I LOST MY HEAD IN SAN FRANCISCO

“I’ve been in love with love and the idea of something binding us together. You know that love is strong enough…”

I couldn’t think of a title so I decided to use lyrics from the Mowgli’s San Francisco. Sorry if the above photo is out of chronological order, wanted to start the post with an “iconic” photo. I’m actually not a huge fan of the Bay but my best friend and boyfriend are from there so… what’s a girl to do? These photos are from Halloween 2016 in San Francisco… yes, you read that correctly. These photos are from last year but I’m going to go ahead and share them anyway.

First stop in the morning was Tartine Manufactory in the Mission District. I am extremely bad with directions so I took Lyft/Uber the entire time I was in San Francisco. You can find their yelp page here.

Strolled around pretty aimlessly after breakfast since I had no set itinerary for the day. I will admit that San Francisco is way more walkable than Los Angeles.

This was actually when I had first gotten my iPhone 7 so I was testing out the portrait mode. Not too shabby huh? I actually barely use this feature because it requires so much light. Nonetheless, all the photos from this post are taken on my iPhone.

Finally got to try The Rebel Within from Craftsman and Wolves. I would highly recommend the panna cotta dessert pictured above (forgot the name, sorry). The Rebel was also delicious and consists of a half-boiled egg inside a muffin. They tend to sell out earlier in the day so I would call ahead just in case.

If you love the arts (which I do), I highly recommend going to the Minnesota Street Project. This was basically a huge warehouse building with multiple galleries inside. There were a ton of things to look at and I definitely spent more time here than expected. Pictures to follow…

I believe I spent at least 3 hours here, but 2 hours should be enough time to get through all the galleries. The shirt above looks really small but it was actually several feet tall. Downside to traveling alone is not having a model to use for scale.

Every Saturday morning there is a Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building. Not sure of the exact time, but come hungry since there are quite a few things to eat here. There was also a lovely stand that sells fresh pasta/ravioli that my friend and I purchased and made for dinner.

I just noticed the guy in the back and gave myself a scare… Wanted to include this and share that Craftsman and Wolves has a stand at the Farmer’s Market.

This is by far the best crab roll that I have ever had and can be found at Woodhouse Fish. If you only have time for one meal in San Francisco, I would highly recommend getting this. I crave this all the time, but unfortunately there is nothing like this in Los Angeles.

Best way to end the trip was a visit to SF MOMA. Didn’t want to overload you guys with photos of art so I just picked a few favorites to include in the post. There are a ton of other things to do in San Francisco that are not included here, but this trip was by far my favorite.

Last but not least, I did mention this trip was for Halloween…

I didn’t get the chance to dress up for Halloween this year because I got super sick (Steven and I had costumes picked out and everything). So here are my costumes from last year. First one is obviously not very exciting and is my go to costume if I am feeling lazy. Second was supposed to be the Snapchat deer filter but I went for a more subtle deer look.

Sorry for the long post! I’ll be back soon with more adventures.

STAYING HOME

Sometimes the best kind of vacation is the one in your own backyard. I am always super busy with school, so a nice staycation is always welcome. Back in March (yes I realize it’s now November), Steven and I had the pleasure of staying at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. The photo above was actually our view from the room. The photo turned out a bit gloomy, but it was actually quite a pleasant site to wake up to.

Rule #1 of any vacation for me is sleeping in (if time permits). I usually like to try and get a good nights rest if possible. In complete honesty I break rule #1 all the time. It’s so hard to sleep in when traveling to new cities because there is always so much to do! However, since we were just staying in Los Angeles, we decided to sleep in a little.

Another perk of staying at a hotel is ordering room service. Steven and I usually always stick to Airbnb so this was definitely a treat. Breakfast in bed brought to you by Ivory on Sunset. The food was unfortunately a bit underwhelming and pricey. We did however go downstairs to eat at Ivory on Sunset later on and found their late night menu to be quite tasty. Not sure why there was such a huge contrast from breakfast to dinner, but if you do stay at the Mondrian, I highly recommend going downstairs to the restaurant to eat.

We decided to have a more low-key dinner and walked over to Fig & Olive (it was less than a mile away). This is one of my go to restaurants because the food is always amazing. I would also highly recommend this restaurant for brunch/lunch as well (they are very hassle free with large parties which is a huge plus). There are huge windows that allow for a ton of natural lighting during the day making it a perfect spot for brunch. For dinner, all the lights are brought down, but not to the point where you are sitting in the dark wondering what you are eating. Ambience is key, and Fig & Olive has that down to a T.

You absolutely must order some crostini when dining at Fig & Olive. If you are having any doubts, don’t because they are amazing. There are so many to choose from and I love getting a variety for the table.

My go to entree is the Truffle Risotto. I have had a few other entrees at Fig & Olive but nothing tops this risotto for me. I opted to not get shrimp this time but it pairs perfectly if you are in need of a bit more protein.

After dinner, we headed back to our hotel to check out Sky Bar. We heard a lot of good things about Sky Bar, but was pretty disappointed. The decor is lovely but the bar/pool is actually on the main floor (I expected it to be a rooftop bar). It was also pretty dead for a Friday night since only hotel guests are allowed entry. (Not sure if this exclusivity is working in their favor…)

At the end of the day, Steven and I had a lovely little staycation. This was actually the calm before the storm so to say since we headed straight to Cancun after our stay at the Mondrian. Not sure if I would recommend staying at this hotel since it was quite pricey, but I’m glad I got to discover something new in Los Angeles.

More adventures to come soon! As always, thank you for reading.

LEARNING TO LET GO

Learning to let go has been a goal of mine in the recent years. Going through hell and back has not only shaped me, but has taught me to grow as a person. During this time I learned to never let someone else take control of my life. I have seen that tomorrow will always bring change, whether it be good or bad. The ultimate lesson though came in the shape of letting go of people (or situations) that were toxic to my well being.

The RiSE Lantern Festival actually took place this past weekend in the Mojave Dessert. The location was rather unspecific but sits about 30 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. This trip was actually a spur of the moment decision for a friend and I. Nonetheless, fueled by our desire to let go (and the chance to wish upon a star), we made the drive out from Los Angeles with no plan and no where to stay.

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Since we had a long 5-6 hour drive ahead of us, we quickly fueled up with some avocado toast from Blacktop Coffee. It definitely feels as though avocado toast is synonymous for Californians. You can find a variant of it at almost every brunch location in DTLA.

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Ran into very little traffic on the 10 freeway since we left in the morning. Made a mad dash to a hotel in Las Vegas to where our tickets were being will-called. I thought it was a little strange that the tickets were at a separate location, but things always seem to have a way of working itself out. Thankfully we stopped for the hard copy or else we likely would have been turned away! (You need the bottom tab to collect your two lanterns, mat and pen!)

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Read some reviews from the previous year that stated parking would be a nightmare. The event started around 4pm and we arrived around 5pm. Getting there early actually worked out to our advantage since we were sent back to the car to put our blankets away. (You can basically bring yourself, a camera/phone, a jacket and some water!) The festival grounds are actually a good 15-20 minute walk from the parking lot so come prepared.

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After what seemed like an eternity of walking back and forth, we finally reached our destination. It was a relief to see this sign inviting us in. From this point we found something to eat (which took forever), collected our materials and got to writing. I will say that laying on a small mat in the desert is not ideal. I definitely inhaled/rolled in enough dirt for a lifetime. The ground also gets really cold as the sun sets so come prepared with warm clothing.

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The excitement didn’t actually hit me until the first release of lanterns took place. For a lack of better words it was surreal. It looked exactly like the scene from Disney’s Tangled. Though I almost caught fire a few times to low flying lanterns and nearly burned my “dreams,” I realized once more that nothing beats the power of positive vibes. As cliche as it sounds, it was impossible to be in foul mood surrounded by such happiness.

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At the end of the night, we decided to just drive home rather than looking for a place to stay. We left the event around 9:30pm (ends at 10pm) and was surprised to find ourselves out of the lot in less than 30 minutes. Was 12 hours of driving worth it? Definitely! All in all this experience is one for the books and I hope to return in the years to come. Sometimes all we need is a little reminder that magic still exists. Thank you RiSE.

KIJITEI HOEISO RYOKAN

Sometimes I find myself needing a vacation while I’m on vacation. Uhh… Bear with me on that thought before you brush me off as insane. Japan is such an amazing country, and there’s honestly never a dull moment. You are literally always on the go because there is so much to do and see. So what better way to unwind, then to stay at a ryokan and relax in some hot springs.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn and can be found all over Japan. They’re not as common in the city, but there are tons of ryokans just a short train ride away. Japan also has an amazing public transportation system, so most places are very accessible.

Here’s a quick shout out to the shinkansen (bullet train) for getting me from one place to another so quickly. The shinkansen travels at about 160 mph (257 km/h) so I got to Hakone from Kyoto in under 3 hours. (It would have taken 6 hours by car!)

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Nonetheless, a 3 hour train ride is still quite a bit of time so it’s important to stock up on some food/snacks for the trip. My choice for the day? This amazing bento box that I purchased in Kyoto Station. There’s actually a ton of different bentos you can choose from. I’m super indecisive so I spent at least half hour trying to decide.

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Dozed off on the train and woke up at my destination. Hello Hakone, you were everything I imagined and more! The area does feel extremely rural in comparison to Kyoto and Tokyo. But fear not, because Hakone is a very popular tourist destination. They are quite famous for their onsens (hot springs) so you will see visitors from all over the world.

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There seems to be an ice cream stand around every corner in Japan. Every day is a cheat day when you’re on vacation right? So I absolutely must eat ice cream every chance I get! Okay fine… I didn’t eat ice cream every day, but I definitely ate my weights worth in mentaiko onigiri (rice ball).

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There’s actually a bus that will take you to your designated ryokan. The buses are located right outside of Hakone Station, so no need to worry about transportation. Finally arrived at Kijitei Hoeiso after a series of never-ending winding roads. I am also happy to report that I did not throw up on anyone due to motion sickness.

The view from the ryokan was truly something else! Most ryokans in Hakone have onsens for guest use. It’s actually customary in Japan to enter an onsen fully nude (there are separate hot springs for men and women). The water is supposed to cleanse you, so you don’t want to contaminate it by bringing “foreign” objects in. The lush backdrop may be aesthetically pleasing, but it also serves as a form of privacy since onsens are outdoors.

Still not comfortable getting naked with strangers? Well fear not, because Kijitei Hoeiso lets you book their onsens for private use. I definitely took advantage of this and spent an amazing 30 minutes just relaxing in the hot spring.

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Ryokans take pride in tradition, so I was immediately served some matcha (green tea) with azuki (red bean) snacks upon arrival. Let me start by saying the rooms at Kijitei Hoeiso are huge! The room in the photo houses your dining table and is later partitioned off to create the bedroom. Keeping true to Japanese tradition, the beds are actually kakebutons (floor futon) which are surprisingly comfortable.

Next to the main room was a small living room with couches, a coffee table and a mini fridge. There was also a very nice balcony, a private entryway, and a huge bathroom with a giant tub.

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In the evening, a traditional kaiseki (multi-course) dinner is served in your room. To say I was spoiled during my stay is an understatement. Each of the dishes were super detail oriented and delicate. This surprisingly turned out to be my favorite meal of the trip!

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The meal is compromised of small courses that included sashimi, seafood, mozuku (seaweed), pork, vegetables, eggs and so much more…You definitely get your moneys worth when staying at a ryokan since breakfast and dinner are usually included.

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Dinner even came with this cute little bowl of udon that had a little flame under it to keep it warm. This particular dish is quite simple, and yet I can safely say that this is probably my favorite udon. Can someone please teach me how to make the noodles and broth?

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The meal also includes yakiniku (grilled meat) for those of you who can’t live without meat. Your server will bring out a small personal stone grill for you to cook on. They’ve pretty much thought of everything to put it simply.

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There’s always room for dessert right? Answer is definitely yes since this is probably the sweetest cantaloupe I have ever had. Oh and next to it is another little surprise wrapped up in a bamboo leaf.

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Low and behold the mysterious looking surprise! Turned out to be clear mochi filled with a sweet paste (possibly vanilla). I’ve had tons of mochi in my life, but clear mochi was definitely a first for me. The overall meal was spectacular and included foods not commonly served in modern restaurants.

I would definitely recommend Kijitei Hoeiso or any ryokan if you are looking to time travel. Photos of breakfast at Kijitei and Hakone to come soon!

Thanks for reliving Japan with me!

MONKEYING AROUND

It’s been a while since I’ve updated so…
Here are some long overdue photos from Kyoto. Made my way out to the Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest) area in hopes of seeing some bamboo, but only had enough time for the Iwatayama Monkey Park.

The Monkey Park entrance is pretty hidden and I had to ask for directions on multiple occasions. Kyoto turned out to be quite an interesting city. On one end was Fushimi Inari-taisha, and on the other was this nearly unscathed landscape. But what if you don’t like nature? Well, no worries because you can easily stay in downtown Kyoto and go shopping instead.

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Kyoto, Japan

Chanced upon this river while looking for the Iwatayama Monkey Park. It was very surreal to see since the LA River isn’t much of a river… Actually it’s completely dry… I’ve driven by it nearly every day for the past year and have yet to see any water.

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Kyoto, Japan

Wandered around aimlessly because I’m directionally challenged… More shots of the river since I am envious of those who get to live beside it. I imagine there are tons of mosquitos here. Would I survive all the bites? The answer is probably not since I am usually mosquito bate…

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Iwatayama Monkey Park

Finally found the very well hidden entrance to Iwatayama. The cost to enter is 550¥ or around $5.50 USD. Be ready for the 15-20 minute hike up these stairs and bring water! I was given fair warning, but I definitely was not expecting such a steep hike. There’s a little rest stop about half way through in case you need a break.

Here’s the official map of the park. Pretty sure I ended up taking the long way since I remember walking through the playground… Definitely didn’t notice the fork in the road…

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View from Iwatayama Monkey Park

This is the view you are greeted with after your unexpected workout. It was totally worth it in my personal opinion because…

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Japanese Macaque

You get to see the adorable Japanese Macaque (or Snow Monkey) in their natural habitat. They are actually not caged at all in the park. In an odd turn of events, it is the humans that are asked to step inside the “cage.”

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Japanese Macaque

You don’t have to enter the caged area, but there are strict rules to follow. I believe you are not to engage the monkeys or make eye contact with them outside of the designated area. On the plus side, you can purchase fruits for 100¥ ($1 USD) and feed them from inside the enclosure.

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Japanese Macaque

I was told that the best time to come is right when they open at 9:00am. This ensures that the monkeys will be hungry and eager to take your snacks. They’re definitely not afraid of humans and will gladly grab the food from your hands. Some pointed out that they can be a little aggressive, but I found them to be quite pleasant.

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Japanese Macaque at Iwatayama

There are tons and tons of Macaque in this area, so you will definitely see some if you visit. It seems as though this particular Macaque was busy pondering his/her life.

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Japanese Macaque + Banana

You may even come across a young Macaque eating a banana if you’re lucky. Yes, they apparently do eat bananas and are quite good at peeling them on their own.

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Baby Japanese Macaque

There are also baby Macaques depending on the time of the year! They are super super small and adorable. The babies however are definitely more timid and do not approach the feeding station.

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Sightseeing Japanese Macaque

If you didn’t believe monkeys were curious before, then you must after seeing this photo. Monkey see, monkey do right? Pretty sure it doesn’t get any cuter than this.

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Iwatayama Monkey Park

Okay, enough monkey business! Pun definitely intended haha… The hike down is definitely more pleasant than the way up. I couldn’t help but notice this tree with little plants growing all over the roots. It reminded me of a scene from Hayao Miyazaki’s, “Princess Mononoke.”

Please go watch the movie if you have never heard of it before. Actually any Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film is amazing, so I’m going to recommend watching all of them! His animations are amazing so I promise you won’t regret it.

Thanks for tuning in and reading my nonsense! I’ll be back soon!

FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA

I normally don’t fancy grape soda but…
This saved my life as I trekked through the suburbs of Kyoto for 40 minutes in search of my Airbnb. Since I was moving from Tokyo to Kyoto, I had all my luggage with me and the weather was a “pleasant” 85°F (30°C)… Okay so I will admit that it wasn’t super hot out, but the humidity definitely did not help.

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Fanta Grape

Mistakenly got off at the “nearest” station to the Airbnb, then ended up walking in circles through the suburbs of Kyoto. To add insult to injury, I found a train station right behind the apartment… FAIL!

Japan can be very tricky to maneuver at times. There are tons of local trains and a lot of transfers involved, so ask for directions if you are even the slightest bit unsure. Google Maps is also super reliable and got me to my destination 99% of the time. Deducting 1% since it insisted on making me walk to my apartment.

But enough about me being lost in Kyoto, today’s post is on…

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Entrance to Fushimi Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha, a Japanese Shinto shrine (not Buddhist) dedicated to Inari kami. Who is Inari and what is kami you ask? A kami is the spirit in Shinto religion, and Inari is the kami (spirit) of fertility, rice, sake, tea and foxes.

I arrived very close to golden hour, so I couldn’t really see the camera screen… (Another problem with the Canon G7x is the “missing” viewfinder!) I apologize for the oddly out of center image. I was likely focusing on the torii gate and not the main shrine…

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Kitsune (Fox)

One of the two foxes (kitsune) at the entrance of the shrine. Inari is the kami of foxes, so shrines dedicated to Inari will have foxes at the main entrance.

Kitsune is seen as Inari’s messenger, so many will bring the fox offerings. What is an example of a famous offering? Inari sushi, which is cleverly shaped to have two ears like a fox. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it and be amazed.

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Mini Torii Gates with Wishes

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Mini Torii Gates

Hundreds of wishes written on miniature torii gates can be found throughout the shrine.

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Messages for Kitsune

The shrine also offered fox shaped charms for writing messages/wishes. The fox charms also allows you to draw in your own face. Now you can make wishes and be creative at the same time. Sounds like a double win in my book!

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

I grew a little impatient waiting for everyone to take their pictures… I did however find this trail that led me slightly above the torii gates, so I snapped some shots of the exterior.

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

Why take a photo inside the walkway, when you can take a photo from above… This is how impatient I can be.

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

Not really sure what this was supposed to be… I did all my research before traveling to Japan, but this left me stumped! HAHAHA get it?! Okay, no more tree puns…

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

And finally… a nearly empty photo of the famous torii gates found at Fushimi Inari-taisha. There are an estimated 10,000 torii gates at this shrine. Another fun fact? Each torii gate is actually a donation from a Japanese business in hopes of good fortune.

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

Another gorgeous scene as I made my way back down. I’m convinced that everything in Japan looks better. Unfortunately we did not make it to the top of the trail and back. I was told this takes a few hours, so come prepared if this is your goal.

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Takoyaki

Takoyaki purchased from a street cart outside of the shrine. What is this you may ask? Well takoyaki is a wheat-flour snack filled with chopped up octopus. It is then topped with mayonnaise and bonita (fish) flakes. I would recommend steering clear of this snack if you are not a fan of seafood/octopus!

On a side note, takoyaki can be found all over Japan (not just Kyoto) and is probably one of the most common street foods. I know it sounds a little strange, but it’s actually quite yummy.

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Taro Ice Cream + Silken Tofu

Best way to end a post? Ice cream! This was a scoop of taro ice cream topped with silken tofu soft serve. I will admit that I cringed at the idea of tofu soft serve at first, but the texture turned out to be creamy and perfect. I guess you should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case its ingredients.

Thanks for checking in loves. To be continued soon!