Tag Archives: zen

Puzzling Tokyo in the Sakura season

Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled

the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!

  • For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
  •  it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
Tokyo loo flush
When going to the loo is an adventure!!!

 

  • it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.

When to go?

April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.

Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.

Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.

And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…

The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Japanese weddings

If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.

a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…

– I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.

japanese wedding

– When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…

– I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear?  locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.

– Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:

The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.

The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.

Sake casks – “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?

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To Read and Watch before you go

*1Q84 by  Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.Japanese writer Murakami attends ceremony in Jerusalem

Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks

*Lost in Translation

bill murray lost in translation 1536x960 wallpaper_www.wallpaperno.com_55

*Tokyobling’s Blog 
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets

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Winter surf in Tanghazout, Morocco

As a touristy destination, Morocco almost has it all: sun pretty much all year round, surf, mountains, cultural cities, fantastic food, stable political background, cheap access from Europe  and no jet lag, no need for a visa…..la douceur de vivre in a bloody disorganised Mediterranean atmosphere. Oh well…we love it.

Taghazout is a fishermen village nested on the Atlantic coast near Agadir, a good couple of hours by car from Marrakech where one can get easier flight connections. The drive from Agadir foretells a wide upcoming change in the area. Currently, it is touristy, but still at human scale, for how much longer? Mohammed VI & the government put in place a development plan in 2010 and decided to boost the country’s tourism capacity and infrastructures by 2020. The industry currently represents over 7% of the country’s GDP and is the 2nd biggest sector for job creations. Tourist flows are mostly coming from France and the rest of Europe. The little village of Taghazout, can only get busier.

The village is a large main dusty street fitted with small grocery shops and restaurants, vagabond cats, and goats eating off the rubbish. My hosts recommend going eating outside of town, driving to Agadir as we’ll find “nothing suitable  here”. Well that wasn’t quite right. We we able to find welcoming quirky little places with fresh quality products, and in particular, Dar Josephine, on the main street, close the the pharmacy.

** And how about the surfing?

the winter swell is (really) big, it’s cheap and convenient to come from Europe and makes Anchor Point one of the most attractive winter spot in the region; together with its Spanish neighbour, 170km offshore, the Canaries Islands, roughly oriented the same way, exposed to the N-NW swells that churn the North Atlantic from October to March. But if the quality of surfing instruction in Lanzarote (when I say that I mean Surf School Lanzarote) was outstanding, however the standards are not quite the same in Morocco, and not better value either.

We had been warned, it’s big waves, for big independent guys, not improvers. We did find nice little schools run by Brits, but we struggled to find a real ISA recognised school. And indeed, the safety talk is mostly reduced to “Inch’Allah”, there are obviously no life guards in sight, and the coaching is rather limited to showing you a few pop-up on the sand….not exactly my definition of coaching!!

If you are just looking to have a blast and meet people, any of Surf Maroc or Surf Berbere camps will probably be exactly that; everyone is really chilled and laid back, in a very backpacking-y sort of atmosphere reminiscent of the hippy days of Tanghazout. Most schools will also offer day trips and after-surf yoga classes during the sunset hours (amazing….).

** A good book for the plane….

I asked quite a few friends, what should I be reading in the plane? I love exchanging good books recommendations with friends, it’s normally a great way to scratch a little bit beyond the surface; as invariably, people start with food recommendations when they talk about their country). Those 2 are standing out:

Partir (Leaving Tangier) –  by Tahar Ben Jelloun, written in French

For Bread alone – Mohamed Choukri, written in Arabic and translated to American English by Paul Bowles, and to French by Tahar Ben Jelloun.

** Travelling in my kitchen

berber tajine spice
ok I admit my tajine hasn’t bathed in water overnight yet….but the spices are sitting really pretty in my kitchen 🙂

2 dishes that I stole from Josephine, who’s been kind enough to show me her wonderful sauce and chit chat about flavours and smells. Lots of garlic, cumin and the  fabulous local aromatic oil are some of their secret ingredients.

Sweet’n healthy starter: carrots & beetroot salad: 

Ingredients:

– 2 ts orange blossom water
– 2 ts orange juice
– press half a lemon (2ts)- 1/2 ts paprika
– 1/2 ts cumin seeds or ground
– 1/2 ts cinnamon
– a pinch of salt

Instructions:

dice the beetroot (after cooking and peeling if required) and peel and grate the carrots, macerate with the vinaigrette and serve fresh, maybe with a mint leaf or a couple of pomegranate seeds as a decoration.

The 2nd one will be the Kefta & egg tajine; but I have to confess here, I have been rather lazy. The dish itself should be soaked in water overnight before use and I keep procrastinating this bit.

** and in my bathroom…

(following the earlier “moroccan pampering” article)

I came back with an over-packed suitcase in which I managed to cram non only a berber tajine but also some of the missing items in my pamper-pantry, and in particular, some argan- enriched black soap and ghassoul.

Black soap comes in a sort of jelly mushy dark brown paste. This one is enriched with Argan oil so a little bit lighter. Ideally in a hot steam room (or in my case, after an essential oil enriched bath) spread it on your body, warning, the smell isn’t exactly pleasant but be reassured, it doesnt stay as after a few minute you’ll scrub

** Other Inspirations:

djellabar marrakech
the Djellabar amazing decoration, I was about to steal a cushion!

– Films: Laïla Marrakhi’s first and controversial film “Marok” is a fresh high school romance but not only. I can’t wait to watch her most recent one “Rock the Casbah” (I’m waiting until the dvd as I doubt we’ll get to see it at the cinema in London…)

– music: and the the playlist I keep listening to Claude Challe – Djellabar

– 2 other point of views from a beginner surfer and his girlfriend: http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/moroccos-freezing-waves

and a more experienced surfer: http://www.surfermag.com/features/morocco-surf-expedition-dispatch-2/

– Organise your trip and check your visa etc:

http://taghazout.org/

http://www.moroccolondon.co.uk/index.php

tips from a Moroccan travelling magazine, in English: http://www.feetupmagazine.com/64-321

other bloggers went there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heatheronhertravels/sets/72157633095942122

– other surf schools I was recommended (but have not tested though):

Yassine Ramdani: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yassine-Ramdani-Surf-Rider-Camp/111130802254861?hc_location=timeline

and Denny Tolley from http://www.morocsurf.com/

my next time in Morocco? The more I read about it, the more I’m burning to discover Fes, the desert; I’d also like to spend a little bit more time in Marrakech and get to see Yves St Laurent’s gardens….and last but not least I”ll DEFINITELY carry more hand sanitiser in my hand bag.

Moroccan pampering

when we decided to book a trip to Morocco for New Year holidays, my first thought was “great, I’m getting an argan oil refill!”  Last time I went there it was to Rabat for my friend’s wedding and we spent quite  a lot of time taking care of ourselves, as good brides & bridesmaid should do ;)!! Local production of henna, lemon, olive & argan oil, avocado, rose water, cloves….and a secular tradition of  hammams and sea salt scrubs make of Morocco a great destination for pampering.

I wanted to share here a couple of great natural tricks; I guess the products can be found almost anywhere, albeit at rather steeper prices!!!

my 2 absolute essentialsRose water is my absolute favourite, sprayed on a hot day or just in the morning applied on a cotton on my eyes…. it beats the smell of any beauty shop product and it’s naturally allergy-free. It’s said to naturally prevent against wrinkles – not sure if it does but it’s definitely pleasant to use.

Argan Oil. When I used it the first time, I wondered why I had ever been buying such expensive moisturising serum and hair masks. The trick is to use a very small amount on the tips of your hair overnight, tie it in a plait to avoid greasing everything and wash it with a gentle shampoo in the morning…silky and fabulous especially for long and dry hair or sun-damaged.

Another great use is to massage your feet with argan oil and sleep with cotton socks on….scrub them in the shower with a loofah mitt the next morning…and tadahhh, you’re party-heels ready! it’s also said to be good for your face skin but I find it doesn’t feel very nice, it’s oil after all.

Last trick a friend gave me recently is to use a 50/50 mix of lemon juice and argan oil on brittle nails, apparently it does marvels following too many shellac applications.

417771_88630318_ghassoul_H131214_LRhassoul clay is another traditional and typically Moroccan natural remedy. It’s especially great for oily hair as it’s really quite hard to find a cure that cleanses without striping.

– rhassoul clay

– rose water

– 2 egg yolkes

mix until you get a not-too-liquid-not-too-thick mixture and apply on your hair roots. Once a month, apply more warm water and massage the paste on your scalp. Then rinse completely.

20130101-235649.jpgand last but not least: green tea! packed with anti-oxydant, preventing halzeimer, “flushing” excess calories…I read just about anything on green tea; only one thing is sure, in Morocco it’s THE social drink, any occasion is good enough, any time of the day. Sit back and enjoy.

I could carry on endlessly with black soap, other oils and clays, henna, honey & honey combs, vanilla, clove, eucalyptus etc etc…but I guess at this point, better just pay a visit to your local hammam, or a weekend in Marrakech

want to read more?  sorry the good sources I found are mostly in French sorry

http://www.artetsaveurdumaroc.com

http://www.bladi.net/secrets-de-beaute-des-femmes-du-maroc-la-feminite-dans-tous-ses.html

http://www.letangerois.com/secrets-de-beaute-marocaine

Perfect-issimo weekend on the Garda lake

Day dreaming on a Monday morning is nothing unusual but today particularly…just back from a perfect-issimo romantic weekend around the Garda lake.

It started with a perfect kite surf session on the Garda lake; the refreshing mountain water was very welcome as city temperatures reached 37+! check out the kite schools and offers there, beginners should hire the full equipment and take lessons but more advanced and independent surfers can just get a “lift” with one of the school to access the kite zone.

A friend also recommended staying at the Reamol Hotel, which I may try next time but it seems quite demanded in high season. As I always have a special endearment toward agriturismo places in Italy (basically B&B lofted in olive fields or vineyards), I opted for the

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Borgo di Calmasino held by a lovely Italian family, an oasis nested in the middle of vineyards.

The day carried on with a perfect sunset and aperitivo on the beach, and al fresco sea-food based dinner at Giuly, where they didn’t have oysters forks (yes i’m picky) but they did let us drive safely home and finish our lovely bottle of wine at home – thanks folks.

Verona was truly hot and sweaty but the picturesque city made up for it. As opposed to the tourist-packed Venice, the crowd is kind of flocked around Juliet’s breast under the balcony and therefore relatively easily avoided. We met up with local friends for a gelato on Piazza San Zeno, on of the city’s saint, facing the Basilicata, in which crypt, according to the legend,

L’ultimo bacio dato a Giulietta da Romeo by Francesco Hayez

Romeo and Juliet were married (!!). We stayed a throw-stone away, at charming (and AC’ed, thanks god!) B&B San Zenetto (they also take bookings on airbnb). So I slipped on my 2-inches red soles (try that in 37 degrees, balancing on cobblestones…) and off we headed to the open-air roman arena. Even after having done my due-diligence, read the history of the arena, reviews, the full libretto of the very bloody Il Trovatore (well done me as there’s no subtitles)… it IS a mind blowing, and mmm, yes : pitch-perfect evening…(did I say that already?)

Surfing on a volcano in Lanzarote

Picture 002

On stressful days like this, I dream of being able to take a coffee break on Famara beach, Canarias.

It’s the end of the world. Don’t go to party, not point. We were alone, watching the sun rise and falling asleep right after the sun had set (and the bottle of local vino), exhausted and ocean-washed. Alone to the point when we wondered : where are the locals gone!?

We asked the (many) Brits we found, why they had decided to live in Canarias: the answer was invariably, “because it’s sunny, and we benefit from steady surf conditions all year round”. It would be a good enough reason; but the volcano-island in the Atlantic ocean, has much more to offer; great wine, cheese, sun, and above all : peace.

Go get your surf board, it’s one of the best spot in the world

The first things that surprised us was that the island is small, but you’ll definitely need a car, no public transport there. Also, that the weather is ever changing. The land is swept by the wind, for the greatest pleasure of surfers, but making the shining sun turn into a bone soaking shower in 3min.

Famara is an amazing beach for surfing beginners, it’s a safe and high quality beaches, with consistent swell. We went in October and could use a short wetsuit
check the weather, tides and other info here

or here
but for more experienced surfers (or for those who, like us, will enjoy watching some serious action live), go to La Santa. It’s 10min driving from Famara, and the most famous surf spot of the island.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

helpful map

go rent a car cauz you’ll need it. They’re lovely people, and you’ll get an audio guide

get spoilt in a cosy B&B

do take your car and cross the island from one side to another, stopping in bodegas to test the wine.

please don’t think it’s a good idea to go for an ice-cream in Puerto del Carmen. It’s not, you’ll be disappointed.

Cultural Corner

Once back at home, watch Pedro Almodovar’s Abrasos Rotos (broken embraces). In Spanish please.

Pedro Almodovar seldom gets it wrong