Banca de Pau – Lisbon, Portugal

In the very trendy neighbourhood of Principe Real, just north of Lisbon city centre, you will find Banca de Pau a Portuguese tapas restaurant. Multitasking as a deli, a wine shop and an eatery, the place only serves Portuguese products.

Banca de Pau in Lisbon

I can honestly say that it was one of the best meals we had during our stay in Lisbon. The products are excellent and all sourced locally. The staff is ADORABLE and speaks excellent English (and a bit of French!) and the prices are very reasonable.

Banca de Pau in Lisbon

Banca de Pau seems to have been recently renovated. The place feels modern and is very easy to navigate. At the table next to ours, there was a guest with visual impairment and they had no problem navigating the space. The staff was also extremely attentive to their specific needs. I thought I would mention it as I am conscious some people have to take those things into consideration when travelling! At Banca de Pau you will be well taken care of!

With a wine shop on site, you can choose a glass or pitcher of any of the bottles they sell. If you need a little bit of help make a decision, the staff will select three wines for you to taste. We both settled for red Portuguese wines, both excellent.

Wine at Banca de Pau in Lisbon

Now let’s talk about the food, I could just write that it was excellent and leave it there, but in case you need a few recommendations here is what we ordered and loved.

For starters, we ordered the tomato mousse and pistachios toats and the cheese and walnuts toasts. The tomato mousse toasts were to die for! The cheese toats were great too, but the tomato ones were just a level above. I wish we would have ordered another serving of these but we wanted to save our appetite for a few other things.

Tomato mousse and pistachios toats and cheese and walnuts toasts at Banca de Pau, Lisbon

For good measure after many Pastels de Nata during the day, we ordered some greens in the form of broad beans with strawberries and grilled smoked ham. These were tasty and naturally flavoured by the sweetness of the strawberries and the saltiness of the ham.

Broad beans with strawberries and grilled smoked ham at Banca de Pau in Lisbon

Of course, we couldn’t eat at a tapas restaurant without ordering the mixed charcuterie and cheese platter. It doesn’t look like much in the picture but the portion was generous and definitely enough for 2 people.

Mixed charcuterie and cheese platter at Banca de Pau in Lisbon

Finally, we ordered the pork sausages with pears and figs. The savoury sausages mixed with the sweetness of the pears and figs made for delicious flavours.

Pork sausages with pears and figs at Banca de Pau in Lisbon

We left full and very satisfied, and our bank account was very happy too! I couldn’t recommend Banca de Pau enough if you are visiting Lisbon, the wine, the food, the staff – you will have a lovely time!

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4 days in Istanbul

Where the West meets the East, the great city of Istanbul is an amazing destination. Some of you may immediately think that with the recent events it is not very safe to visit, but we visited in between two incidents and if it wasn’t for the news we would have never known that something was happening.

I can safely say that Istanbul was one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities I have ever visited. Turkish people are very friendly, the food is amazing and the sights are breathtakingly beautiful. So follow me for 4 days in what used to be known as Byzantium and Constantinople.

Day 1 – Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern

We started our trip in the most famous neighbourhood of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. This is where you will find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and many more famous sights. We were lucky to have excellent weather, and after a quick breakfast on the go, we headed to Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

I knew the history of Hagia Sophia, once a Christian Orthodox cathedral, it was turned into a mosque, and is now a museum. What I didn’t know, on the other hand, was how big and beautiful the place was.

Hagia Sophia

The ceilings are so high it is unbelievable.

Deësis mosaic in Hagia Sophia

This is also where you will find the very famous Deësis and Comnenus mosaics, some signs left from its cathedral days.

Comnenus mosaic in Hagia Sophia

Make sure to peek through the windows for the most beautiful views of Istanbul’s roofs.

Istanbul's roofs

After a Turkish tea break, we were off to the Blue Mosque. It is good to note that the visits are allowed between prayer time and if you are a woman you will need to cover your hair. I made sure to wear a scarf around my neck at all time when in Istanbul so I could easily cover my head if I needed to.

Wearing a head scarf in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The inside of the mosque is embellished with light features, stained glass and mosaics.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The building itself is breathtakingly beautiful and changes colours throughout the day, sometimes appearing blue, sometimes grey or even white!

The Blue Mosque in IstanbulThe Blue Mosque in Istanbul

We took a little bit of time to check out the Obelisk of Theodosius and the Serpent Column before grabbing lunch at one of the many restaurants around.

The Obelisk of Theodosius in IstanbulThe Serpent Column in Istanbul

In the afternoon, we first visited the Basilica Cistern, famous for featuring in a James Bond film (From Russia with love) and for its Medusa columns.

The Basilica Cistern in IstanbulMedusa column in the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

We then spent some time exploring the streets of Sultanahmet. Stopping for some baklava.

Baklava in Istanbul

We headed toward the Yeni Cami square where the beautiful ‘New’ mosque stands.

Yeni Cami mosque in Istanbul

Our last stop of the day was the Spice Bazaar, where we smelled and tasted a few things before buying some tea and some Turkish delights.

Spice Bazaar in IstanbulTurkish delight at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

Turkish food is delicious and there are a few dishes I listed in a previous post that you need to try while there!

Istanbul and the Bosphorus

We crossed the Bosphorus and enjoyed watching the fishermen keeping busy at sunset.

Fishermen in Istanbul

Day 2 – Galata Tower, Karakoy and afternoon tea at Pera Palace Hotel

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great on our second day but we didn’t get discouraged and headed out to explore Karakoy neighbourhood.

Karakoy Istanbul

Our first stop was at the Galata tower, a medieval building with amazing panoramic views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

Galata Tower in IstanbulView from Galata Tower in Istanbul

We enjoyed the views and headed back downstairs for a warming cup of tea. The weather wasn’t getting better we, therefore, decided to go explore Karakoy’s streets so it would be easy to shelter in a shop if needed.

Street art in Istanbul

Embarrassing fact: I didn’t know Istanbul had an old tramway system running in the pedestrian streets. I actually discovered it when I almost got hit by one!

Istanbul tramway

We got lost in the streets and ran into some of the famous Istanbul sights like the Kamondo steps and Taksim Square.

Kamondo steps in IstanbulTaksim Square in Istanbul

It eventually started raining so we decided to take shelter at the Pera Palace Hotel for some tea and cake.

Pera Palace Hotel cakes

The place is beautiful and famous for hosting the Orient Express passengers – including Agatha Christie – before or after their trip on the train.

Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul

Day 3 – Ortakoy and a cruise on the Bosphorus

We started the third day in the neighbourhood of Ortakoy, a beautiful traditional area with plenty of trendy restaurants and cafes.

Ortakoy in Istanbul

This is where we had the best Turkish breakfast of our trip!

After a very satisfying breakfast, we headed to Besiktas’ port to catch one of the Bosphorus boat tours. I cannot remember exactly which company we used, but they were very easy to find and we bought the tickets at one of the front desks at the port.

Ortakoy in Istanbul

We picked a hop-on-hop-off cruise which allowed us to stop and explore different neighbourhoods.

Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul

The boats are often enough that you won’t have to wait too long if the area you stop at is not very big.

Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul

We were lucky to have excellent weather on that day and the views were fantastic.

Bosphorus cruise in IstanbulBosphorus cruise in Istanbul

We first stopped at Emirgan, a small neighbourhood with a village vibe where we grabbed a coffee.

Emirgan in Istanbul

Back on the boat, we headed to Asia and stopped at Beylerbeyi for a quick bite on the go and nice views of the European side.

Beylerbeyi Palace in Istanbul

Our last stop was in Kadikoy, where we explored the small lively streets and grabbed yet another cup of Turkish tea (I did buy a couple of boxes to take back home as you can imagine).

Bosphorus cruise in IstanbulMarket in Kadikoy, Istanbul

We very much enjoyed Kadikoy with its lively market and plenty of bars and eateries. It seems like it would be a fun place to go out in the evening too.

Market in Kadikoy, Istanbul

Day 4 – Topkapi Palace Museum and the Grand Bazaar

Our final day was spent back in Europe. We spent the morning exploring Topkapi Palace.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The place is beautiful, the architecture is amazing and the gardens are a real pleasure to visit.

Topkapi Palace garden in Istanbul

I also recommend visiting the harem where you can learn a lot about it, which (spoiler alert) is nothing like what you may imagine it to be. It was a lot more civilised and a lot less glamorous than what books and movies may have depicted.

Harem in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The harem was actually where the family of the sultan lived. It was a private and quiet house tucked away from the crowds of the royal court.

After lunch, we headed to the very famous Grand Bazaar, our final stop. We kept it for last as we knew we would probably buy souvenirs there (we did).

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

The place is very impressive with endless covered alleyways. It is vast and it is very easy to get lost in it.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

It is also magical and feels like shopping in a giant Aladdin’s cave!

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

We absolutely loved our time in Istanbul and we will definitely be back, where Europe shakes hands with Asia.

Istanbul

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The Victoria and Albert Museum – London

The Victoria and Albert Museum, otherwise known as the V&A, is I and many Londoners’ favourite museum. Long before the lifestyle magazines, lifestyle bloggers and vloggers, the V&A has been filling that museum gap between History and everyday life. Going through ages and civilisations, the museum showcases items of the everyday life and explain design approaches through various historical eras and geographical locations. There you will learn anything from Medieval metalwork to shopping habits in 1800 England.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

This is why I love this museum because you can picture how people were living at different times. But rather than going through the long list of what you can find at the V&A (more than 4.5 million objects!), I thought I would highlight my favourite parts, so when you are visiting you can hunt for those. Be warned some can be challenging to find!

The Victoria and Albert Museum garden

Let’s start in the grand entrance, where you will find the beautiful and gigantic chandelier – a glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly. It is messy, colourful, fun, and it looks like a glass firework!

Chandelier in the Victoria and Albert Museum grand entrance

Now a here is a tip to see the chandelier from an even better and less crowded angle – head to the second floor and the Medieval and Rennaissance area. Walk through the exhibition and find your way toward the Metalwork area, and right at the entrance of this exhibition, you will be at the mezzanine level just above the grand entrance, with the nicest view of the chandelier!

Chandelier in the Victoria and Albert Museum grand entrance

To get to the best view of the chandelier, I mentioned that you will need to walk through the medieval age exhibition, which is great because it is another of my favourite part!

Start in the beautiful gallery just right of the ticket office.

Renaissance City at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Walk through the ‘Renaissance City’ and admire the artists live drawing some of the sculptures.

Artist drawing at the Victoria and Albert MuseumArtist drawing at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Once at the end of the gallery, you will find the staircase taking you to the Medieval age area.

Renaissance City at the Victoria and Albert Museum

In the Daylit Gallery, you will find some of the most impressive items the V&A has, an entire staircase, a full house front facade.

Medieval exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The scale of this exhibition is almost too big for your brain to process it.

Medieval exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Walk through the corridors to see everyday life items from the Medieval age, including almost spotless knight armours (one would wonder if it wasn’t more used to show off rather than actually fight).

Knight armour at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Walk across the mezzanine and through the metalwork section and go to the fourth floor where you will find my favourite exhibition – the British Galleries – more specifically Great Britain during the Victorian era. I love this section, in particular, because you get a real insight into people’s lives at that time.

Vintage posters at the Victoria and Albert Museum

A lot of today’s everyday life habits were born at that time, department stores, interior design trends, catalogue shopping, women working, etc.

Women work in 1800 at the Victoria and Albert Museum

It is fascinating as it all happened more than one hundred years ago,  yet it is so similar to today’s consumer habits.

It is also good to note that the fourth floor British Gallery is far off the beaten path and quiet – which makes it even more pleasant to visit.

Make sure to also check out the Clore Study area, where you will find ‘Breathless‘ a wonderful installation by Cornelia Parker.

Breathless by Cornelia Parker at the Victoria and Albert Museum

End your visit of the British Galleries on the north side and go down one floor to find one of my favourite rooms in the V&A – the library.

To find it you will have to walk through the Modern gallery which is wonderful if you are into interior design. Some iconic household pieces are displayed there.

Modern design at the Victoria and Albert Museum

At the end of the Modern gallery, you will find the National Art Library, a room out of the Beauty and the Beast. Walls and walls of books!

The Victoria and Albert Museum library

A beautifully ancient library currently hosting a collection of modern design items.

At that point in your visit, you would have already done a fair amount of walking so I recommend you go back downstairs to find the cafe.

The Victoria and Albert Museum cafe

The food is good and the sitting areas are beautiful. The cafe definitely worth swinging by!

The Victoria and Albert Museum cafe

Vintage or modern atmosphere, you choose!

The Victoria and Albert Museum cafeThe Victoria and Albert Museum cafe

After a little break, end your visit exploring the fashion section if you like beautiful textiles and glamorous outfits.

Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Indian, Korean or Japanese exhibitions for a trip to sunnier and more exotic places.

Indian gold statue at the Victoria and Albert MuseumTiger sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Or have a break and a ‘wow!‘ moment in front of some of Raphael most beautiful work.

Raphael Cartoons at the Victoria and Albert MuseumRaphael Cartoons at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Then head out to continue your London adventure, feeling inspired and a little bit smarter!

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Ethos – London

When visiting London as a tourist or meeting friends for lunch somewhere central, it can be challenging to eat healthily. London offers so many temptations. You can have some of the best burgers and pizzas available, and there are endless unhealthy snack options. London is a big playground for foodies.

After enjoying every naughty food options the city has to offer, you will eventually crave for some healthy food. I just know the type of place you will be looking for on that day, where only healthy food is served but without any compromise on flavours. No boring kale salad here!

Just behind the very busy Oxford Street, you will find Ethos an eatery only serving tasty vegetarian food. A temple for all the gluten-dairy-sugar-free Londoners, and a nice discovery for common human beings like me. I am French which means I eat meat (medium rare please!), cheese (a lot) and bread with all the gluten in it. Yet even I have days where I crave for a tasty salad and Ethos is my go-to for a healthy and tasty kick.

Ethos London

The concept of Ethos is that you pay-by-weight. The food is served at a buffet, you grab a plate, load it with whatever you like the look of, and go to the till to pay.

Ethos London Buffet

Options go from salads to hot dishes, dips and cakes. There is something for everyone!

Ethos London Buffet

I highly recommend the beetroot fritters, they are delicious! (top of the picture below)

Ethos London Buffet with beetroot fritters

The place itself is lovely too. It has a bit of a New York vibe and the Ethos team has added a few nice little touches to the decor, highlighting their main objective to work gently with what nature has to offer.

Ethos London Interior

Just be careful not to have eyes bigger than your stomach as prices can be a little steep for a big plate. Mine was about £12 and it was just enough to keep my appetite at bay until late afternoon.

Ethos London Lunch plate

So if you need a break from the gourmet burgers and the cupcakes, and you happen to be in central London, try to get a table at Ethos! You may just need to be patient as it can get very busy! Bon appétit!

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2 days in Osaka and Nara

The last stop on my Japan itinerary is Osaka with a day trip to Nara. We didn’t expect much of Osaka to be completely honest, the feedback we got from most people before we went was that there wasn’t much to do. Sometimes though, you have to experience things for yourself to make your own opinion, and we actually very much enjoyed our time in the Osaka area!

Brace yourself! This post is a long one but I just couldn’t select the pictures! I was so happy with most of them I wanted to share them all!

Day 1 – Osaka Castle and Osaka city centre

We arrived in Osaka from Hiroshima mid-morning and dropped our luggage in one of the station’s lockers as it was a little too early to check-in at our Airbnb. Once our luggage stored in a safe place, we headed to the top of the station for an unspoiled view of the Umeda building.

Umeda Sky building

After a quick lunch, we then headed to Osaka castle. A beautiful monument from the 16th century, which (fun fact), like many other Japanese landmarks, burnt and was rebuilt a couple of times.

Osaka CastleOsaka Castle

The grounds of the castle are absolutely beautiful too and very much worth visiting.

Osaka Castle

Make sure to take a moment to reflect at Hōkoku Shrine and relax in the sun in the plum grove.

Hōkoku ShrineHōkoku Shrine

After an afternoon of contemplation, we headed to our Airbnb to check-in and out to explore Osaka city centre. One thing we didn’t expect is how lively and busy Osaka is. If you are looking to go out and have some fun, Dotonbori is definitely the place!

Dotonbori

That is where you will also find the famous Glico Man.

Glico Man

We explored the area for a while and took a little bit of time to appreciate the rather creative shop signs before finding a place for dinner. I highly recommend Tsurugyu where we had the some of the best wagyu beef we ever had!

Dotonbori giant crabDotonbori shop signs

Day 2 – Nara

A day trip to Nara is a must on any Japan first-timer’s itinerary! The place is absolutely gorgeous and will give you a welcome break from the city. There are two ways to fit Nara on your itinerary, you can either go from Osaka (about 45 minutes on the train) or from Kyoto (about 35 minutes on the express train).

Train too Nara

On our arrival in Nara, we were greeted by greedy furry friends, like on Miyajima island, deer made Nara very much their home.

Deer in Nara

We decided to visit Nara by doing a big loop around the park, entering next to the prefectural building where we saw the last signs of the Cherry Blossom.

Cherry Blossom in NaraJapan flag in Nara

We then headed to Nandaimon gate, the very impressive gate to Tōdai-Ji shrine. The pictures don’t do it justice and the structure is truly gigantic in real life.

Nandaimon gateNandaimon gate

We then headed toward Tōdai-Ji main building.

Tōdai-ji

The place was extremely busy and a lot of Japanese people were wearing their beautiful traditional outfits in honour of the Golden Week.

Ladies wearing kimonos in Nara

Inside Tōdai-Ji you will find the giant Buddha, which is, well… giant!

Tōdai-ji giant buddha

Take a little moment to watch people pray, draw and follow various traditions.

Artist in Tōdai-jiTōdai-ji

Once outside Tōdai-Ji, we headed toward the west of the park to quieter alleyways where we visited various shrines before stopping for a picnic.

Nara shrineNara cemeteryNara shrine

As I mentioned in previous posts, we missed Japan Cherry Blossom by ten days. What we didn’t miss on the other hand is wisteria season, and there is no better place than Kasuga Taisha to see it.

Wisteria in Kasuga Taisha

A purple ceiling surrounded by the brightest red walls.

Wisteria in Kasuga TaishaKasuga Taisha

We then headed back toward the station with a last swing to the tall, dark and handsome pagoda.

Pagoda in Nara

Oh! One last tip before you go! Make sure to head to the top of Nara’s prefectural office for unspoiled panoramic views of the park!

We ran into a few last furry friends bending to say goodbye (you read that right, deer in Japan have learned to bend like humans) before heading back to Osaka for the night.

Deer in Nara

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Brunch at Sparrow – London

I have been a Londoner for seven years now. Five of them were spent in my beloved Shepherd’s Bush and the last two have been spent in Lewisham.

If you are from out of town, you probably have never heard of Lewisham, or if you have it would probably be because of the fire station scene in Bridget Jones. If you are living in London you may probably think “Lewisham, oh dear, is that even safe?”. Lewisham has not the best reputation, I will give you that. It is still very much at the early stages of ‘up and coming’ but you cannot beat the prices when you are looking for a house to buy in London.

Slowly but surely though, there have been some nice little places opening making Lewisham city centre less gritty, one of them is Sparrow.

Sparrow Lewisham

We had been to Sparrow before, but it was for dinner straight off the plane from Japan, and with the jet-lag we weren’t really able to fully appreciate the meal. So this review is only about their brunch and I guess I will have to visit again to let you know about the dinner (life is hard).

We headed mid-morning to Lewisham roundabout where Sparrow is. The area is being fully redeveloped and you will find Sparrow squeezed between a shopping centre and a development site. It doesn’t sound great, but never judge a book by its cover!

Inside, the place is how you would expect any trendy restaurant in Shoreditch to look like. Subway tiles, open kitchen, young friendly staff, overall a very pleasant atmosphere.

Sparrow Lewisham

The menu is very interesting too, between the traditional full-English breakfast and the eggs Benedict, you will find some more surprising dishes inspired by Sri Lanka cuisine, such as poori masala and appam.

Sparrow brunch menu

We placed our order – one full-English for him, one appam for me.

The full-English was beautiful, with vibrant colours and great flavours! One very satisfying breakfast.

Sparrow full-English breakfast

I didn’t know what to expect with the appam, having never had one. It was delicious! Appam is similar to a pancake and made with fermented rice and coconut milk. Light, crispy and fluffy, with delicious flavours of coconut milk, a very nice discovery if you are not too hungry.

Sparrow appam

With that we ordered the fresh juice and smoothy of the day, which were exactly what we needed after a little too many drinks the night before.

Sparrow juice and smoothie of the day

Slowly but surely, Lewisham is finally becoming a destination Londoners go to for a good meal! We will need many more nice eateries to compete with trendy East London of course, but with places like Sparrow, I think we will be just fine!

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2 days in Hiroshima

Hiroshima was made famous on the 6th August 1945 for very unfortunate reasons, and most of the pictures I had seen from the place were devastation scenes in my history books at school. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I was in for a surprise…

Modern Hiroshima is nothing like the history book pictures! Lively, busy, with an amazing food scene, loads of shops and very important historical sights. A real surprise and a nice one!

We stayed at the the Washington Hotel in the city centre. The room and bed are on the small side, but it is very good value for money and very well situated in the town.

Day 1 – The Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima Castle & the city centre

We arrived in Hiroshima around lunch time and grabbed a quick lunch on the go on our way to the hotel. After dropping our bags, we were ready to explore and started our visit a the Peace Memorial Museum.

The Peace Memorial Museum

The museum has been done very nicely and it explains very tastefully a terrible event, from the timeline of the day and weeks that followed, to the science behind the impact of nuclear weapons on bodies and plants. A real eye-opening experience and a very touching one too. A good reminder that peace is what we should all seek for and compromise on.

The Peace Memorial Museum

Outside the museum there are a couple of memorials. One is dedicated to the victims of the bombing, the other is the Children’s Peace Monument, both are touching and beautiful.

Hiroshima MemorialHiroshima Memorial

From the park, you will have a great view of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the most famous remaining symbol of August 6th, 1945.

Hiroshima Memorial

After a rather heavy afternoon, we decided to walk to Hiroshima Castle to reflect on what we had seen and learned.

Hiroshima Castle

The castle definitely worth swinging by with its beautiful gardens and shrines.

Hiroshima CastleHiroshima Castle

We ended the day at  ふみちゃん 流川店 for the most delicious okonomiyaki.

Day 2 – Miyajima island

One of the most beautiful places we visited while in Japan, Miyajima island, is just outside Hiroshima. To get there we took the tramway for 40 minutes and then a boat for about 20 minutes. There is a fastest route I believe but we enjoyed our tramway ride seeing people commuting to work and children going to school.

Hiroshima Tramway

On arrival you will be met by a furry welcome committee, Miyajima island is populated with a large deer community. Keep a close eye on your belongings because if you carry any sort of food they will find it!

Deer in Miyajima island

Miyajima island has some amazing sights that you commonly see on postcards. There is the beautiful (but very busy) Istukushima Shrine.

Miyajima island

The very famous floating torii.

Floating torii in Miyajima island

The five-storied Pagoda which features on most cherry blossom pictures you would see of the island.

Pagoda in Miyajima island

Miyajima island is basically a giant postcard. We loved hiking up and down the hills all day, but the real highlight for us was Daishō-in.

Daishō-inDaishō-in

A magical shrine at the top of the hill, the place is gorgeous.

Daishō-in

After hiking a bit longer, and a few more close encounters with some deer, we headed back into town for another okonomiyaki.

Deer in Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island

A lot of our friends going to Japan asked us if Hiroshima worth visiting, my answer? Absolutely, but if you are going all the way there make sure to visit Miyajima island too! Otherwise it may not worth the hours on the train.

Deer in Miyajima Island

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4 days in Kyoto

If Tokyo is the busy and trendy Japan destination, Kyoto is the beautiful more traditional one. Kyoto has countless shrines, Geishas walk in the street like you would walk to a grocery shop, ryokans are the recommended accommodation type to stay at – this is where you will have a taste of Japanese traditions.

We stayed in Kyoto for 4 days, but, to be honest, I wished we had a fifth day there as there were a few things we had no time to do. I guess that’s an excuse to go back, right?

Day 1 – Higashi Honganji, Kyoto Train Station & Fushimi

After dropping our bags at our hotel we headed to Higashi Honganji, a big shrine, a stone’s throw away from Kyoto station. It is a complex made of multiple temples and very impressive.

Higashi Honganji

Higashi Honganji dragon fountain

Having worked up an appetite, we headed to Kyoto’s train station on the lookout for a place to eat. You may think that eating in a train station is a little sad, but Kyoto’s station is an architectural wonder and absolutely worth getting lost in.

Kyoto train stationKyoto train station

Among the floors of shops and eateries, you will find glimpses of the city and some magical architectural moments. And on the 11th floor, you will find an excellent tonkatsu at Katsukura.

Kyoto tower

After lunch, we hopped on the JR line to Fushimi. A few tips before we start the visit: when visiting Fushimi wear comfortable shoes that you can walk-in for a good few hours and have at least a bottle of water per person.

Fushimi

Fushimi is one of the most famous touristic sights in the world with its thousands of torii gates lined along the mountain trail.

Warning – the first kilometre is hell! You will be stuck in a crowd of tourists stopping every two meters to take a picture. After the first kilometre, people will start to head back, the trail will get less busy and you will finally have a quiet moment to embrace the beauty of the place.

Fushimi

Keep climbing (you have to walk that tonkatsu off, right?) to the quietest spot and unspoiled views of the valley.

Fushimi

Then turn around and head all the way back downhill to the station. There is no shortcut exit there. Take one last (sweaty) picture, and head back to your hotel for a shower.

FushimiFushimi

Freshened-up and starving, we enjoyed a ‘burnt’ ramen at Gogyo Ramen that evening.

Day 2 – The Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji & Hirano Shrine

We started the second day at the famous Bamboo Forest. You must have seen this place all over Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. It looks beautifully serene on most pictures right? Well let me tell you, in real life, it is MUCH busier. No silence and bird chirping noises, camera noises and ‘say cheeeeese’ is what you will hear the most.

The Bamboo Forest

The Bamboo Forest is breathtakingly beautiful though, and once you adjust to the flow of people you will see through the chaos its true beauty.

The Bamboo Forest

Get lost in the small alleyways around the forest and explore some of the shrines surrounding the place before your next stop!

The Bamboo ForestThe Bamboo Forest

A train and a walk later, we arrived at Kinkaku-ji. Again, crazy busy, again ridiculously beautiful.

Kinkaku-ji

There you will find the most beautiful gold-plated shrine, in the middle of a wonderfully Japanese-looking pond.

Kinkaku-ji

The park is gorgeous and I really cannot emphasise enough on how beautiful the golden pavilion is.

Kinkaku-ji

On our way back to the station we swung by Hirano Shrine, a peaceful ‘everyday life’ shrine where we had a few last glimpses of the cherry blossom season (we missed it by only 10 days!).

Hirano ShrineHirano Shrine

Day 3 – Daimaru Kyoto, Nishiki Market, Pontocho & the Imperial Palace

Our third day in Kyoto was a rainy one. We started the day sheltered into the shops of Shijo Dori. A bit of shopping never hurts anyone!

Daimaru

If you are only going to enter one shop, make it Daimaru, their food court to be more precise. Daimaru is comparable to Selfridges or Le Bon Marche and the food hall is amazing!

Talking about food, after salivating in the alleys of Daimaru, we headed to Nishiki Market for our real lunch. Dedicate a good 90 minutes to two hours to the place as there is so much to see and to taste.

Nishiki Market

In need of a walk after so much food, we headed to the small streets of Pontocho with the hope to run into a geisha.

Pontocho

Geishas there weren’t, but charming little houses to take pictures of there were!

PontochoPontocho

The day was getting greyer and greyer but we still stuck to our plan and walked to the Imperial Palace park.

Imperial Palace parkImperial Palace park

After so much walking and in need of something warm and comforting to eat, we ended our day at What’s for some delicious beef.

Day 4 – Kiyomizu-dera, Sannen-zaka, Yasaka Shrine & Gion

Luckily our last day in Kyoto was sunny and warm again, the perfect weather to end our trip at one of the most famous sights Kiyomizu-dera.

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is easily recognisable from afar with its tall red pagoda.

Kiyomizu-dera pagoda

We explored the shrine before getting lost in the traditional streets of Sannen-zaka.

Sannen-zaka

Walking along the wooden houses was like a trip through time, and we FINALLY found some geishas!

Geishas in Kyoto

Be aware that geishas are coy by nature and not easy to photograph. Respect it as you don’t want to come across as a rude tourist.

Sannen-zaka

We wandered in Maruyama Park.

Kyoto's streetMaruyama park

Our last stop before lunch was Yasaka Shrine, a beautiful temple just off Gion’s streets.

Yasaka Shrine

After a quick lunch on the go, we got lost in the streets of Gion, a lively neighbourhood where you will find designers’ shops, traditional ryokans, and, again, some beautiful shrines.

GionGionGion

Where to stay?

We stayed in two different places during our time in Kyoto. We spent the first couple of nights in Sakura Terrace, a perfectly fine hotel a short walk away from the train station, great to hop on the JR line to Fushimi and the Bamboo Forest.

The following two nights we stayed in a traditional room at Matsubaya Ryokan, a great ryokan with an amazing traditional Japanese breakfast and where futons are lot comfier than what they look like.

Take me there!

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5 days in Tokyo

That’s it! I am finally tackling all the Japan content I have! Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing my itineraries to help you plan your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun – starting with Tokyo!

As you can imagine, Tokyo is an amazing city, it is very old yet very modern, very calm yet very busy – it is a fascinating place! The itinerary below will take you to most of the main sights in Tokyo. The city is so vast that you could easily spend another five days exploring it, that is if you have a lot more time in Japan. If you are only there for a couple of weeks, five days is a good start for a first visit to Tokyo.

Day 1 – Arriving in Tokyo & Shinjuku

If coming from Europe, you will be landing in Tokyo around breakfast time. It will take you a good couple of hours to make it to Tokyo’s city-centre – time to grab your luggage, go through customs, taxi or train, etc. We were staying in Shinjuku where most of the big hotels are, so we decided to spend our first afternoon there.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku is one of the busiest neighbourhoods of Tokyo and a very convenient place to base yourself during your stay with multiple train and subway stations around the area. We stayed at the Hilton which was very nice but a little bit expensive.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku is also the perfect place to have a first taste of Tokyo. It is overwhelmingly crowded, but Japanese people are so quiet and respectful that it feels less busy than a London pub on a Friday night.

Shinjuku station platform

Day 2 – Meiji Jingu, Shibuya & Roppongi

The second day is a perfect mixture of modern and ancient Tokyo. First, stop Meiji Jingu in the heart of Harajuku. A beautiful shrine hidden in the middle of a park, offering a little bit of peace and quiet away from the buzzing streets of Harajuku, which I could best describe as the Shoreditch of Tokyo.

Meiju Jingu

After enjoying the tranquillity of Meiju Jingu, we walked through Harajuku and headed toward Shibuya. Coming from that direction you will arrive straight to the famous Shibuya crossing, which, in real life, looks and feel smaller than what you may have seen in pictures or in movies. It is still busy though!

Shibuya Crossing

For the best views of the crossing head to Starbucks for a coffee and the best time-lapse spot.

Shibuya Crossing

Get lost in the back streets of Shibuya and make sure to grab lunch at Toritake.

Toritake

Full of yakitori, we then headed to Roppongi, another very trendy neighbourhood of Tokyo and a great place to do a spot of shopping. We haven’t been there at night but it is supposed to be a very lively place to go out.

Roppongi street

After walking all day, we ended the day back in Shinjuku with a delicious ramen at the very popular Ichiran.

Ichiran

Day 3 – Asakusa, Tokyo National Museum & Ueno

On the third day, we headed to an older part of Tokyo and started in Asakusa. Just outside of the station you will have a great view of the Skytree. We decide not to visit it though to have more time visiting Tokyo and less time waiting in the notoriously long queue.

Tokyo Skytree

Head to the ancient Sensō-ji temple, you will walk through charming ancient streets to get there.

Asakusa

Embrace the atmosphere of the old shrine and bathe yourself in incense smoke for good health.

Sensō-jiSensō-ji

Head to Tokyo National Museum and grab lunch on your way there. You can easily find bento boxes and onigiris in supermarkets for a lunch on the go. We had our lunch in Ueno Onshi Park.

Ueno Onshi Park

The Tokyo National Museum is the perfect option if you only have time to visit one museum in Tokyo, or if you are not really into museums. It gives an overview of Japanese history and culture, from clothing to housing.

Tokyo National MuseumTokyo National Museum

After a few hours wandering the corridors of the museum, we headed deep into Ueno and got lost in the little streets for an afternoon walk.

Ueno street

We ended the day, again in Shinjuku, and had one of the most amazing meals at Imahan.

Imahan

Day 4 – Tsukiji Fish Market, Hamarikyu Gardens, Ginza, Chiyoda & Ebisu

I talked about Tsukiji Fish Market into details in a previous post, and, because you can only visit the market the morning, it is a great place to start your day.

Tsukiji Fish Market

After a couple of hours among the fish and their fishmongers, we headed for a bit of fresher air and decided to visit Hamarikyu Gardens. This park is an oasis of tranquillity in the middle of Tokyo.

Hamarikyu GardensHamarikyu Gardens

We grabbed lunch on our way to Ginza, an upmarket shopping district.

Ginza street

Not far from Ginza is Chiyoda where you will find the Imperial Palace. It is also supposed to be a fantastic spot to see the cherry blossom during the season.

Chiyoda

We ended the day in the very lively district of Ebisu where we had dinner and a cheeky beer at the Ebisu Beer Hall.

Day 5 – Akihabara & Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

On your last day, immerse yourself in the gamer and technology culture in Akihabara.

Akihabara

Get lost in the game centres or in a cat cafe (we did both!).

Akihabara games centreAkihabara cat cafe

Take some cheesy photo-booth pictures and embrace the weirdness of the place.

Akihabara Sega games centre

A highlight of our Tokyo visit was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The place is breathtakingly beautiful and on a rainy day, like we had, it had strong Lost in Translation vibes.

Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenShinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Talking about Lost in Translation, make sure to end your trip with a drink at the New York bar, at the top of the Park Hyatt, made famous by Sophia Coppola’s movie. It offers the most incredible views of the city at dusk.

New York Bar view Tokyo

I hope you will enjoy Tokyo as much as we did! I just cannot wait to come back!

Take me there!

Favourite travel blogs

Last post of my ‘Favourite blogs’ series, after interior and beauty, let me introduce you to my favourite travel bloggers! I refer to their sites when I am looking for travel inspiration, planning my itinerary or simply looking for a place to have dinner.

Creative Travel Guide

What I like the most about Creative Travel Guide is how Katie answers questions we all may have asked ourselves while travelling but we couldn’t find the answers to. How to save money when sending parcel while travelling? How to travel the world on a vegan diet? Etc.

Creative Travel Guide
Source: Creative Travel Guide

A very useful blog to refer to when abroad and not sure how to/what to/when to!

The Londoner

Not sure Rosie would consider herself a travel blogger, I think ‘lifestyle’ is probably the best way to describe her platform. However she is my go-to source when I am looking for a place to have dinner or a drink abroad! She has travelled so much and her recommendations rarely disappoint.

The Londoner
Source: The Londoner

Rosie’s blog is also a fantastic source of outing ideas if, like me, you live in London, and her pictures are just gorgeous!

The Blonde Abroad

What I love the most about Kiersten’s blog is her fun personality and her blogging story. In particular when she says “I realised that true happiness, for me, would not be found in a cubicle… so I quit my job”. She took a risk and it paid off which I truly admire.

The Blonde Abroad
Source: The Blonde Abroad

The Blonde Abroad is an inspirational source of content if you love to travel, you are a woman and wants to change your lifestyle to something less conventional. In Kiersten’s own words “May you never settle for a life that’s anything short of extraordinary!”

Digital Travel Guru

This blog is a fantastic source of information to plan your next trip! Be warned though, you are at risk of major travel-envy when reading this blog as they are also multiple interviews of travel bloggers and digital nomads!

Digital Travel Guru
Source: Digital Travel Guru

An endless source of content to plan your next vacation or your journey to become a full-time traveller!

I hope that all the blogs I have shared will inspire you to have an eventful, adventurous and beautiful 2018!

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