Simple Things

The past seven weeks have been a whirlwind. I’ve been traveling and working non-stop. When I’m not working, I’m checking out new places or planning my next adventure. I’m not complaining. I love it. But I haven’t had a lot of time to write or even just chill. A day here and there, but for the most part it’s been go, go, go!

I decided to go through some of my photos and plan my next blog post since I have a few-hours-long shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) ride back to Tokyo. While scrolling through hundreds of photos, I found this one. I captured this in Korea a few weeks ago while exploring a market with some new friends. We stopped to buy some soju (a very delicious Korean liquor), and I saw this beautiful flowering tree.

I HAD to stop to admire it. The tiny brightly colored blooms made me smile. Maybe it was a combination of the fantastic weather (blue skies and sunshine), great company and vibrant atmosphere. But on this day, I definitely stopped to smell whatever these baby blossoms are and enjoy the simple things in life. I’d like to think that I do a good job of appreciating the little things, but finding this photo today reminded me that it’s something I need make sure I do as often as possible. Sometimes those are things that bring us the most joy. 💕

Climbing Mt. Apsan

It can be hard to get a workout in when you’re traveling. Between sightseeing, food tasting, experiencing new things and meeting new people, who has the time?!? For many, carving out an hour or two to exercise while on holiday isn’t realistic. They’re too busy adventuring and gallivanting to squeeze it in. But there are ways to explore AND burn calories simultaneously. During my last trip to Daegu, South Korea I did exactly that.

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Mt. Apsan is one of the most popular places to visit in Daegu. Visitors can enjoy swimming, practice archery or ride horses at facilities at the bottom of the mountain. Additionally, the panoramic views from the top are breathtaking. It makes the city seem so small and far away when it’s really quite big and very close. You can enjoy these views by taking a short (and reasonably priced – 9,500 Won roundtrip) cable car ride to the peak of Mt. Apsan or by climbing the mountain. Well… hiking it, really. Which is exactly what we did.

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Bright and early at six o’clock in the morning we started our journey from the hotel to the summit. Luckily, the walk to the base of Mt. Apsan from the hotel wasn’t very far. Just a brisk, mildly-inclined, 15-minute walk away (give or take five minutes). From bottom to the top, however, is a completely different story. There are a variety of walking routes you can take, depending on where you start and what your capabilities are.

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The path we took was shorter in distance but at a pretty steep incline. I was too focused on climbing to read the signs, but the trail was about 4 kilometers (from the hotel to the top) if my watch calculated correctly. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the apex (we stopped a couple of times to hydrate and catch our breath). The path we took crossed a couple of creeks and was lined with beautiful trees and greenery. At the top, there are a couple walking paths to different areas or you can just enjoy the observatory area. Where we ended up was visitor light. It was a more secluded area and felt far more serene. Also, we got there just after 07:30, and the cable car wasn’t running yet. That’s probably why it was much less crowded (we were the only ones there) and more peaceful. The hike down took us only about half of the time we spent going up.

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Climbing Mt. Apsan instead of catching the cable car to the top is a great way to experience nature, explore the terrain and get in some exercise while still seeing the sights. It takes little longer, but if you’re not super pressed for time you’ll really enjoy it. Just follow the signs that say Mt. Apsan, and you won’t get lost or be disappointed. The views are spectacular and the endorphins are worth it. Plus, you won’t feel guilty for ordering dessert later.  😜

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If you want to check out Mt. Apsan and have bad knees or another condition that prevents you from climbing to the summit (or simply don’t want to hike), the cable car takes only 15 minutes. It starts running at 10:00 and goes up every 15 minutes or so. The last ride up depends on the time of year you go. It varies between 18:00 (winter) and 18:30 (summer). The signs were all in Korean, but the cab driver told me you have to buy your ticket 30 minutes prior to the ride.

Whether you decide to climb to the top or ride to it, Mt. Apsan is definitely a must-see in Daegu!

Buildings & Bake Shops in Daegu

I stumbled upon this building while exploring the streets of Daegu, South Korea. I was desperately searching for something to satisfy my sweet tooth when I saw it. It was love at first sight. Everything was perfect, from the vibrant azure trim to the gigantic windows, little wreaths hanging on the doors, and the scooter parked in the front. The design is spectacular. It looks old, but new at the same time. The light fixtures and flower boxes give it a charming, warm and inviting appearance. And to make a great thing even better, it’s a bakery! I stepped inside and was welcomed with the intoxicating smells of freshly-made espresso, sugary confections, and just-out-of-oven bread. The shop had enough of cakes, tarts, and snacks to satisfy any craving. I devoured a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino. Both were very tasty.

This little bake shop is just a few blocks (maybe three) from the most popular area of downtown Daegu. Le Pouldu (that’s what it’s called) is still surrounded by stores, restaurants, and coffee shops, just not on the main street. It’s just across the road from an ABC Mart and next to T World (for directions click here). If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend it. It’s got a cozy atmosphere and the baked goods are DELICIOUS. And there are savory items too if you’re not into sweets.

Tokyo Tower Cherry Blossoms 🌸

The magic and splendor of cherry blossoms are long gone in Tokyo. But if you’re not ready for the season to be over just yet, there’s still a little time to enjoy the blooms (well… virtual ones at least). Tokyo Tower is hosting its City Light Fantasia – Evening Cherry Blossom Edition until May 6, 2018. This event is a limited-time projection mapping display that features little pink sakura gliding along the Tokyo night sky.

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There are three separate displays presented on the windows of the tower’s main deck. Each one faces a distinct part of the city. One side shows the tiny florets falling under the moonlit sky. The second exhibits lots of tiny colorful sakura at dusk. The last one includes photo spot facing the evening lights of Yokohama. The night I went, the tower was fairly crowded and capturing the beautiful displays proved difficult. I imagine it varies by day or the week and time of day.

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This was not my first visit to Tokyo Tower, but it was the first and only time I’ve gone during a presentation like this. If you’ve never been and want to see Tokyo’s beautiful skyline at night, this a great time for it. Two birds, one stone.

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I will admit, the first time I went to Tokyo Tower, I expected it to be bigger.  I guess I imagined it larger in my mind. But it is quite tall, and the views are stunning. The tower does have some construction going on right now on one side of it, so access is limited and certain areas are a little tight (the gift shop mostly). But if it’s your only chance to catch this display and visit the tower, it’s worth it. You can’t go to Tokyo and not visit Tokyo Tower.

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Hours & Prices:

The adult ticket price to the main deck is 900 Yen ($8.50). If you’re interested in accessing the top deck, which is a 250 meters high, it will run you 2,800 Yen ($26.50 or so). The top deck does not have any special exhibits at this time.

The City Light Fantasia starts at 19:00 and goes through 22:50 daily. The special presentation concludes May 6, 2018.

Charming Jinhae

My recent adventures in South Korea took me to Jinhae, a charming, small-ish city along the southeastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. I went to Jinhae to experience what the city is most famous for: its Cherry Blossom Festival (a full post on that is coming very soon). But while roaming the streets aimlessly searching for sustenance in the early morning, feeling starved and sleepy, we stumbled across these tracks. I wondered where they lead and whether trains still barrel through this quiet part of town. I never found out.

They’re just railroad tracks. Maybe it’s the way the trees line the path or the color of the light on the trees or just the excitement I felt being some place new, but I found it beautiful. I still do. Ordinary, but so lovely.

Never Summer in Niseko… Well Almost

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are few things in life that I enjoy more than snowboarding. While the idea of having your feet strapped to a waxy, slippery sheet of wood and gliding down a mountain, sometimes at very fast speeds, is terrifying or unimaginable to some, to me it’s enlivening.

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Japan has some of the best conditions for snowboarding that I’ve ever experienced. I wouldn’t call myself an expert; I haven’t been to all of the resorts in Japan. But I have been to quite a few and never felt disappointed. This year I went to Niseko in Hokkaido. I’d heard a lot about it; how it’s the prime place for skiers and boarders. So I just had to check it out. Luckily, the season is quite long, so making it to Niseko wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It starts in late November and goes through early May. And the area is quite big.

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We stayed in a small cabin just a short walk from the Grand Hirafu ski area. Niseko has four main ski locations (bases) with many accommodation options at each. We selected Hirafu because of the proximity from the cabin to the lifts and the amenities in the area. I wanted a cabin instead of a hotel for privacy and space, and the options and prices I found in Hirafu were fantastic. Our rental offered Wifi, light breakfast, instant coffee, and Netflix. 👌🏽 Plus, there are plenty of shops, bars and places to eat nearby, and the equipment rental locations are just steps from the lifts.

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I’d heard that the snow quality in Niseko is unlike any place else. Now having been, I can say it’s some of the best snow I’ve had the opportunity to risk my life on. 😂 It snowed every night (some days too), so the powder was always fresh and fluffy. Also, Niseko has plenty to offer skiers and boarders of all experience levels. There’s a plethora of courses, lifts, and off-piste options. The Hanazono Terrain Park  (located in Hirafu) has a dope halfpipe and a few kickers and rails for the real adventurers who are all about jumps and tricks. And for those who have never done it at all, there are several ski schools that can help you get started.

 

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Niseko is now one of my favorite snowboarding destinations. I only wish I had gone for more time so that I could really experience and enjoy all of the ski options and areas. Three days just wasn’t long enough! If I get the opportunity to go again, I’ll probably stay in a different location, maybe Niseko Village, just to mix it up. But I really enjoyed Hirafu, and absolutely recommend it.

 

 

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Another perk: everyone speaks English. I’ve been to many resorts in Japan, and I mostly have to point and Google Translate my way through things. But I didn’t have that problem in Niseko at all. Almost everyone I interacted with was a foreigner and the ones who weren’t spoke English. Everyone was friendly, the service was great, and I always got what I asked for. 😜

 

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Prices:

Lift tickets are little pricey, but they grant you access to all the four areas on the mountain (the equivalent of four pretty large resorts). And they get cheaper the longer you’re there. We were there for three days and I paid about $195 (19,800 Yen), which I think is reasonable for what you get. The lifts are open all day! They start running at 8:30 and you can come and go all day until 20:30. Night skiing is available at all four areas. I loved being able to sleep in and still get hours in on the slopes each day.

 

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Getting to Niseko:

Niseko isn’t exactly close to the airport. And depending on which one you fly into, will depend on how much it will cost and how long it will take. I flew into the Sapporo New Chitose Airport. It was less expensive, but most importantly, it’s closer to Niseko. From there, you can either rent a car, take the train, or hop on a bus. I chose the bus (click here for schedules). It’s easy and goes right from the terminal to the Hirafu Welcome Center (our hosts picked me up from there). The bus costs about $40 (4000 Yen), and it takes about two and a half hours. The train is a little cheaper but requires a couple of transfers and takes a little longer. I arrived at 22:00 and was already tired, so convenience was my priority.

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Enlightenment

One of my favorite things to do while traveling through Asia is to visit temples. There’s just something so calming and therapeutic about it for me. I recently went to Thailand, and while visiting one of many temples my friend snapped this photo of me admiring the buddhas. I was so lost in the moment. I was captivated by the details of the building and the symbolism of each sculpture. This was truly an inspiring temple and experience. ❤

The Best Doughnuts in Tokyo

I won’t call myself a doughnut connoisseur, but I’m definitely an enthusiast. I LOVE doughnuts. All confections really. But there’s just something so comforting and satisfying about a perfectly made, fluffy, sweet-but-not-too-sweet doughnut.

Which is exactly what you’ll get at DUMBO Doughnuts and Coffee in Azabujuban, Tokyo! DUMBO Doughnuts is situated in a less touristy part of town, tucked between apartment buildings and smaller businesses. The shop is cute but pocket-sized. It seats only six or seven. When I went, every seat was occupied. But there’s a park just one minute away that you can sit at and enjoy your goodies.

The shop features about ten to twelve different doughnuts. I ordered the cheesecake doughnut and the limited edition Sakura white chocolate doughnut. The texture reminded me of the doughnuts from Dough in New York City. I expected the cheesecake one to be super rich and sugary, but it wasn’t. It was the right amount of sweet. The crackers on top were a little different, but interesting in a good way.

The coffee selection isn’t as extensive as Starbucks, but I don’t think it needs to be. DUMBO offers all the essentials. I really enjoyed the raspberry lemonade! It was sweet, tangy and fizzy. Perfect for the warm weather days.

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Summertime Dreaming

One of the best parts about visiting Okinawa is island hopping. There are quite a few isles that surround (and are part of) the main archipelago, Okinawa Honto. Some you have to access by ferry or plane, but Kouri Island you can access by car. A bridge connects it to the main island, making it an easy day trip if you rent (or have) a car. The water is the most beautiful shade of cerulean, the sand is smooth and almost white and the waves are gentle. It’s the perfect place to relax.

Kouri Island is tiny, with an area of only about three kilometers. But it’s a great place to spend the day. It has three magnificent beaches, a few cafes, food trucks, and restaurants, a handful of hotels and an ocean tower where you can enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the island and its adjoining bridge.

This photo was taken at Kouri Beach. I couldn’t wait the extra few minutes it takes to get to Tinu Beach (our final beach destination) to put my feet in the ocean. So we pulled over in the first parking area from the bridge, jumped out of the car and headed straight to the water. It is one of my favorite days. ❤