Monthly Archives: March 2016

Lost In Japan: Day 1 – Getting to Hiroshima

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Is this actually day one? I don’t know anymore. In order to get from the flat to the hotel in Hiroshima there were six different legs to the journey (2 by plane, 2 by bus, 1 by train and 1 by metro) which added up to 21 hours of travel time before I plonked myself on the mattress here in the Sheraton Hiroshima.

So okay, this is really 2 days, but apart from a few naps this has pretty been one continuous day.

Aside from watching Inside Out and Back to the Future and listening to three albums worth of Sigur Ros on the flight between Heathrow and Tokyo Haneda the journey to Japan was not too eventful. It was hubby’s first long-haul flight and, due to my insistence of seeing the shrine at Miyajima, a connecting flight to Hiroshima was needed.

List Item: Watch a Sunrise
Status: Completed

We did, however, watch the sunrise together. It was spectacular.

I know it is a stereotype that all westerners know, but I have to say that, upon landing in Tokyo, I was amazed at the number of employees bowing at us as we made our way through the airport. Also, just how incredibly helpful all the staff we have encountered so far have been.


Case in point is this photo of Mt Fuji. I took it from the flight between Tokyo and Hiroshima. Being the only white people on this flight we horrendously stood out as tourists. I mean as a 6’3″ man with red hair and a tyre around the waist I am used to stand out in a crowd, but it is rather homogeneous here so I just plain stand out. Anyway, this is a roundabout way of explaining how a stewardess on the flight came over to us on the flight and showed us to an empty row of seats on the other side of the plane. Now, it doesn’t happen often that my breath is taken from me, but this is one of the times. The picture can not do justice to what I saw.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Acerola

Also, on the flight I managed through sheer luck to grab a sweet that was flavoured with a list fruit. At first I assumed that acerola was just the romanisation for the Japanese word for cherry. It would make sense since this tasted like a sweetened sour cherry. However, it turns out that this fruit flavour was something different.

Fast forwarding now to after we woke up from a much needed two hour nap in our hotel. We start to explore Hiroshima. The sheer number of vending machines and 7-elevens surprise me. What surprises me more is how cheap the bottles of drink are. They are less than £1 each from the vending machines (even those in the airport), something which astounds me.

So, with rice balls in hand and with cheap bottles of Coke Zero we just wandered the streets for a few hours. A lot of time was spent looking in some of the numerous malls/department stores that are just dotted around the place. They are a full blown assault on the senses with cartoon mascots, overlapping announcements, large food sections and just so many cute things on display. Being that we are close to Halloween… well I may have seen more cute ghosts in an afternoon than most Brits probably see in a lifetime.

We also saw a lot of ‘Carp’ merchandise. I thought it was some sort of anime that really hit it off, but later found out that it is the local baseball team. Slightly disappointing really.

Food items: Natto, Hiroshima Oysters, Oysters

List item: Try oysters
Status: Completed

So, dinner. And what a delicious introduction to Japanese food it was. A cut steak deep fried oyster set meal with natto ordered as a side. We got it from a place called Yayoiken Tatemachi and, for someone who has never touched an oyster before, I wish I had ordered the oyster meal instead of the oyster and steak meal. The breaded oysters were crispy and creamy with a hint of sweetness. They were even better when dipped in the supplied tartare sauce. Whilst I am here in Hiroshima I think I am going to seek out more oysters unless something even better comes along.

The natto, on the other hand, was bitter and after I finished eating it there was a feeling that I was covered in spider webs. Very strange for something that can be a breakfast food.

Progress: 729/933

As I finish off, we have switched the TV onto a rather weird Japanese show which is just people reacting to cat videos. Why? It’s Japan.

That Time I Got Married

I just want to start out by saying how strange it is to do a blog post about my wedding. I mean, as I am writing this it is two evenings after the event and I still do not have a lot of photos from the day (those will be retrofitted in). Anyway, let’s begin:

List Item: Make a will
Progress: Completed

Okay, I know this is a bit of a bait and switch. The thing is, the cold hard logic reason to get married is because of depressing reasons like wills. However, let’s not dwell on that and get to the real thing!

List Item: Be involved in a wedding (in any way)
Progress: Completed

List Item: Throw a party
Progress: Completed

This has been an almost 3-year-long engagement. My husband proposed to me on Christmas Day in 2012. During this time, I had a mental breakdown, we bought a flat…

List Item: Move house
Progress: Completed

…and we had to save up for both a wedding and a honeymoon. We actually started to look at booking a wedding about a year and a half in advance. Seeing how we are both fairly low maintenance in that respect and very well organised, I must say that all the work prior to the wedding has not exactly been too stressful for either of us. I guess that when no dress, make-up or flowers are involved, weddings can be rather simple.

List Item: Make a budget
Progress: Completed

The most stressful bit actually happened the day before the wedding when the cake delivery driver trying to deliver the cakes to the venue before it had opened. It all worked out fine though. The cheesecakes were delicious and beautifully presented.

Now, there is a big part of me that wants to write a blog post where I describe my wedding in the minutest of details. The thing is, I feel pictures explain things a whole lot better than words do. So I’ll let them do the talking and interject with some key things.

Song that we walked down the aisle: ‘Reprise’ from Spirited Away
Song that we concluded the ceremony with: ‘Everything Is Awesome’ from The Lego Movie

Food served at wedding ‘breakfast’: Burgers topped with gruyere, piri piri chicken, halloumi kebabs, celeriac coleslaw, salads and lemon tart
Wedding cake: 5 types of cheesecake

Song for the first dance: ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ by Father John Misty
Song I had the most fun dancing to: ‘Chicago’ by Sufjan Stevens with my mum
Amount of leftover food: Three meals worth
Day had: Perfect

To conclude, as I sit here writing this blog post (where I am so freaking excited about heading off to Japan in the morning for my dream holiday/honeymoon) I am still feeling so incredibly lucky. Lucky to have a husband who loves me as much as he does and who gets me totally. Lucky to have been able to fill a room with so many generous and amazing friends. And lucky to have an amazing mum who will dance merrily with me to Sufjan Steven’s ‘Chicago’. It was just one of those perfect days.

My Penguin Party

I am going to start out this post by saying another (now 5 months later) big thank you to my Maid Of Honour/Best Woman Prerna for organising by bachelor party or, as we called it, penguin party.

IMG_1972List Item: Have a bachelor party
Progress: Completed (Added by Prerna)

So I had no idea where we were going. I’ve never had a surprise party, so this is probably the best time to have something that is basically a surprise. Starting after work on the Friday I was whisked away to an Airbnb in Didcot Parkway. It was such a lovely house with a nice array of breakfast supplies (a lot of jam) and, for some reason, a Bob The Builder jigsaw puzzle.

After we arrived at the house, scoped it out and bought pizza supplies from the local Sainsbury’s, I was informed of what I would be wearing during the weekend…

IMG_1944List Item: Own and wear a onesie
Progress: Completed

I have to say that I love my new penguin onesie. Not just because it is fairly slimming, but also because it was so warm, so soft and it even had a tail. There may have been a slightly weird moment when I asked what the zipper at the back was for and started to unzip it at the dinner table before realising what I was doing.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Rioja

With dinner there was, of course, some wine was involved (for everyone else, since I don’t drink). It just happened that the wine that they randomly picked was also a list wine. It then turned out the corkscrew that came with the house may not have been the sharpest, or the uncorking was messed up. Either way – the cork started flaking and we couldn’t get it out.

Some vicious stabbing with a knife and a cafètiere later  – we had Rioja in a measuring jug. Who said we weren’t a classy group right? Still, I had a sip of it and, to me, I could tell it was a nice enough wine… but I don’t know anywhere near enough about wine to start talking taste in relation to other wines.

The next morning comes around and I get introduced to this bucket, containing items from my bucket list that we are going to do during the day (thanks to Tammy for coming up with that). Not only did it make for the perfect day for me, but also means I can share some photos on here.

Food items: Champagne and Buck’s Fizz

List Item: Try Champagne
Progress: Completed

Champagne for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do. Then dilute it with some orange juice to make everyone Buck’s Fizz? Sure why not. Freak the fuck out trying to uncork a bottle of something fizzy for the the first time? Not as scary as I expected.

Now this isn’t to say that I have NEVER had Champagne before (I have been to weddings), but when I made this list the whole point was for it to be a general bucket list that anyone could do. Then I made this blog and added other lists to the mix, with some more to come.

I enjoyed having a Buck’s Fizz for breakfast, it made things feel even more festive. Also, just how cute are the penguin scrolls.

Progress: 725/933

IMG_1945List Item: Have a movie marathon
Progress: Completed

For a movie lover I am surprised in myself that I have never had a themed movie marathon. Thanks to planning between my (now) husband and my Maid of Honour we had plenty of Studio Ghibli movies to choose from. So throughout the day we watched five of these: The Cat Returns, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro and then Spirited Away to finish.

I think of the five of us I was the only one who didn’t take a nap at some point (which I won’t link to the quality of the films because they are all brilliant), plus I think I have managed to convert some more people to the wonders of Ghibli and Miyazaki.

12063312_10153179838643603_938486523502708147_nList Item: Cook with Friends
Progress: Completed (Added by Prerna)

I’m a kitchen control freak. My husband and my mum have both seen this in me. So, I made sure I was on my best behaviour as we made our movie marathon lunch – quesadillas with celery, tomato and yellow pepper. We got a great conveyor belt system going too. For mostly improvised quesadillas they tasted really good, especially with a bit of extra hot sauce!

List Item: Make fudge
Progress: Completed

I was unreasonably excited about this one, especially since it means that I now have my very own sugar thermometer (I know it’s dumb to be excited about that, but I have wanted a proper one for years). In the pack there were three flavours: after dinner mint, mocha choca and Eton mess. Since it sounded the nicest, we went for the Eton mess fudge.

Now, the reason that I have always wanted to make my own fudge is because I know that there are a number of different techniques in the process. I mean sure, it isn’t as complicated as making a croquembouche, but it requires a bunch of techniques (like creaming) that I had never used before.

I have to say that for a first attempt, this fudge turned out really well. I think I was a bit conservative with the temperature of the sugar because it was a bit grainier than usual fudge. It means that next time I can be a bit more daring and let it properly bubble.

Also, just how good is warm fudge? It is so much nicer warm than when it has gone cold!

So right now, as I am writing this, it is the evening after coming back home. I may have had a nap and shown off my new penguin onesie to my (then) fiancé. I’m pretty much falling asleep at the laptop so will cut it off here.

I just want to conclude with another huge thank you to my friends for coming and making this penguin party something I will always remember.

Good Eatin’: Last Food Post Before Marriage

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

By the time this goes out I will hopefully have been married for nearly five months (such as things are with building a blog buffer). The purpose of this blog post is to mop up any items off of the food lists that have been consumed before the wedding and the honeymoon.

It means that this will be one of the shorter food posts, but there is nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Food item: Burford Brown Egg

One of the things I like about Wholefoods is that you can buy individual eggs. That meant I did not have to fork out money for a full dozen of Burford Browns and, instead, got enough for me to try them out for breakfast. Looking at them the only special thing is that they are slightly smaller than average and very deep brown. And then…

WOW! Look at just how orange the yolks are on these. Also, can you see just how thick the whites are on these eggs. It feels a pity to just fry them (or not, they make gorgeous fried eggs) as they would probably make the most amazing cakes considering how thick they are. Maybe next time!

Food item: Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt

Talking of thick, here’s some sheep’s milk yoghurt. Honestly, I was wondering why something like this would be on the list other than the fact that it is harder to find. It’s like eating a thick and silky milk moose. I didn’t get the plain version because of a weird experience with goat yoghurt, this was lightly flavoured with vanilla. I would definitely buy this again.

Food item: Crab Cakes

Work canteen strikes again with these, slightly overdone, crab cakes. I missed the sorrel soup previously (d’oh), so I was not going to miss a chance to cross off crab cakes. I didn’t expect to like these after having some rather awful tinned crab meat, but these were gorgeous. I mean, they’re pretty much just like fish cakes I guess…

Food item: White Tea

This finishes off the three teas from the list. It’s probably the tea with the gentlest flavour and, therefore, the one that will probably get me into tea properly. I still prefer tea to coffee, although the espresso was really nice.

Progress: 722/933

Acclaimed Albums – I Am A Bird Now by Antony & The Johnsons

List item: Listen to the 50 greatest albums
Progress: 93/250Title: I Am A Bird Now
Artist: Antony & The Johnsons
Year: 2005
Position: #249

I know that this is an album that is probably going to fall out of the 250 list when it is next updated. I also know that there are a number of other albums on this list that I could write up that will not be leaving on the next update. I just… don’t know, I guess I feel a bit compelled to do this album at the moment. Longer nights and cooler evenings suit this more than a summer’s day.

How can you describe Antony Hegarty’s voice? I think the best word I have found to describe her voice is haunting. The album is a showcase for just how many ways her voice can break your heart. It is one of those voices that I don’t think can be compared to another too easily – as such it took me a while to actually come around to like it.

In fact, I remember when I first realised that I enjoyed Antony’s voice, during Bjork’s Volta Tour when they performed ‘Dull Flame of Desire’ and ‘My Juvenile’ together. Since then, and thanks to the release of The Crying Light, I have really come to appreciate the voice.

I think I agree with most people when I say that ‘Hope There’s Someone’ is the best song on the album. The sheer relatable ideas of hoping that there is someone who will be there when we are dying and the fear that accompanies it. In pretty much all ways you can cut it, this is the best song.

The thing is, the song that makes me want I Am A Bird Now to stay on the album is ‘For Today I Am A Boy’. The whole album takes on the idea of transformation and vulnerability. It is done through the lens of being, like Antony, a member of the transgender community. In it Antony croons that ‘One day [he’ll] grow up and be a beautiful woman’ but there is the acknowledgement that at this time he is a child and a boy.  It’s a very powerful idea.

In fact, the whole album is powerful. It is the product of someone growing up as the wrong gender and then, later in life, having the freedom to be who you know you always were. It is an important album because, there are not many successful transgender singers out there, and I Am A Bird Now pretty much stands alone. It’ll probably fall out of the Top 250 in a few months, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the statistics will keep it in somehow.

The Great EU Quest – Luxembourg – Part Two

Okay, so today will be the conclusion of a two parter about my trip to Luxembourg. I know there are a bunch of food items coming up so let’s get this out of the way now:

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Full disclosure: After Day 3 I stopped making notes in the evening of what I did, so Day 4 will probably be a bit less detailed.

Day 3 – Following the Wenzel

Food item: Hot Chocolate

We started the day at The Chocolate House, a café right next to the palace of the Grand Duke. The speciality of the place? Hot chocolate spoons. I’ve seen these in the UK before, but never with such a lump of chocolate. It was gorgeous, and we returned the following day for breakfast so I could try a different one.

It turned out to be nearly midday when we stopped gabbing at The Chocolate House so we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral before making our way into the valley. I’ve said it before, but the sheer lack of people still amazes me. At two points we found ourselves completely alone in a church. The first, when we went into the crypt of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The second time was after we descended into the ville basse and entered the Neumunster church. Despite being the smaller of the two (the Notre Dame being the church of the archdiocese) it was so much more beautiful inside. It was strange being, basically, alone in a church. Unlike a lot of other tourists I still found myself whispering despite there being no believers in the church with me.

After this we pretty much followed the Wenzel walking route. It’s one of those tourist routes that was meant to take you along a lot of the old fortifications of Luxembourg City before they were dismantled in the 1800s following the Treaty of London.

Using this route walked along old walls, saw barracks that have since been converted into a hospital of some sort and ended up in the Grund.

This quarter of Luxembourg was like a miniature suburb of the city with river running through it. As with most things, it’s like a Hollywood producer’s idea of what Europe would be.

Food item: Croque Monsieur and Cafe Au Lait

The Grund was full of bars, restaurants and cafés, so it was a good time to stop for a drink and a snackwas full cafes, which meant it was a good time to stop for a drink and a snack. We needed the energy if we were going to make that steep walk back up to the old town.

Food items: Carpaccio, Moules Frites, Moules Marinere

A bit a random ambling, a visit to what appeared to be a forestry festival and a pop back to the hotel room later – dinner.

Now, I have never had proper mussels. My mum had a bad experience with them so the idea of having a big bowl of them without much sauce… didn’t seem the most appetizing to me. The thing is, every restaurant had a sign saying ‘Moules sont arrivés’, so I am guessing we got to Luxembourg at the beginning of mussel season. I wrestled against the gorgeous smell for two days, and I eventually gave in.

The first 10-15 that I shelled and consumed were gorgeous. I was disposing of shells and ripping out the creamy meat rather happily and completely neglected the chips. The thing is, I began to get a bit bored of having the same flavour over and over again. The urge left me halfway through the bucket so I began to supplement with more and more frites.

Day 4 – Mummies and the ValleyIMG_1915

Another beautiful day in Luxembourg. We got so lucky with the weather whilst we were over there, I mean it was consistently sunny at about 18°C in September. I ended up with a bit of a tan; something that is a bit hard for me if I am being completely honest.

We decided that we would try out one of the museums in the old town, and so we made our way towards the National Museum of Art and History. It’s a free museum except for temporary exhibitions, in this case a rather well advertised exhibition on mummies! Oh, did I mention that I got free entry to that because I was, at the time, under the age of 26?

Going through the museum I really began to appreciate what it is to be a tourist in London. All the exhibitions were in, as it should be, French and German. This meant that we had to carry around books with translations in. I have so much respect for anyone who is not fluent in English who visits – we don’t exactly make things easy.

Anyway, the highlight of the museum, aside from the mummy with a permanent erection (pictured), was learning more about the history of Luxembourg itself. You know, like how it was 3-4 times larger before France, Belgium and Germany carved off parts for themselves. I mean, it is little wonder that Luxembourgers love the E.U. so much, it gives them a lot of protection.

After the museum it was down into the Pétrusse Valley. It was yet another one of those times where it was strange to be in a capital city. I mean yes, if you craned your neck you could see that there are buildings on both sides of the valley. But why would you do that when there is so much green around? If I was a Luxembourger and I had a dog, I would be down here all the time.

As the sun began to set we walked through some of the parks more local to our hotel. We expected it to be rather small, but it was a lot larger than we anticipated. I mean, there is a large children’s playground with a rather big pirate play ship! How cool is that!

Day 5 – Leaving Luxembourg

It was time to leave Luxembourg. It was an afternoon flight so we wandered around doing a greatest hits of the last few days. Then, astonishingly quickly, it was time to leave for Luxembourg’s (rather small) main airport.

Food item: Vol-au-vent

This was my mum’s but I tried a bit for blog purposes. My lunch? A pate de campagne sandwich with pickles. It was gorgeous, for airport cafeteria food that it is.

Progress: 718/933

I loved my time in Luxembourg and was truly sad to have it come to an end. Still, I had to come back, two weeks until the wedding an’ all that.

The Great EU Quest – Luxembourg – Part One

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 13/28

Europe Visited - 2

Cool, this is the first new country that I have visited since I started this blog – it will be the first of two new countries once I am back from my honeymoon.

I would be lying if I said that the main reason that Luxembourg was the destination of this long weekend was because I want to visit all the EU nations. It also fills in a nice gap between Belgium, France and Germany.

I would also be lying if I didn’t say that I was sad to leave and that part of me is wondering what it would be like to live there… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Country: Luxembourg
Year first visited: 2015

Day 1 – Arrival

It’s great to have a flight in the early afternoon rather than first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It meant that we arrived at the hotel at around 5:30pm local time. As we were on the bus between the airport and out hotel there were a number of things that struck me. Firstly, just how clean and modern the city looked on the way in. Turns out that we were riding through Kirchberg, an area of the city that hosted many of the EU buildings as well as the Philharmonic building.

There was a part of me that wanted to get out early and just stand there looking at all the flags of the EU waving in the wind. I also wanted to go into there and just say hello like some weird groupie. I never did during the trip, which was probably for the best.

When we arrived at the hotel we stood bemused at the five stars on the front. I mean, we definitely did not pay a 5 star price. Turns out we paid the same price for our entire stay that would normally have been paid for one night. Insane.

So we walked around and, for the first time for ages, I started to fall for a city on the first night. Over the course of the long weekend there were two main comparisons that we started to make. The first being that Luxembourg City was as if someone from the Gilmore Girls set design decided to make a European city in the same way as Stars Hollow. The second being that the old town was like an area in EPCOT.

It was getting on so we went to get some dinner – the countries speciality of slow cooked pork shoulder with fried bacon and broad beans. It was ruddy delicious. It’s like some brilliant mix of French peasant food and German cooking. Brilliant.

As we were eating suddenly we could hear an accordion and people clapping their hands. Turned out that, in the square we were sat, was doing some sort of folk dancing in traditional dress. Again, this is not feeling like a capital city. Already I am feeling as if I can understand expats who live here.

Day 2 – The Casemates and Modern Art

For someone who hasn’t been able to walk properly for months due to plantar fasciitis I definitely pushed it today. My foot’s not too bad, which is an amazing sign for the upcoming Japanese honeymoon.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 44/100Sight: Capital Castles
Location: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Position: #469

The main order of the day was to get the Lonely Planet item ticked off. It says the Capital Castles of Luxembourg. Having read the description it clearly means the casemates and the surrounding ruins. So, the Bock Casemates were our first port of call.

I have to say that these were pretty damned impressive considering how these were hewn out of impenetrable rock. There are two things that I think I will always remember about these casemates. The first being how many windows there were, thankfully because if you were a soldier in the casemates you would need the light. As a tourist, it meant you were never without a view of the surrounding city, which is beautiful.

The other thing was the sheer number of stairs, some that just ended up as a one way system… which meant the eventual climbing back up again. It was sunny an 17 degrees when we were exploring the casemates and it was feeling a bit close in some of the areas. I can only imagine how hot these would have gotten in the summer despite all the ventilation.

After the casemates we explored some more of the nearby ruins including the Hollow Tooth and the Three Towers. One thing that was quite fun during the holiday was spotting the Spanish turrets (pictured above). We saw four different ones over the course of the holiday in different places. It was like a architectural game of Where’s Wally.

We then went off to find some more forts and instead found a bronze statue of some deer making sweet love. It was confusing until I looked at the map and realised we had reached MUDAM – the museum of modern art.

It was interesting inside the MUDAM… but there were way too many guards and art students to patrons. It felt as if wherever we went there were three pairs of eyes fixed on us at all times. There were some interesting things like a chapel with stained glass windows made of x-rays and a robot tour guide that operated a few times a month. We soon left… just because it was getting uncomfortable.

Also, we saw a cool water fountain depicting musicians, some sheep and a pretty creepy couple of children.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food items: Choucroute Garnie a l’Alsacienne and Weizenbier

Now, I didn’t go to Luxembourg with the aim to get listed food. I, somehow managed to get quite a few without really trying. I just sought to have things that I would not be able to easily get in the UK.

The weizenbier wasn’t mine, but I did try a bit for the sake of the list. It was actually one of the nicer beers that I have tried, mainly because it wasn’t too much like ale or lager. It was very smooth and didn’t taste too alcoholic to me.

The dinner, on the other hand, was very much mine. A complete accident that it is on the food list and I am glad it is because it was gorgeous. Technically all this dish is made of is sauerkraut with boiled potatoes and salty meats (usually sausages and some ham). I mean, what could be better than that?

Progress: 711/933

To be continued on Friday.