurant with big fans; an aloha shirt plus dockers kind of place; multiple locations, with one in Hilo and Kawaihae; liked the poke and kahlua pig & pineapple wood fired oven pizza

Ocean Sushi Deli - in Hilo on Keawe Street; casual sushi place; lots of variety in ifish and unique rolls which you can't find in the mainland; I recommend checking it out!

Tex Drive In - in Hanokaa off Highway 19; famous for hot malasadas (donut without a hole); plate lunches and hamburger with sweet bread looked delicious; very local drive through plus outdoor seating

Hilo Rice Noodle - in abandonned strip mall on Kinoole Street in Hilo; very local Chinese / Vietnamese food; I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here



Fairmont Orchid - paid $199 because Brown's Restaurant was under construction (should have been like $400 or something); on Kohala Coast off Mauna Lani Drive; has own beach where you can go snorkeling and see green sea turtles; awesome pool is 1 m deep all around; Aveda products in the rooms

Hilton Waikaloa - huge, Disneyland-like - monorail and boats just to get around the complex! neat dolphin park; particularly popular with families and tourists from Asia


Sam Choy's - turn off Hina-Lani from the main highway 5 minutes south of airport, and make an immediate right turn, then left right after Tesoro; good rice plates and local fare; breakfast and lunch only (Koloko Industrial Park near airport at 73-5576 Kauhole Street, Bay 1 (808) 326-1545); casual

Daniel Thiebaud - french asian cuisine in Waimea, got great reviews in Wine Spectator, but I wasn't that impressed with the food especially for the price ($45 per person with no wine or dessert); maybe prix fixe would have been better value for the money but they ran out by 7:30

Harbor Seafood Bar - in Kawaihae; good pupus; sit outside and look at the views of the container ships; seems like a local haole place; not touristy so I liked it

L&L's Drive In - delicious plate lunches; really enjoyed the Loco Moco (hamburger steak, gravy & grilled onions with 2 scoops of rice); in malls all over Hawaii; popular local fast food

Morelli's Pizza - in Waimea; had Ranch pizza, was fine and serviceable; wouldn't go out of my way for it

Big Island Grill - inexpensive restaurant, but stick to the plate lunches; typical American fish preparation fair

Kona Village luau - $75 / person; entire luau in a small compact village area; imu ceremony in enclosed corral area; no sunset view so not as atmospheric as expected; food was tasty; very business-like staff; lots of honeymooners from New York when we went; I'm not sure if I'd say it was was worth it; luau on Fridays only; (808) 325-5555

Punaluu - Hawaiian sweet bread you can can get in their shop in the south of the island or at KTA supermarket

Volcano National Park

Crater Rim Drive tour information at NPS site and Volanoes National Park site

Description of Trails in Volcanoes National Park here

Devastation Trail - walk in about 5 minutes and see a Salvador Dali painting landscape; rest of trail pretty innocuous; can continue on to a lookout for Kilauea Iki
Thurston Lava Tube - not very exciting even with a flashlight
Kilauea Iki trail - neat to walk on the dried lava lake; recommend

How to see lava safely:
See Fact Sheet or NPS
Lava flow to Kalapana Eruption Update # (808) 985-6000


Volcano House - we paid $135 / night for non-Crater view in main building; old small room, unextraordinary; would be half the price if it wasn't in Hawaii

Kilauea Lodge - looked nicer; try to stay here next time


Kilauea Lodge - I liked the food; $23 for soup, salad and entree; voluminous; Seafood Mauna Kea was tasty; good warm bread; Rich didn't like the Duck L'Orange

Lava Rock Cafe - probably the nastiest burger I've ever had in my life; dry, probably defrosted & refrozen patty

What We Did

Akaka Falls - 30 minute hike; make sure you don't bypass Kapuna Falls which we foolishly did even though it was like 10 feet away from the sign.
Drive along Hamakua Coast north of Hilo
Aloha Festival
Volcano National Park
Lava flows
Hiking - see list of trails on the island here
Relax on the beach or by the pool
Absolutely nothing!

Notes on what we would do next time:

1) Mauna Kea summit and Onizuka Observatory at sunset - need 4WD or tour; Support Services (808) 961-2180; leave Onizuka Visitor Center 2 pm Saturday Sunday; 30 minutes from Hilo, 2 hours from Kona; 10,000 foot at Onizuka Center (Visitor Center); 14K summit view domes from observation tower; (808) 935-6268 road conditions; 6 - 10 pm stargazing at Visitor's Center nightly; arrive 1 pm for tour; (808) 961-5582; I was pregnant and they recommended pregnant women and children not go here because of the high elevation; oh well, next time...
2) Black sand beaches - Puna
3) Hapuna Beach, Kohala Coast - the triathalon swims here; beautiful white sand beach
4) Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park - I've heard this beach is gorgeous especially for snorkeling
5) Kealakekua Bay
6) Captain Cook Monument - snorkeling
7) Kealakakua Bay - snorkeling
8) Pu'huluhulu Trail in Volcano National Park
9) Floor of Waipio Valley - need 4WD or tour
10) Four Seasons Restaurant
11) Waimea - open flame BBQ pork & chicken guy near churches
12) Green Sand Beach - hike the 3 miles; not sure if this is worth it
13) Huggo's - Kona restaurant recommended by Scott Mesick
14) Jameson's by the Bay - Kona restaurant recommended by Dinara Seitova
15) Kona Brewing Company - Kona restaurant recommended by lots of people
16) Eat shaved ice


Remember to have spam musubi or loco moco
Faster to drive to Hilo from the north, not south, when starting in Kohala Coast (slower roads and windier) - 2 1/2 hours
Go to Costco for gas; saved 30 cents per gallon
Shop localized gifts at Costco
Buy Locals flip flops at Walmart for $2.77
While in Hilo, take shortcuts Kinoole and Keawe Streets to downtown
lilikoi = passionfruit

a hui hou! ('til i see you next time!)

Thursday, October 23, 2003


(still working on this blog)

The only thing I remember is Yuyuan Gardens is gorgeous; the Bund is a nice waterfront walk; and Pudong is the newest growing area. You can try to go up the Needle, but hard to see anything because Shanghai is so smoggy. And there is a jazz band at the Peace Hotel that is famous for playing there since WW2

Thursday, October 16, 2003



Ubud Sari 62-361-974-393 – slightly out of town, deluxe, shuttle, twice the price of all the other massage places in town, some think it’s worth it because it is more westernized and high end. I wouldn’t agree. uses traditional herbal treatments

Nur - the works 975-352 - east of town - Jalan Hanoman

Bodyworks - therapeutic massage 25 Hanoman Street 975-720

Milano - Bleak surroundings

Tri Nadi

Bali Hati - food relief, donates

no - Goa Gajah

Get the Manu Lulur massage

Bali Palace dance show

Gunung Kawi – go late afternoon, waterfalls, 10th temple
Basakih – temple
Neka Museum – nice Balinese art influenced by French
Puri Lukisan – traditional

Batur volcano – go at night to see red ashes

Take bemo in Gianyar (30 minutes) – store with great


Babi Guling (roast pig)
Café Wayan – garden setting, oldest restaurant
Murni’s Warung – get nasi campur (pronounce as champoor), spring rolls
Ary’s Warung – near suspension bridge – carrot cakes good

Bebek Bengil
Mumbul's - fresh ice cream (Japanese)
Cafe Lotus - have a drink, overpriced, nice view
Dirty Duck (J. Hanoman)
Bumfu Restaurant (nasu Cchampur)
Dewi Sita new

black rice pudding dessert
fresh tuak - early am @ Pasar Ubud's market near the safe stands
brem sipping - order bottle Rp 2000 (not at Cafe Lotus, Nomad's, Murni's = expensive)
Beggar's Bush Campuan - best base
Cafe Wayan - Death by Chocolate, coconut pie
Cafe Lotus - best chocolate cake
Nomad's - perfect apple strudel and gulek
Mumbul's ice cream - thick passion fruit shake with jackfruit ice cream
Bali coffee
Murni's Warung - just before bridge on left
Cahaya Dewata - view of island, valley, good food

Driver: I Made Rai Sinia (Tony) (081) 238-19771
300,000 / day - car, gas, food, lodging 100,000 Rupia

$25 or 65,000 Rupee taxi to Ubud, but go outside to taxi queue and negotiate
Exit terminal building, walk to the right, until just outside airport, lots of cabs waiting to get into airport = $10

Tutmak - waring kapi espresso


ikan bakar - baked fish
buttery belanak - gray mullet
nasi goreng - fried rice - cocnut oil w/ stuff
mie goreng - fried noodles - coconut oil with stuff
nasi campur
rijstaffel - rice table - Indonesian 10 - 15 courses
krupuk - indonesian pretzel (fish flakes)
gado gado - warm vegetarian salad with potatoes, etc. peanut sauce
bintang - pilsener beer
tuak - bamboo and palm juice alcohol popular
brem - rice wine and coconut milk ; old - sour, more alcohol; new - sweeter, less alcohol
badek - fermented rice liquor
tipplearak - rice spirit with molasses (strong)
bebek panggang hijau - roasted duck
gulai itek - sumatran - duck w/ green chlies
babi guling - roast pig take bemo to gianyar - 30 minute away where store is great
babek betuttu - smoked in banana leaves and chili for 24 hours


We stayed at the Sayan Terrace, which I thought was nice, until I had my watch stolen on the day we left!

Indonesian to say hello
00-11 am Salamat pagi
11 - 15 Salamat siang
15 - 18 Salamat sore

Here are some recommendations from my friend Margarita:

the restaurant in Ubud was Cafe Wayan, south on Monkey Forest rd.
we stayed at the Baliubud cottages, which were ok, but nothing extraordinary. it is tucked away on top of a hill, so you do not feel like you are in the middle of town at all. it has a nice garden and decent views from its restaurant (breakfast was included).
the place to get massaged and pampered is the Ubud Sari. they do have a large room where you can both have your massages done. i believe the room also had a nice large tub where you can have a luxurious soak before or after. they do have a shuttle that will pick you up and take you back to your hotel/restaurant, etc. phone +62(361)974-393.
we had a driver for the whole time we were there. HIGHLY recommended (both having a driver, and the driver himself). here is his info:
I Made Rai Sinia (alias Tony)
hand phone: 081 238 19771
we paid 300,000 rupiah a day, all inclusive (car, gas, his food and lodging, etc). remember, this is what we paid his pimp, so if you contract him directly it should be considerably cheaper. if you do call him, please give him our regards. last note, if he takes you to a large sarong store (big parking lot in front, and you can watch the dying and weaving process at the entrace) and you find one you love, buy it because although they are considerably much more expensive ($30 vs. $5 on the streets and markets) you will be hard pressed to find the same quality elsewhere.

we enjoyed the Museum Puri Lukisan, which has traditional balinese art from the first half of the 20th cent, and the Neka Art Museum which has a larger collection with a historically organized layout, from the 1920's to the present.

aside from that, i have to talk about food:
try the black rice pudding dessert, it is outstanding. also, if you enjoy coffee, have a bali coffee (nice strong slightly sweet with fine grounds that sink to the bottom). but you must specify BALI COFFEE, or you will get watered down american coffee. if you have fish at a mid-range or below place, i would ask that they not overcook it, since they tend to do so.



Florence is beautiful and has lots of great art and architecture. Beyond the usual tourist sights, my highlights were:

> walking to the top of the Cuppola to see the beautiful views of the city and the frescos up close

> the great view from Piazza Michelangelo which is across the river and on a hill

> the Central Market - Rich LOVES Nerbone's pork tripe sandwich. They also have regular pork sandwiches and other tasty foods.

> Trattoria Casalinga - the cutest little family restaurant with "Paolo"; totally delicious and fun to watch the characters; very Italian

> Borgo Antica - trendier restaurant on the other side of the river, near a square; big long tables make it communal, fun and loud

> Beccofino - we went to this higher end restaurant on other side of the river with the Piequeens.

> Have gelato at Vivoli Gelateria - total YUM. Josh & Denise also receommended Perche No!, halfway between the Uffizi and the Duomo. Read this article of how to find decent gelato while in Italy.

> Buy lots of leather goods in the street markets

> I've never been, but the Prada, Gucci, etc. outlets close by get good reviews for friends

At time of writing, the Florence lodging choices were polarized between expensive hotels and backpacker hellholes. Alas.


Villa rental:

We rented our Tuscan villa through Ville & Village in Berkeley. We rented the villa Montalcinello located in a remote but cute little village by the same name.

> When you're driving and have the munchies, stop at the AutoGrill. They have great panini sandwiches! Actually, it was hard to find a bad meal in Italy. Carrefour is their version of Walmart, with better food. Good place to go shopping for everyday stuff.

> Siena is a nice, beautiful, smaller (relative to Florence) Tuscan city - but big compared to the others on this list; VERY packed with tourists esp. in the middle of the day when the tour buses arrive - buy food and have a picnic at Il Campo (the square); have gelato at the Gelateria Bar La Costarella right at the corner of the main tourist street, and sit out on the balcony overlooking Il Campo; a must see city.

> San Gimignano - considered the "Manhattan" of the Tuscan hill towns because of the tall towers; VERY touristy during the day; park downhill and walk up to the town. Cute, fun town to wander around in. Quiets down considerably in the evenings when all the tour buses leave. You can go to the Accomodations Office in the main square and get very nice & inexpensive accomodations. The Museum of Torture is gross. La Vecchia Mura restaurant has a nice terrace and is very romantic. Worth seeing.

By the way, if you like spontaneously showing up to a town and hunting randomly for lodging, do ask about Apartments you can rent. We did this in San Gimignano (asked at the tourist info) and in Lucca (asked at one of the hotels we wandered into). We felt like we lived there, even if for one night. Many have really nicely redone interior, with a gorgeous old exterior. It might look like this: (We stayed at a place described as "In un palazzo del '300 (13th c?) Piazza Delle Erbe 10, 53037 San Gimignano, Siena TEL 0577-942194.)

> Along the drive fr. Florence to San Gimignano, we had lunch at Osteria La Sosta in Barberino Val d'Elsa. Totally beautiful, quaint spot with tasty food. Frankly, I don't think we ever had bad food in Italy.

Volterra - touristy (but not insanely so) hill town; remote; nice views; roman theater, etc. Visit if you have time.

> San Galgano - beautiful abbey ruins worth seeing

> Sant' Antimo - beautiful abbey church worth visiting

> Certaldo - quiet quaint hill town that you get to by taking a funiculare; very small - basically just 3 blocks; lots of beautiful brick. Osteria del Vicario was old monastery converted to a pretty good restaurant with nice views. Only go if you have time.

> Montalcino - bigger town with nice views of the valley;

> Cortona - cute hill town with a great view. Trattoria Dardeno was tasty. Only go if you have time.

> Lucca is a larger Tuscan town with a moat around it. We went to Ristorante Giglio. Go if you have time.

> IMO, Pisa is not an interesting city to visit beyond the Leaning Tower. Leaning tower is very touristy. If you want to buy tickets to walk to the top, you have to buy tickets several hours in advance. Visit if you want to see the Leaning Tower.

> Note: Definitely drive along on the back roads through the Tuscan hillsides, and explore small hilltowns and little-noted chapels. Every random hillside in the 50-mi radius of Siena is just gorgeous, and you'll enjoy getting off the Autostrada and driving through paintings. If you see an eatery overlooking a hill or vineyard, pull over to hang out. Generally, driving around Tuscany area is gorgeous with the rolling hills and great scenery!

Cinque Terre

> Cinque Terre is great for hiking. Basically is 5 quaint towns by the sea

> Hike starting from Riomaggiore to all 5 towns on the Via del Amore (towards Manarola) - be aware because not all of the trains seem to stop on the platform

> In Vernazza, there is a restaurant on the hill overlooking the cliffs called Al Castello - so great.

> Wherever you are in Cinque Terre, have some Schiaccetra - totally delicious dessert wine that you can only find in Cinque Terre region. Note: The Sciaccetra dessert wine (type of wine, not a brand) really *is* only available in Cinque Terre. Thinking it was like in California where you're better off thinking that wines are better bought in big supermarkets in the city, we realized too late that you really can't get it outside of the region. We got it repeatedly and thought it very tasty. If you bring it back as a sourvenir people will be super-happy.

> If you have more time in Vernazza, we hung out at Bar Gianni and had a good time

> Levanto: we went here accidentally because the train didn't stop at our station, but we had good pizza at Nuova Pizzeria Bruna

I'd bet there are some great apartments to rent in Cinque Terre too - in the towns we saw lots of "apartments to let" signs.


> Rome is amazing because there is so much history. There is much to see, and you can spend a ton of time there. My favorites are: Trevi Fountain, Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, Vatican.

> Great pizza at Ivo and Baffeto. Della Parma had great gelato (Rich's favorite is melone - be careful not to order marrone!)


> Venice is such a unique and romantic place; I just love it. I would definitely recommend going if you have time.

Things to see: St. Mark's Square, Basilica di S. Marco, Rialto Bridge, open air markets, fish market, walking around town and just enjoying the scenery, taking a boat down the Grand Canal

Restaurants we visited:
Osteria al Ponte "La Patatina" - cute little place where lots of gondoliers eat
Quatro Feri on calle lunga San Barnaba in Dorsoduro
San Trovaso (restaurant was OK... lots of Americans)
Harry's Bar - famous for their bellinis

Our favorite things to eat while in Venice: Seppie alla veneziano in nero (black squid ink pasta), insalata di pulpo (octopus salad), tiramisu; make sure to stay away from all the tourist trap places around the Piazza St. Marco

Venice has a ton of fake Louis Vuitton, Gucci for sale, with periodic police crackdowns which keep the merchants on the move

> Milan has great shopping and is the most modern Italian city. Some places to check out:

Una Toq Hotel in Corsa Como

Places to visit:
Duomo, La Scala, Costello, via Monte Napoleone

Restaurants we liked:
- Emporio Armani Cafe
- 10 Corso Como
- La Briciola
- Paper Moon
- Sans Egal
- Gellateria Toldo - limone and pistachio gelato delicious

Food shopping:
Peck food emporium

Example of costs for 4 people:

Emporio Armani 105,750
Gelateria Toldo 7,00
10 Corso Como Cafe 26,00
La Briciola 260,00
Toll road 14,50
Parking 23,00
Corso Como Hotel 97,66
Levanto drinks 25,00
Pizza Levanto 37,00
Train 5,00
Dinner Levante 65,00
Apartamente Lucca 140,00
Il Giglio 104,00
Parking 3,00
Parking 11,00
Aqua Fresca 69,00
Focaccia 10,00
Toll 6,90
Gas 36,00
Da Gherardo lunch 20,00

Places we'll have to visit next time:
Montepulciano, Montecchiello - landscape, church
Pienza - La Pergola lunch
Sant Anna in Camprena
San Quirico d'Orcia
Bagno Vignoni
- go on chianti drive from siena - drive the Chiantigiana road
(SS222) which cuts across the hills from Florence to Siena; castello
di brolio, meleto, gaiole in chianti, badia a coltibuono, radda in
chianti, castellina in chianti

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


(still working on this blog)

Places to Go:
Note: Make sure you are wearing long pants and a sleeved shirt when touring around Bangkok

Grand Palace - totally gorgeous and worth going

Wat Phra Kaew - I don't remember this Wat, but I think it is close to the Grand Palace

Wat Po - giant golden leaning Buddha

Wat Arun - you can hike up to the top from the temple's exterior (huge steps) and see view; across the river, so be sure to take the ferry that crosses the river, not traverses up & down it! that said, taking that ferry up & down the river is kind of fun

Pandip Plaza - get pirated DVDs of the latest movies for ~US$1

Floating Market - outside of Bangkok, but I hear it is cool to see old ladies on boats in the river selling their goods early in the morning

Patpong - not for the kiddies; see women do circus-like tricks with their genital parts; it is really sad to watch, but at the same time you can't help be fascinated

Get clothes tailored. It is soooo cheap. Rich went to Pierre Boutique and liked it. He went to their branch on the ground floor (street level -- there's a different tailor inside the hotel, too) of the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Silom. A discount shows up if you link from here. It should be around $100-200 for a custom-made suit. You pick the style & fabric. Bring photos if you want them to copy something. Go early on your first day, so they can get things turned around by the time you leave. Or they may even be able to ship.

I hear Ayuthaya is really cool, but have never been. It is a couple hours outside of Bangkok.


Charoen Pochana Seafood - chili crab really great

The next 2 were recommended by Brent, a friend of mine from Tokyo, and I haven't been. They are not a bargain by BKK standards, but the food is excellent at both and supposedly well worth the higher than average BKK prices. I think that you can get away with 2000-3000 thai bhat per person for a great meal.

a) Ban Khun Me
258/7-9 Siam Square Soi 8, Rama 1 Rod
Prathumwan, BKK, 10330
This place is in an old building near the Novotel in Siam Square.

b) Siam Elephant
50 Soi Nantar
Sathorn 1, Sathorn Road

This is place in not far from the Silom financial district. It's a new restaurant. The owners are a Thai couple that studied design in Japan. The cook formerly worked at the Mandarin Oriental.

From Rich:

How about 3 Perfect Days in Bangkok?

People will have their rec's for traditional Thai massage venues (Wat
Po may
also have branch locations) but I also had a cheap, good western-style
massage at a place next to the Sala-Daeng Skytrain station. Totally expensive by local standards, but
like 1/4 what you'd pay in the US, and the atmosphere is very nice.



Jumbo Seafood, East Coast Seafood Park - chili or pepper crab

Crystal Palace dim sum in Takashimaya Mall on Orchard Road

Crystal Palace La Mien Xiao Lung Bao in Takashimaya Mall on Orchard Road - great Shanghai dumplings, etc.

Indochine - tasty and chi chi Vietnamese restaurant (3 locations)

Chimes - outdoor bar area

Newton Circus Food Court - great hawker stand; get Chicken Rice, a famous Singaporean dish; there is a MRT station close by

Lau Pa Sat Food Court - also very good hawker stand; I think it is in the downtown area

Mango Tree Indian Restaurant - (went for Hyunka's birthday); can sit outside

East India's fish head curry - fish head curry is another famous Singaporean dish

Some Touristy Things to Do

Boat Quay and the waterfront - pretty to walk around; lots of expats

Raffles Statue - touristy

Sentosa- never been, but supposed to be nice

Shop on Orchard Road at Takashimaya and Ngee Ann Center (there's a Jim Thompson silk store if you're into that); we always buy things at Bossini, Giordano, G2000 and U2; food court at the basement to try all sorts of foods

Night safari - never been, but my Mom loved it

Little India - forgot the name of the street / area, but it is worth walking around if you've never been to India

Friday, October 10, 2003


Leicester Square to buy cheap theater tickets in the morning
Portobello Market at Notting Hill for antiques
Covent Garden for general shopping
also: Carnaby Street, Oxford Street, Fouberts Place
Harrod's Food Hall

Recommended Museums
British Museum - must go; see all the British conquests
Tate Modern - really cool if you like modern art
Tate Britain - they had the winner of the Turner Price when I was there, and it was a funky exhibit which was fun; free admission after I went to the London Eye

Touristy Spots
Tower of London - if you go during winter time, there is no line to see the jewels
Tower Bridge - walk along the river and across it
Trafalgar Square
Piccadilly Circus - lots of activity in this area
London Eye - beautiful views; no line if you go during winter
Salvador Dali exhibit - near London Eye; good if you like Salvador Dali
Westminster Bridge - walk across this to the Houses of Parliament, etc.

Other Fun Things to Do
House of Commons - on Wednesday? Tony Blair speaks to the House of Commons
House of Lords - can go anytime; not as lively as House of Commons
Westminster Abbey evensong - look at schedule for times; very peaceful
St. Paul's Cathdral evensong - beautiful cathedral; relaxing evensong
High tea at L'Orangerie - soothing; in a park

All Bar One (multiple locations - there's one in Covent Garden)
The Engineer in Primrose Hill
The Eagle

If you're in the Swiss Cottage area, Papadam Indian Restaurant and Arabesque Lebanese are good - but I wouldn't make a point of going there unless you were staying near there!

Monday, October 06, 2003


> Accomodations

1) High end: It is hard to find a cheap hotel in Japan. I would check out for good deals on hotels - offers vary from day to day, but very reliable; there is also There are no unsafe areas in Tokyo, but I don't like the Ikebukuro area and Asakusa is pretty far from everything. If you have a choice, I'd pick a hotel in Shinjuku or Shibuya. Nishi (West) Shinjuku has a lot of hotels, and is a long walk, a cab or subway ride to where all the life in Shinjuku is. Most of the people we know somehow get a good deal to stay at the Century Hyatt in Southern Shinjuku and pay around $120-$140 / night for 2 people.

2) Budget - There are some very high end ryokans (Japanese inns) for $200-$300/night, but there are also budget ones which can be around $40 - $50 per person. In those, you will sleep in a pretty small tatami (straw mats) room in a traditional Japanese style with the sliding rice paper doors. They will lay out the futons for you when it is close to bedtime. The higher end ryokans provide private bathrooms to guests, but the lower end have shared bathrooms (which in Japan are VERY clean). And, some ryokans have like a 11 pm curfew. Ryokans have VERY strict rules about cleanliness that you should read about ahead of time before you stay in one.

3) Unusual - If you are looking for a really unusual experience, Tokyo has a lot of "love hotels", which are very clean nice places where people go to have sex. The rooms may have themes, or might be decorated with unusual things, like heart shaped or vibrating bed, porn videos, toys etc. You cannot stay there for several days, but it can be a cheap accomodation (~$70) to check out for one night. Typically, you can't check in until after 10 pm, there are no in-out priviledges (of the hotel, that is!), and you have to check out by like 8 am or something.

> Neighborhoods to explore

1) Shibuya - typical Japan, can be overwhelming; young people hang out here, funky fashion; interesting to check them out esp. from the Hatchko (dog) statue at the train station or on the 2nd floor of the Starbucks; especially interesting at night or weekends
2) Shinjuku - typical Japan, crowded, crazy, can be overwhelming; south and east side most interesting; west side is where the business buildings are = boring, except for nice view from City Hall building during the day; especially interesting at night or weekends
3) Ginza - kind of like 5th Avenue in NYC, high end shops. Department stores very high end.
4) Aoyama - Omote Sando streets, Koto-dori, and the surrounding alley ways have lots of trendy boutiques (kind of like Soho in NYC), cafes and restaurants; Harajuku has a lot of funky teenage fashion
5) Akihabara - VERY nerdy electronics area. you will rarely see a woman in this neighborhood, it is so nerdy!
6) Daikanyama - trendy, but quieter than most of Tokyo; a smaller version of Aoyama but a little complicated to get
7) ....lots of other neighborhoods; if you are looking for something in particular, let me know.

> Sushi or Japanese restaurants

Most restaurants are within shopping centers or in high rise buildings. The basement of department stores are always full of take out food (sometimes free for you to try.) The upper floors have the restaurants. Quite honestly, it is hard to describe a lot of the restaurants b/c the streets in Tokyo are not organized in any meaningful way, directions need a map, and all of the names would be in Japanese. When in doubt, duck into a building and explore inside or go to the neighborhoods I described above. Here are some suggestions though...

1) any sushi restaurant in Tsukiji (fish market): there is Sushi Sei (also has location in NYC) and Sushi Zanmei, but there is no bad restaurant in this area. since they are at the fish market, you can't get any fresher fish than here.
2) Takashimaya shopping mall, Shinjuku - most restaurants here are delicious. most notable: sushi restaurant on the 13?th floor which has an all-you-can-eat option for ~Y3500, a popular tempura (Tsunahachi) on the 14th? floor, a high end tonkatsu restaurant named Katsukura too.
3) yakitori bars - on the other side of the Shinjuku railway tunnel, there is a small alley that looks straight out of pre-war Japan. here, there are lots of tiny yakitori bars where you can just pop in, order up, and eat among the salary men.
4) rotation sushi restaurants - OK quality at A+ prices, like $1-1.50 / plate. just sit down, serve yourself tea from the faucet and eat 'til full
5) izakayas (these are the easiest to describe): restaurant called En, on an upper floor of a high rise building across the street from the Kinokuniya bookstore in eastern Shinjuku has good food; or top floors of Sumitomo building across the street from the Hilton Hotel in Nishi Shinjuku, has a good izakaya with great view too.
6) want a specific food rec, tell me what you like, and i'll recommend a spot. the high end gets really up there.

> Nightclubs

Japanese people don't really go to nightclubs, but go to izakayas. Izakayas is a style of restaurant similar to Japanese style tapas where you order little portions to eat, drink a LOT all night long and get really drunk with whomever you're with. people get stinky drunk in this country, and it is totally acceptable.

same story about hard to describe locations of places. that said, La Fabrique in Shibuya is supposed to be a good bar.

Muse in Azabu-Juban is a multi-level basement bar/club that has a lot of affluent expats and Japanese. Azabu-Juban is not too far from Roppongi, which is the expat area with lots of bars. I don't like Roppongi because it is mostly a much of American GI-types and the Japanese women that love them.

FYI, taxis are really expensive in tokyo, so people usually take train/subway, but these stop running at 1 am. there is usually a mass exodus around 12:30 am as people rush to go home on the last train. And, these last trains are PACKED!!! otherwise, people stay up 'til 5 am so they can take the first train. alternatively, you can pay an outrageous amount (for us, it was US$40 to get home like 15 minutes away.)

If you want to check out the night scene before you go, Metropolis is a good English publication for Tokyo:

> Shopping-Electronics

Japan is great for early adopters. The electronics are the best. Best places to go look for them - note that all of these stores have multiple locations all over Tokyo, but I am telling you where their biggest stores are.

1) Yodobashi camera in Western (Nishi) Shinjuku right outside the train station. The 7th floor has all the demos and used stuff that are generally a good deal. A used digital Elph (called IXY in Asia) should be around Y30,000 (~$225).
2) Bic Camera - they are all over the place and can be distinguished by an annoying jingle that they play non-stop full blast. there is a big one outside Yuracho station near the Ginza. They also have locations in all the other shopping districts.
3) Sofmap - also near Yuracho station near the Ginza, rear of the store is where the used stuff is.
4) Akihabara electronics district - this entire district is all about electronics so you can get anything you can possibly want there.
5) Outside of electronics, I really like Tokyu Hands (has everything under the sun) and the Muji stores.

> Must see touristy things

Tokyo doesn't have that many must sees. The neighborhoods I described above are the most interesting. But here is what I would recommend:

1) Tsukiji fish market at 5:30 - 6 am to see the fish auction (rows of frozen tuna fish torpedos), and have sushi right afterwards. not open on Sundays.
2) Meiji Shrine in Harajuku - typical japanese shrine. the shrine is close to Harajuku (teenager area), which connects to Omote Sando (nice stores, restaurants, cafes) and then Aoyama (kind of like Soho in NYC) so this can fill your day. (I described this area above)
3) Asakusa Temple - mixture of buddhist/shinto. lots of good free munching on Nakemise-Dori (the street leading up to the temple). you don't necessarily have to go to both Meiji Shrine and Asakusa if you are not into seeing every temple. but a lot of people like the entire atmosphere of the area which has lots of good food sampling. probably the only "touristy" place in Tokyo.
4) Views from City Hall - free. 360 degree views; go to South tower if you want to try to see Mt. Fuji, best attempted in the morning hours.
5) high tech toilets. hopefully you'll encounter some through serendipity, but if you don't, there are some on the 14th floor of the Takashimaya mall in South Shinjuku, or the Century Southern Tower Hotel lobby level (20th? floor) for you to experience

> Not worth going (unless you have time to kill):
Imperial Palace (you can't go in so it is just a big garden but some people like to go anyway), Tokyo Tower, museums (unless you're really into Japanese
history; if you are, the Edo-Tokyo museum is very good)

That's it for Tokyo! Let me know if you have any questions.

Here's some links to the Ryokans where we stayed / visited outside of Tokyo:

Takayama -- Hotel Takaya Hoshokaku 0577-36-1070
Nice place in the middle of town, they will pick you up at the train station
if you call ahead. Large indoor bath with small outdoor attachments. Outdoor
(panorama) baths you can rent for JPY 2000 per hour. Room rates (per person)
was about 12000 per person, two meals included.

Kanbayashi Onsen (Nagano Prefecture) -- Sekiya 0269-33-2268
90-year old inn in the middle of a very small, quiet onsen town. At the
entrance to the 30-min hike into monkey hot spring. There is nothing to do
in-town, so bring good books. Large indoor bath, as well as two very nice
outdoor baths (free, JPY 500 for day use). There's also a private rentable
bath, free for guests. Room rates -- we priced it out in hopes that it would
be available -- was about 10000-12000 per person, two meals included.

For both of the above, staying on the weekdays this time of the year could
yield much lower rates. Hoshokaku had some internet specials listed on their
website. We went on the weekend, which made availability super-tough.

My friend Amanda visited me in Japan in 2002 and write this email which I thought quite funny.

From: Amanda Craine
Subject: TIJ (This Is Japan)

Greetings all from Tokyo (land of the rising sun, over-engineering, and fashion with a passion):

Carol, Christine & I arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday afternoon and were greeted without glitches by our dear friend Lucy. We've been crashing at Lucy and her husband Rich's chic Tokyo apartment/loft that most would die for in Manhattan--split-level, high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, heated wood floors, spiral staircase, cement walls similar to what you'd find in a trendy NY hotel lounge, and toilet with heat control settings for your seating pleasure. They also have interesting appliances like a microwave that doubles as a toaster (it's a button option).

In our five days in Tokyo, we've learned a few things about Japan, its people, culture, idiosyncracies and contradictions. Despite all of us being Asian, we too find this country to be rather enigmatic yet fantastic. Here are my favorite personal observations, summarized for your reading pleasure:

Tour Highlights: What We Saw on This Segment

Day 1: Arrived, exhausted from a 14 hour flight in coach class. Plane was half empty, but I mistakenly agreed to the window seat, which meant that I only had 2 seats in which to stretch. Note to self: sometimes the middle seat is better, specifically on 777. Spent most of the flight watching "Lara Croft: Tombraider" 4 times and shopping on SkyMall.

Day 2: Lucy insisted that the Tokyo fish market was worth a 4:30AM wake-up call. So, after an hour discussion the previous night on whether or not we would bother getting fully dressed for the event, we opted to semi-dress for the day and make it to the fish market in time for the tuna auctions. The trip was definitely worth the pain--it's pure market capitalism at work. Tuna the size of small whales lined up in rows covered an open warehouse the size of a football field. Auction callers stood on small stools jumping up and down, while buyers inspected the tuna with sticks and held up alien hand signals to indicate 'yes' or 'no'. Afterward we had a sushi breakfast, and spent the rest of the day at the Tokyo museum due to grey skies and rain. That evening, we had dinner at a Japanese type lounge/restaurant (the name of which I can't spell or pronounce correctly). It was a student hangout in the middle of Tokyo's sex district, and during dinner we got to watch the entertainment. ;-)

Day 3: Slow morning wake-up to recover from the previous night. The better weather allowed us to visit a city temple where we primarily sampled street foods (a favorite feature of Asia), walk around a kind of smallish Central Park, look around in Ginza (the 5th Avenue of Tokyo--felt very much at home) and prepare for dinner.

Day 4: Day trip to Kamakura (I'm butchering these place names)--a suburban town about 1 hour train ride from Tokyo. The town is famous for a series of Shinto temples. They're quite lovely and filled with supersticious rituals. In one, we cleaned our money (I used both yen and dollar to cover all bases) in a holy stream and dried it over burning incense candles. It's supposed to bring us wealth, but Lucy ended up losing the money she cleaned soon thereafter. Our faith became diluted following this unfortunate event. I also discovered an art exhibit of hand-made Japanese pottery by an up-and-coming artist, so of course, I had to purchase something (cash only). So, in effect, my wealth also became depleted after having washed all that money. Later that evening back in Tokyo, we went to a truly cool lounge after dinner hidden in a side street under a nondescript sign over the basement. The Japanese are obsessed with the Beatles, the Carpenters and Abba. All the music was by the Beatles; walls were covered with '80s posters (remember Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran?); and the waiters spoke English (the chic language). Felt at home.

Day 5: More shopping around in the neighborhoods after brunch/lunch at an Italian restaurant in Ginza with friends from biz school. Tokyo is filled with neighborhoods similar to Manhattan (but lit up with neon lights, large screen TVs showing ads and zillions of moving bodies everywhere), except 10 times larger in every way. It has 14-story shopping malls (a national pastime and way of life); the largest single brand stores I've seen anywhere (e.g., Chloe, Alberta Ferretti, etc.); and repeats of everything. It's the first city I've visited recently that outdoes Manhattan in pure trendiness, glamour, and fast-paced metropolitan lifestyle. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, but we all felt in familiar surroundings having become accustomed to New York. There's a fake Empire State Building, a Yahoo sign like the one in Geenwich Village over the gas station, Starbucks coffee everywhere (with the same menu but lower prices--LOVED it), crowds and incessant noise. Need I say more?

Personal Obervations of Japanese People & Culture

Toilets & Bodily Functions: The Japanese, specifically women, are obsessed by toilets and natural bodily functions (like peeing). The toilets here are high-tech and sophisticated. In fact, Lucy has mapped out the best Tokyo toilets in each neighborhood of which we had a fair sampling given all the coffee we kept drinking to keep warm. They range from the "basic" (heated seats with 2 flush modes--soft flush for pee only, and super flush for more solid objects) to "deluxe plus" (all features of "basic" plus noise machines to cover up the peeing sound, built-in bidet functions with massage option and dryer, and infrared sensors to lift the toilet seats up automatically when you enter the stall). Basically, the women feel uncomfortable about anyone hearing them pee, and don't like the messiness and unsanitariness of toilet paper. It's over-engineering at its best.

Public Etiquette: On my first day, I made the mistake of blowing my nose on the subway. Apparently, it's equivalent to picking your nose in public (I was appalled at myself). You also have to take off your shoes in certain types of restaurants and certainly in people's homes, and wear the bathroom slippers provided for you in restaurants. When exiting the bathroom, you should also turn the shoes with toes pointing inward into the bathroom to facilitate the next person getting into them. (Note to women: You should definitely wear nice stockings/ socks and have regular pedicures when visiting Japan.) Additionally, no one crosses the street until the walk light turns green, and everyone immediately stops when it turns red. J-walking is rare--following the rules is apparently ingrained into their brains. On the other hand, it's perfectly acceptable to shove people anywhere (no sense of private space due to excessive overcrowding), slurp soupy foods while eating (it shows you like the food and find it delicious) and spit and urinate in the street if you're a man. Moreover, it's rude to have your cell phone ring in public places, but it's not rude to talk/email on your cells while sitting around in cafes and restaurants with all of your friends who are doing the same.

Fashion: No one who's in the least "with it" fashion-wise has dark hair in Tokyo. The most fashionable women have dyed hair (ranging from orange to platinum blonde), pale make-up with lots of mascara and fake eye lashes, camel-colored boots with 3-inch heels, mini-skirt, fishnet stockings (or, alternatively, knee-highs with the tops showing), fur-collared coats, and the ubiquitous ever omnipresent Louis Vuitton handbag (Fendi and Gucci were occasionally spotted). Needless to say, we all felt very uncool with our NY black, dark hair and lack of LV labels on accessories. Even the men carry LV bags and have dyed hair. Oh, and everyone carries a cell phone with Internet access, colored screens and perhaps a hello kitty screen saver. And, god forbid, you have last month's anything. Last year, vacations in Vietnam were apparently popular, but this year it's Korea and Seoul (don't really know why). Korean rap is also 'big', but Korean electronics is not. American retro is 'in' for clothes, home accessories and music; but it's Sony all the way for anything electronic and over-engineered.

Odd Store Finds: The Japanese also celebrate Christmas, but it's more like Valentine's Day in the US. Couples give each other small gifts then go to a nicer than the usual hotel to have sex before going home where they often live with their parents. Japan supposedly has the highest condom usage per capita in the devoloped world, but another statistic stated that it had the lowest number for sex among married couples. Hmmm, it's a conundrum. So, the Japanese have adopted the commercial aspects of the season from around the world--Christmas cakes (similar to France's yule logs), Christmas sales (from the US) and even Santa Clause suits (except a lot of them are for women, but shaped more like lingerie). Other interesting items--self-heated eye lash curling irons, everything in miniature, and plastic food. One other note: the Japanese are early-adopters and very concerned about owning the newest "XYZ". So, there's a store here that makes the tracking and shopping experience very easy--it sells the top 5 selling items of random product categories.

Women, women everywhere--where are the men?: Japan is an overworked society with folks periodically committing dramatic suicide ala Ana Karenina in the subway system due to work stress. However, this characteristic primarily applies to "salary men" (professionals who work for companies and get paid salaries). Women typically get married in their early 20s (most aspiring to become office workers or airline stewardess to meet men and retire by age 25), quit whatever jobs they might have and spend the rest of their days with girlfriends shopping, drinking coffee at cafes and dining out at trendy restaurants. Most days, the restaurants we ate in were filled with 90% women--well-dressed in the fashionable "uniform." And, since the country's population is actually shrinking, these women frequently have only one child or none. This phenomenon explains why although the country has been in recession for 10 years, people here can outshop New Yorkers anyday.

Games: There are video game halls called Pachinko parlours throughout the city. They are truly bizarre spectacles. Among the most popular currently is one that is walking the dog. For about $1.50, you get to select a dog (I selected a poodle), hold onto a piece of rope attached to a pastic dog, and walk/run like hell on a deeply slanted treadmill. Supposedly, you're trying to control your obstinate dog as it chases after cats and cars, pees in the street, etc. Another popular game is one that involves a tamborine--you play the tamborine doing various arm moves against the video's directions. The oddball thing is that grown men in business suits love playing these games--no where else but in Asia where macho culture meets Helly Kitty cuteness meets virtual playgrounds.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

More Japan recommendations from Rich:

Place to eat in Ebisu -- go for dinner, have hotel make reservations

Oto Oto

For lunch specials, the top (36-7F?) floors of the Garden Place office tower
has 2 floors of good restaurants (all with plastic food / menus posted
outside) with pretty awesome view. They're also open on weekends.

For rotating sushi (JPY 100-ish a plate. Cheap!) try:

Edo-Ichi in Shibuya -- open early & late

(Exit Hachiko-exit, cross diagonally across the giant intersection, enter
the street to the left of Qfront (Starbucks), go forward 20-30 yards, it'll
be on your right side (next to bar Gas Panic; across the street from random
dudes selling magic mushrooms).

Sushi in Tsukiji - open 24 hours:

Sushi Zanmai
Map: (3 locations!)

Other stuff to do
Ame-Yoko is along the west side of the train tracks, between Ueno and
Okachimachi stations

1 station to the south of Okachimachi is Akihabara -- Electric town. (Watch
for pickpockets) Cool random booths of random electronics, but prices are
cheaper at...

Sakura-ya, or Bic Camera in Shibuya. Sakura-ya is located just past the
Edo-Ichi sushi place described above. Keep going another 15 yards, will be
on the right side, look for big red signs and lots of mobile phones
displayed out front.

Shibuya generally will be a good hangout for afternoon / evening. Check out
the big intersection at, say, 7pm for amazing swarm of people. The lobby
cafe of the Excel Hotel Tokyu (in Mark City) or the Starbucks (in Q Front)
gives you a good birds-eye view of the place. Or even from the connector
bridge between Mark City mall & Shibuya station.

Shibuya places to shop: Tokyu Hands & Seibu Loft.

Roppongi Hills is a big popular commercial / office complex. To me it's just
another mall, but I've been told that the newly opened Mori Art Museum is
pretty cool.

There's a direct train service from Ebisu to the Odaiba area of Tokyo now --
if you can in on the bus, it's where they have all these crazy-looking
buildings around. It's just a big commercial center, but there is a big
Toyota showroom that I remember as being kinda cool.

I realized you're staying in Kyoto over Christmas -- it's not a holiday in
JP, but considered to be a big date night (ending with a hotel stay) -- so
don't let go of your hotel reservations until you have a substitute!

Finally, see if your hotel can recommend you an Onsen where you can stay for
one night during your stay in the Kyoto area. Even if not, I believe the
Arashiyama area (20 min from downtown Kyoto) is pretty famous for
traditional Japanese ryokans. Remember there's no tipping in Japan, so use
the Westin concierge as much as you can! :-) I do think 3 nights in Kyoto
may be a bit much unless you're way into Buddhism.

Josh + Denise; Me + Lucy + Kitty (2 separate groups) have gone to the
mountain town of Takayama and really enjoyed it. It's a big detour on the
way back from Kyoto to Tokyo (get off shinkansen in Nagoya, transfer to
another express train) but nice.

Taiwanese foot massage!

Get the hotel to call them ahead for reservations. I believe JPY 6500 for 60
minutes; half that for 30 min. Painful! But in a good way and fun. You keep
your clothes on, in semi-private booths.

Also, United's inflight magazine actually has a good "3 perfect days" guide


Kansai (Osaka + Kyoto)

This is Osaka:
> Now that you've seen it, you can skip it if you should so get tempted during
> your Kyoto stay. It's a neat city, but it's a bit like recommending Chicago
> after a visitor has gone to New York -- the fine nuances are hard to grasp.

> Another thing you can do, while keeping your lodging
> in Kyoto, but that's
> not in Kyoto:
> Another 1 hour out on the shinkansen is the town of
> Himeji. The town has
> nothing to show for it, but the castle there is
> pretty awesome. I'm pretty
> sure that it gets featured in all sorts of samurai
> movies all the time.
> More info:
> Another 1 hour past Himeji is Hiroshima. Two notable
> destinations:
> Atomic Bomb museum -- very significant world history
> site, heavy stuff
> Miyajima -- I forget what the historic significance
> was, but we've all seen
> the pictures of the temple gates sticking out of the
> water
> I think to do all 3 as a day-trip out of Kyoto is
> really hard, but you can
> definitely do Himeji + Atom bomb museum; or Atom
> bomb + Miyajima as a day
> trip out of Kyoto. Get an early start, though.

Harajuku is another good spot to check out in Tokyo, for all the crazy
teeny-bopper culture. It's one station past (north of) Shibuya on the
Yamanote line.

The station sequence is Ebisu - Shibuya - Harajuku

Get off the "Takeshita Dori (avenue)" exit, cross the street, and proceed
straight into Takeshita Dori -- it'll have crazy fashions and random
trinkets geared towards the 10-14 year old set. Probably a good place to
shop for Halloween costumes if MC wants to dress up as a Japanese teeage
assasin from a Tarantino movie. Crepe stands abound for some strange reason.
Go either on Sunday or maybe after school on a weekday for the crowds. Do
not go during school hours -- juvenile truancy is pretty low, so the
neighborhood will be dead.

It'll eventually end at an intersection with Meiji Dori, which is a big
street. Turn right onto Meiji Dori, and that will in turn come to an
intersection with Omote-sando, a much higher-end street where most of
Tokyo's higher-end stores are collected. (You'll notice it by the big Gap,
Lotteria fast-food joint, a fashion building called La Foret, and a
Condomania). Stroll, hang out at Euro-style cafes, whatever. The main part
of Omotesando will stretch to the east / your left (the Gap/Lotteria side);
Shibuya station is 15 minutes straight ahead; Harajuku station is on your
right (westbound).

Just off of one of the alleys is a good food joint called Fujimama's:

Close to Fujimamas is Kiddie Land, a toy store full of more random Japanese
stuff. Explore all 4 floors:

Another good (a bit more pricey, but maybe good for drinks) is Soho's:

Be sure to explore the side alleys -- many connect to interesting pockets of
subculture -- just follow the crowds if you see people go down it. Get lost
on purpose.

And finally, if you go during the day, pop into the Louis Vuitton store.
When it opened, they had a line of 2000 people outside of it. I don't
understand how it is that every citizen gets to buy a LV bag in Japan, but
maybe if you go you can figure it out.

If you walk the full length of Omotesando (eastbound) you'll also come to
the Omotesando subway station to connect to other places. It's also only
like a 15-min walk back to Shibuya, if you turn right onto Aoyama-Dori (Road
246). If you choose to walk back (westbound) towards Harajuku station, you
can cross the JR train tracks and will come to the entrance of Meiji Shrine
-- A good spot if you haven't gone before.