Waking Up In Paris

Let me begin by saying, everything you’ve heard in your lifetime about Paris being a magical city…it’s all true! After spending 6 days in this city I am absolutely smitten with it, and know undoubtably that I’ll be back one day!

There is so much to see in Paris, it can be a little overwhelming at times deciding what to do. My advice to anyone planning their first trip to Paris is do your research. This is a city full to the brim with things to do, and if you try to see everything you’ll go crazy! Half the magic of Paris is the atmosphere, so don’t contaminate your trip with stress and the feeling you have to do everything. Research and decide which sites are the most important to you, being sure to take notes what days the site is open, and which district it’s in, so you can create a more manageable itinerary.  Secondly, be realistic about how much you can do during one day/your stay; don’t try to squeeze too many things to do into your holiday.

The week leading up to our trip my nose was happily buried in Paris travel guides, and I read through hundreds of blogs with helpful advice. Before I stepped foot on our plane to Paris I had a list put together of wonderful things to do, with all my facts compiled, and a few backup plans in case of bad weather. In the end, that piece of paper never left my purse and it greatly reduced the stress of our trip.

We decided to rent a small flat in the Canal St Martin area called The Chef’s Flat (Airbnb link: here) run by a lovely lady named Elisa. We loved our stay here because it felt more like a home than a hotel. So, the first morning that I woke up in Paris I delighted in throwing open the large windows and happily watched the morning hustle and bustle of true Parisians while drinking my coffee and munching on a croissant.

My father was coming out a day later than my mother and I, so we debated what to do that day. We didn’t want to visit any of our major Paris highlights without him, so we settled on visiting a smaller museum and going for a girls-date at a fancy cafe I’d been dying to go. A cafe that my father mostly likely wouldn’t have enjoyed very much.

L'orangerieFirst we visited the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is a small, serene art gallery of impressionist work located in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens next to the Place de la Concorde. I was lured here for Claude Monet’s “Les Nymphéas” paintings.  On the upper level of this museum are two oblong rooms with ceilings that allow for plenty of natural light to filter in (designed by Monet himself) to house the 8 long murals he painted while working on his most passionate art project: water lilies throughout the seasons.orangerie-nympheas2.michelurtado

The reason I loved this museum and wanted to go was because I deeply admire Monet’s art. I’m not much of an art person, but I have always enjoyed work done by Monet. In particular, his water lily paintings lure me like a moth to a flame. There is something so calming about gazing at them, the hues that he uses I find enchanting, and it’s art like this that I can stare at for great lengths of time without feeling the slightest desire to look away.  So even though this museum is 1/100 the size of The Louvre, I actually enjoyed it more. I strolled around each room savouring looking at them both from afar and up close, before sitting on the benches and contemplating each painting in due turn with absolute awe and  joy.

After this we explored the basement that houses the Walter-Guillaume collection which contains works by Picasso, Renoir, Soutine, Modigliani, Cezanne, and many others. This art once belonged in the personal collection of Paul Guillaume’s who was a key figure on the Parisian artistic and literary scene of the 1920s. Upon his death his wife donated the collection to the state.IMG_4513

After our cultural appetite was satisfied it was time to trot across the beautiful Tuileries Gardens to satisfy another appetite. I have a huge sweet tooth, so Paris was a dream come true and it’s incredible that I can still fit into my skinny jeans after 2 weeks in France.

Ever since I first heard about the cafe Angelina (while reading my guiltiest blog pleasure The Londoner) I knew that their legendarily-sinful African hot chocolate was something that could not go unsampled while I was in Paris.IMG_4520 IMG_4518IMG_4516 IMG_4522Perhaps it’s a little touristy, but the desserts really are worth the hype! We each ordered the African hot chocolate which is basically pure molten chocolate, and atop this thick & creamy hot chocolate you put a dollop of whip cream to make it even more indulgent. It will certainly haunt my dreams for years to come! We also ordered a lemon tart and a mont-blanc (the signature dessert of Angelina) to share. Angelina Cafe ParisIf you love sweets like I do, be sure to pop in and indulge your sweet tooth. I make a bold claim, but I’ll stand by it, when I say you’ll definitely regret not doing so. There are a few locations around Paris, although I’ve been told the one by the Tuileries Garden is the nicest, and even one at the Palace of Versailles if you happen to be out there for a day!

After Angelina’s we headed back to the Canal St Martin area to meet my father who had just arrived in Paris. I relaxed and took a nap while he settled in. I woke up feeling much better (jet lag is always an evil thing!) so we decided to stroll down around the Notre-Dame Cathedral area around sunset.

ParisScreen Shot 2014-10-13 at 1.16.59 PMI was really excited to explore the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore (little bookworm that I am) and my non-romantic, “ice-queen” heart melted a smidgeon looking at all the love-locks on a bridge near the cathedral.

Dad was quite hungry so we scoped out a delicious-looking restaurant in the Latin Quarter and settled down for some mussels cooked in white wine and then covered in cream made by this talented and very friendly gent.  They were divine, and our family gorged ourselves on them, and dunked the bread in the leftover sauce, being careful to let none go to waste. IMG_4556

I could have happily rolled home by this point, but mom wanted to walk a few of those mussels off. Our little “stroll” along the river ended up turning into a 2-hour mission to walk to the base of the Eiffel Tower which was dazzling. IMG_4560 IMG_4569IMG_4575IMG_4583It was well past midnight when this tuckered-out Cinderella got home, and I fell asleep faster than you could say “Fais de beaux rêves.”

 

 

 

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Paris Is ALWAYS A Good Idea!

 Since coming back to Canada my life has been in a minor state of limbo. Unsure what career path to pursue, yet deliriously happy to be back at home surrounded by my loved ones and the things I’ve missed the most about Canada, I often find myself staring out into space, deep in thought.  It’s a strange feeling to simultaneously feel sad for the life I’ve lost, yet lucky for the life I’m currently living.

pumpkin spice latte

I’ve been waiting 3 years to drink one of these!!! Happiness level: 100

In a stroke of extreme fortune, my father found out several weeks back that he not only was approved for the 2 weeks of holidays he requested but that, by a stroke of sheer dumb luck, he doesn’t have to go to work the week before, or the week after either! Can you say heeeeello to one whole month of holidays!!! My mom was delighted, and they’ve been bouncing travel ideas back and forth at every opportunity! They even teased me saying I should come with them and forget my hunt for a new job.

In a moment of lucidity, lying awake at 2:00am in the morning, I asked myself: When again in my life will I ever have such a wonderful opportunity? I’m currently in between jobs, have enough money saved, and this is the season I’ve always dreamt of going to France. I squashed down the voice in my head that said it would be crazy to arrive home to Canada only to up and leave on holidays again, and the voice that I should be focusing on finding a new job. I fell asleep that night with dreams of Parisian cafes and the Eiffel Tower floating around in my head.

The next morning I woke up with a devilish grin on my face and a reckless enthusiasm that just couldn’t be contained. I made myself a cup of coffee, plopped myself down at the table where my mom and dad were reading the newspaper and said, “Audrey Hepburn once said that Paris is always a good idea. If you still want to go to France, count me in!”

Paris is always a good ideaSo that’s my big news folks! I’m off to France in less than 2 weeks! My days are no longer spent resume editing, but rather perusing travel books on Paris & France! I’ve checked out 7 books from the library and am devoting all my time to planning this exciting, spontaneous adventure! Wish me luck and if you have any suggestions or recommendations I’m all ears!

paris is always wonderful

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Proud To Be Canadian: 3-Days Kayaking in Paradise

For me, one of the hardest parts of living in Japan was being far away from my beloved Rocky Mountains. I spent most of my childhood weekends there, and the homesick feeling I felt for them never disappeared during my 3 years living abroad. Back when I lived in Canada I used to take for granted living only an hour away from some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.  But that isn’t true any longer. After a 3-year hiatus I’m one eager beaver to go hiking, kayaking and snowboarding in beautiful Canadian nature as much as possible!

My parents, knowing me all too well, had anticipated this. Immediately after my birthday we packed up the tent-trailer and headed out camping for 4 days. On our first day we headed up to Yoho National Park, set up the trailer, and afterwards decided that we’d go kayaking on Emerald Lake to kickstart our adventure!

IMG_4339 IMG_4365I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I saw Emerald Lake again. Doesn’t the clear aquamarine water look like something out of dream? The weather was hot and sunny so I couldn’t wait to get out on the water!

That’s me on my little inflatable kayak borrowed off our family friend Laura (thanks Laura!) which we affectionately nicknamed The Banana Boat!

IMG_4355 IMG_4364 IMG_4375After a couple hours of kayaking my upper arms were exhausted. I haven’t been kayaking in nearly 3-years so I’ve got little chicken wings without nearly enough muscle, though that’s due to change now that I can go kayaking any time I want! So we set up some chairs and an umbrella, whipped out our books from the dry sacks, cracked open some beer, and lounged around reading for a bit, peeking up every so often from our page to look at the magnificent view before us.IMG_4370 IMG_4371

After another hour of kayaking we headed into The Emerald Lake Lodge for a beer on the patio. Talk about a drink with a view to kill for, eh?! Cheers to the great outdoors!IMG_4395

 

We woke up frighteningly early the next morning (at least for someone still suffering from terrible jet lag, ugh!) but my grumpy grizzly bear demeanour disappeared in an instant when I smelled bacon sizzling. I smiled when I saw mom beginning to whip up a batch of blueberry pancakes, something of a Bell Family Tradition when camping and trundled sleepily over to lend a hand! Even when we’re in the middle of the wilderness The Bell Clan still eats like kings!IMG_4405

After breakfast we decided to stretch our legs before getting back into our kayaks. So, we strolled around Emerald Lake which took about an hour and rewarded us with some pretty spectacular views! IMG_4407 IMG_4408 IMG_4422

After lunch we drove down the road to the very famous Lake Louise for our second afternoon of kayaking. It wasn’t quite as sunny as I was hoping, but still breathtaking once you got out on the water.

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Mom and dad were pretty happy to finally be checking this dream off their bucket list. They’ve been talking about kayaking on Lake Louise ever since they first bought their kayaks 5 years ago!! I was happy to be the perfect catalyst, nothing like having your kid come home to shake things up!  IMG_4423As the sun began to set and cast a rosy glow over the surrounding mountains we called it quits because our feet were feeling frozen. The water in these lakes is glacier fed, so even during the hottest summer period it’s frighteningly cold water.

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We were a little nervous when we woke up on the 3rd day because it was pretty windy. We killed a bit of time lounging around the campsite reading, waiting until the wind died down a bit, then we headed over to Lake Moraine. In my opinion this lake has the prettiest colour water of them all. It’s just SO blue! IMG_4436 IMG_4438 IMG_4443

We got half way out and the wind picked up…uh oh! The wind really was a teensy bit of a problem in an inflatable kayak. It took all my effort not to be swept away! I was moving about as fast as a turtle swimming through molasses.  So my dad decided to hitch me to his kayak with a rope, he tugged me along and I paddled as hard as I could to keep up.

Oh! The indignity!!!! IMG_4446 IMG_4457 IMG_4455

We paddled all the way across the lake before we beached the kayaks for lunch. We had worked up quite the appetite battling the wind, and I practically inhaled my ginormous pita sandwich. We feasted on fresh BC cherries for dessert and said for the one-hundreth-and-one time how lucky we felt to be there together enjoying such beauty.

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The heavens opened the floodgates on our final day, and it was supposed to rain heavily all day. We were pretty tuckered out after 3 solid days of kayaking, and so we decided our hike could wait for another day. We drove into Banff and spent the afternoon looking at art in the many art galleries and eating simply divine pizza at The Bear Street Tavern. The food was to die for, I got The Big Bird Pizza which was loaded with pesto, bacon, chicken, goat cheese, mozzarella, spinach and onions. The craft beer was extra tasty after 3 years of only Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo to choose from! If you’re looking for a good restaurant in Banff I’d really recommend checking it out! You know a place is pretty darn yummy when it’s featured on the t.v. show You Gotta Eat Here.

You can check out their website here.

Bear Street Tavern Banff

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Painful Goodbyes & New Beginnings

Lao Tzu really hit the nail on the head when he said “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” It’s hard to believe, in so many ways, that my time in Fukui is over. I’m sitting back in Canada as I write this blog post and I can’t help but feel that my last two weeks in Japan went by in a blur.

Saying goodbye to the life I made for myself in Japan was inevitable. It was something I had known for a long time, ever since I stepped off that plane 3 years ago at the Tokyo Orientation. It was never my intention to live in Japan forever. Originally I had only meant to stay for one year, yet it flew by in the blink of an eye! So I chose to renew for another year, confident it would be my last… and when that year finished I still had so many things left that I wanted to do…so I promised myself one more year and that would be it!

Well, even though I was mentally prepared to leave this year, and thought I knew what the drill would be, somehow my poor little heart missed the memo. My final month was simultaneously exciting and soul-crushing. I was excited to return home to Canada and see my friends and family. Yet, I was also heartbroken at the thought of saying goodbye to so many close friends, never knowing when (or if!) I would see them again.

There were so many goodbye parties for the leavers of Fukui my liver is still recovering! We were well and truly spoiled!

First was the Tannan Sayonara Party where a smaller community of Fukui rented out 2 log cabins in the wilderness for some quality barbecuing, drinking, board-game-playing, and general mayhem. I splurged a little and bought some champagne which I shared with my bestie Lizzy. The champagne later contributed to terrible blurry selfie demands. tannan sayonara partyScreen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.18.34 PM

The following weekend was the Fukui-wide Sayonara Party, which is always one of the biggest parties of the entire year. It was really nice getting dressed to the nines for a change! I went out for dinner beforehand with Cian, Lizzy, Stuart and Jill at my favourite restaurant in Fukui, Pizzaria Felice for some to-die-for gorgonzola pizza. After that it was time to drink like fish and dance the night away at Bull’s Bar. I was sure to take time to snap a photo or two with best friends whenever I could snag them away from the bar!IMG_4767

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.43.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.48.10 PMYes, that is me buried at the bottom of the dog pile. What originally began as a selfie with my friends Shaun and Laura turned into chaos when everyone suddenly wanted into the picture. One by one they piled on top of me and sang, “Caaaaaan you feeeeeel the loooove tonight?“, “Yes,” I wheezed in response, definitely struggling to breathe, “You’ve taken my breath away. LITERALLY!

One of the highlights of this Sayonara Party weekend was that two of my closest Fukui ALT friends who had left one year before returned to Fukui to surprise us all! I was delighted to see Becca and Dan again after so long, and I did my best to see them as much as possible that weekend, whether it was to go karaoke-ing until 5 am in the morning or simply grab a few drinks at Flat Kitchen like old times.Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.52.34 PM

My last week in Fukui involved quite a few hours of frantic packing. You never are as prepared as you think you are, are you? Check out my room before and after…my mother would have been appalled at how fast my clean sanctuary was destroyed. Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 5.07.11 PM

With my both my birthday and my departure date fast approaching I invited people to join me for one last day on the beach. I always prefer doing parties outside, as it’s far less confining than an apartment or restaurant. Mingling 100% guaranteed. DSC04495 photo 3-5 photo 2-5

One of the highlights of my day at the beach was my surprise “birthday cake” which was actually a hotdog with a stick of kindling on fire. Everyone sang happy birthday while I laughed so hard I almost cried. Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 6.22.08 PM

And as if I hadn’t already been spoiled enough for my birthday, my friend Tomomi invited me over for a “Not-sayonara-but-rather-see-you-later & Birthday Party” which was so much fun! The word ‘dinner’ doesn’t even come close to describing this meal, it was more of a feast!  IMG_4247 Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.16.49 AM

Lizzy found the most amazing birthday present on Etsy, a tiny wooden image of Canada with a tiny heart carved in-between the two cities I call home in Canada (Calgary & Vancouver). Home is where the heart is, and she hopes that I’ll never forget my roots wherever my adventures take me in the future. It was one of the most wonderful and thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.

My final night in Fukui was spent with Lizzy drinking wine in my apartment, talking about life, laughing so hard we cried, and reflecting on our three fabulous years together. It’s amazing how much we did! It was the best way to spend my last night in Fukui, with a best friend, mind full of memories, and a heart full of love and gratitude for how lucky I was in life.

train station train station 2

The next morning my closest friends Tomomi, Lizzy, Cian, Shaun, Ryan, Ken, Hailey & Dean came to the Fukui train station to say goodbye. I insisted that 8:30am was far too early and that it really wasn’t necessary, but they squashed my protests and promised they wanted to be there and would be there come hell or high water. I was so touched because I had never expected it, and the outpouring of love was almost more than my poor piece-of-jello heart could bear.

It was a very emotional goodbye, and hard as I tried not to cry, I ended up doing so. I caved after just one hug, so I was thankful Tomomi was thoughtful enough to have given me a packet of tissues in the car “just in case”. I hugged them all, tried to smile through my tears and waved goodbye when at long last I had no choice but to go through the gate to catch my train.  Knowing I would be feeling blue they took one big, smiley picture to cheer me up after I was gone and messaged it to me just as I sat down in my seat on the train.sayonara 10As I looked out the window of the train, watching sadly as the rice fields of Fukui flew by, I reflected on how truly lucky I was to have made such wonderful friends during my time in Japan.  As amazing as Japan was, it was the people I met and the memories I made with them that meant the most in the end. They were pivotal to my experience abroad, and it was because of their friendship that I enjoyed my life in Fukui as much as I did. As my train sped towards Tokyo I had nothing but a heart full of love for the fabulous people whom I feel truly blessed to have met and called my friends. In the ever-so-eloquent words of Phil Collins:

You’ll be in my heart, yes you’ll be in my heart. From this day on, now and forever more. You’ll be in my heart, no matter what they say. You’ll be here in my heart always.”

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Gypsy Soul and a Pioneer Heart

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures]I have never wanted a life that is quiet and safe. I and my little pioneer heart seem quite fond of starting over in new places, time and time again (much to the dismay of my friends and family). And the thrill of adventures lying out there in the world, just waiting to be had, calls to my soul. I’m nowhere near ready to settle down because I’m too curious about the world and, as far as I’m concerned, the adventures of my life have only just started!

I think it’s important to remind myself, as the sorrowful reality that my time in Japan is coming to a close begins to truly seep in, that this isn’t the end of my adventures. Rather, it is the end of just one adventure, and that there are many more waiting for me in the future! As the ever-so-cliché saying goes: it’s not the end of the book, merely the end of a chaper.

My book has many chapters already written:

  • A wonderful childhood full of love, laughter, and happiness growing up in Calgary, Canada.
  • Discovering who I was and finding my independence away at univeristy in Vancouver, Canada.
  • Leaving behind everything I had ever know for a 6-month study abroad in New Zealand.
  • Incredible adventures in Japan while working abroad teaching Ennglish that pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to challenge my conceptions of the world.

The next chapter of my life hasn’t been written yet, but I’m trying to be positive and assure myself that it will be equally as exciting as this one!

I don’t regret any of my decisions and I’m proud to be the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to pursue her dreams. To be fearless pursuing one’s dreams is a pretty good goal in life, don’t you agree? Fate Loves The FearlessI taught my final class here in Japan on Friday. I nearly cried, if truth be told. A tiny piece of my self-indentity was lost and no one would know that, or mourn for it, other than me. I am a teacher no more! This week I merely have tests and grading to do. The week after that I pack up and move out!

It’s all happening so fast, and my list of things to do keeps my  head permanently spinning, so time has lost all sense and meaning. Chances are I’m going to arrive home in Canada and feel more than a little lost and wonder where my final 15 days in Japan dissappeared to. At times it’s easy to feel that everything special is ending. So, it’s handy keeping a blog at times like these; it really helps ground me emotionally and allows me to put everything back into perspective.for today I'll just breathe

I realize I’m so lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and will be sad to see me leave. It is living proof that my efforts here in Japan had impact on the world I lived in. So, even though it’s sad to hear so many people say “I’ll miss you!” and my throat tightens painfully every time I say goodbye, I try to keep in mind that it would be worse to not hear that outpouring of kind words.  Luckily for me, there is always Skype and I’ll be able to keep in touch with everyone as we head back to our respective places around the world!

For today my goal is just to breathe, remind myself that everything is going to be ok, and try to be optimistic about the future. Can you hear the siren call of London? I can…

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Whirlwind Of A Day In Kanazawa – Matt’s Trip To Japan

If I did decide to settle permanently in Japan, there is only one city that I could happily live in forever: Kanazawa. Kanazawa City is about 2 hours away from Fukui, and it’s been my little version of paradise these past three years. It’s somewhere I could escape for some quality alone time, and enjoy both modern and traditional Japanese culture.  In my opinion it’s a hidden tourist gem of Japan.

I was over the moon to get to bring my brother here to explore for a day. I took a day off work (so worth it!) and we once again hopped into my tiny car, nicknamed The Snickerdoodle, and headed out on Road Trip #2! I had downloaded the soundtrack from the movie ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ and we really enjoyed cruising down the highway listening to that.

The first thing we did when we got to Kanazawa was meander through the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

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It’s my all-time favourite museum in the world, and if you ever visit Kanazawa you MUST go there! I never really “got” modern art, and I’m nearly certain I rolled my eyes the first time someone suggested we go. But trust me, this museum really changed my opinion of what modern art can be. It’s very interactive and will make you feel like a little kid at times. It’s full of permanent exhibits (like the awesome Leonardo’s Pool) and also has numerous rooms with rotating shows to spice things up, so every time I’ve gone it’s been different.

This new exhibit was cool! Peek-a-boo Matt!Kanazawa 21st museum2Kanazawa 21st museum

I also really loved this metal capsule you could climb inside, and it felt like you were the the heart of a silver geode! The light shone in through the cones and reflected off everything! Pretty neat, eh?!Kanazawa 21st museum3 Kanazawa 21st museum4

This new elevator exhibit was pretty trippy too!

Kanazawa Modern artMatt, of course, loved my favourite exhibit “Leandro’s Pool” which is a permanent exhibit at the museum and by far THE coolest modern art I’ve ever seen. First you look down on the pool from outside…Leandro's pool exhibit

Then you go down a flight of stairs, and enter the pool from below. Matt’s just a smidgeon taller than the national height average in Japan…poor guy!

Leandro's

Lucky there’s lots of room inside! Enough he could jump around for joy! Leandro's Pool2 Leandro's Pool3

And when you look up you can see the other museum explorers through the water and glass ceiling. Such an amazing concept in my opinion, a full kudos to Leandro Erlich (the artist) for this idea!leandro's poolAfter the museum we went to the second best thing to do in Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden!

Kenrokuen Garden is the 3rd most beautiful garden in Japan and definitely worth walking through. Matt wasn’t the keenest on this but I insisted because I love it so much and the weather was beautiful. Lucky us, the iris flowers were in full bloom and quite spectacular to behold! Ummm, gorgeous much!?!?! kenrokuen garden kenrokeun Kenrokuen Garden Iris 3Kenrokuen is beautiful regardless which season you go. It’s even beautiful in winter! So add it to your list of things to do if you ever visit there.

We also nipped through the Higashi Cha-ya District, which is an old preserved area Kanazawa’s past.  It used to be a street of tea houses and shops, and when you walk there, it’s like you’ve been transported back in time. I love strolling through this scenic neighbourhood with its cute shops and cafes, but unfortunately most shops were closed the day we went.  Having been open for the weekend, I guess they take Mondays and Tuesdays off. Matt still enjoyed our stroll though. Higashichaya Tea District KanazawaAfter that we did a little shopping at the Kanazawa train station and spent our time choosing a nice cake for dessert.  We were headed back to Fukui for dinner at my friend Tomomi’s house and didn’t want to show up empty handed. Tomomi had invited Matt to dinner so she could teach him how to make Sauce Katsudon, another very famous Fukui food. Sauce Katsudon is a thin breaded pork cutlet which is then fried, covered in delicious sauce and plopped on top of a bowl of Fukui rice. Did you know Fukui’s rice is supposedly the best rice in Japan?

After dinner Tomomi’s very kind father-in-law taught Matt a little Japanese calligraphy. It was my first time to try calligraphy too, so I had a blast with him. I learned how to write the kanji 茶, read “cha” which means “tea” (my favourite thing in the world), and Matt learned how to write 山, read “yama” which means “mountain” (his favourite thing in the world).

It was a wonderful whirlwind of a day! Matt’s enormous smile as we drove home from Tomomi’s house made me feel like singing “Happy” by Pharrel Williams. (Because I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Because I’m happy! Clap along if you know what happiness is to you…)

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Asuwayama Deck Cafe

Asuwayama Deck opened only 4 months ago, and let me let you in on a not-so-secret secret: it has been THE talk of the town. This tiny cafe at the top of Asuwa Mountain in Fukui City has, (I’m pretty certain, judging by the wildfire hype), captured the hearts of every women who has passed through its front doors. IMG_4019 IMG_4020 IMG_4023IMG_4026

About 2 weeks ago, curious as I cat I prowled up Asuwayama for the first time in search of this cafe, just to see what all the buzz was about. I pushed open the door and immediately cursed myself for not bringing my camera. So…here I am, back again two weeks later, happily typing this blog post as I sip on a delicious cup of coffee and enjoy the blissful atmosphere and beautiful view.  It’s a tough life, the life I lead, no? TGIF! IMG_4051

Cute cafes are all the rage in big Japanese cities like Tokyo these days. Japanese women have embraced the cafe culture with wide open arms, and so it’s no surprise that these big cities have opened a plethora cafes with the female clientele very obviously in mind. The secret to success of the best ones? Atmosphere. 

Each cafe strives to create a memorable & comfortable atmosphere that will keep the women chatting happily for hours and want to come back again and again. Also, the interior decorating is impeccable. Although each one strives to be different and unique, they all have one thing in common: they always make my jaw drop. Each one I walk into I instantly become convinced that ‘this’ is how I want my house to look in the future. I’m an incredibly fickle creature indeed, but each one is just so lovely!  Fukui’s new gem Asuwayama Deck is no exception and I love their decorating! 

Asuwayama Deck is what the women of rural Fukui have been waiting and praying for. It takes a long time for modern Japanese culture to infiltrate Fukui; life is slower and quieter here. The younger generation often can’t wait to go to the big cities seeking vibrant lifestyles and glamorous cafes. So, now that a taste of Tokyo has finally opened in our city, and the ladies of Fukui are thrilled! The cafe is full to the brim with little old ladies out for a lunch date, young women looking dressed to kill chatting happily away with their girlfriends over a coffee, and plenty of young couples enjoying a romantic date. 

This cafe’s best feature are the numerous big windows. They let in lots of natural light, and allow the guests to enjoy looking out at the beautiful nature of Asuwayama.  Lush greenery can be seen through the windows on every side of the cafe.  

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The coffee is really good, however the food unfortunately merely mediocre. The menu definitely has room for a little improvement, but I’ll cut them some slack, seeing as they just opened very recently. What is good about the menu is that everything is fairly reasonably priced. 

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I ordered a hazelnut latte, the 4-cheese pasta with proscuitto ham, and the satsuma imo fried potatoes. I would recommend the sweet potato fries, which weren’t really french fries but rather chunks of sweet potato baked to perfect flakiness and served with a honey butter dipping sauce. Very delicious indeed, and I would definitely order them again! 

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Late June is hydrangea season in Fukui, and the road up Asuwayama was full of blooming hydrangea bushes. If you have time and it’s a nice day, try to the explore the beautiful Asuwayama area.  There is a lovely view of Fukui City too! IMG_4014Asuwayama Deck Cafe Hydrangeas

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Asuwayama Deck Cafe Information:

  • Website: click here
  • Open: 10:00 am – 10:00pm
  • Telephone: 0776-36-3733
  • Location: drive or walk to the very top of Asuwayama Mountain, go through the stone torii gate and up the stairs.  (Japanese address – 〒918ー8006 福井県福井市足羽上町111)
  • Reservation recommended for larger groups, or peak hours.
  • Parking available.

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If you’re looking for a place with outdoor patio seating, Asuyama Deck Cafe is one of the only cafes in Fukui offering outdoor dining. The only problem is every time I try to wriggle into those comfortable lounge chairs outside with such tempting scenic views and read a book, someone inevitably starts smoking before I’ve even finished a page, and I am forced to retreat inside.  Fingers crossed one day Japan catches on to the fact secondhand smoke being a major turn off, especially when dining!

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Baking Marathon With Tomomi

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with my generation. We are terrifyingly obsessed with our technology (yes I am one of those people who checks my Facebook multiple times a day, I confess! Guilty as charged!), and yet it’s like the wild wild west with zero etiquette or common curtesy!

If there is one major pet-peeve I have, it’s when a friend expresses interest in doing something, so we agree on a day, I schedule it into my calendar, and then when I text them just a few days later to confirm the specifics (like oooh time, or location)…..radio silence.  If I text someone in the morning the day we are supposed to meet, and just never hear back from them period, whether it’s to confirm, to cancel, or the next day to apologize, I feel a bit like Godzilla ready to rampage Fukui and stomp on things.

The only thing worse…when I text an entire group of people, and not a single one has the common decency to reply. RAWWWWWR!

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Maybe Calvin was onto something here…excellent anger therapy!

Luckily for me I have my friend Tomomi.  Tomomi understands how frustrating dealing with other ALTs can be and has always known how to cheer me up when I’m having trouble coping with their flakiness. One of Tomomi’s finest qualities, and one of the reasons we are both such good friends, is that we understand the importance of commitments. I can always rely on her, and that’s something invaluable in a friend in my opinion. I don’t know what I’d do without her!

So Sunday we decided to have a baking marathon and challenge ourselves by making some difficult recipes! We’re both very skilled cooks and bakers, so every now and then it’s fun to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and it’s less stressful trying complicated recipes when you have a partner with baking skills you can trust.

Our last month together is precious, and I want to see her as much as possible before I leave.  We made not only delicious desserts yesterday but special memories that I’ll have forever. Talk about a great way to spend a day!

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.33.14 AMOur first challenge was a pie. I was determined to learn how to replicate Tomomi’s incredibly fluffy and flaky pie crust.  One of the best things about this recipe, is that just like my Grandmother’s recipe, it contains no shortening; just good ol’ natural butter.

Tomomi’s pie crust is pretty darn simple as far as ingredients go, just flour, butter, and ice water. The real trick though is in the technique of mixing them together. The secret to making flaky pastry is cold butter and never-ever over-kneading the dough. Always work with the pastry when it’s cool and firm to the touch. That means often having to pop it back into the fridge for a bit, which is a pain, but so very much worth the extra time.

Next we made the filling, which was 2 bags of frozen mixed berries (because fresh berries in Japan cost a small fortune), a pinch of brown sugar, a spoonful of honey, and sprinkling of corn starch. Easy-peasy! Because the berries would release a lot of juice we opted for a lattice-style pie top and got to town making it look gorgeous! What do you think? Pretty snazzy looking eh?IMG_3949 IMG_3958

We were both very pleased with the end result! I hate to torment you any more, but let me just say that is was so good my tastebuds felt like fireworks!

Our next dessert challenge was inspired by my recent wanderlust obsession with the Amalfi Coast. I went to Cinque Terre and Sorrento 4 years ago and adored it. I want very desperately to go back to that magical place, full of colourful houses, kind people and the smell of lemons and the sea lingering in the air….
amalfi coast2Tomomi has been attempting to master the art of chiffon cake making lately, so we decided to try making a lemon chiffon cake. One of the best things to eat in the Amalfi Coast area is lemon desserts, they’ll blow you away!  There’s nothing quite as summery as a little fluffy lemon cake in my opinion, unless it’s pie and we had already made that!

Getting a chiffon cake out of the pan not looking butchered is tough. It takes surgeon hands and nerves of steal, it’s the equivalent of a baking surgery. I chickened out, and let Tomomi do this part because I couldn’t bear the idea of ruining the beauty of our masterpiece.

Tell me that isn’t the fluffiest-looking chiffon cake you ever saw!? Tomomi did a wonderful job, and I thought it looked beautiful! 
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We then drizzled lemon chocolate all over the top and spooned a dollop of homemade lemon jam on each slice. It was like eating a zingy lemon-flavoured cloud. Mmmmmm….

Like the pie crust, Tomomi’s recipe for chiffon cake is very natural. Just eggs (lots and lots of eggs!), flour, sugar, a drizzle of sesame oil, plus lemon juice and zest to add flavour. The secret to success is folding the merengue in oh-so tenderly and softly. You want to mix that merengue in, but you still want fluffy streaks of it throughout the batter. If not, the cake won’t be like eating a cloud.

We drank tea and chatted until it was time her her family’s dinner, at which point I headed home with my heart lighter, mind trouble-free, stomach happily stuffed, and very much ready to unwind, relax, and watch a funny movie (Bridesmaids).

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Sunday Putters Around Fukui – Matt’s Trip To Japan

On Sunday I kidnapped Matt for a day of relaxing puttering around Fukui. I had the whole day pretty much planned out, all he had to do was get in the car.  It’s ok though, I promise I was a nice kidnapper, I fed him and entertained him!

First up, since he was craving veggies (and I’m a thoughtful kidnapper) I took Matt to my favourite lunch spot Veg Yard. He was a pretty happy captive when the 9-dish assortment came out; he really enjoyed his healthy feast.

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After that we drove out to the Echizen Pottery Village where a big festival was going on. All the local potters of Fukui come out to set up a booth and sell their beautiful goods twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. I reeeeeally wanted to go, so I was lucky Matt wanted to go too.

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We ended up having a great time perusing! Matt hunted high and low for a beautiful set of cups for his girlfriend back home. They are both tea fanatics like me. This photo doesn’t do them justice, but it’s the only one I got.  I really liked them too! They were white with gold piping down the sides. photo-3

I resisted temptation when we came to this stall, which I’m still proud about. I loved this white pottery, it was so smooth and the colour reminded me of high quality vanilla ice cream with flecks of real vanilla bean inside. IMG_5051Eventually we felt a bit of pottery-overload and the tarmac was SO unbelievably hot we called it quits. Matt proudly carried out his purchase, I proudly carried out nothing! (Trust me on that being a first in the 3 years I’ve been here…)

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Matt couldn’t come to Fukui without seeing the Echizen Kaigan coast. It’s one of the most beautiful areas of Fukui with its craggy cliffs and beautiful view of the Japan Sea. We nipped into Cafe Mare for a coffee buzz and a little cheesecake pick-me-up (an all-time-favourite dessert on Matt’s part) before exploring some of the cliffs. IMG_5077 IMG_5059 IMG_5058I was the happiest little clam in Fukui that day getting to show my little brother around my favourite stomping grounds! That’s one very genuine, glee-filled smile right there folks, nothing but pure joy and happiness!

Stay tuned! Next post is our adventures in Kanazawa!

 

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Roadtrip To Shirakawago – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Saturday morning I woke up a little sleepy but otherwise ok after our karaoke & drinking adventures the night before. Matt and Tim however, they were a different story…poor things.

Nomihoudai’s are a bit like running marathons. The the more you do in your lifetime the better you are at pacing yourself, knowing your limits, and recovering afterwards.  When you’re new to them though, they just hurt soooooo bad afterwards and you wonder why you ever thought doing one was a good idea. I let them sleep in as long as I could before forcing them to get up, get ready, eat a little toast before we piled back in my tiny car Tim’s bags in tow.

We said our goodbyes to Tim at the Fukui train station, waved goodbye as he walked away, and then hopped back in the car. I took a chug of coffee to fuel up, turned on the tunes to get us excited (and keep Matt awake) and gave Matt a high-five! ADVENTURE TIME! Our mission: get ourselves to Shirakawago!

There’s nothing quite like roadtrips to catch up properly with people. It’s about a 2-hour drive to this tiny gem nestled in the mountains which gave us some quality time to talk things out. Matt and I chatted a lot about things that were new in our lives, future goals, reminiscing about our amazing family holiday in Maui and agreed how exciting it would be to have me back in Canada very soon! I’m really proud of him. We talked a lot about his new job. He snagged himself an incredible engineering job at an amazing company right out of university. He’s such a smart cookie, and a really hard worker, so it’s no surprise that not even 2 years later he got a huge promotion! His trip to Japan was a celebration of sorts with his time off before he starts his big new position.

IMG_5024 IMG_5010 IMG_5011 IMG_5027Matt really, really liked Shirakawago. I knew he would! We big sisters make excellent tour guides, don’t-cha-know! It was super easy to plan Matt’s trip, all I had to do was take him to places in Japan I love. We have pretty similar interests and have traveled together as a family for years, so we operate on the same wavelength.

I love Shirakawago a lot, somehow I never feel bored returning to this quaint village, tiny as it is; so it was nice to come one last time! It’s a nice place to putter, walk around and simply enjoy the atmosphere. The sun was warm…we were having fun…life was good! (For more detailed information about Shirakawago: visit my old post about my snowy winter adventure there here.)

Before we left I insisted we climb to the top of the village hill, so we could enjoy a majestic view. Lovely isn’t it?

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After that it was time to go home. I knew Matt was tired by this point of the trip (traveling non-stop for 2 weeks is tough!), and definitely feeling tuckered out after yesterday’s wild karaoke night. We cancelled our dinner plans in favour of a quiet night at home in my apartment. One of my favourite memories from the whole trip actually ended up being this night, even though all we did was make a healthy salad (aka: veggie-overload) for dinner and watch a mutual all-time-favourite movie How To Train Your Dragon. Classic!

Just goes to show you that being with the right people makes can make even what sounds like a quiet-boring night in *magical* simply because you love their company! how to train your dragon

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