Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- New Flat Again
Saturday with Robin and Robert
Out with Erika
Choosing my new Local
Second Flat Visit
We Bought a Flat
Flying Back to London
Friday in Tokyo
Thursday in Tokyo
Wednesday in Tokyo
Friday in Tokyo
Thursday in Tokyo
Narita to Tokyo to Hiroshima
Flying to Japan
St. Pancras and Kings Cross
Pizza Pilgrims and Late Night Ribollita
Michelin Starred Cheese Sandwich
Pizza with Andrew
- New Flat Again
- [Sunday 30th November 2014]
After breakfast, Robin and Robert came to pick us up, and we once more drove across London to the new flat to have another look, this time to get Robert's opinions on the place.
Whilst Robin does have a major scheme for a re-design of the layout which would turn it into a "proper" 2 bed flat (at the moment one of the bedrooms and the bathroom is accessed via the other bedroom), which we discussed at length we also determined it would be a lot of work, and would be very unlikely to be finished before our lease on the current place ends in February, which is the current latest date by which we'd want to be moved in.
So instead I think we're settling on a more modest plan of works which should be achievable by then. Chie's suggestion is that we actually make the tiny back bedroom ours, and give Erika the larger bedroom, which she could also then have most of her toys in - so that way if we did ever have overnight guests staying in the lounge, they could get to the bathroom without having to walk through our bedroom, which would obviously have been a bit odd (assuming Erika doesn't object to people tiptoeing through her bedroom while she's asleep). So then the only work we'd probably have done is to partially fill in the patio door in the small bedroom to make it a bit warmer (does a flat the size of ours really need three sets of patio doors?), remove a partition wall between the hallway and the lounge to make a bit more space, replace or at least seriously fix the other two sets of patio doors which are a pain to open and close, and also at Robert's suggestion get a completely new bathroom.
I felt pleased that we finally had settled on a plan of action of sorts.
Robin and Robert didn't stick around for lunch, having had a big breakfast at the Goring, and being keen to make an early start on their return journey to South Wales. So we waved them off after our planning meeting at the flat, and Chie, Erika and I went for a quick and embarrassingly cheap late lunch at a little Italian place near Tufnell Park, before getting the tube back to Pimlico.
Erika and Chie then went swimming for some of the remainder of the afternoon, which in hindsight may not have been a great idea given what was about to befall us, but at the time she had seemed absolutely fine.
In the evening Erika did start to seem a little under the weather, and overnight developed quite a high fever, which turned out to be a portent of a rather dramatic week to come.
- Saturday with Robin and Robert
- [Saturday 29th November 2014]
Robert had an exacting shopping schedule for the daytime today, and Chie had decided to tag along with him for a few hours at the start. Meanwhile Robin and I, with Erika in tow, planned to go to see the new flat, by way of Peter Jones so we could buy a new microwave, and take advantage of Robin having his car with him to transport it there.
Getting across London from Sloane Square to Kentish Town took ages - over an hour in the end. Although on the plus side we did have a nice "scenic" run through many of the posher parts of London, and Erika quite happily had a nap in her car seat in the back. Unfortunately this meant Erika was then awake when we got to the new flat so it was a bit of a challenge to have a chat with Robin about his suggestions for the place whilst Erika, bless her, was busily competing for our attention.
After that we went for a late-ish lunch at a cafe, where Chie joined us (it had taken her considerably less time to get across London by tube), and we then went back to the flat for a further inspection.
Robin had bought us some mugs in Peter Jones, and also donated a spare kettle he'd had at home, so we rather satisfyingly walked around with a mug of tea in hand.
Just after 4 we decided we should probably head back, mindful it would probably take a fair while to get across London again, so Robin could check into their hotel for this evening and have a chance to relax for a bit there before dinner. To ensure their trip to London was a bit of a treat I'd arranged for them to stay at the Goring, particularly as they'd largely come at my request, having felt in dire need of help for figuring out what to do with our new flat.
The five of us had dinner together at Noura, conveniently just round the corner from the Goring, where we did our best to try and make sure Erika was well behaved, but ultimately she didn't want to stay sitting at the table and instead preferred to wander round outside.
It initially went home with the girls after dinner, but then headed back again to the Goring after that for a drink with Robin and Robert in the bar there which made for a very pleasant finish to the day.
- White Truffle
- [Friday 28th November 2014]
Bought a white truffle in the daytime for tonight's dinner with Robin and Robert who were coming to visit for the weekend, which also then necessitated a longer than hoped for traipse around the streets of Belgravia trying to find a truffle shaver - if you can't expect to find one here, then where can you?
Robin and Robert eventually arrived around 8pm and we then proceeded to have a 5 course Italian gourmet feast, starting with mozzarella and tomato salad, then ribollita, porcini risotto, taglioni with the shaved white truffle, and then a chocolate tart for dessert. I think it all came out rather well.
- Out with Erika
- [Thursday 27th November 2014]
Chie was out with friends in the evening, so I picked Erika up from nursery after work. I didn't really feel like going home and cooking, so instead we got in a taxi (Erika always seems to enjoy this) and went to Tibits. It wasn't hugely successful, I didn't manage to get Erika to eat a huge amount despite picking lots of things from the buffet I thought she'd like. Oh well.
Afterwards I took her to try and find some ice cream somewhere. Unfortunately our usual place when in the centre (Gelupo) was closed due to "a hygiene emergency" so we had to search for a replacement - instead we went to "Snog", the frozen yoghurt place on Brewer Street, where the wonderfully camp staff were very sweet to her. Headed home after that.
- Hair Cut
- [Wednesday 26th November 2014]
I went and got my hair cut in the daytime today, I thought I'd try a new place called Ruffians - as much as I enjoy going to my regular barber (Philip at Briggs) there's never an opportunity to discuss doing anything different with my hair, he just gets on and cuts it. So I thought as a one off going to somewhere a bit more modern and stylisty to set it on the right track might be a good idea.
Other than that not much to report.
- Choosing my new Local
- [Tuesday 25th November 2014]
I'd booked a night off from parenting duties this evening, originally thinking I might go to Marlow, as Andy had given me a key to give to one of his friends there when I was in Japan. As it turned out though the weather looked pretty awful, which would take away any potential fun of a brief evening jaunt out into the country.
So instead I decided to pop to the new flat to try and read the electricity and gas meters again, as last time I'd tried this Erika was there, and became a bit upset about me going down into the cellar. I also thought on a bit of a whim I'd get some takeaway and eat it in the flat - technically my first meal there. Friends at work had talked about how great it feels to use the toilet for the first time in a property you own - to be honest that hadn't really struck much of a chord with me though.
Since I was in this neck of the woods, I thought I'd re-familiarise myself with the local pubs. I'd been to the Kentish Town area a few times before on pub crawls - which first set the seed in my mind that there were a few really nice residential streets and it might not actually be a bad place to live. I started with the Pineapple, which I think seemed like the strongest candidate for being my new local, and was the place I'd been to the most times in this part of town. It was interesting to go in there in the evening - it's on a very quiet residential street, and being a Tuesday evening on entering I expected it to be mostly empty, but it was actually fairly full and bustling.
From there I ventured on to the Southampton Arms, which surprisingly I hadn't been to before, considering what a great pub it is - a proper old fashioned pub, which just happens to also have a really large selection of real ales (and probably a few "craft beers", which I chose to ignore) and also ciders - I counted somewhere in the region of 6 ciders on tap, which is pretty impressive. The competition for the title of my official local is going to be tough.
Finally I rounded off with the Assembly House, which I'd always found to be quite pleasant when we'd been there on pub crawls, in the day time - it has quite a nice interior and was always fairly quiet. It seems to be quite a different pub in the evening though, apparently a favourite of the local student population, and as a result I can't imagine I'll end up going here that often.
- [Monday 24th November 2014]
Made tapas for dinner - had bought a Spanish omelette in Waitrose at the weekend (I hate to admit it but this one is better than the one I make myself) which we had with padron peppers, garbanzos con espinacas (chickpeas with spinach) and a sort of vague interpretation of patatas bravas - fried potatoes with some mayo flavoured with smoked paprika to dip in.
- [Sunday 23rd November 2014]
Erika had been rather hard work since Friday, and additionally / consequently Chie had been in a bit of a slump. The awful weather - persistent unyielding rain - hadn't helped - Erika was definitely in the sort of mood where she needed to run around outside a bit to burn off some energy.
So in the morning first thing I took Erika ought to the little Waitrose in Pimlico to buy things for breakfast, and give Chie a chance to have a bit of a lie-in.
Then later on in the morning I offered to take Erika away to try and give Chie a bit of a rest. I decided to take her to the V&A for a bit of a wander round, but we weren't there for long before she started to seem a bit sleepy.
Once she'd dozed off, I suggested to Chie we might go for a nice relaxing lunch together somewhere - and got a taxi to the Star Tavern in Belgravia. Unfortunately the process of getting out of the taxi woke her up, and I couldn't manage to get her back to sleep again. So the three of us had lunch together - in fairness to Erika she was actually quite good during lunch, thankfully there were some games at the pub to help distract her.
After that we did some shopping at the bigger Waitrose in Belgravia and then headed home, where we spent the remainder of the day.
- Second Flat Visit
- [Saturday 22nd November 2014]
Headed to Kentish Town in the morning to pick up the remaining sets of keys from the estate agents (a bit odd really that the previous owners had held on to a couple of sets for two days after we technically owned the place). In the interim since our first visit post-sale on Tuesday the place had been deep cleaned, and that plus the fact the last few of the previous owners things had been removed did help to overcome the sense of disappointment I'd felt earlier in the week. This was also Erika's first time to see what will eventually be her new home, although I'm not sure she really understood that. Still, she seemed to enjoy running around and exploring.
After that we headed out for coffee and lunch at Bear+Wolf, a local cafe very much aimed at people with kids, which has a nice playroom at the back. So Erika quite enjoyed that I think.
We headed back to Pimlico around 2:30 and spent the remainder of the day at the (soon to be old) flat.
- [Friday 21st November 2014]
Friday is the day of the week Chie takes off work, and Erika is off nursery, so they can spend the day together. Today though apparently Erika was being really hard work, and Chie was feeling particularly worn down. Poor Erika has had a lot to contend with this week, what with jetlag, adjusting to being back in the UK and at nursery, and on top of that having had a stomach bug earlier in the week. So she was pretty out of sorts.
I got a call from Chie at lunchtime asking if I could come home and help out for a bit. So Erika and I played lego for a bit whilst Chie went and had a nap, then I took her out to the playground to burn off some energy. In the playground there's a little chair and tables, with what looks a bit like a serving attach nearby, which Erika was pretending to be her cafe. So afterwards I took her to a real cafe in Pimlico for a Babycino and a bit of carrot cake. She started to finally look sleepy after that, so I put her back in her buggy, and sure enough she fell asleep on the way back home. I deposited her in her buggy at the flat, dozing happily, and Chie continued to have her nap too. I then went back to work feeling pretty pleased with myself.
- [Thursday 20th November 2014]
Erika went back to nursery for most of the day today, although did have a bit of a temperature towards the end of the day, so Chie picked her up slightly earlier than usual. Possibly just the tail end of whatever stomach bug she'd had - we didn't see any more symptoms after that.
- [Wednesday 19th November 2014]
Erika stayed off nursery today after last night's episode - which actually seemed to just be an 8 hour stint of being sick and then whatever it was was out of her system. Chie stayed at home with her, particularly as she hadn't really slept much at all and she felt a bit queasy too. Actually so did I, but it never developed into anything - maybe just psychological then.
- New Flat
- [Tuesday 18th November 2014]
At lunchtime Chie and I met in Kentish Town and went to the new flat for a quick look around. There were lots of the previous owner's things still hanging around, and it was generally a bit of a mess, which to be honest made me a bit depressed - all the effort (and money!) which had gone into buying this place to culminate in this rather unpleasant anti-climax. They had arranged for it to be deep cleaned on Wednesday, and would be coming back to pick up the rest of their things before then (odd really, considering we now owned it) so we probably should have just waited until after then to come and see it. Oh well.
Had ribollita for dinner.
In what I hope is an entirely unreleated incident to the above, Erika was sick repeatedly in the night - I guessed she'd probably picked up a bug on her way back from Japan or something. So Chie in particularly hardly slept overnight, spending most of it with Erika sat on the kitchen floor.
- We Bought a Flat
- [Monday 17th November 2014]
Back to work in London today, and Erika went off back to nursery. I thought she might kick up a bit of a fuss, but seemed to actually go back quite happily.
Late on Friday, whilst we were still in Tokyo, I'd had an email from our solicitor telling us they finally had all the necessary paperwork to proceed to exchange, and, in fact, we could actually complete the sale on the same day. I hadn't been able to respond in time before it was too late in the day for them, and thought it was probably all a bit hasty anyway, so we'd agree to pick it back up again on Monday morning.
So this morning I had an email asking me for the final go ahead, and on replying yes and clicking submit I guess that meant we were now home owners.
There were a few final bits of administrivia to address after that, some final questions about fixtures and fittings, and we also had to hurriedly arrange buildings and contents insurance (for which I expect we paid over the odds). Nice to finally have it all done and dusted - it had taken three months in the end.
- [Sunday 16th November 2014]
We had deliberately left a free day between our return flight from Japan and when we'd all need to be back at work/nursery to help adjust to the time difference a bit. We didn't really do a lot as a result, mainly we spent it resting at home. I popped out in the morning (with Erika, I think) to buy breakfast things from the little Waitrose in Pimlico. Then again just before midday to take Erika to the playground, keen that she should be out in the daylight to help her get over the jetlag. This gave her a chance to test out her new Anpanman umbrella, which she seems rather fond of.
I don't think Chie actually left the flat all day!
Lunch was I suspect a sort of soup, bread and cheese affair. I think we had Japanese curry for dinner.
- Flying Back to London
- [Saturday 15th November 2014]
We checked out of the Grand Hyatt in the morning and got the coach to Narita Airport. It's slow but it's convenient - it goes straight from the hotel to the terminal, and somebody else loads and unloads our luggage for us.
We had a little bit of time in the airport before take off, so did a bit of shopping - there was apparently a big refurbishment of the shopping area earlier this year and it did actually seem to be quite good now. Plus we had a strange sort of early lunch around 11am. I saw somebody else ordering a beer so deemed it would be fine if I did the same.
Erika was very well behaved on the flight as far as I recall (am writing this over three weeks later) - I don't think there were any tantrums or outbursts and she actually managed to sleep for a few hours, so we could watch some films.
I think we landed some time between 4 and 5pm, I don't recall when exactly. We managed to get through the airport very quickly, but had decided to go back by coach (as again we had lots of luggage to contend with and it seemed like it might be easier) so we had a bit of a wait for that. Erika slept on the coach for some of the journey.
On arrival at Victoria coach station we went to get a taxi, even though it's only a 15 minute walk there was no way we could manage with all our luggage. The taxi driver was really grumpy and unpleasant about this, telling me he'd been waiting in the taxi rank for an hour or something. I couldn't help but wonder whose problem that was? I rather wish now we'd just told him to bugger off and got in another taxi instead. We didn't tip him.
Had dinner on arrival at home - I forget what - then we all pretty much went straight to bed after that I think.
- Friday in Tokyo
- [Friday 14th November 2014]
Last day of the trip. I was working in my company's Tokyo office in the daytime, and in the morning I was treated to some rather nice views of Mount Fuji again.
In the afternoon I had an overwhelming urge to go for one last drink at the vending machine bar, knowing that I wouldn't be able to make it there in the evening. So I popped there very briefly for one last can of Sapporo - for this trip at least - before then returning to the office.
In the evening Chie wanted to go out with her friends so I looked after Erika. Having no real means of preparing food at our hotel room that meant me and Erika went out for dinner together, just the two of us. Whilst I've done this a few times in the UK, I have a better sense there of which sorts of places are OK to take kids too and which aren't. In Japan things are a bit different - a lot fewer places seem kid compatible. So I played it safe, and we went to a "famiresu" (short for "family restaurant) - a branch of the Saizeriya chain which I'd spotted not too far from the hotel. Therein Erika and I ate ridiculously cheap pasta dishes. Rather nicely at the table next to ours was a Mum with her two daughters, who were half Japanese / half Dutch, and we chatted to them a bit which helped to keep Erika entertained.
After that we headed back to the hotel and I put Erika to bed.
I got an email from our solicitor during the evening to say that we'd actually finally received the necessary paperwork to complete the purchase of our flat, and he was asking for the final go ahead from me to proceed. However I dithered over it for a little while, and didn't really want to give the final nod without Chie being around, and by the time I'd procrastinated a bit it was too late in the day back in the UK to get it all done anyway. So I said we'd revisit Monday morning when I was back in London.
- Thursday in Tokyo
- [Thursday 13th November 2014]
Worked at my company's Tokyo office for all of the daytime today, and was treated to a nice sunset over Mount Fuji in the late afternoon.
In the evening I had dinner with the girls at Chien-Fu, the incredibly convenient vegetarian Chinese restaurant very close to the office and the Grand Hyatt where I now pretty much always stay when working in Tokyo. It struck me as the sort of place it would probably be OK to take a child to. Foodwise it worked reasonably well for Erika as she likes rice and tofu, and there were some reasonably healthily cooked vegetables etc to go with it too.
After that we went back to the hotel, I gave Chie a hand giving Erika a bath, and then I headed out for the remainder of the evening to see Andy again. It wasn't a particularly adventurous evening, we just went to the Hobgoblin (the British pub in Roppongi which I think I'm developing a bit of a love/hate relationship with) followed after that by more or less more of the same thing at a branch of "Hub" a chain which somewhat less authentically attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a British pub.
- Wednesday in Tokyo
- [Wednesday 12th November 2014]
I got a very early shinkansen to Tokyo in the morning - the same time as I had the previous week, 6:40 from Hiroshima station, which meant waking up at something like 5:30. The girls (including auntie Yuka) were going to head to Tokyo today as well, but they'd already booked flights, and were going much later in the day. So this got me into the office not long after 11, making it manageable to squeeze in a full day's work without having to leave too late in the evening.
At the end of the day I met up with the girls at the Grand Hyatt, they'd already checked in before me. We decided to try the Tokyo branch of international chain "Obika" for dinner - the "mozzarella bar". I'm still not really sure I've figured out what this mozzarella bar concept is all about. Being an international sort of place, and in Roppongi Hills, it was all a bit expensive, and the pasta+pizza I had were at best decent, certainly not outstanding - much better examples of both can be found at a fraction of the price in the nearby area, once you get slightly out of the pricy immediate vicinity.
After that I left the girls to it, and went to meet Tanaka-san near Yokohama for a catch up. We went to quite a dull izakaya near Kikunka, quite a dull station in the middle of commuter belt nowhere. It was the sort of place where you're closed off in a little booth and you can barely even see any of the other customers, let alone any possibility of interacting with them - this seems to be quite common in Japan, and it always makes me wonder what's the point of going out at all really. Still, quibbles about the venue aside it was as always a delight to have a chance to chew the cud with Tanaka-san, who remains one of the most thoroughly affable people I've ever had the good fortune to meet.
- [Tuesday 11th November 2014]
Today was our last day in Hiroshima of this trip. Towards the end of the morning we ventured out to the big shopping mall near where Chie's parents live, mainly so the family could buy Christmas presents for Erika to take back to the UK with us. Erika rather enjoyed looking at all the toys in Toys R Us / Babies R Us. We had lunch in one of the restaurants in the mall too.
Later on in the afternoon we headed out again, as Chie wanted to take some family portraits for Shichi-Go-San (although I think we were actually a year early - it's meant to be when Erika is three years old). We'd originally considered going to a professional photographer for this, but hadn't really got our act together (plus I'd also had an uncharacteristic bout of stinginess and didn't want to pay for something we could do reasonably well ourselves for free). So we got a little bit dressed up, and went to the local park to snap away amidst the autumn leaves. They're obviously not like the sorts of pictures a professional photographer would take, but I think we got some really nice shots regardless - I particularly like this one.
After that we headed to Kura Sushi for a farewell dinner. It had always been the tradition when visiting Hiroshima that we go to Sushi Tei, the family's favourite sushi place - and often on the last night in Hiroshima. Although we had been there once or twice since Erika was born, it's not particularly child friendly, and in the week in particular there can be quite a lot of people smoking so it's not really a great environment for her. So on the past few trips we'd started going to this kaiten (converyor belt) sushi place which seems a lot more family oriented. The conveyor belt is already quite fun for Erika - particularly with the second high speed belt used for things made to order - but in addition there's a chute you drop your used plates down, and every 5 plates you have a chance of winning a toy from a machine above the table. The booths also just fit 6 people, which was perfect for us (Yuka joined us too). So that was all round quite a jolly end to this stay in Hiroshima.
- [Monday 10th November 2014]
As part of every stay in Hiroshima we always have at least one day trip to Miyajima. We started off with a quick lunch at the udon place on the "mainland" (if you can call any part of Japan that) which we'd been to once before, then after that got on the ferry. On arrival we headed straight to the nursing home to visit Chie's Grandmother, then just round the corner to see one of Chie's uncles at the family business (an oyster farm).
From there we walked to Momijidani park, to take in the autumnal Japanese maple leaves for which the park is famous. Our stroll continued on round the island until we got to the famous umi-no-tori (the gate standing in the sea) where as always we posed for a few pictures, recreating some of our wedding photos. There was then just time for a momiji-manju at Fuji, my favourite producer of the famous Miyajima cake, then a wander along the beach, before we got the ferry back, onboard which we were treated to a nice sunset.
- [Sunday 9th November 2014]
Today was a big family day, and we were visited at Chie's parent's house by a number of Chie's relatives. First to arrive was Sato-chan, Chie's cousin, and her son Kohe-kun. A bit later on we were also joined by two of Chie's aunts (Chikako-san and Naoko-san) and her uncle Kazuyoshi-san. Despite Chie's Mum imploring to Chie's aunts not to being anything over the phone (I think I heard her saying it about a dozen times) they arrived with enough cake to feed us all for several days.
After Chie's relatives left I popped out for a bit to take Erika for a stroll in her buggy in an attempt to get her to have a late afternoon nap, as she'd obviously been far too excited to sleep while all her relatives were visiting. I also had an ulterior motive in that I was craving a Negroni and thought if I walked over to Yamaya, the discount booze shop which has an impressive selection of international drinks, I could probably find the necessary ingredients. This became an interesting exercise as owing to the shortcomings of international banking I was temporarily left with very little Japanese yen, and shops there won't always accept my credit cards. I was very pleased with the end result in that I managed to buy bottles of the three requisites (gin, vermouth and a campari-esque bitter aperitif) for 1000 yen or under each - about £6 for each bottle at the current exchange rate. I also splashed out as I had some change and bought some really nice Japanese ice (it's very clear/pure and looks really good in cocktails).
Back at Chie's parents place in the evening I introduced Chie's Mum to the Negroni (or at least this bargain basement version thereof) and was pleasantly surprised that she seemed to really like it.
For dinner I offered to cook, and made a sort of pasta bake, which was a bit of a challenge as Japanese homes never have proper ovens, plus it was a struggle to find any decent looking cheddar nearby... but the end result was not entirely terrible. This we had with a bottle of English sparkling wine I'd bought for Chie's Dad, who'd heard English wine was becoming popular and was interested to try it. Not sure what exactly we were celebrating other than the fact the family was all together, but that seems as good a reason as any.
- Hiroshima Zoo
- [Saturday 8th November 2014]
We took Erika to Hiroshima Zoo in the daytime. It's a bit of a trek to get to, being on the outskirts of the city, and as we couldn't all fit in Chie's parents car we went by bus, which seemed to take forever.
To be honest I'd expected it to be a bit half hearted, but considering how incredibly reasonable priced it was (about 500 yen for adults - that's roughly £3) it was actually quite impressive. They had all the main attractions - elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers and so on, plus a particularly impressive baboon enclosure. If you're into baboons. So hopefully Erika really enjoyed that.
On the way back I couldn't quite face the endless bus ride again, so instead we decided to break up the journey a bit, and went back some of the way by "Asstram" - a not particularly well connected elevated tramline which seemingly goes from one bit of Hiroshima's suburbs to another bit. We then had to get another train to connect from that to the main station in Hiroshima, then finally another train from there back to the station nearest to Chie's parents place.
In the evening we thought we should take advantage of the fact we were staying with Chie's parents, and get them to babysit Erika so that we could have that now once in a blue moon event of a night out together. We weren't really that sure where we wanted to actually go though - since Chie has lived away from Hiroshima all of her adult life she's not actually that familiar with the nightlife there, plus I of course don't know any better.
After some searching on the web I'd found a place which offered vegetarian Hiroshima style okonomiyaki - something I never thought I'd be able to have in a restaurant here. So given that seemed a much more locally relevant experience than just going to an Italian restaurant, which we could just as well do back home, that's what we settled on.
The okonomiyaki was very nice, but it's not really something you tend to linger over, and after an hour we were basically done, and scratching our heads for what to do next. Somehow we decided we wanted to go to a "tachinomiya" - a bar where you stand up to drink - and after wandering around for a while found one, had one drink, and then had ran out of ideas again. So we just headed home after that. Still, at least the okonomiyaki was nice!
- Friday in Tokyo
- [Friday 7th November 2014]
Spent the day working from the Tokyo office, then at the end of the day headed off to the station to get the shinkansen back to Hiroshima. I decided to go to Tokyo station rather than Shinagawa, which meant I could pop by way of the vending machine bar once again, to pick up a can of beer for the train.
Other than that, nothing much to report, the shinkansen got me to Hiroshima for just before 11pm if I recall correctly, and I was met at the station by Chie's Mum. Had some ramen for a late dinner.
- Thursday in Tokyo
- [Thursday 6th November 2014]
Got a very early shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo in the morning, leaving the main station in Hiroshima at 6:40, which meant getting a local train from the station nearest to Chie's parent's place not long after 6, since they aren't that frequent a that time of the morning. Interestingly that local train was still actually quite busy.
Frustratingly en route I realised I'd forgotten my company badge, which made actually getting in on arrival at the office in Tokyo a real pain. Still, I managed in the end.
Spent the afternoon then working at the office, and in the evening I met up with my friend Andy. He came to meet me at my hotel, from there we went for a quick dinner at Chien-Fu, the vegetarian restaurant round the corner (it's the second time I've dragged him there, and as a non-vegetarian he wasn't particularly willing either time, but took it in good spirits). The remainder of the evening then followed a familiar course - the peculiarly entertaining contrast of the very upmarket Old Imperial Bar at the Imperial Hotel, followed by the polar opposite represented in the vending machine bar.
I think I'm beginning to go off the Old Imperial Bar a bit, I liked the history (and the parallels with the American Bar at the Savoy in London, the gateway through which cocktails were introduced to the country) but it just seems a bit stuffy, the sort of place old Japanese businessmen take clients (other old Japanese businessmen) to.
The vending machine bar, however, never fails to fill me with a sense of utter delight. This evening, as pretty much always, we chatted with a variety of entertaining characters throughout the course of our time there, including perhaps most notably a Japanese Buddy Holly tribute act, who I subsequently saw featured on the telly the following night in, weirdly enough, a short TV piece about the vending machine bar. We stayed until after midnight, until everyone else had already gone home (for the regulars I think it's typically somewhere they go after work before getting the train home, and the last trains of the night are usually not long after midnight). A construction worker arrived, and Andy borrowed his light saber thingy. It was quite entertaining at the time.
- Anpanman Museum
- [Wednesday 5th November 2014]
I think today may well have been the highlight of the whole trip for Erika - we took her to the Anpanman Museum in Fukuoka. She spent what felt like the first 30 minutes pretty much constantly saying "Anpanman! Anpanman!" which I took to be an expression of delight.
Although it's called a "museum" it's really a sort of indoor theme park for toddlers. There were also some live shows which involved people dressed up as the various Anpanman characters singing and dancing, which Erika seemed rather enthralled by, and endearingly joined in with some of the dancing.
It would probably not be unfair to say the whole thing was a fairly calculated exercise in extracting as much money from doting parents as physically possible, with Anpanman merchandise in every conceivable shape and form at pretty much every turn, but Erika seemed to love it (with the possible exception of her encounter with "Horrorman", who not unsurpsisingly provoked a bout of tears) so I didn't care.
It was not an easy task to get Erika to believe, but a further bit of well thought out strategy by the marketers at Anpanman Inc. - a balloon stand near the exit - allowed us to bribe our way back into the real world again.
Not long after leaving, following all the excitement, Erika fell asleep in her buggy, giving Chie and I the opportunity for a nice quiet lunch (Erika having already eaten various Anpanman themed comestibles in the museum earlier).
Thanks to my recommendations in Google Maps, I discovered another branch of Hirao nearby, the tempura place Ai-san had taken us to on a previous visit to Fukuoka.
After that we headed back to Hakata (the main station in Fukuoka, not sure why it isn't just called Fukuoka station) and got the shinkansen back to Hiroshima.
- [Tuesday 4th November 2014]
Woke up at 5am this morning, which didn't really feel like very singificant progress in terms of a sensible sleeping schedule, considering I'd gone to sleep at the same time as Erika - around 8:30 - the night before.
We were a bit better organised this morning, and managed to head out not long after 10. We'd decided to head to Kyushu, Japan's third largest island, and quite convenient from Hiroshima as it's only about an hour from there to Fukuoka, Kyushu's main city. Before getting on the train we picked up some doughnuts at "Mister Donut" and had these as sort of elevenses en route.
Erika fell asleep not long after we arrived in Fukuoka (where for some reason the main station is actually named "Hakata", apparently the old name for Fukuoka). Although Kyushu is famous for ramen noodles, unfortunately it's a dead loss for me as they appear to be universally based on pork broth - so it's actually better for me to just eat ramen when back in London and pretty much forget about it altogether when in Japan. So actually for lunch today we went our separate ways - I found a safe option in a branch of a chain of Italian restaurants called Capriciosa, which we'd been to in Tokyo back when we lived there - whilst Chie went off for ramen.
After lunch, we got on a local train and headed out of Fukuoka to where Chie's friend Ai-san lives. She has an apartment right next to the sea - there's a sandy beach on her doorstep, and a sea breeze wafting through the windows of her lounge. Ai-san has been to stay with us in London quite a few times, particularly when she used to work as a cabin attendant so was able to get standby flights very cheaply, but we'd never seen where she lives before. It was also really great timing as she'd very recently had a baby girl, I think she's only about 6 weeks old. It occurs to me how much I seem to have forgotten abotu babies now that Erika is very much into the toddler stage - and I was almost as nervous to hold little Hina-chan as I had been about handling babies before Erika was born. Erika seemed quite fascinated by her which was really lovely to watch.
After tea and cake at Ai-san's flat she decided to take us out for a drive along the coast to see a couple of local scenic spots. First we went to Sakurai Futamigaura, a beach where there's a rock formation which I think is meant to symbolise a married couple, or something like that. After that we took a drive along sunset road where, as advertised, we were indeed treated to a very picturesque sunset. Ai-san took us back to the station after that, where we said a rather hurried goodbye, as Hina-chan had made it quite clear on the way there it was time for her to be fed.
Once back in Fukuoka we headed to our hotel for the evening, the Grand Hyatt, which impressively we'd be staying at for free, having accumulated lots of points with Hyatt's loyalty scheme for all my stays at the Hyatt in Tokyo.
- [Monday 3rd November 2014]
I woke up at something like 4:30am, of course, and couldn't get back to sleep. So as I often to when jetlagged I got up and spent the time sorting through pictures and getting my blog up to date.
Once the rest of the household had risen, I enjoyed one of Chie's Mum's excellent Japanese breakfasts, and then we generally slobbed around the flat for most of the morning until we decided what we were going to do for the day. Eventually we settled on the plan of getting the ferry to Etajima, an island not far off the coast from Hiroshima, where there was a farm where we could pick our own "mikan" - what we in the UK variably call satsumas / mandarins / tangerines / clementines.
Getting there proved to be a bit of a trek, as we first had to walk to the local station, then get a train from there to the centre, then a tram to the port, then a ferry from there to Etajima, and finally a ride in the farm's mini-bus from the ferry port on Etajima to the actual farm. So it was 3 o' clock by the time we finally arrived, which meant we'd only have an hour there before they closed - but that turned out to be plenty of time.
It was rather an impressive sight to behold, a grove of mikan trees - and this particular farm was perched up in the hills, with sweeping views down to the sea. Not sure if this was a bumper crop or not, but there seemed to my untrained eye to be an absolute abundance of fruit; a citrusy paradise. In return for a very modest entrance fee the farm lets you eat as many mikan as you want on the spot, and you could pay extra to take a bag or a box away too. We really didn't need to take any back with us, as Chie's Mum had already bought quite a lot a day or two before, but we filled a bag regardless. There's something really special about being able to eat fruit straight off the tree, especially what for me is quite an exotic fruit - whilst of course they're widely available in shops in the UK, you don't ever see them growing there. It was also really interesting to be able to choose mikan at varying stages of ripeness, a luxury you wouldn't normally have with shop bought fruit. In particular I found the under-ripe green ones excitingly sour.
Erika really loves mikan so I got the impression it was as exciting for her as it was for us, and she managed to eat a good three or four during our time there - most of which she also peeled herself, whilst sat on my shoulders, dropping bits of peel on the top of my head. It was really lovely.
Eventually we decided we'd all eaten as many mikan as we thought we sensibly should in a single afternoon, and had filled up our bag, so we headed back to the port and got on a ferry back to the mainland. It was a much larger boat on the way back - a car ferry rather than the entirely passenger boat which we'd taken on the way there - and there was a little carpeted area full of small children crawling about, which helped keep Erika entertained for the duration of the journey. Chie's Dad came to pick us up in the car from the port in Hiroshima which helped to make our return journey much quicker than the outbound one had been.
Chie's parents made okonomiyaki for dinner which was very tasty as always, although disappointingly we didn't seem to be able to get Erika to eat much. Too many mikan, perhaps.
- Narita to Tokyo to Hiroshima
- [Sunday 2nd November 2014]
My flight landed at Narita airport at something like 8:25 in the morning Japanese time, and impressively I managed to get through the airport in under 25 minutes, to make it onto the 8:50 Narita Express. An hour later I was at Tokyo station, and decided to get the 10:30 shinkansen from there to Hiroshima. 40 minutes there should have been plenty of time to buy tickets and try to find something reasonable for lunch, but I was tired, and the hectic crowds of Tokyo station, even on a Sunday morning, where a bit overwhelming. So I only managed to buy a single ticket when I should really have got a return, and couldn't manage to pay with a credit card, so ended up spending the majority of the cash I had with me. I also went through the inner barriers for the shinkansen far too early, and then realised there were only tiny little kiosks from that point on with barely anything to eat.
Still, four hours of continuously falling asleep but then immediately waking up again on the train later I was in Hiroshima. Chie and Erika came to the station to meet me, and Erika squeezed through a gap in the fence to come and say hello even before I'd gone through the ticket barriers. That was really lovely.
Once back at Chie's family home, after distributing omiyage, it was generally agreed I was in dire need of an afternoon nap, and I slept until it was dinner time.
After dinner, we headed over to the part of Hiroshima near where Chie's Grandmother lives, as the local shrine was having what I understood to be the Japanese equivalent of a harvest festival. A stage had been set up, and there was some kind of play set to music involving samurai in brightly coloured outfits and lots of twirling around. I didn't really understand what was going on, but it was quite atmospheric, and all felt very Japanese.
- Flying to Japan
- [Saturday 1st November 2014]
Woke up at 7, and then spent a couple of hours packing and tidying up the flat before heading off to the airport to get a flight to Tokyo.
On the flight I finished off Shakespeare's Local and watched three films - a Chinese film called Personal Tailor which was entertaining in places, and quite enlightening about Chinese attitudes to money, a delightful period drama called Belle and an awful fomulaic Hollywood turd called Lucy.
- [Friday 31st October 2014]
Spent the daytime trying to finish things off at work, and also made a visit to the bank to make another transfer for the flat purchase. Frustratingly we still hadn't quite got to the point of exchanging contracts yet, but the proposed completion date was the 14th - when we'd still be in Japan - so I needed to get all the finances in place before I went away, because internet banking turns out to be pretty much useless when large sums are involved.
Andrew at work had had a ridiculous idea that the middle of the big dystopian roundabout in Wandsworth would be a good place for a "pop-up bar", and somehow that had morphed into a Halloween-ish activity. So that's where we went after work - Wandsworth - and had a Negroni (premixed at the office, and transported in a thermos flask) in the middle of a roundabout.
There were about six of us in the end, probably about the right number. After our al fresco cocktail in the middle of the roundabout, we headed back over the river to the Sloaney Pony for a beer, and from there to an Italian restaurant for some pizza. Yes, my third this week.
- St. Pancras and Kings Cross
- [Thursday 30th October 2014]
Headed home after work to get up to date with some laundry and other admin chores, but headed out again later on in the evening to meet up with my old boss for a drink and dinner in King's Cross / St. Pancras. Dinner was at a fairly new (as far as I could tell) swanky restaurant called Plum and Spilt Milk, which apparently had a sort of golden era of railways inspired theme, but it wasn't so obvious to me. Having already had some ribollita earlier in the evening I wasn't hugely hungry, but then I remembered vegetarian options in these kinds of upmarket restaurants were usually pretty insubstantial, so that worked out fine. The mushroom vol au vent was decent enough I suppose - with the caveat that I was happy I'd already had a hearty bowl of soup first. The dessert was a surprise hit - the eponymous signature dish - which involved stewed plums and brioche, normally both things I'd avoid in the dessert menu, but this worked really well.
- Pizza Pilgrims and Late Night Ribollita
- [Wednesday 29th October 2014]
Went to the bank in the daytime to transfer the deposit for our flat purchase. We haven't actually made it to exchange contracts yet but it seemed like a good idea to leave it with the solicitor so that everything was ready on our side.
Went out for beer and pizza with Simon after work, and were joined by a couple of his friends from university who I've met quite a few times before. Started with beer at the Argyll Arms, then proceeded from there to the new branch of Pizza Pilgrims at Kingly Court.
When I got home, for some reason I felt compelled to make a batch of late night ribollita.
- Michelin Starred Cheese Sandwich
- [Tuesday 28th October 2014]
At the start of this month I'd told the solicitors and estate agents that I'd like to aim to complete the purchase by the end of October, partly just because having some kind of time frame to work made it seem less like it would just rumble along indefinitely, but also because me being in Japan for some of November would make various things more difficult. I'd rather hoped all the loose ends would be tied up by this point, but there were still some outstanding enquiries, and today I decided I was fed up waiting, and told our solicitor to just push ahead without them. So today began a flurry of banking activity to get all our funds in order.
My old boss was in London this week (quite a few people working on the new project he's involved in are based in London which is good as it means he seems to end up here once every few months). The original plan seemed to be for me to join in on their team outing, but for one reason or another that didn't work out, and I ended up staying late at the office, then going for a Michelin starred cheese sandwich with my old boss and his brother at St. John. We both seem to be fans of the surprisingly unfussy cheese sandwich served in the bar there. It's not deconstructed or re-interpreted or anything like that, it's just a fairly straightforward cheese sandwich. We also managed to get some madeleines which were delightful as ever.
- Pizza with Andrew
- [Monday 27th October 2014]
I'd originally planned my social calendar for the latter half of this week while Chie and Erika were away, and had somewhat intentionally left Monday and Tuesday fairly clear, as I thought a bit of a quiet rest would probably be a good thing. As it happens though I ended up going out - at least for a bit - every night this week. Tonight was at least a fairly subdued evening - Andrew and I just went for a very quick pizza and a beer after work, and that was pretty much it.