Seoul Travels Part 1

I think I am going to break some rules here and post an entry on my most recent trip. I have just returned from Seoul, South Korea a few days ago, and have so many things in my head, which I want share with you. Even though I promised more on Japan (yes really, I have more about it) and a birthday special in my following entries, I have no choice, but let this beast roar first.

Let me start with a summary of things I learnt during this trip;

Number One, I cannot eat with thin metal chopsticks!

Number Two, Korean and Hungarian cuisine share some similarities (I know, who would have thought?!)

Number Three, Thai people know something about South Korea that I failed to establish!

I guess the first one speaks for itself, and some of you may be even able to relate to my struggle. Not so much fun, when you try to look like that you have the whole Asian food customs under your belt, and can’t even pick up some rice! Embarrassing!

The explanation of number two and three shall follow together with some usual tips on eating, shopping, sightseeing and anything else that was fun during my trip… Happy reading, though yet again, I am sharing my thoughts and ideas in a few parts, as not sure who has time and patience for marathon reading sessions these days.

I had this image in my head that Seoul will be very similar to Japan, and I will make some amazing discoveries similarly to Tokyo. Or maybe it was Antoine who kept saying that to me, and just as any couples would do, I took his thought, and with time, I thought it was actually mine!

Regardless of the fact that the daily average temperature was 34  degrees Celsius, and there were times I really thought I am going to faint and had to seek shelter in air conditioned shops or cafeterias, I really did try and explore the city. So naturally, I walked a lot! And when I say a lot, I mean an average 18km a day , and this is not a typo, I really mean eighteen.

The trick is that you alternate shoes every day, as my good friend Marita told me once, when we were on our feet all day helping at the Abu Dhabi F1 race. As each shoe affects different pressure points on your sole, wearing a different pair everyday will reduce the pain and fatigue in your legs. And no, this doesn’t mean that if I go on a trip for a week, I take 7 different pairs of shoes; ok, maybe sometimes I do, but it is not because of the pressure points, but because of all eventualities. For you ladies out there, I guess I do not have to explain this further.

So, yes I tried all my usual things in Seoul; explore, discover and try to blend in and really find the cool and unique stuff that I could share with Antoine and of course with you guys.

Well, did I succeed? Yes and no, but I guess, I let you be the judge of that…

Where I stayed:

Really unlike me, this time, I left the hotel booking 3 days prior to my departure, but I guess overall this was not surprising as Seoul was a last minute alternative after me joining Antoine on his Vietnamese trip, didn’t quite work out. So I guess some of the places were already fully booked, and the choices were slightly limited.

I did what I normally do, and went through a website called trivago.com. The reason why I always start with this one as it compares all the sites that sell hotel rooms, so you get a quick overview of the hotels available and some of the best rates at the same time.Very often booking.com has the best offer, but sometimes agoda or other sites take the trophy for the lowest price. So be sure to go via trivago.com first.

In Seoul I wanted to stay somewhere central but quiet, and the reviews for Shinshin Hotel Myeongdong were good, and the room rate was also reasonable. Now finding the hotel for the first time might be a bit tricky, but I was lucky that my taxi driver knew the place, despite it being a smallish boutique hotel, I think all together they have 55 rooms. But if you tell your driver that it is behind the Bank of Korea, right next to the Hotel Golden Tulip, it should be no problem locating it.

Ok, so let’s start with the positives; I liked the location, central though still quiet, plenty of convenience stores and restaurants nearby, and you also have metro stations in walking distance. They say the City Hall station is the closest, but I normally opted for Euljiro 1-ga (Line 2), as I found that one quite convenient to walk to. Also in walking distance to the hotel there was the Lotte department and two of the markets; Myeongdong and Namdaemun Market. The Airport Limousine bus also stops at the end of the hotel street. Charges for it to Incheon Airport is the equivalent of 15USD otherwise, in a fixed price taxi it will cost you 65USD.

The room was also clean and spacious ;I got upgraded on arrival so I had a king bed and all the pillows just to myself. The bed was also very comfortable, which can definitely be a deal breaker. The service I also liked, and the staff on reception was polite and approachable with great English. Two bottles of water was also provided each day.

Now, the things I would change if I could… the bathroom arrangement. I mean if you are alone or not a shy person then I guess it is not a big problem that the bathroom is only partially separated from your bedroom, and therefore privacy is rather questionable. But on the brighter side the toilet was located separately with a door! So not all was lost.

The room had two big windows one of which had a blind instead of the regular black out curtain, so every morning around 6-7am, as the sun was coming up, my room was also getting brighter and brighter with the sun light peaking through each side of the shade. I also love my morning coffee, actually morning Nescafe (please don’t judge!) so as a regular traveller I bought a small cartoon of milk the night I arrived, and put it in the fridge so I wouldn’t need to rely on the minuscule milk jiggers in the morning. Only to find in the morning that there were no coffee sticks in the room. So the next day I had to remedy that as well, so I bought some coffee in the convenient shop nearby, but guess what, there was no sugar or teaspoon in the room either. But hey, I managed to adjust, and who needs that extra sugar anyway!

Now, the question one may ask is whether I would go back and stay in this hotel? Probably… but I would take eyeshades, coffee, sugar and a teaspoon with me, and preferably a person that I am not shy in front of…

View from the room at night, and the inside of the room

Where to eat:

Before I start with the restaurants in Seoul, I would quickly like to share my experience on the flight. I actually flew with Korean Air from Hong Kong to Seoul Incheon airport, and was very pleased with the service and the flight in general. Trust me on this; I worked in aviation for over 10 years.

Knowing how on-board food can be I had a sandwich in my bag, but sometimes, when the on-board service reaches my row I get a bit indicesive, and I give in and take the airline food instead (or as well- to be more precise). So this time I was offered the seafood western and the Korean style dish. Well, I am not a fan of seafood and I was going to start my adventure on the plane anyway, so of course I opted for the Korean version. So I got my tray and the next thing the cabin crew asks me is whether I know how to eat Korean food. Hmmm, I really wanted to say that well, I think you put it in your mouth and chew on it before swallowing, but not sure if she would have understood my light hearted banter, so instead I opted for a polite, I am not sure.

I was quickly explained that the rice goes on the top of the minced meat and the vegetables and you put the sesame oil and hot chilli paste in, and mix it until you get a well-mixed messy mixture. I was closely observing my neighbours and I think I did just fine. The next time I came across this dish, I was already confident in my skills, and when the waitress turned up with my plate, I was even at liberty to say that she had forgotten my chilli paste.

Later on I learnt that the name of this dish was bibimbap, which I think sounds hilarious, and I can’t get enough saying it. This dish also shows a lot of resemblances with the Hungarian “rizses hús ( aka mixed rice with meat). So try the Korean or Hungarian version, or both, you will not be disappointed.

The Bibimbap as it is served, once mixed and the choices ( no, not the boys…)

Menmusha

I actually ate at this place twice. And you know what, the funny thing is that I was not the only one! Let me tell you this little story… On my second night in Seoul I was very hungry and being alone I guess I am a bit more cautious and less adventurous about where I eat. Close to my hotel I came across this little restaurant with photo menu on display. I guess this always helps when you are in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.   So I entered and was not disappointed, there were quite a few guests with two of the tables being  occupied by foreigners; one French family with kids and an Asian family. I probably arrived around 8 o’clock. Two days after this, I was planning an early dinner as I had no real food all day, so I thought okay, I know this place already, so I headed back to Menmusha at around 6pm. I was sitting at my table when an Asian man walked through the door who looked familiar, which I thought was rather strange on my second day ever in Seoul. Then the son followed, then the mother, then I quickly realised it was the same Asian family from two nights ago. I was wondering if they also recognised me. So I guess this should be a good proof of the food quality; two returning customers in two days.

Having said that, as I was ordering my dinner the first night, I was most surprised to find that the menu had our favourite sake on offer and they also served Asahi. I guess after seeing the little samurai statues and the ramen soup choice, it was slowly sinking in that I actually had picked a Japanese restaurant in Seoul! Oh well, the ramen soup was very nice and it was a huge portion, and I had my fried pork cutlet with cabbage salad, which was lean and crispy! Price was also reasonable as I paid 10000 Korean won (around 10USD) for my combo meal. Though if you make the mistake of ordering a glass of Asahi beer, you may be just as surprised to see as I was, that it costs 8000 won! So maybe stick to the water that comes free with each meal, and enjoy your beer somewhere else.

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The reason why I returned twice

Where to go:

I ate at the one that was located near my hotel on Sejong-daero 18-gil, but looking at their website they have more than one shops in Seoul.

http://menmusha.co.kr

 

Chon

My best find was the Chon restaurant in the Bukchon area. The plan for the day was to visit Bukchon village together with Gyeongbokgung palace….( I will talk about this area  more in my next posts) I walked from my hotel all the way to Insa-dong Street, and was heading to the palace via some small streets that promised some cute galleries and good potentials for lunch or early diner later on. I took some pictures of the places so I can remember where to go back to, when I actually gave in, as it was lunchtime and at that stage I haven’t even had breakfast yet. From the window tables and what I could gather from the outside I was ready for a small day time no special restaurant, only to find a huge indoor space, great lightings and ambience as I entered. Needless to say that I was the only foreigner, what I don’t necessarily take as a bad sign, though they had an English menu and the restaurant staff spoke some English. There was a set lunch menu available though it could be only ordered for a minimum of two people, so I opted for some soup and was considering some fried pork as well. Luckily, the waiter told me it was a lot to order for one, so I settled for the reasonable soup option. The portion anyway was set for 1-2 person and I can confirm that even if Antoine had been around it would have been still enough.

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The ambience; with lot of wood and gentle lighting

I don’t mind eating alone, but what I miss is sharing and trying out different things, as really when it is just you, it looks slightly odd ordering four different dishes.

So my pickles and some tiny dried fish arrived first. It seemed these came with every order. I tried a few, and I really liked the green chive salad and the pickled radish. Coming from “Pickle-land aka Hungary”, I guess the latter should not come as a surprise. Then, my huge bowl of uncooked soup arrived on the top of a portable cooker. The waiter left, and I really hoped that he would come back and give me some instructions, as I had no clue what I was supposed to do. My cooker was eventually turned on and the soup started cooking. I was sitting patiently to start with then, I got a bit uncomfortable as the soup was heavily boiling and I still didn’t know what to do! Luckily the waiter came back and I took my chance to clarify my role in the cooking process. It turned out he was there to cook the soup for me, cut the meat and assist with anything else, and no, this was not for the ‘no clue tourists’ only, but for all the guests. I was looked after well and was attended regularly with precise countdown given to me when I could actually start eating my soup.

And the soup itself was so delicious; full of Asian style mushrooms and almost sweet flavoured beef, so it is not a surprise that I ate more than I should have. Still, I was very proud of myself, as by the end of the dish my white dress, despite my chopstick manoeuvre and glass noodle handling and slurping, was still not showing any stains!

So please go to this place, I have every confidence that you will love it!

My gorgeous Korean soup from start to finish, 28USD for two

Where to go: 

The business card of the restaurant and the street I took from Insa-dong street, which was the first street on the left (from the Anguk station end)

Oh and one for the road…

I only bought this sweet from vendors on the street, but I was not disappointed on either of the occasions. Ok, I know it is full of sugar, but the doughnut just tasted so so good, and for me, this, any time beats the usually overly sweet Dunkin’ Donuts. Sorry fans out there! Again, if you are in Hungary, watch out for its twin, called the ‘csavart fánk’ aka twisted doughnut.

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My guilty pleasure

Where to shop:

I think I ought to start with a summary of where I didn’t shop. I know it sounds strange, but as much as I tried to find something good at a reasonable price, I think I failed. And I had high hopes for Korea. Why? Almost every time I went to Bangkok and found a cute little dress, or something unique and trendy as per the clothes tag, it was always a Korean brand! So I thought why go via a distributor, when I can go to Korea myself and pick it up cheaper, haha, yes, dream on….

So, women of Seoul who are into fashion, where do you shop that doesn’t break your bank account?!

Now the list of my failed attempts and the reason for that; Believe me, if you are in Seoul, it will be difficult for you to avoid these places as it is on all blogs and travel sites, but maybe like this, I can save you a trip.

Namdaemun Market: Opening hours 11-18pm

Well, what to expect from this market; a lot of shops and maize like arrangements. There are some covered malls where at least you can get some air conditioning, in case you visit in the summer heat like I did, but generally prices were not even that low.I think if I was going to recommend an area for shopping to my grandma, this would be it! I also found a wholesale silver shop in one of the covered little malls, but the jewellery looked very similar to me and reminded me of my favourite silver shop in Bangkok in the MBK mall. I nearly asked where the items were coming from when I spotted the label on the packages, made in Thailand.

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The little alleys can get quite crowded, the market is popular with locals

So final score based on price and products: 2/10

Lotte Outlet by Seoul Station KTX

I didn’t actually plan for this shop, but at 1pm it was so hot outside, that I thought OK lets just do some exploration, maybe I will find something cool here.

The price range was just hilarious with most of the items of 200USD or above and the sales assistant was rather rudely explaining to me that yes these are all on sale so it is not 195USD only 158USD for a pair of leather sandals that was not even special.

The funny thing was seeing all these people getting excited and rummaging through the rails of sale items up to 60 -70% mark down, only to find that the items were still around 300USD. And no, these were not even designer items, or at least not that I know of. And yes, I saw some cool stuff that I would have been happy with, but for this price, I said no, thank you! Lotte Department next door, actually turned out to have better prices than the outlet with all the sale signs!

So overall experience is a 5/10

Hyundae Department store in Gangnam, at Apgujeong station (Line 3)

This was another mistake of mine, but next time I will know better. Only high-end fashion items with a huge food court upstairs where everything was overpriced. So if you fancy some stylish dumplings and posh noodles, please head this way. I decided I am not old enough for this yet.

Final score is a sad 2/10

Hongdae

This area was supposed to be a good shopping quarter according to many sites. I have to admit I struggled again. Cheap quality items targeting teenagers. They might have fun here, but seriously I did not. The only thing I would say is that there are a number of cool looking bars and restaurants as you come off the main shopping street, and I even came across a cool silver jewellery shop specialising in handmade rings just right opposite to the Danish restaurant on the picture. The guy was nice and was telling me he had a French wife, so we exchanged some anecdotes on how it is to live with a French. So maybe head to this area for the food in the evening?

 

But for shopping I would give this area a 1/10 (gosh, I am harsh but! I also had an ‘ade'(sparkling drink) here that was supposed to be done with real grapefruit and when the girl in the kitchen reached for the plastic bottle and squirted two portions of orange something in my glass, all my hopes were gone)

Dongdaemun Shopping Area

So in case you haven’t heard this is the shopping area where the malls open at 10am and close at 5am, yes, that is the following morning. Ok not all of them, as some close at 1am already, but I would really like to see who is in their right mind goes there and shops at that time? Maybe next time, I go and check, just for fun.

So there are at least 7 big shopping malls here where you can shop until you drop, literally. I sampled three of them. Here is their review;

Doota (opening hours 10am- 5am (the following morning)

It is true that this was the best mall for trendy and quality products, and I nearly bought a couple of dresses here. However, most of the price tags again were rather harsh. The shoe selection was also a bit disappointing as it was mainly Valentino and Mahnolo Blahnik knock offs, often with not even a fixed price tag on them, and when I asked, there was a different price quoted for cash and for card payment. So just be careful here with this concept.

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Overall it was not too bad and given I nearly bought something here I give a 6/10

Migliore

I visited this store after Doota and after the nice little boutiques, the almost market feeling was rather disappointing. And yes, items were cheap, but so was quality too.

Overall I give a 2/10

GOODMORNING CITY

My third attempt in the Dongdaemun shopping area was this mall, after which, I gave up. Many of the shops were already closed here, even though I must have got there around 9pm. Again a lot of cheap quality, but it seems they had a variety of items like bags and suitcase, cosmetics and souvenirs, so if this is what you need, come here.

Overall 2/10

 

Overall Migliore and GoodMorningCity were quite similar, top right picture was taken at Migliore, bottom right at GMC

Lotte Young

So where I actually bought something was this department store. I have to say it was very busy and there were a good number of brands here that I have never heard of. Overall I was not that much impressed, quickly browsed through the shops and left, though as it seemed it was a popular spot with the locals.

Although at the entrance of the department store I spotted a cute little jewellery shop, you will come across a lot of them in Seoul, many of them selling 925 Sterling Silver.

I am normally into bigger, statement pieces, but for some reason I had an idea of wearing the very thin band of rings. It is classy, subtle and versatile in wearing, so I actually bought two silver ones. They also had it in darker colour and in rose gold option with matching necklace available. I really like them and thinking that maybe I should have stocked up on it a bit more. So if you are into this type of jewellery, visit this stall at the entrance.

 

Overall, due to my purchase 6/10

 

Thanks for reading! Come back for Seoul Travels Part 2, where you can read about tips on the markets, what to do and where to go in the city, the big craze about Korean cosmetics and Korean Pop and more!

Tokyo Travels Part 2

As promised after my first entry, in this post you will read about my following Tokyo discoveries

Where to eat…

A bit of culture… aka where to hang out when you feel like being a kid and when you don’t mind acting like an adult (the second part will also work for sweeping ladies off their feet)

 Happy reading, planning and daydreaming!

Where to eat:

One thing we noticed in Tokyo was that restaurants close quite early everywhere, some at 10pm, others at 11pm, so bear that in mind when you are planning your evening. Also, on Sundays, most of the traditional Japanese restaurants and bars will be closed, so you may need to opt for a chain or a hotel restaurant.

Of course, there is no shortage in restaurants in Tokyo and it is great for exploring. Some will have English menu, at others you can choose from a picture selection, though you will come across a fair amount where you need to improvise. I remember our first time in Japan; we weren’t really prepared with Japanese expressions for pork, octopus and the rest, so after the first few restaurants where we had to randomly point at Japanese characters on the menu, we ended up drawing some animals on a piece of paper. You should have seen Antoine’s first attempt to draw a cow! Not that my chicken was that much better! So our ‘Pictionary’ attempts have eventually developed into what we named as our survivor card. Here it is for a bit of laugh.

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The one and only Japan survivor card from 2014

Nowadays we speak the basic food language so we can order chicken, beef, tuna and octopus, though we often are (ok mainly Antoine is) adventurous enough and just select a few things randomly on the menu, and hope (especially me) that it is not beef tongue or chicken skin that will follow.

But, when in Japan, you have to go with the flow and one thing you should do is to be brave enough to venture into the little traditional restaurants that are often filled with local people only. At first, it can be a bit intimidating, but once you downed your first cold sake, you will become more and more relaxed and will enjoy the experience. I have to admit, when I am on my own, I am slightly less brave, though with Antoine it is funny, as he doesn’t mind doing the initial assessment of the places and peeking through the little curtains and windows to check the places out. I follow him to most of the places…though I hold the veto power.

Japanese people are also very friendly, so if you show some willingness to communicate; a smile or a hand gesture could get you far. They also enjoy a brief conversation, and normally ask where you come from. This was the case in Yuki’s bar as well. We were actually going back to Shimbashi to try to find a restaurant that we enjoyed very much, back in January 2016, but unfortunately the place was closed. So we carried on with our search and ventured into the tiny streets, away from the crowds of Shimbashi. Yuki’s bar had a great entrance with huge stone steps and the ambience was a mixture of western and eastern charm. Was definitely a great spot for some cold sake, and as it turned out, also a place to start a new friendship.

We were offered to try at least 7 different types of sake, before settling for the one we liked the best, of course this was all on an empty stomach. But fear not, as some very delicious food followed… We ordered our usual sashimi plate, which was great, but despite me eating raw fish now, I have a tolerance level and once I reach that, I need something cooked! So luckily we got some baby grilled corns, followed by some pork slices with grilled peppers and shiitake. I just loved it. So much actually, that I wanted to come back and eat the same things again and again. Hence we told Yuki that we would be back.

Yes, that is me in the below mentioned devil horns, and I am very glad that the picture is so dark and blurry 🙂

In a couple of days time we returned as promised, but we only got to the bar as it was closing and we found Yuki in his boxers behind the bar, changing back from his work clothes. I was gutted as all day I was picturing myself having the pork and my grilled pimiento again, plus I was sooo hungry!

Yuki apparently had to meet his mum or that was what we understood, and he gestured that we should go with him. That was my chance gone of having a proper dinner that night, so I thought, and I pictured the 7/11 shelves and what might be left on it when we finally get around to eat. Sulk!

Before the rest of the story, you have to know that under no circumstances I do karaoke, and despite much encouragement from friends I still deny participation and just quietly and very quickly disappear from the scene. So to my luck Yuki took us to this private Japanese whisky/karaoke club that was run by his 70 years old mum, and as it seemed it also functioned as the family and friend-entertaining venue after the regular closing times. The evening turned out to be hilarious with a lot of sake and karaoke, and of course, us not singing was out of the question! I don’t think I’ve ever had such a crazy night; a room full of strangers being so welcoming and despite of us not understanding each other by words, the singing, the dancing and the hand signals did the job. And guess what, Yuki made some phone calls at the night, and shortly after we got our (my!!!) favourite dishes delivered and the same sake we had selected the other day. At one point I had an devil headpiece put on me by Yuki’s mother, who was also wearing one, and we danced and sang as if there was no tomorrow, until 1 am. Antoine had to get up that day at 6 am for his meeting. Oops.

We always planned to have a Japanese karaoke experience in those private rooms with Antoine, but never got around it, or just never had enough sake to build up the courage. I guess life had enough of our indecisiveness and arranged it for us!

Yuki, very sweetly, sent a message the following day in his broken English. “Yesterday thank you, September see you. “ As we were leaving that night we said that we were hoping to return to Tokyo for a few days in September.

Screenshots of our Google map entry and the bar found on Google. Just type this address in to locate the place; Japan, 〒105-0004 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Shinbashi, 2 Chome−13−13-3

So if you are Tokyo, and want to enjoy a great bar with great sake selection and food, please visit Yuki’s bar. Can’t guarantee the karaoke craze afterwards, but you will not be disappointed even with the standard experience, I promise. And please mention that you are there due to Tony’s and Adrienn’s recommendation and pass our regards onto Yuki.

A bit of culture

Akihabara: Anime nails and video games. Of course you must have read about the vide games in this area, but did you know that you can get super cool anime nails done here?! I went for some Studio Ghibli options; Totoro, Mae, Kiki and Jiji. Studio Ghibli fans out there, I know you will truly appreciate this! I loved it so much and it lasted for a good few weeks. Some things to consider though before you sit down in the nail salon chair. They are made from scratch, these are not stickers, but a truly amazing form of art and you can watch the whole process. It was actually pretty cool, even though to get one nail done was approximately 30-40 minutes and not that cheap as I recall it was ¥2000 per nail.

Pros to get it down here, amazing quality, lasts weeks and boyfriend can be occupied with the video games in the same building or nearby. Win- win situations, isn’t just?

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Must be at the beginning of the 2 hours sitting still 😉 though was very happy to watch the artist working

Some tips: don’t get base colour under the figure, only a see through coat, as once your nail grows it will be too obvious and you would need to get rid of the figure as well quite quickly.

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TADAM, the final result! Let me introduce you to Totoro, Kiki, Mae and Jiji ( from left to right) all painted from scratch, and I promise in reality my fingers are less sausage looking

You can take pictures with you as communications in English can be quite limited, though I mentioned the figure name, she Googled it, and I picked the image I most liked! Oh, and it is gel nail polish, so once you are done with it, you need to get is scraped off. Happy painting!

Where to go: Don Quijote shopping mall, Akihabara, ground floor – don’t expect a big shop, it is a couple of chairs in the corner. But look at the result! I went to the lady with purple hair, though she could have green hair by now!

Yes, as you have probably guessed this was the tip about where to hang out when you feel like being a kid. Before we move onto the slightly more grown up and serious ambience one final advice for the ladies out there who has never really been into video games (like me!!!). Do not shy away from the game parlours in Tokyo, they are certainly a unique experience, and I would have never thought I will say this, but also so much fun! I ended up trying out some dancing and drumming games to start with, and I loved the ones where they test your reflexes as you hit each illuminating character. We also tried some adventure and shooting games together, which were a lot of fun! Needless to say that Antoine beat me 19 games out of 20, and yes I won one!!!, but I loved it and am very glad I gave in. Some advise though: If you aim for the Pachinko floor, don’t forget about the noise and the smoke! Having said that there is never a queue at the ladies toilet here 😉 Who said I am not an optimist?!

So if the above didn’t rock your boat how about some amazing view of Tokyo city instead, a cold glass of Boulanger rose champagne and some smooth jazz music? If this is more like your thing then read along.

The first time we went to the New York Grill Bar at the Tokyo Park Hyatt was for last year’s New Year’s Eve. It was a surprise organised by me marking Antoine’s special birthday, yes, it was one of the big ones.We actually flew on the 31st and landed at Tokyo Narita airport after 7pm. Our reservation was for after 9pm and I knew we had to race through the city, locate our Airbnb for the night (wanted to stay walking distance of the hotel in case of public transport disaster on the night, who would have thought that on New Year’s Eve in Tokyo it is as easy to find a taxi on the street as finding a 7/11 in Asia. Lesson learnt!)

So, just as most of the time, me, stressing about the time and hoping we will have 10 minutes in the flat to actually get ready for a super posh night, whilst Antoine is casually strolling through Shinjuku station admiring anything that is Japanese. This was the point when I thought, OK let’s break the silence about the surprise appointment, though according to Antoine, no issues, we can just stroll around in the city and pop into a bar, yeah, good luck with that on the 31st of December! Anyhow, eventually we located our tiny apartment, got ready in 10 minutes, I think Antoine even had time to smoke a cigarillo, we hailed a taxi off the street and headed for the big surprise.

I loved the whole experience, it was a bit of a splurge, and needless to say that after the 5 courses of set menu we ended up locating a McDonalds at 3am, as the size of the meals were rather questionable. But we had gorgeous cold champagne, a bottle of cold sake, some amazing ambience and smooth live jazz in the background.

So this time in Tokyo Antoine had a business dinner (men only I guess) so I decided that instead of sitting alone in the hotel room, I shall find some entertainment for myself. Googled the Park Hyatt again, and it turned out that they have the jazz performance every night. Wohoooo, I thought, though the fact that I would be sitting alone in a bar made me a tiny bit uncomfortable, I still got my black little dress ready, found the one pair of heels I had packed just in case, put my Lady Danger lipstick on, and headed to the hotel.

There is jazz performance every day starting at 8pm, except on Sundays when it starts at 7pm. I managed to get there a bit after 8 and offered me a nice table. I ordered a glass of Boulanger and soaked in the jazz.

Not bad for a regular weekday, right?

Now lets talk about prices, ok, not cheap, as a glass of champagne starts at ¥2000, and it is easy to have more than one, but cocktails are slightly cheaper and they have some more reasonably priced drinks as well. If you are not a hotel guest, they also charge you ¥2400 cover charge from the time the concert begins, but think about it as a concert ticket price for a 3 hours jazz concert!

By the way if you have not seen the movie of Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, check out the hotel bar scene, as you might find it familiar.

Snaps of the hotel bar and its amazing murals

And finally, something in between, aka the golden middle… Ex-Theatre Roppongi

I really like the music of Damien Rice. So when I learnt that he was coming to play in Hong Kong naturally, I got very excited, then very annoyed. Unfortunately the tickets sold out a month prior to the concert and the one available ticket, that was originally 500HKD, was put on a resale website for 12000HKD!!! I don’t even know how that was legal!

So as it turned out Damien Rice was doing an Asian tour and he was going to be in Tokyo at the same time of our travel. We booked the tickets via Viagogo.com, which was fairy pleasant, though I suggest you get smart on the delivery options. Originally we opted for the tickets to be delivered to Hong Kong, but as nothing seemed to happen a week prior to the concert, we changed the delivery location to the hotel in Tokyo, which eventually worked.

The venue, Ex- Theatre Roppongi, was great. I loved the seating arrangement, with plenty of legroom, great lighting system during the show and well arranged exits and washrooms on each floor. We got there quite early, and formed a queue obediently. They operate on a drink chip system, where you pay ¥500 for a person and get one chip that you can exchange at the bar for any drinks. My suggestion would be to get a couple of chips at least (each), as when Antoine tried to go back for another set of Rum and Coke before the concert began (yes, even the drink choices will take you back a few years into your youth) a queue has developed that was going through 2 floor levels. Having said that, I’ve seen others bringing their own drinks in their backpacks.

In the Ex-Theatre Roppongi waiting for Damien Rice

So next time I am back in Tokyo, I will definitely check who plays there, as they seemed to have a good international selection with a comfortable and airy venue. In case you get unlucky, and nothing is on that would rock your boat, the venue has a rooftop bar that you can also enjoy, regardless.

Address: Ex-Theatre Roppongi 1-2-9 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, 1060031,Tokyo, Japan

 

Thanks for reading; this is the end of Tokyo Travels Part 2. More to follow in the next entry:

Where else to shop… ladies and gentlemen it is bargain hunting time

My best find during this visit…

For the couples and the romantic hearts out there…