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New York Photo Diary – Part 1

New York

New York, New York….

The food. The art. The iconic yellow cab. And although it’s been over a month since I went to New York, the memory is still fresh in my head. And here it is, friends, highlights from my birthday, honeymoon, and Christmas trip combined to the Big Apple, part 1.

Manhattan Island

Manhattan Island 

A tiny rant on time zones

21-hour flight, one transfer and two ‘special’ security checks later we landed in the afternoon on the same day we left Sydney.

Honestly, it kind of sucks being behind everybody else. The 16-hour time difference really made me think about the whole fuss with time zone and its significance. Do we have to have time zones? Is it really necessary? I mean, from a physics perspective, there IS only one time! I think the world will be a much simpler place if we just use one time. Why we can’t follow a universal time system? China for one has abolished time zones despite it geography being in five different time zones. Of course, things might be a little bit awkward at first but I’m sure we’d be able to adjust to it with time, and I think the benefits would outweigh the initial confusion. Anyway, moving on.

New York Street

Taking it all in..

The Empire State of Mind (see video above to see what I’m talking about) plays in my head every now and then, whenever I see a landmark, the ‘I heart New York’ tees, the big apple on red Applebee’s sign. I’ve always wondered what it’s like, and now I’m finally here!

New York Street

Where’re All The Apples?

A fun fact – did you know that New York’s nickname “Big Apple” has nothing to do with the state’s apple production?

It was popularised by John J. Fitz Gerald, a newspaper reporter back in 1920 who uses this catchphrase in his horseracing column, “Around the Big Apple.” And then in the 1970s, the nickname “Big Apple” was picked up by the New York City’s official marketing and tourism organisation and well…the rest is history.

I was surprised to see the Trump Tower smack bang in the middle of 5th Avenue. I only noticed it because there was a security station built on the side of the building, which is an odd thing to find next to an apartment.

New York Street

I did a little digging and it turns out that they have extra security guarding the building because Mr Trump stays here whenever he’s in New York.  And according to Fortune, this extra security costs about $308,000 per day. Hmm…

Christmas in NYC

The best thing about spending Christmas in New York is that firstly, the city is not dead on Christmas day! This is very exciting for me because, in Sydney, the 25th December often feels a bit like one of those cities in Walking Dead – all the shops are closed and the only thing you see walking around the city are zombies…or Asians.

The second best thing about celebrating Christmas in New York is seeing all the beautiful Christmas decoration adorning the buildings. I especially love the Christmas wreath. I have never seen a real wreath in before. Not one made with real pine cones and Christmas berries anyway. I kept on touching them because I couldn’t believe they were real.

New York - Passionately Keren

In front of a gorgeous Christmas wreath outside The Frick Museum

How amazing do they look?

New York - Passionately Keren

Church stairs decorations

Gorgeous wreaths in New York's apartment building

More gorgeous wreaths. I really love how bright the red bow is, especially against the white wall of the building.

What the Shrub?!

On my second of third day, I noticed these unusual shrubs I kept coming across along the street of New York.

At first, I thought they were fake because honestly, they look too good to be real. I mean, look at them in their bright green colour, covered with snow in freezing temperature, looking very ‘fresh’.  Surely they’re fake… I thought to myself.

Junipers plants

But as I walk, I see more and more of these shrubs… And started thinking, man what’s with all these fake plants?. But then I thought again, maybe.. they are real?

So at my next encounter with this weird looking shrub, I stopped, bent over and pulled one of the branches closes to me.

Ermahgerd…, they’re REAL!

Junipers plants

This is exactly why I love travelling. Finding out amazing things about the world that I know very little of.

I did some googling when I got back to Sydney and it appears that the shrubs I saw were some sort Junipers plants. I’m talking about those deep green spiky things surrounded by the beautiful Holly plants (the one with yellow-green leaves and bright red berries). They are part of the Conifers group (plants with those distinct needle-like leaves), ancient as the dinosaurs, resilient as hell, mostly evergreen (retaining their foliage and retains their colour throughout the year, despite the seasons), and can live for a very long time (the world oldest plants are all conifers). Now that is a very impressive plant resume if I ever see one.

NBA game New York

Christmas Day Basketball Game

Did I mention how lively Christmas day is in New York? They even have a Christmas day NBA game!

NBA Game

We went to it was so much fun. The crowd atmosphere was buzzing and everyone was so into it! The Knicks fan were chanting “defense, defense’, whenever the Knicks were pushed to their own side, and since we were in New York, I thought it was apt for me to side with them, so I joined along. Here’s what they sound like if you’ve never heard of them.

Unfortunately, the New York Knicks lost the game that day….and every other game they played during our time in New York…

City view from Central Park

Around the City

New York - Passionately Keren

Ice Skating in Central Park

 

New York street cart's pretzel

Street cart’s pretzel

Top of the rock

View from Top Of The Rock

 

Central Park Squirrel

Up close with the Central Park’s Squirrel

NYC Subway

New York Subway

The Amazing New York Sax Buskers

Okay, let me tell you about the New York Sax buskers.

They are THE BEST.

New York Subway Sax Busker  

It’s hard to explain, you really need to experience it yourself (check out this Youtube playlist so you can see what I’m talking about). The experience was truly mesmerising for me. The atmosphere, the music, and how it all just makes the world feels a little better, a little nicer.

NYC Sax Busker

A girl dancing to a sax busker on the street – I totally regretted not recording this one. The beat was so good you just want to move.

Sometimes, all you need is love, and music….

In New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,….

Keren x

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Bowral and the Southern Highlands

There’s nothing I love more than a short trip to the countryside, especially when food and wine are involved. As I started writing this post, I just came back from a two-day weekend trip to the Southern Highland, about two hours’ drive south from Sydney. It was the Labour Day long weekend and one of Nat’s old friends from Melbourne came up for a wedding in nearby Moss Vale so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to check out Bowral and the Southern Highlands region.

It was lovely. I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful and memorable. The route was very picturesque; the town was full of gorgeous country houses; the people were friendly; and the atmosphere was very relaxing. Everything just seems to move at a slower pace here.

grid-photo-2-1 We stayed at a gorgeous dog-friendly accommodation in Exeter called the Woodland Studio. It’s a stylish, freshly refurbished two-bedroom bungalow in a lovely farm filled with beautiful trees, sheep and even an alpaca! Missa (my 9 year old spoodle) loved the place. (Except when she was tied up to a tree when we were feeding the lambs).

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Seriously, how cute are these baby lambs!

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Hello there…

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We went to Bendooley Estate and had lunch at their restaurant, which is inside a beautiful book barn (apparently it’s the original Berkelouw’s site?). It is situated in a gorgeous location, among rolling hills just outside the town of Berrima. We sat outside as we had Missa with us. We got ourselves a table next to the log fire, which was good, as it was cold and windy, but we avoided rain, so we were lucky.

bendooley1

The menu had a good list of vegetarian dishes – we ordered two (an entrée and a main) and a bowl of fries to share. They arrived looking amazing as expected, however, the fries out-portioned both of the ‘proper’ dishes so much than it felt like were eating fries with veggies on the side, instead of the other way around. Nevertheless, the food was delicious.

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After lunch we visited the book barn inside the restaurant. It was a bit smaller than expected (apparently it used to be much bigger), but it had a lot of quirky books. I imagine that it would be very easy to get lost among the bookshelves as they have so many books (both second-hand and new) across so many different genres and categories, from military books, to ancient Greece history, to needlework, there’s a bit of everything.

As nice as lunch was, the highlight of our day was dinner at Biota Dining in Bowral. I’ve wanted to go to Biota ever since 2012 (back when I was a fine dining aficionado) so when Nat told me we were going there I was over the moon.

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So we went, and we wined and dined and we had a good time. Biota is pretty similar to Sepia in Sydney’s CBD in that they don’t reveal their dishes until they’re being served – ‘the chef likes to keep it a surprise’ said the waiting-staff. I’ve never understood this, but as long as they were able to give me vegan options (which they did – thank you, Mister Chef), I was happy. And the food was really good! Definitely worth the trip.

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And to top of the weekend, there was a Food and Wine Festival taking place at the same time. Call it a fortuitous coincidence but I believe there’s a reason for everything. And in this instance, I think the universe wanted me to taste Banjo’s Run exquisite drop of wine. And, boy, are they good. Really good. There was one particular bottle that I absolutely loved and I’m not even going to tell you which one because I have a cunning plan of buying all their stock so I can keep them all for myself and live happily ever after. Seriously though, it was that good! Sorry, I have no pictures of the festival, but I am working on a video clip of my trip so stay tuned!

But let me tell you. festival was filled with lots of delicious wines (luckily, because the food wasn’t that vegan-friendly) and it was really hard for me to keep my wallet in my pocket! So I employed my rule of three: that is, to limit myself to just three bottles of wines. So I went and bought three.

It was one of the most relaxing trips I’ve had in a long time. Spending time with people you love, enjoying the relaxed and laidback countryside, eating delicious local foods, and feeding lambs and an alpaca on the side. That my friend, is what I call – a great weekend!

Hope you’re having a good weekend too!

Keren x

P.S. Here’s a couple of videos I made during my trip to Bowral and the Southern Highlands. Hope you like it.

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Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

The last time I went to Canberra was six years ago for the Tulip Festival. I went with four of my girlfriends. I navigated, we got lost (Google Maps failed me) and it took us five hours to get to Canberra, from Sydney, by way of the Blue Mountains (I know…). Despite the slow start, it ended being a great trip and I have a lot of fond memories from that day (including eating too many scones and cookies at Ginger Catering’s high tea buffet). This year I went back to Canberra, not for the Tulip, but for the Canberra Truffle Festival. I was invited by a girlfriend and went on a whim. I had no expectations: I just was hoping for a similarly pleasant experience as to last time, but instead, I was blown away.

We started our 2-day Truffle Festival adventure with a three-hour truffle hunt at Tarago Truffle, which was an amazing and eye-opening experience that makes me appreciate this nuggets of black gold so much more. You can read more about my truffle hunting experience, and the ethics of eating truffles as a vegan, in my last post.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Tarago Truffle

 

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

 

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

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After the truffle hunt we went to the Canberran CBD to try The Cupping Room – they’re reputed for making good coffee. We got there in less than an hour and to my surprise, there was a queue at the door- the young and hip, lining up and eager to get in the café for some hot brew. I hate lining up for food, but it didn’t look like there were any other cafés nearby, and since everyone was keen on trying this place, I made an exception. About five minutes later one of their waiting staff came out and offered us some free plunger coffee. I felt much better already.

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Thirty minutes later we got our table. I ordered my usual soy flat white and chose one of the few vegan dishes they have – Avo & his mates (veganised).

It was a pretty good plate, but would have been miles better with a dash of truffle salt (it was hard not to be obsessed with truffles after the previous night)! But, hey, at least they didn’t skimp on the avocado, that’s for sure. So much avo mash on that toast.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Veganised Avo and His Mates

The dish was served with some radish and cress salad which was quite tasty. It gave the dish a nice crunch and a bit of zing. The waiting staff also gave me a side of cashew cream which was creamy and lovely.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Crunchy hot chips at The Cupping Room

Coffee was really good! Their Cascara tea – made from the cherry of a coffee tree – was interesting. It tastes fruity with the tiniest hint of coffee and smells a bit like berry, sour and sweet both at the same time.

The Cupping Room

The Cupping Room

The Truffle Degustation

On the Saturday night we went to a five-course truffle and wine degustation dinner, at the Chifley Hotel, as part of the Canberra Truffle Festival event. The hotel made me a special vegan menu, which is always a nice touch, and I even got my own plate of appetisers while everyone else had to share.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Tomato Carpaccio with lots and lots of truffle shavings – Best dish of the night

 

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Pumpkin Soup

It was a fun-filled night (like most nights involving food and wine are). We were the only group younger than our 40’s there, rocking our jeans and boots while everyone else were either in a dress or in a collared shirt. We looked a little out of place, no doubt, but I don’t think we cared. We were there for the food and the wine. But there was nothing to worry about because everyone was really nice and friendly.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Risotto with, you guessed it – truffle!

 

 

We ate a lot of truffle-full dishes and met the winemaker who brought Prosecco into Australia, Otto Dal Zotto from Dal Zotto Wine, and drank heaps of his wine. He even gave us tips on how we can perform better at wine-tasting, including starting as early as seven in the morning!

The food was good but the wine was outstanding. We bought a few bottles each – they have arrived in Sydney by the way, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on them very soon.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

After dinner we went to Molly, also in the CBD (thanks to a tip from a wine distributor who sat at our table). Molly is an underground speakeasy bar which reminds me of Palmer and Co in the Rocks in Sydney. It’s so underground that it doesn’t even have a sign at the door. We (I) had to ask a local Canberrian for directions, and in exchange he asked me for some water as I was carrying my water bottle. It was a pretty random exchange (I gave him the whole bottle) but the directions were on point. We saw a door with a bright light next to a building and inside, a girl sitting on a stool welcoming people in. It would have looked pretty shady had she not been super-nice-friendly-looking. As I walked down the stairs I could hear the crowd and music. This is not the Canberra I once knew. This is so much better.

 

We stayed overnight at Medina in Belconnen, in a two bedroom serviced apartment. It was very nice for that sort of accommodation: It was clean and airy and with a full-size kitchen. I slept like a baby.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016 The morning came and we all had to quickly pack up and check out. We started wandering our way back to Sydney that afternoon, but not without a visit to the local vineyards and one last truffle farm on the way.

 

At the dinner at the Chifley the night before, we heard Jayson Meysman’s story about his inspiring journey leading him to the truffle industry, his $100,000 dog Samson and The Truffle Farm that he now owns at Majura. We decided to drop by to check out his farm and, perhaps, get some more truffles.

The Truffle Farm

Have you heard of truffle-infused vodka? It was our first taste, too.

 

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Black Truffle

And we did end up buying more truffles (how could you not?) before making our way to Murrumbateman Winery and then Eden Road Wines.

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

Eden Road Winery

As is always the case with me and winery visits – I started telling myself ‘I don’t need more wine, I’m just gonna enjoy some free wine’ here and ended up with the ageless ‘I can’t not buy this, it’s so good’ dilemma with my own conscience. Luckily we only visited two wineries so I didn’t completely exhaust my willpower. I ended up buying only a couple of bottles of wine and was feeling pretty proud of myself.

 

Canberra Truffle Festival 2016

So we did everything we wanted to do: We ate lots of truffles, we drank lots of wine and we spent some quality time with each other. It’s amazing how much you can do in two days.

We ended our trip to Canberra with a toast of Eden Road Cabernet Sauvignon, a bunch of full bellies, sweet, truffle-filled memories, and the hope to return to the capital city again next year.

Until we meet again.

 

Keren x

 

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Truffle Hunting at Tarago Truffle, NSW

If you’re a foodie like me, you’ve certainly heard of black truffles and how precious they are. Some people truly adore truffles (my people) while others think they’re overrated pieces of smelly fungus. People call them ‘black gold’, and in many ways, they are, as they’re extremely hard to cultivate and harvest. I came to fully appreciate how precious and scare they are during my truffle hunting experience at Tarago Truffle with Dusty, a friendly burgundy-brown Australian Shepherd who absolutely loves being the centre of attention.

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Tarago Truffle-14

As it turns out, truffle hunting is hard work. Yes, we’ve all heard that it’s hard but really, it is very, very hard! You’d think the dog would do all the sniffing and the digging but actually, humans do eighty percent of the physical work. The dogs find the approximate location of the truffles in question but it’s the farmer’s job to determine if the truffle is ripe enough for harvesting, by sniffing the soil, and then digging it out, all without damaging the truffle. It’s not an easy task – you’re on your knees a lot, with your nose buried in soil most of the time trying to find the elusive truffle. Your digging tools: a silver spoon and a bread knife.

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It was an eye-opening and fun experience. We were given a chance to dig for our own truffles and we did. It was nearing the end of the truffle season (truffle season is late June to August in Australia) so there weren’t many left to dig out. Nevertheless it was quite thrilling to find some truffles underground and have a sniff at them. I think we found about five truffles or so in an hour of sniffing around.

Tarago Truffle-4

The best part about the truffle hunting experience is that we got to eat some delicious soup, with crusty bread, shavings of fresh truffle and some truffle salt.

Dogs vs. Pigs

Traditionally, truffle hunters used pigs to find truffles. Pigs have a natural appetite and nose for truffles so they need no training at all.

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Modern farmers now use dogs in place of pigs, though: Firstly, dogs have more stamina than pigs. Secondly, dogs are less likely to eat the truffle once they find it. And thirdly, it is easier to manage a 40kg dog than a 200kg pig when trying to rescue the truffle from its finder.

By the way, on the subject of these animals, did you know that dogs smell about 10,000 times better than humans, and pigs’ sense of smell is about three times better than dogs? Mindboggling stuff.

Are Truffles Vegan?

Some vegans don’t eat truffles because of ‘animal exploitation’. I remember feeling bad at Gigi’s in Newtown, once, when I offered a vegan friend a slice of mushroom pizza and they refused because they don’t eat truffles.

I see no problem in eating truffles (expect for the high cost). Yes, the truffler farmers use animals to help find them truffles. So what? That’s not exploitation on its own. It’s just like using miners to mine for gold. I think the important question is the working condition of the pigs or dogs used to find the truffles.

Tarago Truffle-7 From my research, and what I’ve witnessed, at least in Australia, the animals are treated exceptionally well. Some truffle dogs are valued at $100,000 so you can imagine how well these valuable animals are treated. Truffle farmers dote on their dogs. At Tarango Truffle you could tell how precious the dogs were. A similar approach is taken with pigs. Truffle-hunting pigs are hand raised and trained, just like dogs. While we can never be absolutely certain of what passes behind the scenes, the best thing you can do, to make sure that your truffles are ethically sourced, is to go and see the process yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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On a sidenote, did you know that most truffle oils are not infused with real truffles? They have synthetic flavouring, and most of the truffle oil dishes you get at cafes are probably using flavoured truffle oil. So if you’re a level 5 vegan, truffle oil maybe a safe option for you. As for me, pass me those smelly, black funguses, please.

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Tarago Truffles

173 Willandra Ln, Tarago NSW 2580

50 minutes drive from Canberra, and two and a half to three hours from Sydney.

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Fortunate Coffee Jakarta

It’s all about good coffee, healthy bread and delicious traditional Indonesian dishes, made vegan.

Fortunate Coffee is one of a few emerging cafés serving vegan-friendly foods, breads, and of course, coffee. Most coffee shops in Jakarta do not serve dairy-free coffee so finding a coffee shop like Fortunate Coffee is quite special.

Fortunate Coffee-3

I was introduced to Fortunate Coffee by Dr Susianto, a friend who is also a well-regarded vegan nutritionist and the, President of Vegan Society of Indonesia.. Fortunate Coffee is one of several vegan business ventures he is involved in. We met up for dinner here when I was in Jakarta a few months ago. I’m biased here but it was one of the best vegan meals I’ve had in Indonesia.

Fortunate Coffee-7 We tried some healthy vegan bread, which is made without eggs, dairy, or the preservatives and additives commonly found in store-bought bread. From the way Dr Susianto described the process, it sounds very similar to the making of sourdough bread, except for the fact that the bread is softer and they don’t have that crusty outer that traditional sourdough bread has. It was delicious, though! It caters to the Indonesians taste buds who love soft, fluffy sweet bread.

Fortunate Coffee-2

We also tried a few of Fortunate Coffee’s popular dishes: Bakmi Jamur (Dry Noodles with Gravy mushrooms), Rawon (a rich tasting traditional Indonesian Black Soup), Empek- Empek (Fish Cakes) and Nasi Padang (Rice with an assortment of spicy curry dishes, and traditional fried Tofu and Tempe).

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Fortunate Coffee-11 The entire meal was great! I loved the Bakmi, the Empek-Empek, and everything else, really. I had my sister and my mom with me (they’re not vegans) and they were also impressed by the dishes. The Empek-Empek, in particular, resembles the authentic flavour of the traditional dish yet it contains no fish. Instead, they use seaweed. Smart, don’t you think?

Fortunate Coffee-17 Although finding vegan food in Jakarta is not impossible, it’s actually trickier than you may think, especially if you want to eat something other than Gado-Gado, fried Tofu or Tempeh. There’re a lot of traditional Indonesian foods that I grew up with which are not vegan-friendly, such as the Empek-empek, Soto (Indonesian-style traditional spicy soup), and Sate (Peanut satay usually made of meat). This is where Fortunate Coffee comes in.

Fortunate Coffee-16

Unfortunately (and strangely enough), I didn’t try their coffee. I guess I was too busy eating. I was planning to come back for a second visit but didn’t get a chance this trup. For future reference, however, they have the usual-style coffee (i.e. Cappuccino, Latte, etc) as well as manual and cold-brew coffee.

Anyway, if you’re in Jakarta and looking for a nice little place to have lunch or dinner, you should check this place out.

Fortunate Coffee Jakarta

Ruko Taman Palem Lestari, Blok A11 No. 5A, Jl. Taman Palem Lestari, Cengkareng, Jakarta

It turns out Fortunate Coffee they have a number of branches scattered around Jakarta and other major Indonesian cities so check out their Facebook page to find the closest one to you.

 

 

 

 

New Zealand – North Island

Being an ex-pat who has lived in the land of Down Under for over 15 years, New Zealand presented an experience which felt a little like Australia, and yet was a vastly different setting. The mix of beautiful landscapes, the omnipresent Māori culture, friendly, easygoing Kiwis, and delicious Sauvignon Blanc was both charming and disarming. I loved it.

Here’re some of the highlights of my short adventure trip with the boy to New Zealand – North Island region, which includes Auckland, Rotorua, and Lake Taupo.

Me and my Lowell backpack

Me and my Lowell backpack at the airport – ready to go

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Waiting to board the plane

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Māorian welcome sign at the airport

Moments after we touched down in Auckland, we headed straight to Countdown (the largest grocery store chain in New Zealand) and bought oats, bread, fruits, nuts and some snack carrots. We knew we wanted to make breakfast every day and have healthy snacks available all the time so it was a good move on our part. We stayed at Quest serviced apartments equipped with a kitchen which helped tremendously with our effort to maintain a somewhat healthy diet during our travels.

Quests Apartments
AUS 1800 334 033
NZ 0800 944 400
International +61 3 9645 8357

Our breakfast every morning looks a little like this.

Every morning looks a little like this


Wai-O-Tapu

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Stairs at Wai-o-tapu

We started our journey with a trip from Auckland to Rotorua via Wai-o-tapu. It’s a great spot for geothermal gazing complete with an extensive walking track and funky coloured bubbling thermal mud pools.

Wai-o-tapu - Dew on tree branches

Dew on tree branches

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One of the many thermal pools at Wai-o-tapu

Green smoothie coloured pool

Kryptonite coloured pool

Champagne Pool at Wai-o-tapu

The famous Champagne Pool

My favourite picture from Wai-o-tapu and NZ. A girl taking a photograph with her man supporting her. Hashtag love!

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland
Open every day including all Public Holidays
April-October: 8:30am-5:00pm (last admission 3:45pm)
November-March: 8:30am-6:00pm (last admission 4:45pm)
Christmas Day: 8:30 am-5:00 pm (last admission 3:45pm)
Phone: +64 7 366 6333


Rotorua

When in Rotorua, one must visit the hot spring pool. Nothing is as pleasant, or potent, as a mineral-rich thermal spa (and a shivering cold rinse after) to ease one’s troubled mind and relax one’s tired body.

We went to the Polynesian Spa which was within walking distance from our Quest apartment and I must say, it was pure bliss. The spa encloses five shallow hot mineral pools with various degree of ‘hotness’ and a picturesque view of  Lake Rotorua.

Polynesian Spa
Address: Hinemoa St, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand
Hours: Monday – Sunday 8AM-11PM
Phone: +64 7-348 1328

Rotorua lake view from Polynesian spa

Rotorua lake view from Polynesian spa


Taupo

From Rotorua we drove to Lake Taupo where we stayed overnight at the largest and probably most scenic freshwater lake in New Zealand.

Lake Taupo

View from the balcony – Lake Taupo

View from the motel, can you see the steam coming off the surface of the lake?

Can you see the steam coming off the lake’s surface on the left hand side? It’s like a giant hot spring

For dinner we went to Bistro Lago, located at the Hilton Lake Taupo. It’s not the most vegan-friendly restaurant but we were quite happy with our fresh green salad and our simple yet delicious veggie roast featuring snow peas, green beans and potatoes.

Dinner at Bistro Lago - Taupo. Roasted vegetables featuring snow peas, green beans and potatoes

A simple roasted dinner at Bistro Lago

Bistro Lago at the Hilton Taupo
Hours: Restaurant 7am-9pm Bar 8am until late
Address: 80/100 State Highway 5, Taupo 3330, New Zealand
Phone:+64 7-378 708


Huka Falls

One highly recommended activity in Taupo is a visit to the Huka Falls and the Huka Falls Jet ride.  The ride offers a thrilling 30 minute ride along the Huka river while passing through bushes ‘so close you almost crash’ at high speed, and lots of 360° donut spins to keep your adrenaline rushing.

If that doesn’t appeal to you then this might: it’s the only water jet that can take you right in front the magnificent Huka Falls.

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Waiting for our boat ride

Huka Falls

Up close and personal with Huka Falls

Huka Falls Jet
Address: 200 Karetoto Rd, Taupo 3330, New Zealand
Hours: Monday to Sunday 9AM – 4:30PM
Phone:+64 7-374 8572


Auckland

We ended our trip where we started, in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, where we spent most of our time mmm.. eating.

Street Art in Auckland Street Art in Auckland

We made sure to visit The Unbakery at Little Bird Organics. It’s a raw, organic, vegan cafe which came highly recommended by a lot my vegan friend. It serves delicious salads, sumptuous raw cakes and dairy-free coffee. It was fabulous!

Little Bird Organics
Address: 385 New North Road, Kingsland, Auckland 1021, New Zealand
Phone:+64 9-550 7377
Hours: Monday – Friday 8AM-2:30PM Saturday – Sunday 8 AM-3PM

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Cold drip coffee at Little Bird Organics

Tea selection at Little Bird

Tea selection and sprouting kit at Little Bird Organics

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Superfoods and other goodness

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Bird Bowl from The Unbakery – A tasting bowl of delicious salads and dehydrated raw goodness

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Special of the day – Dosa pancake with slaw, corn and creamy avocado dressing

On our last night in New Zealand we treated ourselves with a lovely dinner at Eight at the Langham. They had buffet and à la carte menus available. We chose à la carte and managed to get a few dishes specially made vegan for us.

Eight Restaurant
Address: The Langham Hotel 83 Symonds St, Grafton, Auckland 1010
Hours: Friday to Wednesday 6AM-10PM
Phone:+64 9-300 2924

Veggie burger at Eight at the Langham

Veggie burger at Eight

Eight at the Langham

Digging into some deep fried tofu with peanut sauce

The following morning we managed to squeeze another organic vegan meal at Wise Cicada, thanks to Zarah from VegTravelGuide who told us about this gem. Their raw banoffee pie is to die for!

Wise Cicada Café
Hours: 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday & 9am – 6pm Sat & Sunday
Address: 23 Crowhurst, Newmarket, Auckland
Phone: +64 9-529-9529

Wise Cicada Cafe

Wise Cicada Cafe

Bits of everything lunch at Wise Cicada

Bits of everything lunch at Wise Cicada Cafe

And that’s a wrap.

E noho rā New Zealand. You’ve been awesome!

7 Places You Must Visit In Tokyo

“I wonder if you know
How they live in Tokyo
(Hai!)
If you seen it then you mean it
Then you know you have to go” 

That is one catchy song. I remember singing along and dancing to the song a few years ago when it was released as a theme song for Fast & Furious – Tokyo Drift . It wasn’t a bad movie too. But I used to have a huge mild crush on Vin Diesel, so I might be biased.

Tokyo. What an incredible city. It is where my Japan trip starts and where it ends.

Buzzing city, crowded street, neon lights, skyscrapers, swanky malls, crazy costumes, high-end fashion and the unparalleled public transportation system. Tokyo is as I imagined it to be and more! It definitely is one of the most amazing cities on earth. Here’s my list of 7 Places You Must Visit In Tokyo, if you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip there. Take me!!

1. Ginza

For the first few days in Tokyo we stayed in Ginza. We were only meant to stay there for 2 nights but we gave ourselves an extra night. Obviously this has nothing to do with the massage chair in my hotel room, or the amazing aerial view of Tokyo. I may or may not spent 30 minutes each night at the massage chair.

Ginza was very convenient and central to the major attractions I wanted to see, such as the Tsukiji market, the high street shopping and eateries at Yurakucho. I was there Christmas 2013, and during the early evening and night, the Christmas lights come on, bringing an amazing spirit of festivity to the area. I even saw Santa(s) racing through in motorbikes.

Only in Japan

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 Beautiful Christmas lights

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View From the hotel room… at night

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And during the day…

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2. Sensoji Temple

Located in Asakusa, this is one of the most popular temples in Tokyo. It is so colourful and majestic and I love the busy shopping street which leads from the outer gate to the second gate of the temple. It is 200 meters long and you’ll find tons of Japanese souvenirs, traditional food and snacks here. The temple itself is spectacular but the shopping street…bloody awesome!

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3. Tokyo National Museum

I love museums so I’m probably a bit biased, but I love Tokyo National Museum.

It is the oldest and the largest museum in Japan. It has so many interesting traditional pieces and wonderful display. Although there’s hardly any English translation on many of the displays, it gives you some insights into early Japan. The exhibits comprise of old Japanese artworks, potteries, paintings, and other significant historical artifacts such as Samurai armour and swords.

The walk to the museum itself is quite scenic as it is situated in Ueno Park (right next to Ueno station). I came during winter but if you come in March or April, you will be greeted with lots of cherry blossoms as the park has more than 1000 cherry trees lining its central pathway.

Tokyo Museum

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Old man playing a traditional musical instrument at the park. A cool sight.

Man playing traditional string instrument

Tokyo Museum

Tokyo Museum

Tokyo Museum

Tokyo Museum

4. Shibuya

It’s like being inside an MTV music video with all the music, the neon lights, the giant video screens and the flood of pedestrians crossing the intersection every time the traffic lights turn green. The city is very lively with tons of shopping centres and entertainment quarters, as well as some really nice restaurants and cafes.

I stayed in Shibuya for about a week and I absolutely love it! For me it was the perfect place to stay as a base while venturing Tokyo and its surrounding spots. I stayed at the Excel Tokyu Hotel right above the Mark City and the Shibuya station and I found it to be very handy and convenient, not to mention that I get the view of the famous Shibuya pedestrian crossing from the hotel.

Yes. They have rooftop futsal!

Shibuya rooftop soccer field

The famous Shibuya scramble crossing

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Shibuya’s street view from hotel room

Shibuya

Outside the Shibuya Station lies a bronze statue which has become one of Tokyo’s most popular meeting points. It is a statue dedicated to a dog named Hachiko. If you don’t know who Hachiko is and haven’t seen and balled your eyes out over the English remake Hachi: A Dog’s Tale then I recommend you do some research, borrow the DVD and watch this amazing heartwarming tale of loyalty and love.

Hachiko is a Japanese ‘Akita’ who became a national hit in the 1930s because of his incredible loyalty to his owner, even long after his owner’s death. Hachiko waited at the Shibuya Station every day for its owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo, to return from work. One day the professor didn’t return as he had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died. Hachiko continued to wait for the professor, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station each day for the next ten years.

Love and loyalty, something we all can learn from Hachi.

Hachiko Statue in front of Shibuya Station

Hachiko

5. Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree is a new landmark of Tokyo (built in early 2012) and is the tallest building in Japan with a height of 634 meters. It offers a spectacular view of Japan. We went there. Twice. We went there just before Christmas and on New Year’s day – bad move. At both times it was so overcrowded with people and we had to wait for hours before we could even start queuing up to get tickets to the observation deck.We ended up hanging around the shopping complex Solamachi located at the base of the Skytree. It probably would have been one of the best things we did IF we got up there but it was cold and windy so we gave it a miss. It is definitely on my to do list the next time I visit Tokyo (hopefully in summer next time).

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

6. Harajuku and Omotesando Hills

Even if you don’t feel like shopping, just walking around the streets lined with cool and trendy shops that’s uniquely Japanese is quite a treat in itself. I walked from Shibuya to Omotesando through the famous ‘Cat Street’ but you can always catch a train to Harajuku station. The whole area is fashion-crazy and is very teen and pop culture -focused, though you can find some high end fashion labels around Omotesando Hills too.

You could literally spend one full day here just browsing all the different shops. I missed going to Daiso (the 100 yen store) but it was probably good for me as I would have bought the entire store.

Not sure what the speech bubble means but I thought it’s a cool display.

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Sale, sale and more sale

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Street food!
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Harajuku

7. Akihabara

If you’re a tech-geek, a gamer or a manga-lover, then you’d absolutely go nuts here. Though I’m a recovering game/manga-nerd, I couldn’t help but get really excited when I see a human-sized Gundam robot in the Gundam Cafe. This place is like an electro maze. Everywhere you go, the streets are lined with shop after shop of games, computer parts and electronic gadgets. There’s a lot of cosplay on the streets, mainly young girls dressing up as sexy maids promoting maid cafe. Something that you will never see anywhere else in the world.

Anime everywhere!

Akihabara

Akihabara

If you’re also a food-nerd, make sure you check out Chabara near the JR Akihabara station. It’s an awesome market full of fresh produce and tons of Japanese foods, including some very delicious vegan foods. There’s tons of free samples for tasting and the staff are very helpful when it comes to checking what’s in (or not in) each product, since everything is in Japanese. Let’s just say that I bought enough Japanese coated peanuts to last me a lifetime.

 

Chabara

Akihabara

So there you go! Hope this inspires you to out and about in Tokyo… not that you need any convincing!

What’s the first thing will you do in Tokyo? I’d suggest trying out their bidet. It’s lifechanging!

Japan Travel Tips For Vegan

When I booked for my Japan trip, I was still a full blown omnivore foodie. I remember being so excited at the thought of eating some of freshest and finest sushi and sashimi from the Tsukiji fish market, indulging in authentic omurice and okonomiyaki, splurging on Kobe beef, and lining up to get my hands on the best ramen Tokyo has to offer. Japanese food has been one of my favourite cuisines of all time and it was my life long dream to go to Japan to eat… and eat some more. 

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This has been somewhat a moral dilemma ever since I decided to make a lifestyle change and go plant-based (i.e., free from all animal products) a few months ago. A few people have suggested that maybe I should ‘take a break’ during the holiday, compromise and become a pescetarian instead or ‘postpone’ it until after the new year. The thought did cross my mind. It will make my trip a lot easier and less complicated. I’m still only a few months into this diet, and plus, it will make a really good new year resolution.

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Being a pescetarian during the trip may seem to be a good compromise, because even though I have a clear stance on not eating land animals and their products (i.e. meat, dairy and egg), I am still not sure how I feel toward the ocean creatures, especially oysters, prawns, clams and sashimi.

Sure, I could try to rationalise and justify it however I like but at the end of the day the only person who will have to live with that decision is me. So, I had to do what I feels right, and just to what I can. Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you can’t do something, anything. It’s how I got started into this whole vegan thing. I don’t see why I should stop just because it’s a holiday.

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What I can do is to be as prepared as much as I can and put myself in favourable situations as much as possible. I knew that it would be a real challenge but I couldn’t give up without trying.

So, I researched online to get as much information as I could. printed all the vegan-friendly restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto (the two main cities I visited), learned some basic Japanese, made some translation cards and then prayed for a smooth trip.

Of course, it’s not a real travel adventure without several mishaps and unexpected obstacles. Let’s face it, it’s not easy travelling with a dietary preference or peculiarity or restriction as others may see it, regardless where you go. Finding vegan food can be challenging in your own hometown, let alone in a place where you don’t read or speak the language and have no clue where you’re going. Not the mention that Japan is probably one of the least friendly places for vegetarians, let alone vegans.

Getting vegan food in Japan is particularly challenging due to a few cultural uniqueness:

  1. Japanese diet is fish-based. So, Japanese food commonly contain fish or fish-derived products. You can run away from sushi but you can’t hide from dashi; a cooking stock made using shavings of preserved bonito fish. They’re everywhere. In sauces, salad dressing, miso soup, everything.
  2. Japanese writes in Japanese – as in Japanese characters, not alphabets. Common sense stuff I know, but I was expecting to see many English translations like in many Asian countries. I was wrong. Unless you can read Japanese, checking to see if food labels or restaurant menu contain egg, milk, meat, fish and any other animal products is almost impossible.
  3. Japanese speaks in Japanese. Duh! Yes I know. I just wanted to say, don’t expect to find a lot of proficient English speaking Japanese outside the hotel setting. This makes conveying the fact that you don’t eat meat, egg, dairy or fish difficult. They tend to be too polite to say no and would nod in agreement, even if they don’t necessarily understand you.

What made it even more challenging for me was the fact that I was travelling with an omnivore. I didn’t want to be the ‘difficult’ one. As my boyfriend rightfully said, a few months ago I could eat ‘anything’. From that to not being able to find anything to eat (which often happens) and have to look for places to eat, is a significant change.

Almost everyone I know are omnivores and heavy meat eaters. I’m the only one with a plant-based diet in my family, my circle of friends, my workplace, and pretty much everyone else I know in real life… except an ex-colleague of mine whom I don’t see in real life but maintain friendship with through Facebook. I do plan on getting to know other vegans in the future through events and meet ups, so if you’re one, let’s be friends :)

I feel so grateful that I have a sweet and understanding man who gives me a tremendous amount of support. He associates vegan food with healthy food (vegetable = healthy) and was willing to venture and get lost in the cities with me trying to find vegan and vegan-friendly places.

The whole trip was quite an experience and a huge learning curve. Looking back, there were some things that I wished I have known and could have done better, and believe me, I will do those things next time I travel to Japan.

Here are my top 10 Japan Travel Tips For Vegan which hopefully will make things easier for you in Japan if you’re looking to maintain a vegan and vegetarian diet while you’re there:

1. Happy Cow

A great resource to find vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant around Japan, and around the world. Also has an app which tells you which ones are closest to your current location.

Happycow

2. Japan Guide

Not a vegan guide but an all-round guide with forums that cover anything from transport to food. I find it invaluable when I was planning my travel itinerary.

3. Kyoto Guide

A good website to listing some of Kyoto’s vegetarian (and vegan) dishes including recommendation for some restaurants.

4. Japan Survival Guide by Just Hungry. 

A great website explaining the cultural aspect of Japan and some survival tips. It’s also where I got my vegan dining out card from. It was a lifesaver.

5. Vegetarian Survival Guide To Japan by Never Ending VoyageAlthough the website caters for vegetarians, there are some great tips and food information which are very useful.

7. Google Maps.

Really helpful when trying to find places. Even the locals use it when trying to give direction.

Google Map

 

8. train.jp. 

It’s a great app that helps you figure out which train line you need to get from A to B, specifically for the JR-line. Highly recommended if you have a JR pass.

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9. Japanese.

A great English/Japanese dictionary app with pronunciation functionality . You learn basic Japanese using this app.

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10. Wi-Fi.

I can’t tell you enough how important having a wi-fi access was for me, especially since I didn’t get a rental sim card with data allowance. It’s the only way I was able to check the weather, news,  apps, get in touch with people at home, etc. If you can’t get a rental sim card with data then you will need to find accommodation with wi-fi connection.

11. Print lots of this vegan dining out card

Whenever I struggle to communicate what I can or can’t eat or confirming if the snacks I plan to buy are vegan, I just show this card. It was a vegan lifesaver :)

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That’s it! Hope this is useful for you. Let me know if you have other vegan tips for Japan you wish to share.

xKeren