Our 5 Best Addresses in Dubai

Dear fellow travelers,

Dubai is a city that has a lot to offer: bar, restaurants, shops and different kinds of entertainment. I would like to share with you some of my favorite addresses:

  • Shades: the restaurant/bar of the Address Hotel in Dubai Marina. With its rooftop and beautiful swimming pool, it is the perfect place to enjoy Dubai nightlife, sipping a cocktail and watching the city lights.
Shades Rooftop

📌 ShadesSheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed RdDubai. Open everyday from 9am to 1am.

  • The Observatory: the restaurant of the Marriott Harbour Dubai Hotel is located on the 52nd floor and offers a beautiful view on Dubai Marina and the harbor. The meals are really good and the staff very nice. If you are going for dinner, I would suggest you to book in advance.
Lunch at The Observatory

📌 The Observatory, 52nd floor, Marriott Harbor Dubai Marina, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street, Dubai Marina. Lunch: Saturday to Thursday, 12pm – 3pm. Dinner: Daily, 6pm – 11.30pm. Bar: 12noon – 1am. Happy Hour: Weekdays from 5pm – 8pm. Friday Brunch: 12.30pm – 4pm.

  • Comptoir 102, opened in 2012 by the talented Emma Sawko, this concept store is the best in town. It offers a chic selection of furniture, home deco, fashion and jewelry, that all reflect the Parisian origin of the founder. The shop has also a cozy café where you can enjoy healthy food.
The café of Comptoir 102

📌 Comptoir 102, 102 Beach Rd Jumeirah 1, Dubai, Cafe :7:30am to 9pm | Store : 8:30am to 9pm.

  • Arabian Tea House, this café near the Old Souk is an oasis of quiet and calm for both tourists and residents of Dubai, that relax in the shades of this patio to escape the heat of the day, but also as a meeting place to talk, relax and unwind. I recommend to taste the delicious mint tea! Rich Breakfast Tray are served in the morning.
Delicious Arabian lunch

📌 Arabian Tea House, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai, Open from 7.30am to 10pm.

  • Reem al Bawadi, it’s a typical Middle Eastern restaurant where you can find a large choice of local specialities, like the meat skewers with yogurt sauce and the mezza plates. From the restaurant you also have a nice view on the Dubai Marina walk.
Dinner at Reem Al Bawadi

📌 Reem al Bawadi, Opposite Spinney’s, Marina Walk. Open everyday from 6am to 3am.

Do you know other nice places in Dubai? Comment below!

… and go Eat The Road 😃

Our Guide to Dubai: what to do, visit and taste

Dear fellow travelers,

Are you planning to visit Dubai? Then read my post and you’ll know what you shouldn’t miss!

I’ve spent 4 days there and I think it’s enough to enjoy the city, visit the different neighborhoods and take the time to relax as well. You can move around by tram, metro and bus, but sometimes it’s easier to take a cab, that you’ll find easily everywhere and that will bring you directly to destination at a reasonable price.

So here are my suggestions for your stay.

Take a stroll at Dubai Marina and enjoy an evening on a rooftop. Dubai Marina is an artificial canal city, famous for its modern shiny skyscrapers and its nice pedestrian walk with restaurants, bars and hotels with rooftops. It is quite lively at night and you’ll find a great choice of restaurants with a beautiful view on the canal and the skyline. We had dinner at Reem al Bawadi where you can taste delicious Middle Eastern dishes, like mezza, the meat skewers and sweet Umm Ali (a pudding with almonds, pistachios and dried raisins 😋). In order to have a good view of the Marina from the top, I particularly recommend you the Observatory, a restaurant located on the 52nd floor of the Marriott Dubai Harbour Hotel, where you can enjoy the panorama and have a delicious meal. We went there for lunch, but if you prefer to have a romantic dinner, then you should book in advance. Another good rooftop is Shades, the restaurant/bar of The Address Hotel: it’s really nice and glamorous with a sparkling swimming pool, the perfect place to drink a cocktail or have a dinner with a view.

Dubai Marina by night

Take the ferry to enjoy the skyline. I would strongly recommend you to take the ferry to enjoy the view of the incredible architecture of Dubai from the sea. I took the ferry from Dubai Marina to Al Ghubaiba ferry station. You can buy the tickets directly there: it’s 50 Dirhams for the Silver Ticket and 75 Dirhams for the Gold ticket (a premium access with more comfortable seats, definitely not worth it – we took the silver tickets and were very happy with that!). There is also a circular tour for tourists, you can find all the infos here.

Explore the Gold and Spice Souk. As most of the Arabian cities, Dubai has its own souk, with spices, textile and… gold! The Emirates are known for really cheap gold, so if you’d like to invest in sparkling jewels, then head to the Dubai Gold Souk where you can find shop windows literally covered with gold! 😮 The Spice Souk is also interesting, with several shops displaying all kind of colorful spices. It is quite small though and does not offer much choice as the souks in Marrakesh or Istanbul.

The Dubai Fountain Show

Enjoy the Dubai Fountain Show at sunset. Next to the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world (more than 800 meters high!), there’s a huge artificial lake where each night a fountain show takes place. The first show is at 6pm and it’s then repeated every 30 minutes till 11pm. We went to the show at sunset (and quite in advance since there are lots of tourists) to watch the dancing fountains with typical Arabian music.

Get lost in the Dubai Mall. If you want to understand Dubai and live like a local, then you should visit the Dubai Mall, the biggest mall in the world. With its 1200 shops, 250-room luxury hotel, 22 cinema screens and 120 restaurants and cafes, it is the perfect microcosm of luxury and entertainment where wealthy locals can spend their days when it’s too hot to walk in the sun. Inside the Mall you can find an incredible vertical  fountain, a huge aquarium and an ice rink!

Discover the desert near Dubai. As I told you in my previous post, we discovered the desert near Dubai during a day tour with Viator. It’s a very touristy experience, but I enjoyed it all the same. It was the first time in a desert for me and, even though it’s not the Sahara, it was really fascinating! We visited the desert on a 4×4 car in the late afternoon and waited for the sun to set. The tour also included an Arab dinner at the camp in the desert with bellydance show and henna tattoos. The moment of the evening that I enjoyed the most was when all the lights went off and we could watch the stars shining right above us.

Dubai desert

Shop at Madinat Jumeirah. It is a recreation of an ancient Arabia village, with shops, restaurants and luxury hotels. You can find typical products and souvenir shops. From there you have a good view of the Burj Al Arab, a luxury hotel in the shape of a sail of a ship, that stands on an artificial island near Jumeirah Beach.

Take selfies with flowers at the Dubai Miracle Garden. The Miracle Garden has been created as an oasis in the desert in 2013 and it represents the biggest natural flower garden in the world. In the garden there’s a fairytale atmosphere with small houses and alleys made of flowers. Since the garden is a bit far from the city center, we took a cab from Dubai Marina and it took 20 minutes togged there. The ticket price is 40 AED and you can find all the info here.

Relax at the beach. Once you are in the Emirates, you can take advantage of the hot weather to relax at the beach. I visited Jumeirah Beach, that we reached by foot from Dubai Marina. It was full of people, tourists and locals, but it was clean and the water quite warm. You can take a walk along the shore to enjoy the view of the skyscrapers just behind the beach.

Dubai was a surprise indeed! I’ve heard lots of things about it, some of them not really positive, but I was happy to visit it because it has a lot to offer and it’s really a different universe!

New post on Abu Dhabi coming soon!

Go Eat the Road 😊

 

 

My Trip to the UAE

Dear fellow travelers,

It’s Barbara here and I would like to tell you about my trip to the United Arab Emirates. I traveled there during the Christmas holidays with my family and spent 6 days in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I would like to share with you some information if you are planning to visit the region!

When to go, how to get there and where to stay

The climate in the Emirates is extremely hot and sunny, so it’s preferable to visit during winter to avoid the very high temperatures of summer (in July and August they can exceed 50°C!). We’ve decided to go visit Dubai during the Christmas holidays mainly because of the days off we all had, even though it’s the high season and the most expensive moment to go there. If you have the opportunity to go between November and March, you’ll see it’s a lot less expensive than during the winter holidays.

We spent 6 days in Dubai (counting the journey) and planned a day trip to Abu Dhabi, as well as a tour in the desert nearby. We privileged the visit of the city to the beach life, but if you are a beach lover, you should probably add two more days to relax and sunbathe.

We flew with Emirates with a comfortable direct fly from Milan (I was visiting my family there 😊) and stayed at Dubai Marina, in the Elite Residence tower, in a wonderful apartment we booked on Airbnb. I would definitely recommend it since it was spacious, well located, with a beautiful view on the Marina and included several services (24h reception, swimming pool, gym 😍, a supermarket just next door) without being expensive. It was really the perfect place to stay because it was well served by a tram and several buses and just 5 minutes walk to Dubai Marina. Dubai Marina is a nice area with many shops, restaurants and hotels that is perfect for a good stroll during the day or at night.

The Dubai Fountain, next to the Burj Khalifa

Day trips from Dubai

We planned a day trip to Abu Dhabi to visit the city and in particular the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the biggest mosque of the Emirates. We booked this tour with Viator for a reasonable price and we were happy about it. I’ll talk more about it in a new post soon 😉

We really wanted to experience the Arab desert as well, so we booked a Desert Safari for the afternoon, with a dinner by the campfire and an Arabian show with bellydance and a whirling dervish. There are several companies that offer this kind of experience and we chose Viator again, because of the nice program, the price and all the good reviews. You can have a look here at the different options proposed.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

What to pack

In winter the temperatures are warm and mild. It was quite hot when we visited, around 26/28°C during the day but you needed a sweat or jumper for the evening, especially in the desert. So I would recommend you to bring summer clothes, sunglasses, sandals, sunscreen cream and a swimsuit.

For the ladies: even though in the Emirates Western customs are widely tolerated, because of the many expats living there, I would still suggest you not to go around with very short skirts if you are visiting the city centre. Keep a scarf always with you if planning to enter a mosque. For the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi bring with you a long dress with a light cotton long sleeves shirt and a scarf to be well covered without suffering from the heat. Some long robes are provided there but they are black and synthetic, not the best option if you are visiting with midday sun!

Currency

UAE Dirham (AED) is the national currency in the Emirates. You can find ATM and currency exchange offices very easily, even though credit cards can be used in most of the restaurants, shops and malls.

I hope this post will be useful if you are planning to visit the UAE soon. Stay tuned for the next posts about my trip!

And go Eat The Road 😃

Okonomiyaki. The Original Recipe from Osaka

Dear fellow travelers,

During my trip to Japan I’ve tasted many delicious meals, some of them are quite well known in Europe, like sushi, ramen and soba. I would like to share with you the recipe of a dish I’ve tasted and discovered for the first time in Osaka and that its more difficult to find in Europe: the Okonomiyaki, also known in the Western countries as the “Japanese pancake” or the “Japanese pizza”. I think it’s really good and quite easy to make if you have the right ingredients. I’ve found them in Paris in a Japanese grocery store called Kioko, hope you can find them as easily as I did!

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For two Okonomiyaki you’ll need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 125gr of flour
  • 1/2 white cabbage or Chinese cabbage
  • 150ml of dashi (a Japanese bonito stock)
  • 1 tbsp of baking powder
  • bacon strips
  • 2 tbsp of oil

For the topping:

  • Japanese mayonnaise
  • Okonomiyaki sauce
  • Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
  • Aonori (dried green seaweeds)
  • Pickled red ginger

In a large bowl beat the two eggs and add half of the dashi stock. Slowly add the flour while stirring, then add the rest of the dashi till you have a thick mixture. Cut the cabbage in slices and then small pieces and add it to the mixture.

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In a large pan, heat the oil and then pour part of the mixture to form a circular pancake. Then add the bacon strips on top of it.

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Cover the bacon with the cabbage mixture and then turn it on the other side to cook.

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Once your Okonomiyaki is ready, you can have fun with toppings! You can add the Japanese mayonnaise and the Okonomiyaki sauce in zigzagging lines, as well as the bonito flakes, some Aonori and a bit of red ginger on top.

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Enjoy…  and Eat The Road!

Japan: Reading List

Dear fellow travelers,

The knowledge I had about Japan was partly coming from manga, cartoons and movies. But literature is what gave me a deeper understanding of the Japanese culture and spirit. Here is a very concise list of books I suggest you to read to know more about the country and to prepare your trip.

godhatesjapanDouglas Coupland, God Hates Japan. This is the story of Hiro, a Japanese young man born in 1975, that lives his youth when Japan goes through an economic crisis that is going to deeply change society (between the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s). Hiro lives and witnesses the westernization of his generation. He is very critical towards his own compatriots; from his reflections we can see the stereotypes about Japan and the desire of Japanese younger generation to adopt some of the European and American culture and habits, mixing them with the Japanese style. The Amerikamura district in Osaka (literally the «American neighborhood») is just one of the examples of this trend.

murakami colorlessHaruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I’ve read many novels by Murakami and this is the one I’ve read just before leaving for Japan. It’s one of his typical buildungsroman, and deals with the quest for elegance and sophistication of spirit, concepts that are so dear to the Japanese. The novel is about Tsukuru, a typical character from the Murakami universe, lonely, emotional and troubled, who dedicates his life to train stations, becoming one of the most famous engineers for train stations planning and design. Like all his fellow countrymen, he has a genuine veneration for trains, and in particular for the shinkansen, the futuristic high-speed train. What fascinated me most were the descriptions of Japanese train stations: a sort of microcosms of perfect cleanliness, labyrinths with infinite hallways, floors and exits, where floods of people come and go endlessly. I had the occasion of passing through some of them during my visit, in particular Umeda and Namba in Osaka, Shinjuku in Tokyo and the beautiful one in Kyoto, a huge modern cathedral. These stations are impressive: it happened to me to think about Tsukuru while being there.

nothomb fear and tremblingAmélie Nothomb, Fear and Trembling. This is the most shocking book about the Japanese business culture I’ve ever read. The Belgian author, who lived in Japan for years, tells about a newly hired European girl, that has to deal with the crazy Japanese business hierarchy, where the relationships between colleagues have to be extremely formal and every task has to be accomplished respecting several strict rules. She’s unlucky enough to be “punished” for her behavior and, even if she does not always understand why, her managers get her to change her job and push her lower and lower in the hierarchical ladder. It is a very striking portrait of the real working life of Japanese, who are accustomed to extremely long working hours, who all wear the same office “uniform” and fall asleep on the train during their long commuting hours at the end of the day.

confessions of a maskYukio Mishima, Confessions of a MaskA classic from the Japanese literature, this novel is about Kochan, a young Japanese guy living in the 20s, that has to hide his homosexuality wearing a mask to face society. Japanese society is still known for its rigid principles and the cult of auto-discipline. There is no surprise that Kochan ends up seeing himself as an outsider, and will live up with this feeling for his whole life. In Japan, everyone is supposed to conceal his true feelings and only disclose them to a restricted circle made of family members and very close friends. Kochan has the obligation to restrict this circle even more, through his years in the high school and – straight after – in the army and in his efforts of dating a girl. Confessions of a mask is an interesting (but sad) story that will let you discover one of the greatest Japanese novelists.

If you are a movie person rather than a book person, here are our suggestions:

  • Dolls, Takeshi Kitano, 2003
  • Howl’s Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki, 2004
  • Like Father, Like son, Hirokazu Kore’eda, 2013
dolls
Scene from Dolls

Enjoy… and go Eat the Road!

Our Guide to Kyoto: our must-visit and must-do!

Kyoto definitely has something special. I would describe it as some sort of retrò atmosphere. You will feel it while getting lost among the flavors of Nishiki food market, in the narrow streets of Gion district, or while walking in the gardens of the Imperial Palace. The ancient capital is also the home of spirituality, with more than 2.000 temples and shrines, and will offer you the perfect scenario for some unique experiences.

Here are my tips on what to see in Kyoto, and on things you should absolutely do while visiting this fascinating city. I recommend you to spend at least 4 days in this city, as many attractions are far from each other and a balanced pace would make your stay more enjoyable and allow you the time to spoil yourself a little with the pleasures that the city has to offer (food, theater shows, etc).

Visit the Golden and Silver Pavilion. The Kinkaku-ji (better known as Golden Pavilion) as seen through the lake is probably one of the most iconic symbols of Kyoto: this Zen Buddhist temple is one of the most popular buildings in Japan. The Ginkaku-ji, Silver Pavilion, is less striking in terms of view, but its garden is particularly well known and features wooded grounds covered with a variety of mosses and a sand garden. The piles of sand are said to represent Mount Fuji.

Silver Pavilion
The Ginkaku-ji, also known as Silver Pavilion

Take an evening stroll in Gion. Gion is the most famous entertaining district in Kyoto. Here you will find the famous Minamiza Theater, home of Kabuki, but also interesting little places like Café Opal, that defines itself as «the most soulful café in the world», and the Patisserie Gion Sakai, where you can purchase an infinite variety of treats. What really makes Gion famous, though, is its nightlife: the district is full of bars and restaurants, and they come alive at dusk, as the famous lanterns are lit on the teahouses and maiko, or apprentice geisha, can be seen in the streets. If you are lucky enough, you will see one of them!

Experience the authentic Tea Ceremony. Drinking matcha tea is not just a different way of having an afternoon break, it is a proper ritual that deserves its own ceremony. You can get to learn the gestures and meaning of the Japanese Tea Ceremony if you take part to one of the ceremonies organized by places such as Okitsu Club, Camellia, or En. I personally went to En, but in all of these places an English-speaking charming lady will introduce you to the tea ceremony rules and etiquette, and of course you will get to prepare your own cup of green tea. An inspiring experience that you should try, and Kyoto is the right place to do it as the tradition was born exactly in this city.

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As I was getting ready to prepare and taste matcha tea during the tea ceremony at En.

Head up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This is a temple complex situated on the Eastern part of the city, and was also one of the finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World. Beneath the main hall of the temple, you will find Otowa waterfall: if you catch and drink the water you may be lucky, as it is said to have wish-granting powers.

Have dinner at Ippudo. A friend suggested me this ramen restaurant, which is actually part of a chain that started in Fukoka, Kyushu, in 1995, and rapidly spread across Japan (and in the rest of the world, Paris and London included!). I had gyoza as starter and then tried the spicy noodles and they were super-tasty! The right reward after a very intense day! If you choose Ippudo for your dinner, make sure you get there early (before 19.30) or be prepared to queue. It is a very popular restaurant!

Get lost in the Nikishi food market. Situated in the city center, Nikishi food market is a labyrinth of narrow streets where you can buy and try a surprising variety of food, from fish to matcha-flavoured biscuits. I love food and lively, colorful places; I could not help falling in love with this market and ended up coming here more than once during my stay in the city. You should do the same and taste anything that inspires you! I personally suggest the little biscuits that look more or less like this:

"Otabe" biscuit, by Bijuu Co.,Ltd.
Otabe” biscuit, by Bijuu Co.,Ltd.

It is basically a cracker that is made of rice flour, sugar, cinnamon and water, which is mixed, then rolled out into a thin sheet before being baked. When the dough is steamed instead of being baked and filled with red bean paste, it turns into a confectionery called nama yatsuhashi. The company Bijuu Co. registered its own version of this biscuit and called it Otabe. Try it and bring a box back with you!

Admire the modern architecture of Kyoto station. Japanese love trains and stations are almost a sacred location for them. Even if you are not taking any train from here, Kyoto station deserves a visit: rebuilt in 1997, it is 70 meters high and 470 meters from east to west. One of the most modern buildings in a city that is mostly famous for its heritage, it also has interesting viewpoints on the 4th and 5th floor, and is the home of many interesting restaurants and stores. I had an okonomiyaki here, and then was lucky enough to see a youth orchestra performing in the station!

Climb up the shrine hill at Fushimi-Inari. Climbing up the hill looks like an infinite walk in a red tunnel, as you move through the 32.000 shrines (torii) of Fushimi-Inari hike. Watch out for the fox statues (kitsune) that you’ll meet near the shrines, sometimes they will hold a key in their mouths, which represented the key to the rice storehouse in ancient times. The higher you climb, the more you’ll make sure you’ll leave the crowd of tourists behind you, but be prepared as this is an almost 5km hike. Totally worth it!

Fushimi Inari

Buy a vintage kimono or yukata. You are traveling to Japan and you absolutely want to bring back a kimono; buying a second-hand one can be a good option, for two reasons: it has a vintage look, and your wallet will surely appreciate. Near the Nikishi market and in the Gion area, watch out for the little kimono shops where, for about 2.000 Yen, you will be able to buy a decent kimono and yukata that would make a good souvenir or present without compromising your travel budget. Plus, trying them on is a lot of fun!

Look up to the amazing bamboo forest of Arashiyama. Fascinating is not enough. Arashiyama has a mystic energy, and you will get mesmerized by it. The bamboo forest is one of the most popular landmarks in the whole country, so don’t get upset if taking a picture with no tourist photobombers will be impossible. Try to get there as early as possible and don’t let the selfie sticks ruin the atmosphere. The secret is simple: just look up at the plants.

Arashiyama

Go to the theater for a Geisha dance show. You have to be lucky and be in town during the right weeks in order to be able to attend a geisha dance. The main shows are Miyako Odori (held daily in April), Kyo Odori (held daily first to third Sunday in April), Kitano Odori (held daily between 15 and 25 April), Kamogawa Odori (held daily between 1 and 24 May), Gion Odori (held daily between 1 and 10 November). I had the chance to participate to a Kamogawa Odori show, and was surprised by the colors, the costumes, and the grace of the dancers. Very peculiar but a must-see attraction if you are in Kyoto at the right time of the year.

I moved around Kyoto with local buses: you can purchase a multi-day pass at the main stations ticket offices. I really suggest buses because they are comfortable and allow you to take a look at the city life while going around.

I hope you’ll find these tips useful! Please comment below if you have other suggestions: they can be helpful if I get the occasion to travel to Kyoto again!

Eat the Road!

Did you know…? 10 Curious Things About Japan

Japan is an extraordinary country and, if you are European like me, sometimes you will probably feel as if you were visiting another planet. In fact, there are so many peculiar things in Japan that it can be extremely difficult to write down a list such as this one. There are plenty of fun and interesting facts about Japan and its culture, I just picked up the 10 that struck me most. Some of these have been part of my day to day during the 15 days I spent there.

  • Konbini are the typical convenience stores in Japan; FamilyMart, Lawson and 7-Eleven are the most well-known chains. They are open 24/7 and therefore can save your life if you are hungry at night, if you realize you forgot your toothbrush, but also if you need any type of service, such as booking an hotel, sending a parcel, withdrawing cash at an ATM machine, or accessing the internet. The Japanese can also pay their bills here. If you are walking around in big cities, you will literally find a Konbini at every corner, but they are also present in rural areas.
  • There is only one thing in Japan that can save your life more than a Konbini: the drink vending machines that you will find everywhere, in subways, train stations, bus stations, schools, offices, public parks, next to any type of shop. Here you will find a varied selection of bottled and canned drinks: among them, water, sodas, teas, and sport drinks. This can be handy if you are walking around the city on a very hot day!
  • While visiting Okunoin cemetery in Koyasan, but also in other temples, I noticed that several Buddha statues wore red bibs. These represent offers to dead children: their mother leave them on the statues to bring them luck in the afterlife.
  • During my trip I took a lot of trains, on long distances but also to move around in big cities. Well, I was fascinated and shocked at the same time by the number of people who fall asleep on the train. First of all, because they fall asleep and completely leave their personal belongings in thrall to pickpockets (but apparently no one would steal your phone in Japan, while this behavior would not be safe at all in European or US cities, hence my reaction). Then, because I realized that this is often the consequence to a very simple thing: the average Japanese who lives in the outskirts of the city and commutes every day lives a very tiring life. The Japanese have a long working hours culture; if you add another 2 hours of commuting (or more) per day, you would quickly realize that surrendering to sleepiness while on the train is a necessary hack in order to gain more sleeping time.
  • Another peculiarity, on Japanese metro trains, is the existence of the so-called “Women Only” passenger cars. These were created in order to protect women from random gropers that would take advantage of full train passenger cars to let their hands slip here and there. During peak hours, only women can access these carriages. You can recognize them from the pink signs on the platforms and on the car.
  • While walking around, you will be seeing some weird places who look like the slot machine rooms in Vegas. These places are very noisy (some kind of video-game music is played inside, and the volume is pumped up) and full of flashing lights: they are Pachinko parlors. Pachinko is the typical mechanical arcade game in Japan, and it is also a gambling device (hence the parallel with slot machines). In Pachinko parlors, you will see rows of humans sitting in front of machines, as if they were hypnotized by the game (and, partly, by the music and the lights).
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Pachinko parlor, Osaka
  • People often use surgical masks to walk in the street, but also when they are inside. You will see this everywhere, starting from the airport to the shopping areas, or inside the metro or any office. This is mainly due to hygienic reasons: Japanese people do not want to breathe their germs all over the place when they are sick. But surgical masks are also a protection against hay fever, and this is the reason why they are even more common during the spring.
  • On a sad note, I recently read scaring stats about karoshi: this word indicates suicide for too much work. As previously mentioned, the Japanese tend to work very long hours, and the corporate life is very strict and full of hierarchical rules. This is why karoshi has become a reality: as people drown in work, their life becomes mix of stress and anxiety, and they end up seeking the extreme relief in suicide. More than 200 people loose their life this way in Japan, every year. As work-life balance is more and more valued in the Western culture nowadays, these stats are very scaring.
  • Most of the restaurants in Japan display plastic replicas of their available dishes. The replicas are generally exposed in a window near their entrance. This will help you getting an idea of what is on the menu: it is indeed helpful for tourists who don’t speak Japanese. In case you don’t find the replicas, don’t freak out: it is very likely that the menu will have pictures. You just need to point your finger at the dish that inspires you most!
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Food replicas in Gion, Tokyo
  • One of the things I noticed while walking around in Japan is that girls tend to walk with their feet pointed inwards, which I found weird. In Japan, this is considered a nice way to walk for women, as this is how you should normally walk while you are wearing a kimono or yukata (which is basically the home version of a kimono). Besides that, the pigeon toe (the common way to describe this way of walking) can also be a consequence of sitting in seiza since the childhood. In fact, this position requires folding one’s legs underneath one’s thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels, constantly weighting on them and pushing the toes inwards.

I am sure you will notice these things if you are traveling to Japan. If you have already been, I am would like to know which curious things surprised you most!

Japan: My Trip in 30 Photos

Hi dear travelers!

Here is a gallery from my trip to Japan. Hope you’ll like it! 😊

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Kōyasan
Kōyasan
Kōyasan
Kōyasan
Onsen Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Onsen Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Dinner at Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Dinner at Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Guest slippers, Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Guest slippers, Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Okunoin cemetery
Okunoin cemetery
Tōdai-ji, Nara
Tōdai-ji, Nara
Nara Park
Nara Park
Ramen
Ramen
Food market, Kyōto
Food market, Kyōto
Food Market, Kyōto
Food Market, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Golden Pavillion, Kyōto
Golden Pavillion, Kyōto
Bookshop in Kyōto
Bookshop in Kyōto
Fujimi Inari, Kyōto
Fujimi Inari, Kyōto
Okonomyaki in Kyōto
Okonomyaki in Kyōto
Gallery in Kyōto
Gallery in Kyōto
Roppongi, Tokyo
Roppongi, Tokyo
Asakusa, Tokyo
Asakusa, Tokyo
Akihabara, Tokyo
Akihabara, Tokyo
Fish market, Tokyo
Fish market, Tokyo
Tokyo skyline from the Park Hyatt
Tokyo skyline from the Park Hyatt
Shibuya crossing, Tokyo
Shibuya crossing, Tokyo
Tokyo Fish Market
Tokyo Fish Market

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And go Eat The Road! 😊

My Japan tour: The itinerary

Hi fellow travelers!

It’s still Elena here and, as I have told you in our previous post, I am taking over Eat The Road for a while in order to tell you everything about the 2 wonderful weeks that I have spent in Japan last May. When I prepared my itinerary for this trip, I knew I wanted to spend some days in Kyoto and Tokyo, two must-visit cities, and that, given time constraints, I would not be able to travel outside Honshu, the biggest island of the Japanese archipelago. But I found out that there are many interesting things that you can visit in the Kansai region. I also knew I wanted to spend at least one night in a traditional accommodation (temple or ryokan) and test the onsen. I discovered that I could do both things and also experience some spiritual ceremony in the region of Mount Koya.

The itinerary that I will illustrate in this post will allow you to see as many things as possible during 2 weeks time, experience a diversity of landscapes and historical sites (mountains, urban, outskirts, temples, castles), take a lot of trains – which is also a key experience in Japan, given their obsession with trains -, and have the occasion to slow down the pace, do some shopping, taste good food and relax.

Day 1: Osaka. We arrived in the morning in Osaka and decided to leave our luggage at the airport and to go and explore the city even if we were super-tired as we couldn’t fall asleep on the flight. We decided to visit Osaka to experience another big and modern city apart from Tokyo. Osaka is normally known as «Japan’s kitchen» and the term kuidaore, which means «ruining yourself through the extravagance of food» is often associated with this city and its variety of good restaurants. Our hotel was near Nanba station, but we decided to visit the Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky building (not far from the Osaka station) in the afternoon, before collapsing in our beds at 8pm.

Day 2: Himeji Castle, Kobe and Dotonbori. We definitely felt better on our Day 2. We took the train and traveled westward in order to visit Himeji Castle, the largest and most visited castle in Japan. This impressive white construction dates to 1333. On our way back to Osaka, we decided to stop in Kobe for lunch and a walk on the harbor. In the evening, we finally had time to explore Dotonbori district, get hypnotized by its lights, and take a picture with the famous Glico Man, an enormous candy-ad with an athlete that runs and smile and changes colors from time to time. After visiting Amerikamura, the most modern part of the city, we had dinner at a very fun place, Zauo. Here, if you seat on the tables which are on a sort of boat, you can catch your fish and decide how to have it cooked. We thought it was good fun: if you are planning to go, I recommend you to book in advance and specify that you want a table on the boat. After dinner I met with an Italian friend who has been living in Japan for almost 10 years. He took me to an izakaya (Japanese pub) where I tried umeshu, a cherry liquor. I found it so good that I decided to bring home a bottle at the end of my trip.

Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle

Day 3/4: Koyasan. On our 3rd day, we took the Nankai Koya Line from Nanba to Gokurakubashi, and then the Koyasan cablecar (ask about the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket to optimize the costs of your trip if you are visiting this region from Kansai). This was one of the best part of our holiday: during these two days, we visited the numerous temples of the region, as Koyasan is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. The Okunoin cemetery, with his hundreds graves and statues, is very evocative, especially as it is surrounded by some sort of permanent fog. We spent the night at the Fukuchi In, one of the temples of the region which has been converted into a travelers’ lodge. If you try one of these accommodations, you will sleep in traditional Japanese rooms, test Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, relax in the onsen or in the common spaces with view on the gardens. And, if you feel like, you will be invited for a session of prayers and meditation in the morning. It’s an experience I would definitely recommend!

Day 5: Nara. Deer, deer, deer. These lovely animals will probably photobomb most of your pictures as you will visit the park in Nara; you will be surprised as you start touring the park but at some point you will realize they are just part of the environment. They are not aggressive at all, actually they are nice and friendly and you will be able to take selfies with them and pet them, but if you decide to buy the cookies and feed them… well, be prepared to be followed by curious and hungry deer 😉 The deer are a nice add-on for a city that really deserves a visit: it is an ancient capital, and here you will be able to visit the Tōdai-ji temple complex, and be surprised by the size of Daibutsu Buddha. We stopped here while heading back from Koyasan on our way to Kyoto and spent the night at a cheap hotel called Toyoko Inn, which was very basic and served a Japanes style breakfast (you may want to go get a cappuccino and some cookies instead, I did as I am not accustomed to eat vegetables for breakfast), but overall the hotel is all clean and new and good value for money. You can also visit Nara with a return trip from Kyoto, if you prefer; it takes less than one hour to travel between the two cities (by train, of course!).

Lovely deer in Nara

Days 6 to 9: Kyoto. Kyoto has been the Imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years. We chose to spend 4 days in this city, as there were many things to see (and most of them are outside the city center) and many experiences to make (tea ceremony, geisha show, kabuki theater) that we didn’t want to be in a rush. One of the upcoming posts will be about the things to do in Kyoto, make sure you read it! I still want to dedicate a special mention to the Airbnb flat that we booked, this one. Nice location close to the river and to several bus stops, in a quite residential area literally 2 steps away from Gion district. Plus, it was very cozy.

Days 10 to 14: Tokyo. If Japan is another planet… well, Tokyo perfectly embodies its role of the capital of an alternative universe. Skycrapers, colors, lights and sounds: I really would not know where to start from to describe this living and enormous city. I will dedicate one of the upcoming articles to share more details about what to do in Tokyo. I stayed near Shinjuku station, but you should really pick up your preferred location depending on what you love most: crowds, restaurants and lights or quiet neighborhoods.

And that’s a wrap for now! Stay tuned for the upcoming articles about Kyoto and Tokyo. And if you are already dreaming to visit Japan (as much as I dream that I can go back and have another taste of this amazing country), be ready to Eat the Road!

 

My Japan Tour

Dear fellow travelers,

It’s Elena here, and I will share with you the memories of my recent trip to Japan! I spent 2 weeks in Japan last May; I went there with my mom. I have always been fascinated by this country and, like many 80’s kids, grew up with their anime and the myth of the futuristic technologies coming from Japan.

In this article, you will find an overview of some practical information that you have to take into account if you are planning a trip to Japan.

When to go there and how to move around

The high season is between the end of March and mid-May. August is also a peak season for tourists, but I suggest you to go in the Spring in order to avoid the humid, hot temperatures of the summer. If you want to see the cherry blossoms (the famous sakura), the wisest choice is going there at the end of March. This site will give you an idea of the 2016 blossoming season, but the perfect moment really depends on the weather, so you also have to count on a bit of luck. The first week of May is the Golden Week in Japan, so many Japanese will be on holidays and touristic sites will possibly be overbooked because of local travelers.

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Banners oustide Ryōgoku Kokugikan, the Sumo Stadium in Tokyo

I booked my flights in advance (beginning of December) and took two direct flights with Airfrance (I flew to Kansai airport – which is in between Osaka and Kyoto – and flew back from Tokyo Haneda, although most international flights depart from Narita). Several companies travel to Japan so you only have to monitor the prices and choose the most convenient flight combination.

If you already started gathering information about Japan, you have probably heard about the Japan Rail Pass. The main way to travel around in Japan is by train, and JR Railways (one of the several companies that operate train services across the country) allows the non-Japan residents to travel with no limits on its trains with this forfait. The pass can only be bought outside of Japan. Therefore, you have to buy it before your trip and you will get it delivered to your home address within a few days. The earliest you can buy it it’s 3 months before your arrival in Japan and there are several websites where you can order it. Be careful, though. The JR pass for 7 days costs about 230 €, while the one for 21 days costs about 470 € (for second class seats): it’s only worth buying this pass if you are exploiting it fully and you have at least two long distance trips (for instance, if you are traveling by train from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, it is worth it, otherwise you may have to think twice before buying the pass). I used HyperDia to look for the trains I wanted to take during my trip, and added their prices together. It turned out that for me it would be more convenient to buy a 2 days pass for the Kansai region, another regional pass to visit Koyasan, and buy single tickets and bus/metro cards for the remaining days (I will go into more details about my itinerary later). So, my advice is: arm yourself with patience and a calculator and discover if buying the famous Japan Rail Pass is convenient or not for your trip.

With regards to the perfect duration of a tour in Japan, I personally spent 2 weeks there and I would say that I was able to see everything I wanted to see and also slow down the pace as I arrived in the two cities where I got to stay for longer (Kyoto and Tokyo, obviously). 10 days can also be sufficient to visit these 2 cities and maybe Nara, while 7 days would be a stretch. If you are lucky enough and have the chance to spend even more time in Japan, a 20 days trip would allow you to see something different and travel outside from the most visited paths, to see places such as Okinawa or Hokkaido.

It is normally suggested that you buy a travel insurance if you are traveling to Japan: in case you get sick or have an accident, this way you will be sure that hospitals will take care of you. In fact, they are normally leery of treating patients who are not inscribed to the national health insurance system. Make sure you always carry a proof of this insurance with you. Lonely Planet suggests World Nomads travel insurance, which also covers the costs of flight and hotel bookings cancellations, lost luggage, etc.

What to put you in your luggage?

You will choose your clothes with an eye on the meteo forecast and depending on the time of the year that you have chosen for your trip. Do not forget to bring your JR pass with you if you have purchased it in advance. The power plug is basically like the one used in the US, although the voltage is different. You can check this site to see if you will need an adaptor.

akihabara shop
Anime and gadget shop in Akihabara, Tokyo

Last but not least, you may want to rent a smartphone during your trip, or buy a Japanese SIM to use it for the duration of your trip. In fact, I found it particularly useful to have the 3G activated everywhere during my trip, in order to regularly check Google Maps, especially in big cities (the streets have no names and everything is written in Japanese!). As an alternative (which is what I did), always book AirBnb accommodations that provide «pocket wifi». With this device, you will basically carry your own wifi network with you, and will have connection available everywhere.

Well.. you have everything you need. Don’t miss the upcoming post about the itinerary, and be ready to Eat the Road!