To start the trip off, I flew into London’s Heathrow Airport via Air Canada and went to meet my friend Winnie (my travel partner for the next month or so) at Liverpool Station.
Once I got to the airport, I purchased an Oyster Card and filled it with 25£. The underground sure covers a lot but since it is an older transport system, its not the most accessible and also very hot and tight (at certain times, can feel claustrophobic). Parts of the underground metro system reminded me of my hometown Scarborough’s RT train system..
After meeting Winnie at the station, we went to Spitalfields – a quaint outdoor market space filled with little shops and food vendors. We ate at Leon – good food for a good price. We also walked through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park with our bags in tow (I really missed my Northface Basecamp Duffel). We didn’t have anything really planned for the rest of day and also thought we could just arrive early and sleep at Stansted Airport but luckily we sat down and checked to realize Stansted actually closes between midnight and 2AM. We also realized that we were incorrect about the time of our flight and we actually booked the 830AM not 625AM.
We debated if we wanted to stay up and out all night or book a hostel to sleep for a few hours and drop off our bags. Originally, we opted not to put our bags in storage or book a hostel but after walking around for 2-4 hours and running out of things to do, we booked Smart Hostels – a 15 bed mixed dorm and put our stuff down.
We wanted to try this cool ramen place called Kanada-Ya but there was a super long line so we went across the street to Ippudo Ramen instead. Winnie got the Yokohama ramen and I got the Unagi Chirashi bowl. Delicious.
London, UK – Madrid, Spain
Apparently having a bed doesn’t always mean you can sleep through the night. We went to bed at 10PM thinking we could get in 8 hours of sleep before waking and leaving for 3AM. I did not sleep well at all. We hopped on our bus ($20.40CAD) for an 1.5hr ride to Stansted Airport from Russell Square and that ride was really great time for sleeping. We booked with Ryanair and unfortunately that means the airports we are flying out of are not the main airports and are smaller airports that are out of the city centres. Also, as a Non-EU passenger flying in and out of UK requires you to print your boarding pass to get a Visa check.
First stop on our Eurotrip from London was Madrid, Spain. Our first stop was to the Greenhouse Atocha – a train station with an indoor Tropical greenery area. We also stored our luggage at this train station for 3.10 Euro. We had some ordeals with the machine to buy the ticket but all was fixed after 15 minutes. We changed into shorts and just went to town (literally).
We walked over to check out Caixa Forum (Vertical Garden Wall). Next stop was El Retiro Park with the Crystal Palace and watched people row boats while drinking horchata.
Finally checked into our Airbnb in the suburbs and then walked over to Parque Cerro De Rio Rio (Parque de las tetas – The park of the tits as locals like to call it because of the book-shaped hills) for sunset. Highly recommend with multiple hills to watch from.
Went to dinner at Bar Don Manolo – tapas with beer and wine. Ended the night with gelato – Mora (blackberry) and hazelnut.
We woke up later than we had planned but good thing we did as we checked the weather and changed from shorts and tanks to pants and rain gear.
Did the rain stop us? Of course not!
We were still able to walk over 40,000 steps. Started off walking through Rocodromo Pasarela Parque. We walked to Matadero (a former slaughterhouse turned into a art centre), Embajadores neighbourhood – saw the church, Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel & Mercado San Ildefonso. Continued to Puerta del Sol (it is Spain’s belly button) with a stop to San Gines chocolate for churros! (BTW, hot chocolate literally means liquid chocolate not milky hot chocolate drink) and made our way to Gran Via shopping street & El Corte Ingles then meandered to the neighbourhood of Malasana.
Went to an awesome cafe call Cafe Federal. The sun eventually came out and we returned back to Puerto De Sol on our way to La Tabacalera de Lavapiés – a former tobacco factory that now houses underground tunnels with graffiti and artists. We then took the metro to the Templo de Debod in hopes of catching a beautiful sunset but unfortunately it was a weak sunset.
For dinner, we walked back towards the Royal Palace and made our way to the Tapas Street (Calle de la Cava Baja) but before that, we popped back into Mercado de San Miguel (much emptier than earlier when it was raining) where we met Rick who works for NASA. Watch out for helicopter drone 2020 next mission out to Mars. We finished off our night having dinner at La Perejila and had the smoked cod, octopus with potato and ham and tomato paste.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Once we got settled in, we drove over to James Beach (60 N Venice Blvd, Venice, CA 90291) where we intended to have dinner but in the end, we went across the street to Plancha (2024 Pacific Ave, Venice, CA 90291) for tacos. James Beach has many reviews and is known for their fish tacos and made famous from the movie I Love you Man featuring Paul Rudd. At Plancha, I ordered the Tiger bowl ($6.95USD) which consisted of garlic tiger shrimp and the contents of a burrito.
After dinner, we decided to drive over to LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036) to see the Urban Lights by artist Chris Burden. His installation is located at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance of the LACMA and consists of lamp posts that at one point in time have lit the streets of Southern California before being restored and installed in that one location. We spent a lot of time here just taking photos and just hanging out. It’s a great atmosphere to be in with friends.
After a late night, we drove over to Hermosa Beach for surf lessons. My friend JP created a website called GOJPGO that makes exploring LA so much more accessible with helpful tips and advice. My group wanted to go for surf lessons and JP had recommended us to go with his friend Kawika at Pier Surf (21 Pier Ave Hermosa beach, CA 90254) and we were not disappointed. 8 of us took part in the 2 hour surf lesson that Kawika along with Ryan another instructor took us to the beach and taught us the basics before hitting the waters. The waves were perfect for beginners and they explained to us that the waves are about 5-10 miles per hour and we want to reach that speed to catch a wave. It was a tiring but a very rewarding experience for sure and we definitely recommend them!
Right beside Pier Surf was Hooked where we ordered Poke bowls. You can customize your own bowl and I decided to go with a large ($12,50USD) with Kelp noodles, spicy tuna, sunomono cucumber & fish roe. If I were to go again, I would change my base to rice as the kelp noodles texture was strange and a little too tasteless for me. Otherwise, the poke was tasty with a little kick of heat to it. We ate and recovered from our surf lesson and just laid out on the beach for a few hours before a few of our friends headed to LAX to head home. I couldn’t leave the beach without getting myself a acai bowl. As the gang napped on the beach, I walked over to Paradise Bowls (1246 Hermosa Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254) and got myself a mini $6.95USD (the small is massive) Guava Pipeline acai bowl (blended acai, banana, mango, guava juice with strawberries, bananas, granola and honey as the topping) delicious.
After a little more time lounging on the beach, we packed up and drove back to our Airbnb area in Venice beach but not before stopping off at Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries and also my favourite – Unsulfurated Dried Mangoes – sad to say my other favourite – dark chocolate edamame beans have been discontinued!
After everyone showered, we drove over to Little Tokyo for dinner and dessert. Since we arrived late, we went for dessert first at Mikawaya (Japanese Village Plaza, 118 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012) for Ice cream mochi. I fell in love with ice cream mochi 7 years ago from this place. The Ice cream mochi is fresh and comes in multiple flavours that rotate through. They are about $1.30USD ea but well worth it. I had the Pistachio, Guava, Toasted Almond & Raspberry (my favourite). Once we finished devouring these tasty pieces of heaven, we walked across the street from the plaza to the well known yellow awning ramen restaurant – Daikokuya (327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012). I fell in love with this ramen place 7 years ago and to this day, I still think this place makes the best ramen (and I’ve been to Japan before). It could be an overstatement but the line outside proceeds me and from memory, the broth, the atmosphere, the taste still lingers and just makes it my top notch choice for best ramen I’ve ever eaten. With a group of 9, we walked in to write our name down and waited outside as they slowly went down the list. Trust me, it is worth the wait. I ordered the Combo meal – Daikoku Ramen with beef bowl ($9.95 USD for the regular ramen) and that is more than enough food. The ramen on it’s own is filling enough and you can also customize it with their special broth (Kotteri flavor from the back fat extracts). The soft-boiled egg just adds to it.
With our trip to Trader Joe’s and going across the street to the dollar store, we gathered enough ingredients to make a big family style breakfast that consisted of coconut pancake mix from TJ’s, cookie butter ice cream, cookie butter, eggs, bacon, bananas, grapes, apples, cereal and beer. It was a great bonding experience and also a great use of the outdoor patio we had.
After breakfast, we all went to Venice Beach and of course one of the main attractions ( I could’ve just stayed there all day) was the Venice Beach Skatepark. Not only were the locals out in full force skating, a few did intricate tricks which were great to see front row centre. We also walked over and tested our ability at the free muscle beach which consists of a few bars and rings. You can also pay $10USD/day to use the actual outdoor Muscle Beach gym but looking at the equipment, everything was wrapped in saran wrap and not my cup of tea.
Our main group then said our goodbyes to Susan and Kevin and off we went to drive east of Los Angeles to Joshua Tree. We made a stop at Toys R Us that detoured us south before heading east. Since we didn’t go according to our original plans, we started our drive to Joshua Tree really late and we got stuck in traffic. We made one more stop at In-N-Out (well done fries and a animal style cheeseburger are the way to go). What is so mystifying and entrancing are the wind turbine fields. The drive does get a little windy as you drive through mountains. Once we arrived by the main Joshua Tree visitor centre (which was closed when we arrived) the sun was starting to set. We drove in and stopped off on the side of the road to climb some rocks and take photos of the trees. Our end goal since we didn’t really have a chance to hike especially with the remaining light was Key Views Road which is the highest point in the national park that overlooks the park and the city. We took in the remainder of the sunset and light before laying down on the ground and gazing up into the sky as it darkened and the stars glistened and covered the sky. Incredibly sad that I wasn’t able to spend the day there and hike. I also hear and have been recommended to check out Cholla Cactus Garden.
After taking in all the stars and the vastness that we were surrounded by, we made a run for it back to LA. Koreatown was our end point for dinner at Tangji Gamatang (3470 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90020) for a family style meal with our group before calling it a night.
We met with Kayo at 10AM at Kyobashi station for a day trip to Kyoto.
From Kyobashi station, we took the Keihan train line (about 30 minutes) to Inari station where our main destination started – Fushimi Inari shrine. This was also Kayo’s first time to Fushimi Inari too so we didn’t really know what to expect. Kayo was a trooper for walking in wedges. We didn’t know before coming that Fushimi Inari is actually a temple built on a mountain. This temple made a huge appearance in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha with the orange tori gates. The main tori gates that appear in the film aren’t too long and are actually 2 paths that end before opening up into another set of gates that take you up the mountain. I decided to wear pants that day and although it was hot, it was a good decision – my eyebrow, chest and feet got attacked by bugs. When you finally make it to the top of the mountain, the sight is gorgeous as you can see the skyline of Kyoto from above before heading back down. Kyoto is also known for it’s mochi unfortunately we didn’t buy any however we did sample the triangle mochi dessert. Kayo also treated us to taiyaki (waffles made in fish shapes filled with red bean or other fillings) as well as takoyaki (squid balls).
After that long journey through Fushimi Inari, we journeyed on by train to Gion-Shinjo station to venture Yasaka Jinja Shrine, another temple with multiple temples inside. But first, we had ramen for lunch at a small local ramen shop. We all order the standard and added gyoza dumplings. The broth was a little different from what I’ve had – more soy sauce-y/ salty but nonetheless it tasted really good. The noodles were perfect but I feel like the best I’ve ever had still is hands down Daikokuya in Little Tokyo in LA. Our walk to the ramen place was really nice because the area had old buildings mixed with new but still so quaint.
We walked over to Yasaka-Jinja Shrine towards Maruyama Park. It was a cute park with a large settlement of ravens. Made our way to Sorin-ji temple and wanted to go see the big head temple but it was closed. We walked over to Chion-In temple but by the time we reached it, the temple was closed. NOTE: temples close early in Kyoto (5PM or slightly earlier).
Since temples were closing, we walked back to the station walked through an old street with old houses which had been turned into restaurants. We took the train back to Kyobashi and decided to have dinner in the area. The restaurant we went to for dinner we ordered from a machine that was all in Japanese. This restaurant required us to goto the second floor and order through the machine with no pictures which would in return give you a ticket stub after you paid. Luckily we had Kayo with us to read and translate for us. We treated Kayo to pizza, Shela and Georgie opted for curry rice and I got the omurice (rice in an omelet) with ketchup.
We got back to the hostel and Kyohei handed each of us 1 free drink ticket – it was Friday already. It was international party drinking night. Georgie grabbed herself a Peachtree and orange, Shela grabbed the plum wine and I grabbed the cassis and orange. Sebastian who was making drinks for us, volunteers at the hostel lives about a 5 minute bike ride away. He is originally from Portland, OR but has since been living in Japan for 8 years – He even has a Japanese drivers license. He was telling us his apartment costs roughly $900CAD. As we introduced ourselves to Sebastian, we met another guy named Daniel who is from Alberta who is part aboriginal. He’s been in Japan for about a week and a half so far and leaves tomorrow for Tokyo. His birthday was at the end of September so he celebrated in Roppungi in Tokyo as he turned 28. We also met a few Germans, Brits and also a group of people from Thailand – 2 girls named Patch and Pam and a group of 6 guys who were all medical students who only get 10 days off from school.
Did you know that you are never suppose to pour your own drink in Japan. If someone sees that your cup is empty, you are to pour for them and vice versa. Also, if you give someone your business card, you are to put it into your dress shirt pocket and not into your wallet (which you sit on) because you are sitting on their business.
I lived in Pasadena for about 3 months back in 2010 and this was my saving grace. Price and quality can’t be beat here. The ultimate grocery store for the college kid and for everyone else whose on a budget and who wants to shop at a cheaper version of Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s has their own line of products that can range from food to even cleaning products. Organic or not, the food is great, fresh and plentiful. NYC is one of the only place on the east coast to have these beautiful stores and every time I go, I make an effort to stop by to purchase their amazing snacks; specifically their unsulfurated dried mangoes and dark chocolate edamame beans that I have grown addicted to. The atmosphere is fun with their employees sporting hawaiian shirts and each store has a plastic lobster hiding around. There are usually tons of sampling going on inside the store but I’ve heard that if you want to try something that isn’t being sampled, you can ask an employee and they can open one up for you. They also sell their own line of reusable totes and I still use mine till this day for everything.
Order off their main menu or order off their “not-so secret menu” the fast food chain is quick and tasty. It has that retro vibe to it and is the west coast equivalent to Shake Shack in the east. Animal Style is a burger of your choice with hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, a mustard cooked beef patty; add pickle, extra spread with grilled onions OR if you want to opt for it, you can get all of that on your fries. My goto meal here is usually a double double (2 patties, 2 cheese slices) and animal style fries. Pictured below is an “animal style” cheeseburger with fries.
Run by the talented Christine Moore and her team, this little cafe & bakery shop has amazing quality food for a reasonable fare. Their menu has a good selection for brunch, lunch and dinner. Catering is also available here which we used multiple times during my time there. I don’t think I’ve had anything on their menu that I didn’t like. My favourites were the old fashioned turkey – $9.50USD (oven roasted turkey, comte, aioli, mixed greens, tomatoes on whole wheat) and their Dal Bowl – $10USD (brown rice, curried cauliflower, garlic, spinach, chutney, tofu, raita and yellow lentil dal). This shop is also great for pastries, local goods, gifts and their homemade sea salted caramels and marshmallows are mouthwatering. A must stop if in Pasadena!
Located on Meridian Ave. and El Centro Street next to the Gold Line South Pasadena Station.
Near by the Trader Joes on Mission St, this farmers market opens Thursdays year-round from 4-8 PM. Local vendors selling a large variety of local goods and local produce. It’s a great community event that sells products such as Kettlecorn, tempah, to handmade soaps just to name a few.
A landmark of South Pasadena is Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain and yes it still is used as a pharmacy to this day. On the corner of Mission St and Fair Oaks Avenue, this establishment has been running since 1915 under another name. The Pharmacy is now state of the art and the soda fountain still in its prime to make their homemade malts, ice cream floats and milkshakes. The ambiance is still that classic vintage feel so take a sit on a stool by the counter or slide into a booth for your taste of the past with their tin ceilings and honeycomb tiles. I got a grape ice cream soda and a turkey bacon avocado sandwich.
Another landmark – Fosselmans has been a staple name in Pasadena since 1919. In 1974, they moved shops to its current location in Alhambra. Their ice cream is homemade and was recommended by a local who said it brought back memories of childhood for him. They offer coffee and sandwiches in addition but the ice cream is definitely the highlight of this place (their ice cream can be purchased in multiples places). It’s the perfect solution for a hot sunny day. I got myself a black raspberry milkshake and it was amazing! – Cash only!
So good that I came back again. I ordered #3 which was beans and cheese torta that included avocado, jalapeño, mayo, and some other things I can’t remember. I paired it with a pineapple soda and I practically inhaled it. There was also a place she mentioned called Father Nature which serves really healthy but really good or as the sign says lavish panini’s and next time I’m in the area I will definitely try that out.
My all time favourite place for ramen – hands down. This place is where I recommend everyone to goto if they are ever in LA. Daikokuya isn’t hard to miss with its yellow awning and usually with a line out the door. I’ve been here twice and will be back the next I’m in LA. If you have a large group, you will have to wait to be seated as the restaurant is more on the smaller size but cozy with decor of vintage coca cola ads from Japan. If you are eating alone, you can be seated at the counter and watch the magic happen as ramen is made and sent out. I had the Daikoku Ramen $8.50USD which is the specialty ramen and it was SOOO GOOD. The broth is like no other that I’ve had. – Cash only!
If you like ice cream mochi, you gotta go here! Mikawaya, is 105-year-old confectionary company known for inventing mochi ice cream which is located in Little Tokyo. In recent years, it was privately sold to a firm but still produces the same loved confectionaries they always have made. This shop sells Japanese ice cream & sweets and specialize in various flavours of mochi but the piece du resistance is their mochi-lato which are ice cream mochi. I have a huge thing for mochi especially ice cream mochi and this place hits the spot! I’ve eaten so many but ones that I always got were green tea, raspberry cream and mango and they were so divine. For just around $1USD each, they were the size of hackysacks and just leave a smile on your face. I can’t wait to go back for more.