The New Brighton Hotel, Manly Beach

On occasion, I like to share just one photo that I’ve captured without going super in depth on the location or trip. I love taking pictures. And I really love going back and looking at them; it reminds me that for that second everything was exactly how I wanted. Everything was my version of perfect. Now, I don’t feel that way with every photo I take, but I do with the ones I keep. And I can’t possibly put every photo I take in my posts. There are too many of them. I share most of them on my Insta account, but I like to post some of them here, as well. I like being able to write a little more about the photo. 😊

I shot this photo of the New Brighton Hotel in Manly Beach, New South Wales, a few weeks ago. I first want to say that this hotel is not a hotel as one would expect in most countries. It’s not a place for you to stay while on vacation. It’s a bar. Or a group of bars and restaurants actually. There are four establishments in the hotel. I only went to one. I stopped in at Corso Bar for a beer (they had a decent selection of reasonably priced craft brews), and because as it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, it wasn’t very crowded. Time of day may have been a factor, too, though. What drew me to the New Brighton Hotel was the building itself.

I absolutely love the shape of this structure. And I am fascinated by the architecture. I like the colors and awnings and that it’s in the middle of a pedestrian area with fountains and hanging lamps. It’s the perfect combination of old and new. The inside is quite modern, with contemporary decor. I enjoyed the inside almost as much as the outside. 😉

The New Brighton Hotel is in walking distance from the ferry terminal and the beach.

Myeongdong: Skincare Mecca

I’m totally obsessed with skincare. The right regimen and the right products can truly work wonders. It can change the texture of your skin, improve your complexion and even make it glow. We only get one face, so it’s crucial we take the best possible care of it. And not just the face, all of our body really. That’s my thought on it, at least. So I’m always looking for new products and ways to keep my skin hydrated, fresh and as healthy as possible.

Over the last few years, Korean skincare has been all the rage. I’ve heard, seen and read so much about it. Their face masks are legendary. But there’s so much more to their skincare than that. The standard Korean routine involves several steps more than I was used to. I was a follower of the cleanse, tone, moisturize and sun protection regimen, with occasional exfoliation. But now, there are about four or five more steps in my daily process. And it’s totally worth it. My skin looks better than ever. And I would have never discovered the magic of Korean skincare had I not gone to Myeongdong.

Myeongdong is one of the most famous shopping districts in Seoul. Excited to see what the shopping scene had to offer during my first trip to Korea, I dedicated an entire day to checking it out. What I found when I arrived was skincare mecca. Myeongdong has hundreds of shops that sell all sorts of goods. Shoes, bags, clothes, souvenirs, jewelry… you name it. But there’s also a high concentration of skincare stores that sell more products than I could have ever imagined. From essences to serums to eye masks and everything in between, you can find plenty of everything here.

All the major Korean beauty brands have stores (some have several) in Myeongdong so you can get your hands on pretty much anything you’re looking for. All brands offer products for different skin types and goals, and most stores have sales reps that speak English so you know exactly what you’re getting. The labels are usually in English, too, so that helps. I like to shop at a few different places for different products. Myeongdong makes that easy and is the perfect place to get everything I need in one trip.

The Korean skincare regimen can involve as many as 13 steps, depending on the time of day and skin type.

  • STEP 1: The first step is cleansing, but it’s really two steps (in the evening only). Clean the face with an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup first (I love Banila Co.’s Clean It Zero), followed by a foam cleanser (I’m currently using Skinfood’s Egg White Pore Perfecting Meringue Foam).
  • STEP 2: The second step is toning. I’ve gone back and forth with toners. Honestly, I’ve never really seen that they make a huge difference in the overall appearance of my skin. However, I have noticed that it does allow my skin to absorb the products in my skincare routine better when I use it. I just started using the Moistfull Collagen Toner from Etude House, and, so far, I like it!
  • STEPS 3-7: The following steps can be more or less depending on what you choose to use. Here’s when you use emulsion, essence, facial oil, serum, and ampoule. You can use one, some or all of these. They are all somewhat similar. An essence is like a lightweight serum, for a lighter feel. An emulsion is like a pre-moisturizer. Facial oils are fast-absorbing, extremely moisturizing, and can be used with oily skin. Ampoules are super-concentrated serums; they have a thicker consistency than serums but promise big results. Personally, I only use an essence (Innisfree Jeju Orchid Enriched Essence) followed by an emulsion immediately after. I’m still experimenting with the facial oils.
  • STEP 8: The next step is eye cream. I have tried a few Korean skincare brands for eye cream, but I always go back to Kiehl’s Rose Arctica Eye Balm.
  • STEP 9: Moisturize. This step is super important.  I’ve tried a few different ones, and I really like the Innisfree Jeju Orchid Enriched Cream.
  • STEP 10: The next thing you want to do is protect your skin from the sun (AM only)! I have not experimented with Korean sunscreens yet, so I have no suggestions on this one. But there are plenty to choose from.
  • STEPS 11-13: These are the irregulars. By that, I mean these steps aren’t necessarily daily. They are exfoliation, face masks, and sleep masks. I like to exfoliate every other day. The days I do it, it’s my third step in the evening or second (I eliminate the oil cleanser) in the morning. I like the Black Sugar Face Scrub from Skinfood and the Coconut Sugar Scrub from Too Cool For School. As far as face masks go, I only use them a couple of times a week after I apply the emulsion. I love the face masks from Nature Republic, It’s Skin and The Face Shop. Sleep masks are used in place of night creams. I’ve tried a few and have liked all the ones I’ve tried. Right now, I’m using the Jeju Orchid Sleep Mask from Innisfree. I also use eye masks on a weekly basis. I like the 24K gold ones; I can’t remember the brand.

I can’t say I stick to the entire routine every single day. I try, but I’m human. Some days I’m just too tired or don’t have the time. But I follow it most days and have seen a noticeable difference in my skin’s appearance. It’s smoother, clearer and brighter. I have combination skin and I’m not typically prone to breakouts. The products I mentioned above work well for me and my skin type. But you may have to try a few things to find what works well for you.

Myeongdong is a great place to explore all the Korean beauty brands and products, but if that’s not your thing, it’s still a cool neighborhood to visit. It’s the place to go to shop for pretty much anything. Plus, there are some pretty good eateries in the area, and at night, vendors selling tasty snacks and random wares fill the streets. Stores stay open pretty late, and it’s always a little crowded (at least every time I’ve been). The energy in this part of town is pretty electric. It’s definitely worth checking out. 💫

Summer Nights in Ginza

Summer nights are made for ice cream and sunsets, and in Ginza, Tokyo’s upscale shopping and entertainment district, you can get the best of both. This neighborhood houses all the top luxury brand stores (Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc.), a plethora of gourmet restaurants, and the famous Kabuki-za Theatre. I like visiting Ginza this time on the weekends because the city turns Chuo Dori, one of the main streets in the area, into a huge pedestrian space from noon until about 1800. Visitors can walk around without the worry of traffic and really take in the window displays, enjoy the summer weather, and people watch.

The iconic Wako Department store and the Hattori Clock Tower (pictured here) are located in the heart of Ginza. It’s one of the most popular stores in the area, known for its jewelry and housewares selection and the art gallery located on the sixth floor (it’s really cool). I took this picture of the famous building while enjoying a cool and refreshing ice cream sundae from Ramo Frutas Cafe. It’s just across the street, and if you’re lucky, you can get a table on the balcony with an unobstructed view.

Ginza is known for being one of the ritziest neighborhoods in Tokyo. The real estate is actually the most expensive in all of Japan. And that means most things here are pretty pricey, so be prepared. My ice cream, while delectable, cost me a whopping ¥1500 ($13 U.S.), and I’ve heard of cafes selling lattes with price tags higher than ¥700 ($6.50). But don’t let that stop you from checking out this part of Tokyo. You don’t have to spend a ton to enjoy the vibe and energy here. ✨

Stop & Smell the Roses in Ashikaga

If you’re a fan of roses, gardens or just flowers in general, Ashikaga Flower Park is a must-see when you’re in central Japan. It’s located in the Tochigi prefecture, about two hours away from Tokyo. One of its most popular attractions is the Wisteria Festival in April and early May, but there’s still plenty to see and enjoy if your timing doesn’t sync up.Roses-4I went at the end of May hoping to catch the end of the wisteria season. I’ve heard it’s truly amazing, and since I’ll be moving soon, I didn’t want to miss my chance. But… I was too late. By the time I got there, most of them were gone. I didn’t get to experience trellis after trellis of colorful dangling blossoms. But I did make it in time to examine countless roses of all varieties in colors I’ve never seen.Roses-5The park has several different flowering seasons that they refer to as stories; I went during the Rainbow Garden Story. There were thousands of vibrant blooms covering almost every inch of the 20-acre park. Most of them were roses, but there were many others as well. I’m not a flower connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination. Not even close. But I   do love flowers. And all the ones I saw there were enchanting. I especially loved the single rose-covered gazebo that housed one small table with only two chairs overlooking one of the ponds in the park. It’s a perfect spot to stop and smell the roses. And enjoy the view.Roses-3My second favorite feature of the park is the ice cream. Yes, you read that right. Ice. Cream. Not only is Japanese soft-serve ice cream the best I’ve ever had anywhere (very creamy and not overly sweet), but the park offers flower flavors. I imagine the flavors are based on the park’s flower story of the moment because when I went they offered rose and wisteria-flavored soft serve. If that isn’t the case, and they just offer both those flavors all year round, it’s still pretty great. They aren’t flavors I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I tried the wisteria, and it was DELICIOUS.IMG_1572My experience at Ashikawa Flower Park was pretty great. The flowers were exquisite, and the grounds were extremely well-kept. And the gift shop was full of unique and interesting snacks like rose-flavored popcorn and wisteria soda. Not to mention, it had a great number of seasonal blooms and plants for purchase. 😊



Flower Seasons/Stories

Visitors can appreciate an array of flowers throughout the year at Ashikaga Flower Park. The park changes its displays about every six weeks. It presents eight exhibits, or stories, throughout the year, highlighting certain plants when they are at their peak. The eight seasons are listed below.

  1. Heralding Spring  (Pheasant’s Eye, Christmas Rose, & Winter Clematis): early January to late February
  2. Spring Flower Festival (Tulips, Crocus, & Thunberg’s Meadowsweet): early March to mid-April
  3. Wisteria Story (Wisteria, Azaleas, & Peonies): mid-April to mid-May
  4. Rainbow Garden (Roses, Clematises, & Rhododendrons): mid-May to early June
  5. Blue and White Garden (Hydrangeas, Irises, & late-blooming Clematises): early June to early July
  6. Water Nymphs (Lantanas & Tropical Water Lilies): early July to late September
  7. Purple Garden (Amethyst Sage & Pansies): late early October to late November
  8. Bejeweled Flower Garden (Pansies, Violas & Flower Fantasy Nighttime Illumination): end of October to late January

The Flower Fantasy illumination is quite spectacular. Millions of tiny LED lights light up the special displays throughout the park. It’s one of the most popular winter illuminations in Japan.


Getting There

There are a few ways to get to Ashikaga depending on where you’re coming from. I drove. I live in Tokyo, and the drive wasn’t terrible. It’s only about two hours away (traffic was pretty light the day I went), and the tolls weren’t too expensive. However, the train is also an option if you’re coming from Tokyo and either don’t have a car or license to drive in Japan or don’t want to spend the money on tolls.  There are a variety of routes and trains you can take. Taking the Shonan-Shinjuku Rapid to Oyama from Shinjuku Station and then transferring to the Ryomo Line toward Takasaki until you reach Tomita Station is the fastest and the easiest way to get there.  It takes two hours and costs about $17 USD (¥1,944) each way. Another choice is to take a reserved seat train. It takes about the same amount of time but costs a little more ($30/¥3390 each way). Once you get to the station, it’s about a ten-minute walk to the park.



Park admission varies on the season and event with adult prices varying from ¥300 to ¥1800 for adults. The park’s two most popular and expensive events are the Tale of Fuji No Hana (Wisteria Festival) and the Flower Fantasy Illumination.



Blossoms & Bubbly in Tokyo

Springtime in Japan is all about cherry blossoms. Tiny pink blooms sprout from trees sprinkled about in most streets, parks, and neighborhoods in practically every town and city. Festivals and illuminations are plentiful, and in Tokyo Midtown they celebrate the season with an enchanting viewing of sakura trees and bottles of bubbly. Continue reading Blossoms & Bubbly in Tokyo