Where was I this time last year?

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at where I was this time last year. Any guesses? The answer is…Vienna!!!

vienna 2

We were so lucky to have my gran take me and my family and to Vienna for a little city break (I think it was for about 5 days but you will have to forgive me because it was quite a while ago so I can’t remember).

I’m not going to lie, the city didn’t have the best first impression on me. We hadn’t eaten for ages because we didn’t get anything on the flight so we turned up hangry and a bit exhausted. We checked in at the hotel then went for a wander and tried to go to a restaurant to have a drink and some of the cake that Vienna is famous for…the waiters were all rude and no one acknowledged us so we gave up and ended up going to McDonald’s across the road.

Vienna 1

Despite a bit of a shaky start, Vienna is a beautiful city. I am a huge fan of the vibe, food, and architecture of northern European cities, especially in winter. I really love just spending time wandering round, checking out the cool buildings and side streets.

vienna 6

One of the main things we wanted to see in Vienna was some of the fantastic museums on offer. The photo above was taken outside the Belvedere Museum. The Belvedere is home to many of the works of Gustav Klimt, one of my favourite artists. even if you’re not into art, you have probably seen The Kiss, one of the most iconic paintings of the twentieth century. The Kiss was a huge deal, they even set up a reproduction one in a separate room for people to take photos with so people didn’t spend ages hanging around the original and you could see it better. In the flesh, the gold on the paintings stands out and glimmers under the light in such a spectacular way. There were also some works by Egon Schiele, another artist I was really excited to see.

Another museum that we went to was the Leopold, where the majority of Egon Schiele’s pieces are. Although a somewhat questionable character, Schiele’s work is unsettling a thought-provoking: his bodies contorted in awkward and uncomfortable positions.

The first picture in this article is taken from the tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral. I was really impressed with the gorgeous setting of this. vienna 4

Small, winding side streets opened up into a gorgeous square. The picture to the right is of a flower shop on the square which really captured my heart. We took a look around the inside (I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit dark and gloomy) before heading up the tower. I think one of the most amazing things about the cathedral is the work gone into the roof. As you can see from the photo, the tiling has been done in a zig-zag pattern in yellow, green, black and white. This really added to the stunning views out over the city. There is something so magical about being able to climb to the top of a tower and see the city stretch out for miles around you.

As I mentioned previously, Vienna is famous for its cake, and I ate some spectacular ones while I was there. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures but trust me when I say they were beautiful! Rich layers of cake, chocolate, and caramel with glossy mirror glazes and delicate chocolate curls on top. Tangy fruit tarts, perfectly balanced with sweet cream and crumbly pastry.

vienna 3

One of the most beautiful places we went to go and see was the passage by the famous Cafe Central. I wanted to find some great photo spots and this definitely delivered.

Another fantastic place is the Hundertwasser Museum. The playful checkerboard exterior of the KunstHausWein (designed by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser) makes for such a cool photo. The interior followed the same distinctive and down right cool style.

All in all, Vienna is a fantastic city to visit. I think if I went back I would stay in a different part that was slightly more lively and had a few more restaurants, but it was still amazing. There’s so much art to see and it’s such a wonderful setting.

 

 

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Japanese food (totemo oishikatta desu)

While I was in Tokyo, I was travelling with one of my friends Tori, who is strictly vegetarian and has been all her life. As you may or may not be aware, a lot of Japanese food has fish or meat in it in some form, whether it’s fish/meat based or just has sauce and stock with fish as one of the many ingredients. This makes it pretty bloody hard for vegetarians to eat in Tokyo, as you can imagine. I’m not veggie (despite many attempts lol), but everywhere that we ate had veggie options which can be quite rare, so I thought I would give you a round up of some of the most delicious food I had there.

okonomi yaki and me.jpg

Firstly I would like to credit this fantastic website: https://www.neverendingvoyage.com/vegetarian-restaurants-tokyo/ where we found most of the restaurants.

On the first night we wanted somewhere relatively close and easy so we went for the curry house CoCo which is a chain so you can find lots of the restaurants throughout the city. The particular one we went to was by Shinjuku station. CoCo does the classic Japanese katsu curry, however, although lots of places offer a vegetable curry, the roux often contains meat, whereas at CoCo you can get entirely vegetarian options. We had to wait a few minutes because the restaurant is one of the typical Japanese ones where you sit at a long bar and you can see into the kitchens. This also means that they’re relatively small but have a pretty high turnover so you get seated quite quickly. I went for a pork cutlet with cheese. It definitely wasn’t all that healthy but my god it was delicious, especially after a long day of travelling and sightseeing/getting accustomed to the city. I’m a bit of whimp, and I don’t really like rice (very weird considering how much time I’ve spent in Asia), but it had the option of going for no spice and a smaller portion of rice which suited me down to the ground. The sauce was perfectly spiced and so full of flavour; and the pork cutlet was perfectly crispy on the outside with gloriously tender meat. I never really thought of cheese as being something used in Japanese cuisine but it went perfectly. It felt pretty northern, like fried meat, curry sauce, and cheese, but I would highly, highly recommend. They also had a selection of pickles and chilli and extra bits to go with it that just added to the flavour.

okonomi yaki

Okonomiyaki is by far my favourite Japanese food, and maybe even one of my favourite foods in general. It’s like a pancake batter but you mix in prawns, salmon, pork, cabbage, pickled ginger, anything you like really, and fry it on a hot plate in the middle of the table. I first got taken to an okonomi yaki restaurant in London when I was learning Japanese called Abeno and I’ve loved it ever since. The particular restaurant we went to was called Sometaro and is in Asakusa, within walking distance of the Senso-ji temple. The restaurant was very traditional, you had to take your shoes off upon arriving and everyone sat on tatami mats. It’s pretty warm because of the hot plates in the tables so each table had a fan too, AND they gave us little handheld fans. The food was absolutely amazing. I got an okonomi-yaki with cabbage and pork (I think) and Tori went for one with cabbage and pink-pickled ginger. The waiter spoke English and told us what to do, and showed us how to do it, then left us to try and cook it ourselves, and came back about ten minutes later to check it was all going okay. Once you’ve cooked it, they have some different sauces like bbq and mayo to go on the top, as well as seaweed and fish flakes. They’re so simple but taste SO GOOD.

croquet

Whilst in Japan, we wanted to make sure we tried some tempura. It was harder than you would think to find entire veggie tempura dishes as they often come as part of a set with meat in even if the actual tempura is veggie. We ended up going to a restaurant called Sorento, which specialises in tofu but also has some amazing tempura. The restaurant was kind of tucked away down the side of a railway line. When looking for it we were pretty close to giving up and turning around, then lo and behold it was the last building in the row, and I’m SO GLAD we didn’t. Inside it was amazing, we didn’t make a reservation but they still found seats for us at a bench. We had to go over some stepping stones through a water feature to get there and it was so calming and atmospheric. Neither of us had a massive food budget and this was slightly out of our budget so we just got a few bits. I had a prawn and a croquet (which are surprisingly popular in Japan) which I think had crab and tofu cream in it. It was fried to perfection, a thin, crispy layer on the outside, and creamy on the inside. The prawn was also amazing, as you would expect. Tori had a tempura fig, baby eggplant, and a dish which was like cold rice and veg with a creamy tofu sauce. I’ve never seen tofu done in so many cool, interesting and delicious ways. I do much prefer it in Asia to in the UK, but I still tend to think of it as a block that’s slightly wobbly instead of a smooth, cream-like texture that it was here.

fried chicken and cheese

Although not strictly Japanese, I’m going to pop this in here because Tokyo is the only place I’ve eaten it, and I had it after the tempura because I was still a bit peckish. So, as I mentioned in my last article, we were staying in Shinjuku in the Korean area, so I think this is a Korean speciality – fried chicken and cheese (I think it’s called buldak). I just got this one from a street stall that did it like a late-evening snack. My heart actually starts to beat faster when I think about all the calories and fat but that didn’t stop me going back the next night for more. It is amazing and definitely worth a try! The chicken is done in a kind of sweet and sour, slightly spicy sticky sauce which goes beautifully with the cheese.

Finally, Ramen! I don’t think I could go to Japan without eating ramen (although I managed not to eat sushi). Ramen is one of those ones you have to be careful about because the broth often has fish or chicken in it. We went to a restaurant called Gyoen Ramen Ouka which I would HIGHLY recommend. The restaurant was on a relatively quiet street and was Halal, but had veggie options. We got seated fine but I think it can get quite busy, and there was a sign outside saying the queue could last ages. We ordered from a vending machine at the front of the restaurant. I got chicken ramen with this kind of meatball starter thing which was absolutely amazing. The meat was all cooked to perfection and had that perfect umami taste. I must admit I don’t really like noodle soup like pho but this was next level. The staff here were amazing and so friendly, they chatted to us about where we were from and all about our holiday.

All in all, I ate some absolutely incredible food in Japan. The country as a whole has so many Michelin stars and so many people rave about it that I was expecting good things, but it was just incredible. There are so many things I want to try and recreate here but I just know it wouldn’t be as good.

First impressions of Tokyo

Tokyo

So while I was staying in China, I was lucky enough to be able to go on a weekend to Tokyo. Japan is somewhere I have ALWAYS wanted to go and so this trip pretty much made my life.

I would say that Japan is what other countries strive to be. As we took the train from the airport to Shinjuku we passed street after street of perfect, neat little houses. Each one slightly different and very interesting. I just wanted to jump out the train and plant myself in those little streets and wander for days. Despite the craziness and the neon lights so often associated with Tokyo, there was a sensation of calm in the air. Everything is neat, relaxed, and feels safe and comforting.

On the first day when we arrived, we flew into Narita airport around lunchtime. We did the usual dropping off of our bags and checking into our hostel. We were staying at a hostel called Hikari house in Shinjuku. It was a really fantastic choice of location, within walking distance of Shinjuku train station (which is apparently the busiest station in the world). The hostel was situated down a little side street in the Korean district so it was nice and quiet when you wanted to sleep, but you could just step straight out into the madness. We had pre-booked tickets to the TeamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum before we went, because it was somewhere we really wanted to go. We had an absolute nightmare trying to find it though! Someone described the Tokyo subway maps as ‘imagine a child with lots of different coloured crayons scribbled on paper‘ and they were not far from wrong. It is probably the most complicated metro system I’ve ever encountered. First, it took us a while to work out that different colour trains go to different places. So on the way to our hostel from the airport, our train stopped and started going a different way to where we thought we were going. Then google maps said to stay on the train to the digital art museum so we did, when in fact that was a different train and we were supposed to change, so we ended up going wayyyyyy too far and having to come back. They also have a weird mix of overground and underground trains so sometimes you have to change between them. All in all, it’s very stressful.

When we finally arrived at the Mori Digital Art Museum (not to be confused with the Mori Art Museum), it was very very busy. It was about 5pm on a weekday and the place was still heaving with people. I had seen some videos of it before I went and I would say it lived up to expectations. The rooms were fantastic, full of different light tricks and illusions you can immerse yourself in. We stood for ages (and I mean ages) in a queue to get upstairs into…actually we didn’t really know what it was, but we figured if that many people were in the queue it must be good. In the end, we gave up and decided to try and find the exit (easier said than done). The way out actually took us upstairs so we never needed to wait in the queue (I still wonder what it was for). Upstairs was a really cool interactive area, where they had climbing mazes and trampolines and huge inflatable balls.

In the evening, we went up the Metropolitan Tower to the observation deck at the top. the view was amazing. A beautiful skyline of skyscrapers stretching out as far as we could see on each side. Tokyo is truly a vibrant, exciting yet highly livable city at the same time.

Stay tuned for more articles about things I did AND tackling Tokyo as a veggie.

The difficulty of describing China

Firstly, apologies that I haven’t posted in so long, I got too carried away with things and was very busy.

skyscrapers

So in this post, I wanted to tackle one major issue: how do you go about describing your experiences, especially when they weren’t all that great

Coming back from China, all my friends and family wanted to hear how it was and what I had been up to but I really had no idea where to start. Don’t get me wrong…for the most part, I had a good time and I’m glad I went. But I also spent lots of the time just wanting to come home – I asked to move my flights earlier and at one point (about halfway through) I was even looking at flights home for the next week.

At one point (about halfway through) I was even looking at flights home for the next week.

There is no doubt about it: I hit a major wall. I was sick of the food; sick of the heat; sick of my job; sick of where I was staying; sick of how different it was to home; and missing my family, boyfriend, and friends. No matter how lovely my friends and colleagues were there was really no cheering me up. I WANTED OUT!!!! And to make it worse I felt guilty for wanting to come home because to my Chinese friends this was their home and their country and I was so obviously hating it. I definitely didn’t fall in love with China the same way I have done with most other countries that I’ve been to.

Once I was over the hump and the end was in sight, it did pick up. My hours at work got cut back so I had time to just chill, I went away to Tokyo and Hainan (posts to follow), and I just all around enjoyed myself more. But the patch in the middle where I was just so done with the country really tainted the whole experience. So now that raises the issue of what do I say to people when they ask me how it was? I could just lie and say ‘yeah I loved it’, but that’s not really the truth. And no one really knows how to react when you say ‘God I hated it, I wanted to come home at least 8 times a day’ (also there were some really good parts so that doesn’t seem fair either). It is very hard to convey to someone the sense of ‘just get me out of this shitting country’ but also that you actually quite liked it.

In retrospect, I can see many great things about my time: I met some wonderful people, I ate lots of good food, I saw lots of amazing sights, and it was just an all round fantastic experience that I’m very fortunate to have. But when people ask me if I would go back, the answer is a solid no.

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