Kiddy Land at Harajuku, Tokyo 🇯🇵

kawaii (kəˈwʌɪ/)
the quality of being cute, or items that are cute.

I have always had a tendency to be drawn to anything kawaii. Yes, I’m a thirty year old grown woman but I still love my pinks, bright colors and sparkles and still have a soft spot for pretty looking knick knacks. My childish disposition has never really gone away despite me growing up… so imagine my delight when we visited this shop during our Japan trip.

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Kiddy Land is a toy store in Japan that mostly sells Japanese character toys and goods,although you can find some well known western brands here as well like My Little Pony, Disney and Marvel. They have around 80 branches all over the country — the one we went to was their flagship store in Harajuku. It was awesome! Five floors of kawaii toys and goods!

“KIDDY LAND helps keep your mind, body and soul youthful, now and forever”

This is what they’re saying in their website, and having been there, I can definitely say I felt very young again surrounded by all the cuteness. It is without a doubt, a paradise for kids and kids at heart (like me!).

Here’s a couple of photos of the things that can be found inside the store.

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The photos above are just a little sample of what can be found in-store… If you happen to visit Harajuku on your Japan trip, definitely try dropping by to check out all the other items they have for sale.

They change their displays and floor layouts periodically as well so there’s always something new and unique in every visit.

Church Road Winery: Behind The Scenes Tour

On the way back home to Wellington while on a recent roadtrip up north, we passed by the Hawke’s Bay region — known for it’s beaches, warm weather and many wineries. We were there for the wine, as it was already the last few days of autumn and the cold had already set in even if winter hadn’t officially started yet, which meant no beaching and basking in nice balmy weather.

We booked ourselves to do a short wine tour at Church Road winery. We were lucky as we were able to make a last minute booking on the same day we wanted to do the tour… maybe because it was off season and there were lesser visitors. I’m not sure if that would have been possible during the summer time when there would be more people coming into the region.

We started at the cellar door — the wine tasting room where you can sample the winery’s range and discuss the different wines with one of the knowledgeable staff. In Church Road, the cellar door was also where the restaurant was located.

*The oak barrels in the restaurant was a nice touch and added a nice rustic feel to the place.

Our guide, Rebecca, handed each of us a wine glass before we began, then we followed her out the main doors and into the sunshine to commence the tour.

We stood by a wide open grass field just in front of the building, which we were told, was once where the grapes were planted but because the soil wasn’t very good, they were then moved to different locations and the area now serves as a perfect setting for outdoor events and concerts.

In the above photo: My close friend’s Aunt Stella who was visiting NZ all the way from the Philippines.

Rebecca talked about the history of Church Road; about it’s original founder/owner Bartholomew Steinmetz who later on returned to his native Luxembourg to marry, leaving his winery in the hands of the 19 year old Tom McDonald who had been working for him since his early teens and who later on bought the winery and proceeded to make the first quality red wines in NZ. She also talked about the changes in ownership the boutique winery has gone through over the years…the latest owner being Pernot Ricard, producers of well known products such as Absolut vodka and Kahlua.

After the brief history talk, we were then shown around different areas of the winery while Rebecca explained to us the technicalities involved in the wine making process. We also had a sample of two of the wines (one red and one white) straight from the tanks.

*The Cuve Room: Juice from pressed grapes get transferred into the big oak barrels. Yeast is then added and the fermentation process begins.

*Wooden stairs leading to the top of the oak barrels. Maintaining accurate temperature is key during this process and so workers regularly do their checks while the wine is fermenting.

*Cabernet Merlot Sauvignon straight from the tank!

*The wine is put into oak barrels to age. Church Road normally uses French Oak for their chardonnay. They normally cost at least $800/barrel but can go up to $3,000 depending on quality.

We were also brought down to their wine museum (the only one in NZ we were told) located underground in what used to be concrete vats — where wine was fermented in the olden days. The only reminder of it’s past usage is the faint sparkling left behind in the walls from the tartaric acid of the wine and a small hole on top of the ceiling that has now been covered, where the workers used to go in to check the wine while it was fermenting.

We walked around the small space, viewing the exhibit on offer with Rebecca telling us facts and information about wine making in the olden days as well as relating it to the process of making wine today.

Once we were done with the museum tour, we headed back to the Tom Mcdonald cellar for the last part of our tour… food and wine pairing!

We were each given a glass of champagne to start off and then we got to taste six wines in total… three reds and three whites, paired with bite sized food offerings with Rebecca facilitating and providing information in between our sampling.

*Our two favorites were the McDonald series Pinot Gris 2017 and the Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2014.

*You can buy a bottle (or two) from the wines on display inside the Tom Mcdonald cellar, just to right from the entrance.

All in all a very wonderful experience and we had such a great time! Cannot wait for summer when we can do more winery tastings paired with some nice warm sunny weather!

Seriously Good Ramen at Ichiran.

After exploring the Imperial Palace East Gardens that morning, next on our list was to visit Harajuku — the Tokyo district in Shibuya internationally known for its Japanese youth culture and fashion.

But first, we needed to grab some lunch.

A quick google search showed a list of top food places within the Harajuku area, one of them was Ichiran. They served ramen, which sounded like a good idea (RAMEN IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA!) so Ichiran ended up being our choice.

The restaurant was located on the second floor of a building near Omotesando Street. When we reached the top of the stairs, we saw the ticket machine outside the door but were not really sure what to do with it or if we even needed to do anything with it at all.

Were we meant to order from the machine first or do we just go in? Maybe the machine was for people wanting to buy Ramen for takeout? We were stumped.

There was a group of people standing behind us at the time, so what we did was make them go ahead of us so we can observe what they were going to do. Haha!

Apparently, we were meant to choose our orders from the machine first in order to get a ticket for our orders. There were different ramen choices/sizes/combos to pick from. We selected the ones we wanted, got our tickets, then proceeded to go inside.

Once we got in, one of the lady staff greeted us and started talking to us in Japanese — (I think because we’re Asian they automatically assume we’re fluent with the language. Hehe.) After politely saying we didn’t understand, she then started talking to us in English and then handed us a piece of paper to fill up for later.

After that, all we needed to do was to wait to be seated. It didn’t take long. Ramen restaurants generally have a fast turnover of customers because people just eat and go. We were also quite lucky that day as there wasn’t a long line of people at the time waiting to eat… so after just a few minutes, the lady was already ushering us to our seats.

Jan and I each had our own little cubicle to sit in with a small window/opening — from what we know, the reason behind this is so that each customer can thoroughly savor and enjoy their ramen without any bother from anyone else.

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We had two pieces of paper to fill up before handing over our order to the staff. The first one, (photo above) was the paper we got given earlier. Here, we were to choose our preferences for how we wanted our ramen to be made.

This is the main reason why I loved eating in Ichiran… because we were able to “customize” our Ramen just the way we liked it!

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The second paper was the Extras Order Sheet where we got to select the things we wanted to add. Things ordered from here had extra charge and had to be payed for by cash as soon as we handed over the paper to the staff.

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Once we were done with filling up the papers, we pressed the green button that was on top the table and gave the servers on the other side of the window our tickets, order forms, extras order sheets and money.

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It didn’t take long for our orders to arrive. Once we got our food, the servers closed the windows of our cubicles so that we can enjoy our Ramen without any distractions.

His: medium flavour strength and richness with medium noodle texture; with green onions, sliced pork, no red sauce and a little garlic with extra order of simmered pork belly with dried seaweed.

Hers: medium flavour strength and richness and medium noodle texture; with green onions, sliced pork, 1/2 red sauce and a little garlic. Also ordered simmered pork belly with dried seaweed as an extra.

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THE FOOD WAS AMAZING!

I’m usually teased by my friends because I normally can’t finish whatever I order… Well, that definitely was NOT the case this time around! I loved the food so much that it didn’t even take me long to finish all of it! Haha!

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Also had a little bit of room (more like FORCEFULLY MADE ROOM) for this Matcha Almond Pudding with Green Tea Sauce dessert.

Our bellies were aching from being so full by the end of the meal. Haha!

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The happy face says it all. We thoroughly enjoyed our Ramen experience in Ichiran and definitely recommend it to other Ramen lovers out there.

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

After spending some time admiring the Eiffel Tower, we then moved on to see another famous structure in Paris — the Arc de Triomphe.

The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars. Engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch are all of the names of the generals and wars fought. There are inscriptions in the ground underneath the vault of the arch which include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I where the Memorial Flame burns and have made the Arc de Triomphe Parisa revered patriotic site. -arcdetriompheparis.com

It was a 30-minute walk from the tower to the arch and we needed a little break from all the walking we had done since the morning, so we opted to ride an Uber instead — the fare wasn’t too bad and it was a very convenient way to get to where we wanted.

We got dropped off by the driver right at the side of the arch, but for those walking to the monument it is said that there is an underground tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the roundabout/circle (where the monument stands central). This tunnel can be accessed from the Wagram exit of the Metro.

There was a short barricade surrounding the monument and a queue of people waiting to get inside. The fee to get in is 8€ for adults, 5€ for students and free admission for kids and teens below 17.

Like the Eiffel Tower earlier, we opted not to line up and were content to remain on the outside of the barrier. Then, after spending a bit of time gazing at the arch and taking some photos, we decided to leave and head off to Champs Élysées — Paris’ famous avenue lined with restaurants, shops and bars which was just across to where we were.

I cannot remember how we managed to cross the busy roundabout/circle… but somehow we did! When we got to the other side, we took some more photos of the arch at a distance and while doing so we observed that there were people who were standing (and taking photos) in the median strip of one of the pedestrian crossings of the avenue which was in front of the arch.

We decided to try it out as well to see if we could get some decent photos with the arch as our background. It was a bit scary at first standing in the middle of the street with cars going past to our left and right! But there were other people with us and the cars kept a bit of a safe distance so we were able to get our photos without any untoward accident and crossed back to Champs Élysées all in one piece!

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: River Seine, Paris.

The River Seine — one of Paris’ many important landmarks. It flows right through the heart of Paris and borders 10 of the city’s 20 arrondissements, thus we were able to pass by it a couple of times throughout our day in Paris.

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My first good view of the river was while we were crossing Pont Saint-Michel bridge on our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral. I had just landed in Paris 0700 that morning after a 30-hour flight from New Zealand. I should have been feeling tired…but I was too excited that I didn’t feel the least bit tired at all. Paris! What was once something I used to only see in photos and movies, I was finally seeing with my very own eyes!

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Of course, we couldn’t resist the photo opportunity that presented itself so we quickly snapped some photos when there weren’t a lot of people walking over the bridge.

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We saw a couple of boats leisurely going up and down the river — most of them boat tour cruises allowing tourists a different take in exploring the city.

On our way to the Louvre from the Notre Dame, we went down a set of stairs by Quai des Grands Augustins near Pont Saint-Michel to get closer to the water.

From there, we continued on walking by the riverside… passing under both Pont Neuf and Pont des Arts bridges.

“The Pont Neuf is considered to be the oldest stone bridge in Paris. Henri IV ordered it to be constructed in 1578.” – Parisinfo.com

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“The Pont des Arts, also known as the Arts Bridge, is a work between the Institut de France and the Musée du Louvre. Built between 1801 and 1804, it is the first iron bridge in the capital.”  Parisinfo.com

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Notre-Dame de Paris

The setting for Victor Hugo’s novel: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was made into a Disney animated film in 1996 with the same title.

I grew up watching the Disney film. I had a soft spot for poor Quasimodo… hated the evil Frollo… and loved Esmeralda’s kind and caring nature. 
Having watched the movie (many times) when I was a kid, I could not pass up the chance to see the famed cathedral in person.

Unfortunately, we did not have the time to see and explore the inside of the cathedral. The line going in was pretty long and we were only in Paris for a day. Nevertheless, I was still quite happy to have been able to at least admire it from outside.

Hoping one day I will be able to come back…❤ 

Tongariro Crossing: Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs

I have decided to break down my Tongariro Crossing post so that I can get into more detail without making things too long and too dragging. There’s a total of six parts coming up, each post discussing one major section of the hiking track.

First up is Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs. We woke up early Saturday morning and drove from our motel in Taupo to Mangatepopo carpark, which was the end point of the hike — ( took about an hour ).

We were to be picked up by a shuttle, which we organized beforehand, to bring us from the end point all the way to the start of the trail. We arrived at about 0700 and were supposed to be picked up by 0720 but due to some mix up with our shuttle company, it wasn’t until around 0820 when we actually went on our merry way. We “officially” started our walk at around 0900.

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We were lucky that the weather turned out to be really good during our trip — it was all gloomy and wet days prior to this, and back to raining quite heavily again now as I am writing this post.

With the sun shining high in the sky that day it wasn’t long before all the layers at the start of the walk (see first photo above of us wearing our puffer jackets) got shed off one by one… Down to a thermal on the above photo and then down further to my tank top on the photo below in just a few minutes. Haha.

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The first part of the trek was fairly easy — mostly flat ground with proper walkways and some walking boards over the damp areas. This was the least challenging and tiring out of all the sections (Average time to complete it is about 1-1.5 hours ). If you do the hike in the future, savor your time here… things will only get harder, I tell you. Haha.

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By the time we arrived at Soda Springs, we were still feeling pumped and full energy.

From the main track, Soda Springs Falls can be seen. We initially debated whether we do the side track going to it or just carry on to the next section of the track. As it was only 10 minutes away from where we were, we decided to just explore the waterfall area anyway. There was no proper pathway going to the falls and the ground got more wet, and muddy the nearer we got and we had to climb up onto rocks as well. Three in our group, who were just wearing normal sneakers, decided to stop at a certain distance while two of us who were wearing hiking shoes were able to to go all the way.

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After some photos, we then went back to the main track where we had a quick water and toilet break — Just a bit further along was the last set of toilets which we would come across in the next few hours so we thought we’d make use of it. After that… we then went on to the next section: Soda Springs to the South Crater, where the infamous Devil’s Staircase was awaiting us.