A Wonderful Whirlwind in Japan

japan-112722_640While traveling for work, I always make an effort to carve out at least a small pocket of time to enjoy my destination… through cuisine, local acquaintances, or a drive-by sight-see. When I found out I was going to go to Japan for work recently I wasn’t sure what to expect. Meetings, dinners, train rides, repeat. While I was excited to return to Land of the Rising Sun, it was hard to imagine having any time to enjoy the culture.

Without really trying, my experience of traveling to Japan for work exceeded expectations by a mile. My trip was full of out of this world food and flavors, unexpected hospitality, meaningful local connections, and exposure to a new side of global business. I even was able to wrap up some unfinished business from my trip 10 years prior…

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My American colleagues and I were lucky enough to have a few of our local Japanese colleagues with us for the vast majority of our week. When did this become invaluable? Not only when navigating the intimidating train systems, but even more so when it was time to eat. From ramen and rice to sashimi to shabu-shabu (above), I ate some of the most delicious Japanese food. The most adventurous selection of the week went to sea urchin.

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I’ll try everything once and that’s a great attitude to have in Japan, especially when you’ve got locals ordering on your behalf.  A dictionary of food came in handy at one meal to help in our interpretation of the beautifully presented edibles.

Name that sushi?

Name that sushi? My favorite is on the top left.

When traveling on business, you have to work to see the sights. That's why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hoped on the train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole.

When traveling on business, you usually have to go out of your way to see some sights. That’s why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya Crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hopped on a late night train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole for a sake nightcap.

Coworkers

Getting the chance to do business in Japan was invaluable experience. Business in Japan is built on a foundation of respect, honesty and follow-through. I am a wiser professional after building relationships with colleagues from some of the most successful and well-established companies in the world.

Umeda Sky Building

I’ve always had a fascination with skyscrapers and tall structures, and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka had me entranced from the moment I laid eyes on it. I had never seen or heard of it and it became the subject of early morning exploration. While I didn’t have time to go up to the hanging gardens on the top floor, it will forever be in my memory as one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps the most

After 5 non-stop days of meetings, presentations and train rides we finally earned some official sightseeing time. Thanks to the never ending hospitality of my local colleague, we enjoyed Kyoto with visits to the Nijo Castle and the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). While I had been to both spots during my study abroad in 2004, being back was a time to reflect on how I’ve grown in the 10 years since my first visit.

Because of the nature of this trip, we spent a lot of time on the Shinkansen (bullet train)…  traveling from Tokyo to Hamamatsu to Osaka to Kyoto and back to Tokyo. During my premiere trip to Japan 10 years ago and during our ride early in the week south to Osaka, I missed the opportunity to see beautiful Mt. Fuji out the train window due to less than desirable weather. On our final train ride back to Tokyo, the day before we were to depart, as the sun was setting, without a minute of sunlight to spare, we lucked out and I finally got to see the majestic mountain.


It was a spectacular and satisfying way to wrap up an unforgettable week. More photos and memories on Flickr.

Treasures of the Sunset

I’m not shy when discussing the joy associated with my living situation. In addition to having a great apartment and great roommate, I embrace my neighborhood and take advantage of its riches frequently. There are many things to love about San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood. I love brisk after-work urban hikes to the top of Grand View Park and Strawberry Hill (in Golden Gate Park). I love the delicious cheap dinner spots like Lime Tree, King of Noodles and Crepevine, and its classier joints like Pasión and Nopalito. I even love Donut World, open 24 hours a day.

Grand View Park, Sunset, San Francisco

My roommate (Austin) and me at the top of Grand View Park, one of my very favorite vantage points from high above the Inner Sunset. Along your urban hike up to the park, be sure to stop at Moraga and 16th Avenue and discover one of the two nearby sets of mosaic tile staircases. (Photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

The Inner Sunset has a hot dog joint, comic book store, and shoe repair shop that’s been open since 1900. From its streets you can look in various directions and lay your eyes on Sutro Tower, the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park, an oasis where you can run on trails, run on a track inside a former NFL stadium, run a half marathon, hike, paddle boat, golf, frisbee golf, cycle laps, geocache, play baseball, soccer, kickball, attend a music festival and more. Our glorious park is home to a world-class science museum and art museum, Japanese Tea Garden, carousel and bison paddock.

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There is never a shortage of things to do and see in Golden Gate Park. Starting clockwise from top left: a butterfly inside the Academy of Sciences, ducklings and their parents at Stow Lake, a Burning Man tent set-up dress rehearsal with Brian, and a geocache discovery with Austin.

In celebration of my adoration for my neighborhood I recently contributed to my dear friend Andi’s travel, food and France blog, Misadventures with Andi. As part of her new series on SF neighborhood profiles from locals, I share more of my favorite Sunset neighborhood gems including a worker-owned bakery and a magnificent cheese shop. Check out my Sunset profile here.

Inside my love for Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn DavisOf the movies released in 2013 that I have seen, there are so far three that I can say I loved and have either watched multiple times already or will likely watch again soon. Those three movies are World War Z, All is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis.

I loved World War Z because it was suspenseful, action-packed, well-paced and contained a small dose of terror. I believe All is Lost, starring Robert Redford (and only Robert Redford) will go down in history as one of the best one-man films of all time and is certainly my pick for the best castaway, lost-at-sea movie. In case you didn’t know, there are only about a dozen words spoken during the entire film.

Inside Llewyn Davis, the Cohen brothers’ Grand Prix winner at the Festival de Cannes, is described generally as, “a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.”

I loved it for a variety of reasons:

  • The music, obviously. There was so much great folk music including an original and quirky tune, Please Mr. Kennedy, which earned a Golden Globe nomination. Fare Thee Well was also a stand out song for me because of the faceless voice in the duet, Marcus Mumford, husband of Carey Mulligan, who also stars in the movie. (Listen in the trailer below.) I also loved that the songs were played in the movie in their entirety and all but one were recorded live.
  • The supporting role played by Stark Sands was innocent and enjoyable and his performance was beautiful. Little do most viewers of the movie probably know that he was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Kinky Boots on Broadway.
  • Oscar Isaac’s hair.
  • Cameos by Adam and Ray, from Girls.
  • I have great respect for casting a cat in a movie because they are not obedient and can’t really be given much direction. I read that it complicated filming and that multiple cats had to be used. I loved the story of the cat and I don’t even like cats.
  • This was by far my favorite movie appearance from Justin Timberlake. He belongs in movies that center around music.
  • It ends when it should and doesn’t drag. I love a 100 minute movie.

I enjoyed this movie so much I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to it, which doesn’t happen always. So, go see it! And tell me what you think.

Up Up and Away: Big Rock Ridge

If you asked me a week ago what the second highest point in Marin County was, I would have wrinkled my nose, raised an eyebrow and looked perplexed. Ask me today and I’ll inform you that at 1,895 feet, the summit of Big Rock Ridge sits lower only than Mt. Tamalpais (2,572 feet).

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Hiking Big Rock Ridge is not a stroll in the park. This trail is all about going up. You’ll gain more than 2,500 feet in elevation over the course of 9 out and back miles. Yet, if you seek big views and a cardio and gluteus maximus workout, it’s one of best day hikes in the Bay Area. (It’s also great if you don’t mind fire roads and sharing the trail with mountain bikers.)

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The hike covers area in and out of the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve. There are a few different trail heads to choose from including one off Lucas Valley Road just outside of San Rafael, and another past the “big rock” that the ridge is named after. We started at a trail head at Queenstone Dr. off Miller Creek Rd. in San Rafael (and it is one of the most convenient trail heads in all of Marin.)

Follow the fire road for 4.5 miles and soak up the crazy beautiful views of Lucas Valley and Marin County. When you get close to the top of Big Rock Ridge you’ll see Petaluma to the north and the San Francisco skyline in the distance to the south. You’ll be standing high above Skywalker Ranch which you can spy on with binoculars.

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I can’t believe it took me eight years to discover Big Rock Ridge. I will definitely revisit this trail with friends or visitors from out of town who seek panoramic vistas, maybe with a dog or maybe even on a mountain bike. This is a tough and inspiring hike that will leave you feeling accomplished.

Holiday chill

One of my favorite memories from Coachella 2013 was closing Saturday night in the Gobi Tent with Berlin house duo, Booka Shade. We danced and grooved as the desert came alive amidst glowing palm trees and neon lights.

Booka Shade at Coachella

Booka Shade at Coachella

Last month, Booka Shade released Eve, a new album named after the Manchester studio where it was conceived and produced. Rolling Stone describes the tracks on Eve as atmospheric, jazzy, imaginatively structured and brilliantly built. I would describe this album as the perfect soundtrack for a chill holiday, full of funky synth goodness.

My favorite tracks are Many Rivers, Love Inc. and Crossing Borders. Check out Eve on Spotify:

History & a Hike: Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge is a large outdoor recreation area (a.k.a. park), located just south of San Francisco. It is sandwiched between the sleepy and often foggy, ocean-side town of Pacifica and the less adjective-friendly Peninsula city of San Bruno. Home to the San Francisco Bay Discovery SiteSweeney Ridge is where European explorers, as part of the Portolá Expedition, first laid eyes on San Francisco Bay. There are several trails and trailheads scattered around the ridge, that lead hikers to this historic destination.

To celebrate the survival of another Thanksgiving holiday, my roommate Austin and I spent Black Friday hiking up Mori Ridge Trail, the trailhead nearest to Pacifica (near Shelldance Nursery).

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Alternative trails start from Skyline College and Sneath Lane in San Bruno. These routes are equal in climb and distance, and offer different views and landscape. Our hike had the Pacific Ocean at our backs on the way up, and then front and center on the way down. (See the official park map for more details on the other trails.)

From the Mori Ridge Trailhead, it’s about 1.3 steep miles up to an abandoned Nike Missile Control Site left over from the Cold War days. If you’ve hiked in the Marin Headlands you’ve likely encountered one of these sites, which used to house nuclear warhead missiles pointed at Russia — crazy and interesting. The one at Sweeney Ridge is plastered with wall-to-wall graffiti.  Colorful, impressive, and – it turns out –photo-friendly.

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From the missile site, it’s about another mile to the actual discovery site, where you’ll find a commemorative stone marker. It’s a fun place to pause and daydream about what that day must have been like as the explorers bush-whacked their way up the ridge and laid eyes on the beautiful Bay for the first time. From the top, on a clear(ish) day you can see all the notable and impressive peaks around the Bay including Tamalpais, Diablo and Hamilton. 

It’s a quick trip back down, with beautiful views of the ocean the entire way. If it’s clear you’ll likely be able to see the Farralon Islands and Point Reyes.

Another noteworthy aspect of Sweeney Ridge is that it’s situated just a few miles from San Francisco International airport. This makes for busy air space above you as you hike, with lots of planes taking off and landing. You may find this a nuisance or, like we did, or a point of fantasy. Seeing jumbo jets taking off, heading straight out over the Pacific Ocean, fueled our imagination about where they were going and what they were hauling.

I recommend this hike to anyone looking for a quick and solid workout or who wants a 2-hour hike that’s easy to get to from San Francisco (only 20 minutes drive south). The history is a fantastic added bonus, as are the amazing views of the Pacific, and the opportunities for exploring at the missile site.

Quick easy wall art with some personality

I was doing some online holiday shopping last week and while searching on Etsy, a print of a cocktail on a page from an old dictionary, appeared in my results. I didn’t have this sort of item in mind when I initiated the search, and it caught my eye.

It was not for anyone for a holiday gift. My roommate and I have an apartment that blesses us with a lot of wall space. We don’t hang art just for the sake of hanging something. For me, it’s more important to be inspired by what I put up. So the print caught my eye… I like cocktails. My roommate does too. I also like recycled things. And who doesn’t like to support small business? For only $10, why not?

etsy surprise

The print arrived today. I had no intention of doing anything with it immediately. As I unpacked my work bag tonight when I got home, I pulled it out and thought, “hmm… I wonder if I have a frame that would fit?” Sure enough, I went to our back room and found an old frame in need of a makeover.

makeover

So I swapped out the old photo and replaced it with the new beverage print. I knew immediately we had an open spot in the entry with a hook all ready to go. I hung it far ahead of my anticipated schedule and it’s a pretty great fit.

the glass isn't dirty, it's the reflection from the other wall...

Check out other prints from the Etsy store I purchased from, Vintage Dictionary Art. Also, I know the creator behind Z & D Designs and he does some fun prints worth checking out like meme cats, Office Space and philosoraptor.