Lapita Hotel’s daycation brunch: why it’s perfect for families

lapita

Before I continue to write about my huge backlog i.e., blog posts about our travels last summer, let’s take a break and see what we’ve been up to lately. I can’t believe it’s November already. Wasn’t it just yesterday when the new year rung in? It’s scary how fast time flies. One more month and then boom, there goes another year gone.

There were so many changes in our family this year – the husband had quit working in Saudi Arabia since last April (he was in Saudi for one whole year, 3 months each time with a 2-3 weeks break in between) and started working in Abu Dhabi. He still isn’t home everyday but at least we’re in the same country and can be with us on weekends or some days, if his work schedule permits. This past year, the kids and I have gone to places without him and whenever we get a chance, we go back to the awesome places to show to him and to let him experience it too when he is here in Dubai.

One of those places is Lapita Hotel & Resort at Dubai Parks and Resorts. We’ve been to Lapita for the first time in February when they first introduced the Daycation brunch. We thoroughly enjoyed it however, it was too cold to swim in the pool at that time. We wanted to go again – the kids wanted to go again, with their dad this time. And we did!

The Daycation brunch at Lapita was back right after summer and we scheduled to go last week which was perfect because their Halloween celebrations were in full swing. The setup was awesome and scary enough for the little one.

halloween entrance

And before we could start eating at brunch, we went around to appreciate what they have prepared. The hotel’s F&B crew did a really good job with all the spooky food! Look at these works of art.

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Honestly, up until we visited, I never realized Halloween was such a big craze here in Dubai. Now, Halloween has passed but know that Lapita could be one of your best bet for Halloween themed brunches next year. ūüôā

Also, what’s wonderful with Lapita’s #DaycationBrunch¬†is that it’s buffet brunch¬†+ pool access. Swimming is a really great exercise to burn some of those calories away, you know?

Not many people were in the pool though the time we were there from 4pm. Benjamin was overjoyed to have his dad swim with him.

pool time with dad

There’s also a shallower pool for kids with a water play area and a lazy river.

waterplay

lazy river collage

The adult pool.

pool 1

pool 5

There’s a special buffet for kids, too and they can enjoy the Luna & Nova Kids and Teens Club between 1pm-5pm. There are hotel staff who can supervise and watch the kids leaving parents some time of peace and quiet while brunching.

Do I recommend the Daycation brunch at Lapita?

YES! Great food with lots of emphasis on fresh ingredients (the only problem you’ll have is how to get a taste of all the varieties in one visit), beautiful setting – where else can you get the laid back tropical Polynesian vibes without ever leaving town?

lapita outside food stand 1
lapita outside food stand 2
Additionally, the hotel is a unique gateway to endless fun at Dubai Parks and Resorts, which is the home of three world-class theme parks and one water park, as well as Riverland Dubai. All guests staying at Lapita Hotel & Resort will enjoy unlimited multi-park access for the duration of their stay, in addition to complimentary Q-fast to all parks.

General Information:

When: Fridays, 1pm-5pm
Price: AED195 with soft drinks; AED295 with house beverages; AED95 for children up to 12.
Contact: +9714 810 9999, website

Visiting Japan’s small town charm

going to tokamachi

I’ve been thinking a lot about Japan lately. I blame my husband – we¬†have been watching Japanese news on the TV almost every night at bed time. Everything sounds and feels familiar once again. I blame my mother in law who, right now got addicted to sending Japanese foodstuff lately. Or this is just plain nostalgia attack for me, which happens every now and then. I don’t know. Japan has always been that place that hold a very special place in my heart. I’ve lived there for more than ten years, starting when I was nineteen years old. It’s hard to forget.

Japan has appeared in my dreams lately, too – suddenly, I see myself living there again and I wake up, say to myself, yeah why not?

The horror, right? People who’d hear me right now would probably recall the reasons I told them why we left way back in 2007: the work-life balance sucks (at least for us middle class working parents in the city), the lack of available domestic help, etc., the cold winters.

But that place would always be our home. When and if all else fails, we know we would have Japan as a place to go, a retreat, a place to reset, if we want to.

We were in Japan last summer and I took the kids to their grandparents in the countryside. It’s a long way from Tokyo – 2 hours via Shinkansen or the bullet train and another hour by regular train.¬†It’s Benjamin’s first time to see his grandfather and grandmother from his father’s side. This¬†visit was long overdue.

shinkansen

Benjamin inside hoku hoku line

rainy niigata collage

We know it’s nearing Niigata prefecture when the buildings disappear and replaced by¬†two to three storey houses and rice fields upon rice fields as far as the eyes can see.

nearing niigata

MEETING BENJAMIN FOR THE FIRST TIME

My in-laws had been looking forward to meeting the kids for months. Now, my father in-law is a workaholic, has a day job but also maintains a rice farm. At 68 years old now, he should have retired already Рwhich he did three years ago, however after only a month, he volunteered to work again at the same company 3-4 times a week and still maintained his rice farm. For more than thirty years, he is proud to say, he has not applied for any leave, whether medical or for vacation.

But when I told him I’d be visiting them with the kids in tow? He took a full week off!

benjamin-with-ojiisan 2

He said he’d meet us at the station but I didn’t expect he would be waiting for us at the train platform, right where we get down the train! I didn’t even see him when he scooped Benjamin up as soon as he got out of the train!

Here’s the thing, he has not seen photos of Benjamin before.

WHY? By some kind of sorcery, my in-laws do not own a smart phone and there is NO internet at their house. So there’s no way I can send pictures of the kids. The last time we met them, Benjamin wasn’t born yet.

I asked him, how did he know it was his grand child? What if he took the wrong child? It would have been a disaster. He simply told me, Benjamin’s face looks familiar that without a doubt he knew he got the right child to hold. Benjamin looked like my husband when he was younger. Benjamin on the other hand, did not protest as well, even if he has not seen this man in his whole life!

It was raining when we arrived but grandpa took us to the groceries and told the kids – go crazy and buy anything you want!

My crazy kids went straight to the food aisle. They’re definitely my kids.

nihon no okashi

My FIL even picked up a cake from the bakery and we celebrated both Benjamin and Pristine’s birthday at home, complete with candles. “This is for all the birthdays we’ve missed!”, the grandparents said.

TOURING AROUND THE SMALL TOWN

The next morning, the weather cleared up and FIL didn’t waste time and drove us around the town. The kids just finished breakfast and were still in their pajamas.

visit to nearby temple in the morning 1

He then took us to see all the rice paddies. It was summer and this part of Japan was bathed in sea of green patches of rice plantations. Another first for my father in-law: driving an automatic car! He only drives manual transmission but then had rented a van for us. The available vehicles to rent were all automatic so he drove one.

(He’s that type of being picky about things he is not familiar with but he endured this!)

oyaji driving

fields of niigata 2

fields of niigata 5

fields of niigata

Ah, the serene countryside in Niigata prefecture. My husband was born and brought up here. There’s nothing fancy, no bright lights, billboards and crowds you would see in the streets of metropolitan Tokyo. It’s dark after 8pm and in the summer time, you’d hear the chorus of the frogs which is annoying at first but kind of becomes white noise that lulls you to sleep. The kids hyperventilated at the sight of fireflies in the pitch black garden at night.

I love summers in Niigata though it can be hot and humid because this prefecture is coastal. But it’s when the Earth comes alive.

niigata garden 4

poppies

me and p in niigata

The kids had a lovely time walking around but the most exciting part for Benjamin must be getting on one of his grandfather’s tractors (for farming)! It must be every boy’s dream to get into these real life monster trucks!

tructor ride 1

tructor ride 4

My mother in-law has clinical depression and had been in and out of the hospital and on medication¬†for so many years. During summer though, she is well. She has tried her best to be in her ‘best form’ (her term) to meet the kids.¬†She told me she’s thankful I took the kids to visit them, it¬†dispelled the loneliness of their home, if only for a short while. It was enough that they know they aren’t truly alone and that they have something to look forward from now on.

My in-laws don’t speak any English. Pristine can converse with them in Nihongo but Benjamin cannot – we have to work on that (thankfully, the big sister is always there to translate). That didn’t hinder him from getting close to them and for the short time we were there, he has constructed short Nihongo sentences and blurted them out proudly.

I am grateful my kids have sweet and kind grandparents on my side and I am equally thankful they have another set from my husband’s side. What lucky kids.

You may ask, why do the grandparents NOT visit us here in Dubai and we have to go to Japan? Good question, actually since we’re almost eleven years here and they have not visited even once. For my in-laws, who has lived in this small town from the day they were born, travelling is this big, insurmountable thing that takes too much energy and COURAGE to tackle. It’s simply not their thing and we have accepted that.

niigata-garden-6 2

And besides, I don’t think the kids mind hopping on the plane and riding the bullet train to get to them! I definitely don’t! (Although it’s a bit stressful to sync the time and meetup with them because as I have mentioned, they do not have mobile phones! I had to plan the time we get on the train, let them know what time we arrive and on which train and STICK to it. Hello the 1980’s!)

Are you an expat family living away from the grandparents? How often do you visit them?

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: a Medieval gem you can visit now

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Photo credit

I love places that makes me feel I am in one of the pages of a fairy tale book. I love old German inner cities that I have only seen through books, magazines or travel blogs and Rothenburg ob der Tauber could be my favorite. The architecture is very well preserved, you can’t help but ask yourself whether time has stood still.

Rothenburg is named in part after its location on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is translated in English as:”Red fortress above the Tauber”.

WHERE IS ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is situated in Bavaria, halfway between Frankfurt and Munich.

HOW TO GET TO ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER (from Munich)

bayern ticketWe were based in Munich, coming from a direct 6 hour flight from Dubai. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is three and a half train ride away from Munich. It’s not near but heck, we were already there so better take this opportunity to visit!

The German railway offers several regional tickets to travel around the country on a budget. We got the Bayern ticket, this ticket is valid for as many journeys as you want in Bavarian region during its period of validity, regardless of the connection indicated. Children/grandchildren (any number) aged 14 and under can travel with you when you buy for one or two people. Discounts are available for up to four people travelling with you, paying only an additional 6 Euros per person. For example, 2 adults would pay only 31 Euros total.

I only paid 25 Euros, my kids aged 13 and 5 travelled for free.

From Mon-Fri, the Bayern ticket is valid from 09:00 to 03:00 of the following day; on Sat, Sun and public holidays, it is valid from midnight to 03:00 of the following day.

TIP: Check timetables and connections using the German public transport app, DB Navigator (Android, iOS).

We left Munich early and arrived three and a half hours later to Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s small train station around 11:30 am. To get to the charming medieval Old Town, we need to walk for about 10 minutes before arriving at this walled village, with thick walls at the entrance. We crossed the wall and this was our first glimpse of Rothenburg.

rothenburg 9

Now, this is not a theme park with cute houses built for entertainment. These are normal houses where normal people live. Most of the houses had been here for hundreds of years yet when you see these buildings, it seems that it has been untouched by time.

We headed to the Rothenburg Tourism office at Markplatz to take brochures and guides on how to navigate this small town.

rothenburg 2

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is only a day trip in our itinerary. After all, our main destination was Austria but we happen to just have chosen Munich as our landing airport and Rothenburg just happens to be in the same region as Munich and the picture perfect town is worth the long train ride.

rothenburg 1
p an b at rothenburg

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER?

We were in Germany on the last week of August when most of Europe is still enjoying the last days of summer. However, the day we were in Rothenburg (August 26), it seems that we have brought the Dubai heat with us. The mid day temps were high, it was actually so hot! Still, it was beautiful and fascinating to wander around. From the half timbered houses, to the uneven cobbled stone streets, to the ancient walls that surround this city, there is so much to explore.

I can imagine how beautiful this town will be during winter especially on Christmas time.

So in short, I believe this place is beautiful any time of the year!

us in rothenburg 2
us in rothenburg 1

rothenburg 6

The views around the town are tremendous, from the main square, to the towers to the alleys. We were only there a day, but would have loved another!!

CLIMBING THE CITY TOWER

Upon the suggestion of the Rothenburg ob der Tauber tourism office, I gathered all the courage to climb up the 65 meter city tower.¬†I have climbed towers and love the views from the top. This tower though¬†is perhaps the most interesting and most treacherous so far! The kids seem to be enthusiastic about it, in fact, I didn’t want to but they insisted! We¬†entered a wide spiral staircase in the Rathaus, just off of the main square. Soon¬†the stairs start to get narrower and steeper. By the time¬†we arrived at the last¬†stairs it’s shocking to see that it is less like stairs and more like a ladder. The inclination is almost 90 degrees!

city tower 3

city tower 2
city tower 1

The viewing platform at the top can only hold only a few visitors at a time. Benjamin was delighted to be at the top but Pristine was scared. She actually froze and cried. Me? I don’t like heights but I had to take pictures.

rothenburg 7

THE PLONLEIN (“Little Square”)

One of the most famous postcard images from Rothenburg ob der Tauber is definitely the Plonlein. A narrow half-timbered building with a small fountain in front, it is framed by the Kobolzeller tower and the higher Siebers Tower, with lovingly restored townhouses to the right and left, creating a charmingly picturesque effect.

plonlein 1

The Plonlein Rothenburg ob der Tauber

You can say that people who come to Rothenburg come here to take pictures at this very spot. It’s the place that I had specifically searched out because I have seen so many photographs of it and wanted to capture one of my own.

By the way, can you imagine Belle from Beauty and the Beast coming out from one of these houses and belting out the song Provincial Life?

HOW MANY HOURS SHOULD YOU SPEND AT ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER?

rothenburg 5

We were at Rothenburg for a day trip from Munich and calculating the total of seven hours train journey to and fro, we were at Rothenburg for only four hours tops. It was enough to see the major streets and sights (the ploinlein!) but if I had to do it all over again, I would choose from the list of charming hotels or inns at Rothenburg and I would gladly spend a night or two so I could explore it more/travel slower.

Rothenburg Tourism suggests Hotel Rappen, a hotel located right before you enter the gates¬†to the town. We had lunch at the restaurant’s beer garden and can’t forget the delicious bratwurts, spinach & cheese pancake and of course, German beer that we had!

Now, I have this uncurable addiction of scrolling through booking sites to see prospective hotels and I’d probably choose Romantik Hotel Markusturm or Hotel Reichs Kuchenmeister¬†next time. I see there will definitely be a next time!

rothenburg 8

We loved, loved, loved our time at Rothenburg ob der Tauber – old, classic, historic, clean, quaint, just lovely. I loved feeling like I had been transported to another time and place, so different than my life back home.

It is definitely worth a stop if you’re in Bavaria region because nowhere else will you find such a wealth of original buildings dating from the Middle Ages. We just roamed around the cobblestone streets, visited the Christmas store (it’s surreal to see vast collections of Christmas decorations¬†in August), checked the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments (!), climbed the city tower, and peeked through windows of souvenir shops.

torture museum 1
torture museum 2
I saw my favorite chocolate shop!

lindt store

Though it could get touristy at peak times during the day when the tour busses arrive, it’s just so lovely to wander around and walk around the wall and the main square is picture perfect. There are lots of lovely little shops, bakeries and restaurants and the atmosphere of this place is just wonderful.

I am glad we went, thankful both my kids weren’t bothered with the long train ride. As for me, I am so happy to be able to fulfil one of my travel dreams with them at my side.

Lastly,¬†there are several “Rothenburgs” in Germany. Make sure you are going to Rothenburg ob der Tauber as it seems that people really do sometimes drive or ride the train to other, nondescript Rothenburgs by accident.

Do you like charming little towns? Which one is your favorite?

Hotel Club Rooms & Executive Floors: Are they worth it?

exec lounge 3

We were upgraded to a club room on our latest stay at Grand Hyatt Dubai. It came as a lovely surprise and because we didn’t have any expectations on what a club room looks like or the perks that come together with it, we were delighted to find our room was bigger, the beds were bigger and totally enjoyed the higher floor accommodation and the access to the executive lounge.

I checked the price difference from a standard room (with breakfast) and actually thought, booking a club room maybe a smarter choice. At least here at Grand Hyatt!

What is a club room?

A room on the hotel club floor also called executive or VIP floor is an upgraded room and unless you’re upgraded on a complimentary basis, these hotel club rooms cost more. I calculated Grand Hyatt’s price difference: the club room costs 30% more.

What are the perks when staying at the hotel club floor?

club room 4
club room 1
Depends on the hotel, if you stay on room at a hotel club floor, the perks would include complimentary meals and beverages throughout the day, well-appointed lounges, high-speed Wi-Fi, stunning skyline views. Grand Hyatt’s club floor is at the 14th floor which is quieter and offers better views. Each of the twin beds were queen sized, instead of single beds. Club-level guests get early check-in and late checkout.

exec lounge 1

And this is probably the best hotel club floor room perk of all: they offer access to a club floor lounge with complimentary food and alcohol. At the Grand Hyatt, hot and cold drinks are available 24 hours and alcohol flows freely from 6-8 pm.

Are They Worth the Extra Cost?

exec lounge 2

YES if: the difference between regular and club room rates is small.¬†You have the advantage of between-meal snacks and/or complimentary alcohol and if¬†you’re traveling with kids the free breakfast, in between meal snack and light dinner can actually be a budget saver! For us, ¬†a family of four, this can be a huge savings because buying waters, soft drinks, etc. gets expensive rather quickly.¬†Also, some families find it harder to get moving and out the door, so having the ability to eat on property without an additional cost for each bagel or orange juice can not only save money, but stress and time.

I might add that the “light dinner” offered at the club lounge at Grand Hyatt was enough for a real dinner for us. It wasn’t just light snacks or sandwiches – there was even biryani!

Staying at a club room could be a wiser choice too if you are not interested in going out to explore the destination and simply like hanging out at your hotel.

NO¬†if: You expect to be out and about for most of your stay¬†or you’d rather dine and drink outside the hotel or if your room package already includes meals.

So would you always opt for club rooms on your next booking?

bfast exec lounge collage

Wait, one thing to consider: not all club rooms and executives floors are equal.

Some properties may offer limited meals and snacks or feature a so-so drink selection or don’t offer alcohol (you would be disappointed if you expected that). Make sure to conduct research ahead of time by exploring your desired hotel’s official site as well as review sites.

Based on our experience, the club room perks at Grand Hyatt was well worth the price difference from a standard room and if we stayed again, we would choose to book a club room in the future.

One more thing we liked about their executive lounge is that it’s not only for executives (who prefer to work or have coffee quietly). There are two sections of the lounge, one dedicated for families which is really great for families with small kids in tow.

FINAL WORD

Club level room is worth it if the price is right and you’ve done your research. Always Google “(Hotel name) club lounge” to see the perks and offers. A great hotel¬†club level means an incredible room with complimentary first rate food and drinks all day (including alcohol during certain times – it was available at night at Grand Hyatt), enough that you‚Äôd never need to buy a meal elsewhere!

The price could put you off at first especially if you’re travelling on a budget but a great hotel club level rooms could give more bang on the buck during the duration of your stay. Compare before taking a decision!

Where we stayed: Grand Hyatt Dubai

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Way back in 2007 when we were new in Dubai, we needed to meet some people who set the meeting place at Grand Hyatt Dubai and I could not forget being so impressed the moment I entered the hotel. After all, we just moved here from Japan Рthe land of mini this and that. Small apartments, small cars, small portion sizes in restaurants, modest hotels.

And then boom, the first five star hotel I visited in Dubai was the Grand Hyatt with huge entrance hall, massive pillars, a gigantic chandelier and high, high ceilings! They really meant to stick by the word “grand” in the hotel name for a reason.

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My awe of this hotel did not end up in the lobby. As we moved forward to the restaurant, I could hear the sound of a waterfall and saw a large green patch area right in the middle. I thought, wow, I should take my daughter (who was then 3 years old) here! She would love the feeling of like being in the middle of the jungle inside a hotel. Now, it took us 10 long years to finally book a room at the Grand Hyatt

green lobby 3

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The UAE enjoyed a long weekend last week for the Islamic New Year so we thought to have a family staycation at a hotel but didn’t want to drive far. There are many hotels in Dubai that’s located at the heart of the city but offering resort-like facilities. The Grand Hyatt was an easy choice.

grand hyatt grounds 2

It was the last few days of September and while it’s starting to cool down on most parts of the northern hemisphere, transitioning from summer to autumn, Dubai is perpetually summery with highs of still on the high 30’s (celcius) late September. That said, the hotel’s main swimming pool was the reason why we decided to give this a hotel a try.

outdoor pool 1

pool 1

This isn’t actually our first time to see the pool at Grand Hyatt, we visited last year when we were members of Privilee and Grand Hyatt was one of the participating hotels and have never forgotten the wonderful experience, especially how Benjamin loved the kid’s pool with mini water play with slides!

kids pool 1
outdoor pool 2

And if you think the main pool is awesome but don’t want to toast, that’s sorted out too with their indoor pool with jacuzzi on the side. However, save for the small area with 0.43 meters depth, the wonderful temperature controlled indoor pool has a uniform depth of 1.60 meters so if you are non-swimmers like me or with small kids without swimming aids, that would be an issue though you can still stay at the shallow side or stick to the sides. The indoor pool is open 24 hours so anyone can enjoy it, whenever they feel like.

indoor pool

LOCATION

The Grand Hyatt Dubai is about 20 minutes from Dubai International Airport and located at Oud Metha, near Dubai Healthcare City. Though public transport is not near, there are many taxis that could take you wherever you like. Downtown Dubai (where the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa is located) is only 15 minutes away by taxi.

OUR ROOM
club room 1

We booked a standard room but surprisingly, was upgraded to club room which we truly appreciate! The rooms were bigger, comfortable twin queen size beds and spacious bathroom. We were at the 14th floor of the hotel with sweeping views of the city, with downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa on the horizon.

club room 3

I’ll be writing a post why it could be smarter to book a club room than a standard room, depending on your stay needs. So watch out for that!

BREAKFAST

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The main breakfast is at The Collective, at the ground floor. Extensive, international flavorful breakfast with many healthier options like fresh fruit smoothies, fruits, detox drinks. It is right beside the indoor waterways and green space and with plenty of natural light coming in from the roof, so it felt like having breakfast on a garden, with a waterfall only, it is indoor (and without bugs hovering around!)

HOTEL RESTAURANTS

The Grand Hyatt has 13 award winning bars and restaurants. We used the Entertainer voucher to get buy 1 get 1 free at Wox Asian restaurant for lunch. It’s a delight to see the live cooking station at this open kitchen style restaurant and the food was great too (simple noodle soups for the win!). We have to go back again.

For Friday dinner, we tried Andiamo, described on their website as “Northern Italian cuisine in a light-hearted, contemporary atmosphere.”

andiamo resto 1

andiamo resto 2
andiamo resto 3
The newly renovated restaurant’s ambiance was impressive, cozy and rustic. Food was authentic, delicious and prepared fresh! I’ve been in many restaurants where the only Italian thing was the name. Finally, upon the suggestion of a blogger friend, we tried “Andiamo!”

food at andiamo 1

After eating so much stuff, we were contented and did not think to have dessert. But the server suggested that we should have their Tiramisu. OMG, I hope you saw my video post on Instagram about this tiramisu, it’s easily the best Tiramisu in town. You can hate me if you don’t like it. It’s not your usual made-days-before-and-refrigerated tiramisu. The cream was soft, velvety and not too sweet. It’s made fresh they even leave the sprinkling of the dark chocolate powder to the diner. It was heavenly. This tiramisu would haunt you when you have that sweet cravings.

I highly recommend Andiamo! to those seeking to eat authentic and freshly made Italian food. And believe me, you would want to go back for the Tiramisu!

FINALLY

If being near the beach is not a priority and you’re looking for a city hotel in Dubai that provides resort-like facilities and guarantees a grand time for everyone, kids and adults alike, Grand Hyatt could fit the bill. All of us are overwhelmed by the wonderful service and overall experience we asked ourselves, why did it take us 10 years to finally consider this hotel for a family holiday?

benja and ducks

If you’re living in Dubai and have not been to Grand Hyatt, don’t miss it or don’t be like us and wait for ten years before checking in. It’s worth a stay or even just a visit.

P.S.
At Grand Hyatt’s sprawling gardens, you could even meet and make friends with ducks!

We booked a deluxe room at Grand Hyatt but was upgraded to club room with access to the executive lounge (THANK YOU!) however all opinions are mine.

The Sound of Music tour in Salzburg

sound of music tour

I have visited the Austrian city of Salzburg in 2015 and since it was a very short visit (I only spent 24 hours in Salzburg), I know I had to go back, with the kids one day. Salzburg – I can’t say this word without the songs and hymns of the movie The Sound of Music playing in my mind. Though you must know that there’s more to Salzburg than the classic movie that was set there in the 1960’s (yes, that sounds ancient but I like ancient movies) the whole reason of visiting Salzburg with the kids for me was mainly, The Sound of Music tour.

WHAT THE SOUND OF MUSIC MEANS TO US

salzburg station

If I remember correctly, I chanced upon the movie when I was a teenager and instantly fell in love with it. I mean, who won’t? It’s a clean, entertaining movie that has no boring moments. Plus, hello pretty Austria as the location!

When my kids turned 2 years old, I took out a heirloom from my precious trove of trinkets – the Sound of Music DVD that I had for more so many years and played it for them to watch. Pristine was ready when she was two and she watched through the whole movie with the same enthusiasm from start to finish. Benjamin wasn’t ready at two, and he watched it when he was 3 and a half years old.

Yes – the first movie that my children ever watched was this musical. It is two hours and 54 minutes long.

It has since been played at my house at regular times again and again and again. We never get tired of it.

When our trip to Austria was finalized, there was no way we couldn’t squeeze this tour in our itinerary!

We were based in Innsbruck while we were in Austria and Salzburg is a good hour and a half train ride away. We left Innsbruck in the morning and arrived at our accommodation in Salzburg just before lunch time, checked in at Motel One Mirabell¬†and headed towards the meeting place at Mirabell Gardens (it’s a 10 minute walk).

It was raining in Salzburg that time. Summer I guess was slowly fading away. It was difficult for my 5 year old son to understand the concept of wet weather, especially those rains that last for hours and hours on end. After all, he was born in the UAE and had been living here all his life, where the sun shines on the average of 330 days out of 365.

FIRST STOP: Leopoldskron

Leopoldskron

The bus was full with Sound of Music fans from all over the world. Despite the bad weather (the rain didn’t look like it was stopping) everyone was keen to see where the movie was shot. Our first stop was just a few minutes outside Salzburg’s Old Town – Leopoldskron. This was¬†the world-famous former family seat of one of the prince-archbishops as well as an original shooting location from the movie “The Sound of Music” as the von Trapp family residence.

You can actually stay at Leopoldskron Palace and feel like you’re in a movie because this place has been converted into a hotel, thus the main reason tour groups weren’t allowed in the premises so we only get to see this across this lake.

THAT 16 going on 17 GAZEBO

hellbrunn

We didn’t spend much time looking at Leopoldskron from afar and we got on the bus again to Hellbrunn Palace. We passed by that yellow building called Schloss Frohnberg that was used for th exterior shots of the Trapp villa. This was where Maria first entered the gate singing I have confidence as she reports to the family to serve as a nanny.

The path outside, which Maria skips down when she first arrives, is pedestrian only so we weren’t allowed to visit, but we did drive past it on the main road. I can only imagine walking through the lines of trees there or riding a bike!

One of the highlights of this tour (for me and my daughter!) was to see the white gazebo where Rolf and Liesl dance and sing Sixteen going on Seventeen. Originally, the gazebo was at the Leopoldskron grounds but it had to be moved to Hellbrunn Palace ground for better safekeeping.

gazebo 1
gazebo 3

GAH. It was so beautiful I could cry. I actually shed a tear or two, especially when I read the tribute to the late actress Charmian Carr who passed away in 2016. She played Liesl, the older of the seven von Trapp children in the movie.

gazebo 2

Unfortunately tourists are not allowed inside because of safety concerns – the tour guide said a middle aged woman has broken her hip trying to imitate the dancing and skipping around the benches inside so they had to lock this gazebo. I don’t know how true!

OFF TO THE LAKES REGION

salzkammergut 1

Now, we were off for a longer journey to the lakes and mountains region. Austria’s Salzkammergut area (Lake District), with a total of 76 lakes, is one of the most impressive regions in the heart of Austria.

We only passed by the abbey where the nuns and the real Maria von Trapp lived. I am not sure why were didn’t stop there. The Sound of Music movie soundtrack was played to keep us entertained during the long ride and people sang along. It felt so wonderful to be able to take a trip down memory lane to the movie, while listening and singing to the well loved songs and looking outside at the beautiful country side.

gloomy

salzkammergut 2
gloomy 2

We headed up into the mountains surrounding Salzburg, giving us a gorgeous view over the entire city, and drove upwards through the Austrian countryside, past the most beautiful lakeside villages against that mountainous backdrop. It had been raining non-stop but the views were still beautiful.

The Wedding Chapel

We arrive at Mondsee, a cute little town with colorful restaurants and shops and probably the most popular spot – St. Michael’s Church, where the wedding scene was filmed. Buses were prohibited from driving into the town so we had to get down and transfer to this chug train like vehicle, to the joy of my son.

mondsee church 5

Here, we were given 30 minutes (?) to see around and shop or try the recommended apfel strudel from the nearby cafe.

mondsee church 1

mondsee church 3

The kids and I opted out the cafe business and went straight to church. Just like me, they have this fascination with churches in Europe, because…we don’t see these in the UAE, of course!

mondsee church 2

Do-re-mi time

mirabell 2

We were taken back to Salzburg and dropped near Mirabell Gardens. We were hungry after the 4 hour tour that lasted from 2pm to 6pm. We had early dinner first and even if it was still drizzling, I couldn’t let the chance go by without seeing Mirabell Gardens. There is that hedge tunnel where Maria and the children run through.

mirabell 1

At Mirabell Garden there is the hedge ‚Äútunnel‚ÄĚ that Maria and the children run through. There is the pond and fountain they dance around and also the set of steps where they sing the finale of “Do-re-mi.”

mirabell 5
mirabell 6

IS THE SOUND OF MUSIC TOUR WORTH IT?

Panorama tours bus

Short answer, yes. Especially for Sound of Music movie fans.

For those otherwise, my answer would still be YES. It’s a beautiful way to spend half day in Salzburg and driving through the lakes district. Despite the weather not in our favor, we had a magical day. The scenery on the way out to Mondsee (where the wedding church is located) is breathtaking, and singling along to the movie’s soundtrack with fans from around the world will warm your heart. We were in a big party and our tour guide was brilliant.¬†His narration was very informative peppered with anecdotes and jokes. Also he gave a narrative about the original book.

Panorama tours conduct the Sound of Music tour, dubbed as “the original”. The tour promises to “follow the traces of the Trapp family and take a tour through Salzburg and its surroundings and visit all of the original film settings.”

A few notes before you buy the tour (because they’re not cheap at 42 euros for adults.)

As someone who has experienced it, I’m going to share what you need to know before you go.

It’s important to understand going into this tour what you will see, and perhaps more importantly, what you won’t. Note that many of the film’s most iconic scenes like the gazebo dance scene and the graveyard were filmed in Hollywood, not in Salzburg. In addition, you won’t be able to get very close to some of the filming locations you will visit. For example, you will only see Leopoldskron¬†which were used for the back of the family’s home from cross the lake. The abbey (I was hoping to see the square where the nuns were singing How do you solve a problem like Maria). Similarly, the gazebo cannot be entered, but you can take pictures outside of it. There were several people on my tour who weren’t aware of some of these restrictions ahead of time (me included) and may have been slightly disappointed.

With all of that said, now you know more than I did before I went with the tour so you can manage your expectations better and will have an absolutely magical time.

So, if you’re a big Sound of Music fan, this tour will become one of your favorite things. And if you have kids who love the movie, you may want to take them before they become 16 going on 17 (when they’d probably think it’s too cheesy!).

Have you seen the Sound of Music movie?

Dealing with food allergies while eating out or travelling

b with shinkansen bento

My son Benjamin (6 years old next month) is allergic to all tree nuts – almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachio, cashew, etc. We’ve had accidental ingestion in the past where he ended up in the emergency¬†so we are very careful with his food but alas, sometimes even I fail.

The last incident was a year and a half ago when we were dining in a dimly lit restaurant and the staff served brown bread, not informing us that it was actually walnut bread. I didn’t check as well because I avoid eating bread and normally Benjamin doesn’t eat bread that much but that night, he did and boom.

We’ve survived a year and half without any allergy related incident after that, we even travelled and stayed at four different countries without any awful surprises.

WHAT ABOUT EATING OUT?

Whenever we eat out, we always stick to Japanese food – mostly because that’s what we like and prefer and because Japanese dishes are not too complicated. You’ll have plain rice, miso soup with some tofu or vegetables/seaweeds and a grilled fish or meats with vegetables. Sauces mostly consist of only soy sauce, some mirin. We have a Japanese restaurant we always frequent every weekend at lunch and not once he¬†had some sort of allergic reaction to the dishes we’ve ordered so far for him.

However, this week, we wanted to try a new Japanese restaurant.

Benjamin said he wanted to eat ramen so we ordered that and he was looking forward to it with gusto. Japanese restaurants usually serve small appetizers at the start and the waitress brought in what seemed like harmless tofu with some miso paste on top. Benjamin took a spoonful and I did too. I realized that it’s a different kind of tofu – it’s goma tofu (tofu mixed with sesame).

A few minutes later, Benjamin fell ill. He is fighting through it telling me he is just tired (from his earlier swimming lessons) and that he is also sleepy. He leaned on me with teary eyes, asked for hot tea and water. I suspected something was not right and gave him Aerius, an anti-histamine that I always carry in my bag wherever we go. Two minutes later, he laid down and started to sneeze. His bowl of ramen came but he was surprisingly disinterested, though saying earlier that he was hungry.

A few seconds later, he gagged and my daughter was quick to carry him out to the restaurant, to the nearest toilet. I followed behind them.

We didn’t reach the toilet.

He projectile vomited just a few steps away, to the shock of the manager at the reception desk at the restaurant’s entrance. At the toilet, his small body was lurching forward, throwing up all the things his body considers as poison. When the vomiting stopped, nasal congestion set in and he wasn’t able to breathe from his nose.

While comforting him, I managed to do a Google searched about sesame seed allergy. And voila Рit seems that people who are allergic to tree nuts could also be allergic to seeds. Who knew. It was my first time to learn about it, and we had to find out in a very scary and messy way.

Ambulance was called just to make sure his blood pressure and oxygen levels were not dropping. Thankfully, his vitals were stable and save for the nasal congestion and watery eyes, he was fine. He was tired from all the vomiting though so we stayed a bit.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVELLING?

Now you may ask, with my love for taking the kids to travel with me, am I not discouraged to go out at all?¬†Was there a time I didn’t want to travel because of Benjamin?

I admit, I get anxious whenever I take him out long enough for us to eat outside during meal times i.e., travelling to another place, including plane rides. However, I don’t want this anxiety to take over me, restricting my son of going out and seeing the beautiful world outside.

We just have to accept and deal with this health matter and do whatever we can. We do not want this ‘disability’ to overwhelm us and keep him inside all the time, after all, Benjamin LOVES travelling – he loves planes and airports and now I just found out from our recent trip, hiking in the mountains!

b in Austria

b hiking in austria 1
p and b hiking in Austria 2

His allergic reactions so far had been rashes/hives, nasal congestion and vomiting. No anaphylactic reaction so far (thank GOD!!). It’s not life threatening now and hope it stays that way. But still we take precautions whenever we are out and about.

HOW TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS WITH FOOD ALLERGIES

1. Stay at accommodations with a kitchen, fridge or microwave, as much as you can.

It would be easier and safer to cook if the allergies are more complicated.¬†When we were in Japan, we stayed in an Airbnb rather than a hotel so¬†we make some¬†our meals there especially breakfast. It does require some additional work, but I had¬†piece of mind knowing my¬†child is safe. Another bonus is that it’s very cost-effective.

2. Find a local grocery store.

After you have reached your destination, the first stop you need to make is the grocery store in order to stock up on safe foods for your child.

3. Research area restaurants.

There is nothing worse than getting to a restaurant with your hungry brood and finding out you can’t eat there.

4. When eating out especially in a new restaurant or in another country away from home, always ask what is in the menu.

5. Always order the simplest dish as possible.

No complicated sauces. When we were in Germany and Austria I just ordered sausages and french fries – I know, I know, not the healthiest options but when it comes down to food, I’d rather opt for a bit unhealthy but safe rather than healthy but unsafe or with questionable ingredients.

6. Pack safe foods.

For road trips, it’s more convenient to pack safe foods for your child with allergies rather than be wary what to give him during drive breaks. For airline meals –¬†For people with food allergies, airline meals pose a particular risk. Many airlines will organise a special meal according to individual requirements, so mention it during booking and when they serve, check again.

7. Take note of emergency numbers at the destination and save it your phone.

8. Always pack allergy medication wherever you go.

To avoid problems at airport security, pack the medication in safe ziplocs and bring prescription, if available.

9. Don’t expect the general public to understand.

THIS. There’s so much stigma around food allergies that some people shrug it off as “disease of the rich kids” or “just an excuse for picky eaters”. Unbelievable because many people actually die of food allergies every year all over the world.

10. Despite all of the (minor) discomfort, ENJOY YOUR VACATION.

Food allergies don’t have to rule your vacation, but you do need to pay attention. With a little preparation, you and your family can enjoy your family time together in a fun and safe environment.

Ben in Niigata 1

Our travel experiences with Benjamin have been very positive so far. We understand the nature of his allergies and make careful choices based on this information. So far, Benjamin (6 years old next month) had been to Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Prague, Germany and Austria. Travelling with a child who has food allergies requires some extra planning, but the rewards of seeing him with sparkle in his eyes at each new place or new experience is well worth it.

Do you have a child/children with food allergies? How does this affect your travels?

Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum – is it worth it?

tonkotsu ramen image

One of the “must do” things to do on our trip to Japan was to EAT. And oh boy, our list was long! There’s simple eats at the convenient stores to that special soba in Niigata (my husband’s hometown), summer sweets, curry rice, gyoza and of course, RAMEN! My kids are crazy with ramen which is quite understandable because their parents bonded really well during ramen dates years ago.

While Googling to create itinerary for our short stay in Tokyo, I came across the words: Shin Yokohama RAMEN MUSEUM. For a die hard ramen afficionado, including that in the Japan itinerary is a done deal.

The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (spelled ‚ÄúRaumen‚ÄĚ on the building’s facade) was founded in 1994 as the world’s first food-themed amusement park.

How to get there

The JR Yokohama line is the only way to get to Shin Yokohama station directly from Tokyo. You can also get here via Shinkansen, if you happen to be in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya or other places on the Tokaido line. The ramen museum is only a 10 minutes walk from Shin Yokohama station.

ramen museum shop

The museum spreads to three floors with the ground floor a store then basement 1 and 2. There is a small museum section with the history of ramen and such on the ground floor, plus the official museum shop. You can purchase ramen sets to go here.

A walk down a few flights transports you to 1958 Japan – the era when the first instant ramen was introduced to the Japanese market. The place is complete with cramped alleyways, old neon signs and vintage Japanese movie posters. It’s a delightful treat and a huge contrast to the modern scene outside.

ramen museum 5

ramen museum 1

ramen museum 2

ramen museum 3

Entering the museum¬†was like entering time machine¬†that brought us back to the¬†Japan’s good old days in 1958. There’s a bar at the center, surrounded by ramen shops.

ramen museum 4
sake

We met a policeman from the past, wearing old uniform popular during those days. It’s a very strange yet fascinating feeling.
policeman retro

And after appreciating the trip back in time, we went on to decide which ramen we’d like to eat!

Ramen varies by region in Japan, and there are at least 30 distinctive types hailing from various regions. There are nine ramen shops at the ramen museum from Sapporo, Tokyo, Hakata, Kumamoto and other local areas, and each of them serves their own flavor of ramen such as soy sauce, miso, pork bone broth (tonkotsu) Рmy favorite.

Each restaurant has a vending machine outside. This is where you order. Deposit your yen, select your meal, grab your tickets (one for each item you order) and give them to your host. The machines are entirely in Japanese but they do have laminated menus in other languages including English.

tonkotsu ramen

kumamoto ramen shop
buying ramen

At 1,100 yen for a bowl of ramen, I thought it was expensive but also realized, you’re just not paying solely for the ramen but the ambiance while eating the ramen. Okay, you already paid 310 yen for the entrance but then again, I still feel it was worth it in the end when I see how my kids loved every nook and corner of ‘old Japan’. It got me in a very natsukashii mood.

retro street 2

retro street 4
retro street 3

retro street 1

Is it worth a visit?

Being transported to an old Japanese village brought the magic for us at the Ramen Museum. And to explore every nook and cranny was such a joy. Despite some reviews at Tripadvisor saying it’s not worth your time and you can actually have all sorts of ramen anywhere in Tokyo anyway (true) but the quirkiness of the place actually appealed to us. This place is not exactly a museum in my opinion, but more of offers a sample of ramen variety.

If you’re coming to Yokohama for the day, I would suggest combining a trip to the museum and then a sidetrip to the very real and vibrant Chinatown and Motomachi area in Yokohama.

Visiting the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka

Meeting totoro

Have you seen any Ghibli movies? You must have heard or watched some of it but never realized it’s a “Ghibli” (pronounced, “jiburi” in Japanese) – Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro.¬†The delightful animated films of Studio Ghibli are full of magic and fairytales. ¬†They can be very simple, dark, fantastical, melancholy, ecstatic, endearing, and wondrous. ¬†My then boyfriend (now husband) first introduced me to the Ghibli universe while we were in college and gave me a DVD of his favorite Ghibli movie, telling me, “watch it, I promise you will like it.”

I instantly became a Ghibli fan and from then, I set about absorbing every other Ghibli film I came across.

I first visited the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka in 2013 and was delighted. I know I had to go back!

The museum is relatively small and you can finish your “tour” in just a couple of hours and not miss anything. It’s more like a day theme park than a “museum” per se. We¬†really enjoyed the interactive displays and the fun artwork as well as the sections in the museum that showcase how the artwork goes from concept to screen. The amount of work involved is tremendous. However, the important part is how magical Hayao Miyazaki has made it. It shows the development process of animation and the the thought process of Miyazaki and his team.¬†The displays of original artwork from the films are truly stunning!

The park is really child friendly, and there are lots of nooks and crannies that children can explore.

HOW TO REACH THE MUSEUM

Mitaka eki

ticket machine

There are two options to reach the museum from Mitaka station via JR East (20-30 minutes from Shinjuku station, depending on whether you get on a local or express train): on foot and by public transport (bus).

If you choose to go on foot, take the south exit of Mitaka station and turn left and walk along Tamagawa Josui. The museum can be reached in about 15 minutes.

I think the more popular option is to take the bus. The bus service is offered between the south exit of Mitaka Station and the museum. The ride takes about ten minutes. You should take either a loop bus which departs Mitaka Station, travels to the Ghibli museum and back to Mitaka station (yellow bus in the above pic) or a bus towards Myojogakuen via the Ghibli museum.

A one-way fare is 210 yen for adults and 110 yen for children. You can buy a round ticket with a ticket machine located near the bus terminal or at a bus information center; these cost 320 yen for adults and 160 yen for children.

** It is very important to come before your designated entrance time printed on the ticket. If you are late for more than 30 minutes, your tickets will be forfeited and you will not be admitted to the museum.

INSIDE THE GHIBLI MUSEUM

As much as the topmost photo looks like the main entrance, with a giant fluffy Totoro in the box, this is not the main entrance. This is the main entrance.

ghibli 1

ghibli 2

The kids are so happy to be here. I actually didn’t tell them we’d be going because I almost didn’t get the tickets, not for the reason that they’re expensive (they’re not!) but the tickets sell really fast. There’s a sale period and it is a challenge to buy the tickets from overseas, firstly, because of the time zone (Japan is 5 hours ahead).

Example, tickets for the month of June are sold from May 10 onwards only and they sell like hotcakes! I actually almost forgot it was already May 10th until a friend reminded me while I was at work! It was already May 10, 11 am in Dubai so it is already 4 pm in Japan! The sale link had been opened for 16 hours already. Result – most of the dates and times for June are already sold out, including our first preferred date and time. Thankfully, we have another day in Tokyo available but at the entrance time available is only for 4 pm, instead of the 10 am morning schedule we wanted.

Anyways, I got the tickets. The next two days when I checked again just out of curiousity, all the dates and times were sold out so if you are planning to go, do plan ahead and set your alarm!

NO CAMERAS ALLOWED INSIDE

The museum is a must visit for Ghibli fans but unfortunately, I can’t show you any photos of the inside of the museum, since it has a strict no-photos allowed policy.¬†It’s¬†sad as I would really like to have had a record of how it looked. ¬†There are winding staircases, little nooks that only children can fit through, comfy wing-backed chairs and plenty of small touches here and there that make the museum a beautiful work of art.

Their reasoning for this is written in Japanese that translates,

The Ghibli Museum is a portal to a storybook world. As the main character in a story, we ask that you experience the Museum space with your own eyes and senses, instead of through a camera’s viewfinder. We ask that you make what you experienced in the Museum the special memory that you take home with you.

I have photos however, taken outside the building, in the gardens. Do you recognize this character from the movie, A Castle in the Sky?
robot 2

robot 3
robot 1

(It’s such a pity we have a very blurred picture taken by a stranger…)

There is a small cafe and ice cream shop outside of the main building.¬†From the robot area, we went to the cafe. It was allowed to take photos there so here’s some.

p and b 2
p 1

p and b 1

The kids are overwhelmed by the abundance of nature around – the museum is located within a park, after all.

pristine 1

ghibli 6

ghibli 4
ghibli 7

Another area where you can take photos…this square from one of the scenes in the anime.

ghibli 8

TRAVEL TIPS BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Tickets MUST be purchased in advance. >How to buy tickets outside Japan¬†>How to buy tickets in Japan¬†(CAUTION: I’ve read that some sites sell tickets with a ridiculous “service fee”, beware of them. It’s pretty straightforward to buy the tickets even if you’re outside of Japan – just follow the links from the main website and remember, on the 10th of the month before you go! Example, you want to go in June, buy on 10th May.)
  2. You must not come later than the designated time printed in the ticket.
  3. No cameras allowed inside.
  4. There are no English translations (but don’t worry, the pictures are still worth seeing)
  5. Bring a print out of the confirmation plus your passport in order to enter the museum.

GENERAL INFORMATION

p and b 3

Website: Ghibli Museum in Mitaka
Address:  Tokyo, Mitaka, Shimorenjaku 1-1-83 (located at the west garden of Inokashira Park)
Hours: Museum 10:00 ‚Äď 18:00, Caf√© Mugiwaraboshi 11:00 ‚Äď 19:00 (last entry: 18:00)
Closed: Tuesday and may be closed for periodic maintenance work
Wi-Fi: Unavailable
Nearest Station: Mitaka Station of the JR Chuo Line
Access: 15 minute walk from the South Exit of Mitaka Station; Community bus service from the Mitaka station (charged)
Ticket Prices: Adults/university students 1000 yen, Middle/high school students 700 yen, Children aged 4 and up 100 yen *Tickets must be obtained in advance

Should I go?

Is the Ghibli Museum worth a visit? If you are a Ghibli fan, absolutely! Though I think even if you’re not specifically a Ghibli fan, the creative process of animation will amaze and entertain you. If you have children, I think this museum is a must too. Our visit to Ghibli Museum was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Tokyo.

Our trip to Japan, summer 2017

in ikebukuro 2

It’s currently summer vacation for all of the kids in the UAE. ¬†It’s actually over a month already since most of the schools have closed for the school year 2017. Since classes will start on September 10, that’s about 12 weeks long of holidays!

Japan 2013

When I planned where to take the kids in summer and though our family budget is tight, I couldn’t let them just stay at home for 12 long weeks and wait for the weekends for me to take them outside. I work full time so yeah, I can only take them out on weekends because this mom is lazy to take out people and drive after work, except maybe for groceries.

The peak of UAE’s summer is these months of June-September so playing outside isn’t really an option. This is actually the challenge for¬†families staying in the country during these months. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of entertainment options, indoors usually inside a mall but if given a choice, I would love the kids to be outside than in the malls.

Anyway, I managed to find fairly inexpensive airfare for the three of us from Dubai-Narita via Singapore on Singapore Airlines last March. It’s been four years since our last visit to Japan and it got me really excited!

The last time we traveled to Japan, Benjamin was less than two years old. Pristine was nine. This was them when we landed in Narita in 2013.

And this was them in the same spot in 2017!

p and b in japan again

I couldn’t remember their original pose but know that Pristine was carrying her little brother so we tried to replicate the shot. What difference four years make!

We took Singapore Airways and I don’t know, I felt our flight was really long this time. Seven hours from Dubai to Singapore, a couple of hours layover at the wonderful Changi Airport (probably my favorite airport in the whole world, after Dubai International) and again another seven hours from Singapore to Narita.

stormy narita

The kids were really great during the flight, as they’ve always been. No fuss even with the disturbing turbulence as we approached Narita. The captain announced bad weather and we’d have a bumpy ride. There were many kids on the flight and I heard a few vomiting sounds…I was scared Benjamin, who is prone to motion sickness would follow too but thankfully, he didn’t!

KOMBINI!

The first thing we did when we got out security? Go attack the first convenience store (kombini in Japanese colloquial) inside the airport! It was a small store but it already got our spirits high!

combini 2
combini 3

combini 1

Who buys 2,000/3,000 yen worth of stuff from convenience stores?! Us, obviously. We have a love affair with with Japan’s kombini. Located on every block in urban areas, the Japanese convenience store is much more than a ubiquitous repository of junk food. Konbini food, believe it or not, is actually pretty decent. They’re more than the microwavable chimichangas you’ll find in other country’s convenience stores, konbini food is delicious and always kept fresh.

It sells the ever handy cure for mild hunger: onigiri, bento, seasonal dishes and sweets, sushi and soba, manga and medicine, alcohol and many, many more you can think of!

It was late when we arrived at the station near our Airbnb so we bought food stuff in case the kids (and I!) get hungry later in the night. Nah, we were just really excited to buy the stuffs we missed!

OUR FIRST MORNING IN JAPAN

in ikebukuro

IMG_20170622_125755_333

We arrived around 10 pm after a long flight from Dubai and Singapore and I learned a valuable lesson: our morning after itinerary should have been: SLEEP ALL DAY.

Because anyway, we had our kombini food already in case we get hungry, we don’t need to go out really. The kids were heavily jet lagged or just plain tired and showed no signs of rousing from their sleep even if it was already 10 or 11 am or even 12 noon!

(It might be because our modest Airbnb was so nice and comfy Рit deserves a special blog post soon!)

Our time in Japan is very limited and I didn’t want to waste it so I had to wake them up just before 1 pm. Fair enough, no? They were fully rested and ready to tackle the day.

We were in Tokyo on the last week of June and OMG, the weather was really nice!

Japan is still in that tsuyu season (rainy season just before summer). The temps were already warm enough for the locals but coming from a place with 45C temperature in Dubai, 27C in Tokyo was HEAVEN. We were walking and would stop on the side of the road to just close our eyes and feel the cool breeze whenever it comes.

Our first order of the day? LUNCH!

I have listed the restaurants to go and food to eat while in Tokyo months back before our trip. Our every meal has been planned already, well, except for the random kombini visits where we buy snacks while we are on the move. We went to Coco Ichibanya because we missed the Japanese curry!

curry

EATING OUT IN JAPAN ON BUDGET

If you think eating out in Japan is expensive (Tokyo has this notorious reputation of being expensive generally), take note that there are several¬†food shops where you can have a great inexpensive meal. Some of our¬†favorite go to’s are: Coco Ichibanya and also C & C Curry¬†(located at most¬†train stations), and on most streets in Tokyo:¬†Sukiya, Matsuya and Yoshinoya.

oranges

When we finished our hearty lunch, the weather was really warming up. It’s supposed to be rainy season but we were lucky enough not to get wet – it was sunny and nice in Tokyo (although we were ok to get rained on or perhaps buy the transparent umbrella from the kombini!).

We could feel the early pangs of summer heat as we got out of the basement restaurant.

japan summer
japan summer 2
¬†Our very important itinerary for that day was a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka at 4pm. I’ll write a separate blog post about that but do any of you reading this post know about Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful animes? If you haven’t, I encourage you to start watching them. You can start with Spirited Away or Totoro or even Howl’s Moving Castle.

p and b in ikebukuro

shinjuku at night 1
shinjuku at night 2

We had yakiniku dinner with friends on our first night at Shinjuku. Some of you might have seen my Instastories on Instagram and asked, “you make your own dinner at the restaurant table?”

Yes, yakiniku – from Wikipedia: yakiniku refers to a Japanese style of cooking bite-size meat and vegetables on gridirons or griddles over flame of wood charcoals carbonized by dry distillation or gas/electric grill. At yakiniku restaurants, the meat grillers are on your table and yes, you cook your own meal (which is fun). We had 90 minutes of yakiniku tabehodai (eat all you can, including rice, salads) for 1,980 yen (US$18) per person.

It’s eat all you can for 90 minutes. Can you still say Japan is expensive?

yakiniku

We went home late tired but very satisfied with our first full day in Japan. I am so happy to be able to roam around Tokyo with my kids, now both of them walking really well (no more baby carriers! no more strollers and diaper bags to lug around!). They are also both aware now which is really nice because I get to tell them stories of the time I was a student in Japan roaming in these familiar streets. And they actually listen AND ask questions which throws me back to memory lane time and time again. Ah, those were the days!

Never in my imagination that years after that point in my life that I’d walk around Tokyo with my own kids!

It seems that our travel to Japan is following a pattern: every 4 years. The last time we flew to Japan was 4 years ago in 2013 and before that was also 4 years ago in 2009. I hope it won’t take another 4 years before we go there again.