Venturing to Kangaroo Valley

Growing up sometimes means awful things like annual leave. But saying no to a summer in Europe doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to home detention. And if you’re clever enough to pick a keeper like I did, a surprise weekend away might even be on the cards.

The clue: eggs and meringue.

The answer: unyoked.

IMG_0073

In words I wish I’d written myself, it was boring in the most exquisite of ways. Located in the unused paddock of a farm in the Kangaroo Valley, the solar-powered, out-of-signal cabin is the perfect excuse to switch your emails to out-of-office. There’s nothing to do and it’s perfect. Hours spent staring at the fire that will later cook your dinner, flicking pages of your book like the light through the trees around you.

IMG_0043

IMG_0032

It had everything you needed and not a thing more. Luxurious linen, stunning scenery, torches to spot the wombats at night, and windows to reach the stars. You and me.

IMG_9971

IMG_0116

IMG_0113

Waking up to a frost that sparkled in the morning light and stumbling my way through a yoga flow as the steam rose from the sloping valley around us. Utter nothingness.

IMG_0065

IMG_0069

A holiday where photos speak a thousand words, but those words could never quite capture it.

IMG_0014

Thank you for the most magical escape.

IMG_0027

E x

 

Melbourne Musts

“Do you know anywhere good to eat in Melbourne?”

This message has been popping up in my inbox more and more frequently over the last few years. Maybe it has something to do with millions of pictures of meals that consume my mobile memory, or the somewhat mad ramblings of my love-affair with the not so distant city, but I thought it about time that I officially share my list of musts for Melbourne.

Up until this point, with everyone I have shared the list I have done so with one condition attached: if you go anywhere new, add it to the list.

The same remains for you, whoever you may be. If you have a favourite place to dine or sip, shop or see, please share it with me.

To caffeinate //

Everyone knows Melbourne is no place for mochas, hazelnut lattes or things adorned with cream. It’s about coffee.

So you’ve got Dukes Coffee Roasters, Axil Flinders Lane, Brother Buba Budan, Market Lane and Patricia’s to start with. You get the idea? There are heaps.

Industry Beans is an institution, and also serves food that looks as good as it tastes. Kettle Black, Higher Ground, Top Paddock are all owned by the same people and trust me, those people know what they are doing. I’ve ordered the coconut-set chia from Kettle Black the last four times I’ve been, which is unusual for someone with the level of #FOMO I have, but it’s the only chia I’ve ever liked. It’s that good.

St Ali is an awesome space that makes you want to go home and expose the beams in your ceiling and strip the paint off your walls. It also has perfected the ‘green bowl’. And Proud Mary’s will always be special to me because of that time I was craving hot cakes and they happened to have a hot cake special on that day.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

 

To eat //

You can’t talk about dinner in Melbourne without dropping Chin Chin. I’ve never actually been though. It was too obvious for me. Instead I found Rice Paper Scissors, an Asian-tapas restaurant with no reservations and no regrets.

Still not sure what I did in a past-life to deserve it, but I was treated to a meal at Lûmé on one trip to Melbourne. A multi-sensory dining experience where the food looks more like artworks. Google ‘Pearl on the Ocean Floor’. Oh my god, I know right. How amazing is it.

If you’re looking for something quick and easy, you can’t go past Pellegrini’s. We did a quick google search before we went last time, which prepared us for the service, or lack there of. Unsure of whether we were meant to sit down or be seated, an understanding regular informed us it’s different every time, depending on the mood of the waiters. Lots of yelling, lots of attitude, no menus, and goddamn delicious pasta. Ask for the watermelon frappé when you go.

Oh and then there is Belleville, Gingerboy, Seamstress, and Easey’s – the most Melbourne of all meals; loaded burgers served in a graffiti-covered tram on top of a warehouse in Collingwood. It just tastes better that way.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

To drink //

Espresso by day, espresso martini by night. A lovely waiter once told me that the best bars in Melbourne are found either underground or on rooftops. These are my favourite stairways to find.

Berlin Bar is located, you guessed it, upstairs. Knock on the door and be met with the eyes of your waiter through a peep-hole, requesting the password to enter. Once you’re in, you have the choice between East and West, and with it the choice of capitalist opulence or communist austerity.

I walked past Eau de Vie three times on my first visit. Down a nondescript laneway furnished with overflowing bins and coats of graffiti. Not until a couple emerged from an unmarked door and jazz momentarily filled the air, did I believe I was in the right place. A prohibition-themed bar with a twelve page cocktail menu, and whiskeys in the hundreds, it’s a must. Simple as that.

If the best bars are found up high, then Rooftop Bar must be a good one. A local haunt for the hipsters, it’s got amazing views, cheap drinks and an open air cinema in summer. Plus, if you don’t make it up the seven stories it takes to get there, each one on the way is home to an equally cool venue – like Cookie, with it’s 600+ heavy wine list. Yeah. Not a typo.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

This is just a tasting plate of what Melbourne has to offer the senses. A tasting plate that over the years will undoubtedly turn into a banquet. So now back to the rules, because everyone knows I’m a stickler for rules; if you have a ‘Melbourne Must’ that isn’t on my list, drop it in the comments below.

E x

Getting Kultured in Kyoto

They may be spelt using the same letters, but Tokyo and Kyoto are very different places. From the second we stepped out of the station, we noticed the change in pace. More space, less people. This was looking good.

After a long day of traveling, and having had our first chance to flash our flashy new JR Rail Passes and ride the Shinkansen, we arrived at the food capital of Japan, ready to get ‘kultured’ (trademarked by Dan). Ever the man with the plan, he had already researched what Kyoto was good for, and off we headed to find burnt miso ramen – a specialty in Kyoto. With a thick caramelized teriyaki taste, it was one of the best meals I’ve had this trip. And that’s saying something because I’ve had a few best meals. But just ask Romy, she thought it was so good she decided to pour it all down her front just to make sure she smelt like burnt miso ramen for the rest of the trip. #dedicated

We opted for an early night that night as our next day was going to be as full as our stomachs were as we stumbled home.

First up, we hit the subway and headed out to Aryashiyama to the Bamboo Forest. Hundreds of meters of thick bamboo groves towering over the path, it was the perfect place to take your photo, or someone else’s if you’re Brandon. I can’t blame tourists coming up to us and asking up to take their photo though. Out of the seven of us, five of us are walking around with enormous SLR cameras around our necks.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

After a singalong led by DJ Michelle to the likes of Chris Brown, Kendrick Lamar and some random Japanese boy band while walking the backstreets of Aryashiyama, we made our way out to the temple of the Golden Pavilion. When it comes to popular tourist destinations like this one, we’ve come to really start to appreciate our height difference. Apart from selfie-sticks, there isn’t much that interrupts our view of the landmarks. And I’ve never considered myself tall before.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

Chasing the sun, we headed off to the Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of my favourite shrines from the last trip. Considering my favourite colour is orange, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. The shrine is made up of long rows of orange torii, and running through it is something of a spectacle. Even better is watching the sun set over it. And playing with a little kitten we found running around.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

But with such a successful day, and with so much achieved, we couldn’t possibly let it end there. Sponsored by 7 Eleven, our night ended with Suntory Highballs, Smirnoff Ice, cup noodles, nuts recommended by a friendly stranger, and a nightclub called Butterfly.With odds lost, the boys faces were caked in makeup – a sight I can’t wait to forget. But the worst thing we lost that night was Ed (or more appropriately DEdward), who hit the road while the rest of us hit the dance floor, and ended up walking an hour and a half in the wrong direction. Good one, DEdward.

A late start for some, and an even later start for others, we woke the next morning and headed off to the Nishiki Markets. Anything and everything pickled and the smell of fresh fish would have been welcomed, had we not all be recovering from our previous night. A short stroll over to Gion, where Ed realised he had ended up the night before, we really found the kulture in Kyoto. Beautifully preserved, the streets got smaller, the gardens became more zen, the houses quaint and traditional. Geisha’s packed the streets and shrines hid in every corner. It was so much fun to just walk around, popping into little stores and just waiting to see what we’d run into.

We did have a mission though, well at least I did. I’d heard that you could do pottery classes in Gion, and was determined to find one. Thankfully the boys were very patient and persevered until we did. After a quick lesson, we considered ourselves masters and hit the clay. He made a beautiful plate, Ed a sake bottle, and I just let the clay do what it wanted. I ended up with a bowl/vase/cup thing that I really liked. The best part about it is that we all got to choose a colour which they will paint for us, fire, and then send home for us. I can’t wait for that little surprise to arrive in the mail when I’m back in the slug of reality.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

Even better though, we accomplished another mission when Ed darted into a little side store after spotting a beautiful damascus knife, similar to the one that he had bought. Actually, turns out it was exactly the one that he bought. Just #bffl things.

We saved the best ’til last for our final dinner in Kyoto – flaming ramen. More of a show than simply a meal, it was nothing short of a seamless operation. Clad in aprons and led through strict instructions like “don’t run away, your seats are soiled in oil”, we had our cameras collected and connected to a series of purposely positioned selfie-sticks behind the bar. Leaning back, our chef walked along the bar pouring flames into our ramen like some kind of fire chief. It was mad. And very delicious. Within half an hour we had been wowed and then chowed, and were back on the road again.

Controversial I know, but I think Kyoto has been my favourite so far. Osaka tomorrow.

E x

 

 

A Night in Nagano

And we’ve found snow! And not just the pretty snowflake stuff that melts before it touches the ground, but the proper stuff. The kind of snow that piles up on the side of the road, that forms icicles as it falls, that dusts the trees with icing sugar, and that normally results in me falling over. The others weren’t quite as excited, having spent a week in Niseko and all, but I was so excited I couldn’t stop shaking. Maybe that had something to do with the -3 degree temperature, but who knows.

We spent one night in Nagano, in an awesome place called Worldtrek Guesthouse. It looked like a tree-house, with little hidden nooks and crannies hidden everywhere, and a wood fire burning inside. Our room was made up of little bunk-beds hidden behind walls and curtains, which was fun, and the fleeting privacy was well-welcomed after sharing what felt like one mattress between five of us for the previous four nights.

The reason we went to Nagano was to get to the snow monkeys, something that I’d really wanted to do on the last trip but not had time. And as is almost never the case, unbeknownst to us, we happened to stay there the one night of the year that Nagano celebrates a Light Festival at it’s Zenkō-ji Temple. Hundreds of handmade light boxes lined the street leading up to the temple that was lit up in an array of colours. What are the odds?

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

But the real show happened the next morning when we rushed to the station to catch a bus to the Snow Monkey Park. Next was a half an hour walk through the snow-covered forest. I was busy focusing on not falling over, but couldn’t help but be taken away by the winter wonderland around me. Every surface was dusted in a thick blanket of fluffy white snow. I didn’t think it could get any prettier, until we reached the monkeys. Not quite pretty, more pretty ugly, but so darn cute. There were babies running around everywhere and we couldn’t believe how close to them you could actually get. Some were munching on snow, some were floating in their 42 degree hot pool, picking fleas from each others fur, or posing for pictures. It was almost alarming how human-like they were. I fell in love with one monkey I named George. He was sitting in the snow with his leg stretched out, and when he caught me smiling at him, he quickly tucked it in and had a look across his face like he’d been caught red-handed. Absolutely gorgeous. Or should I say Georgeous? *sigh*

I was worried it would be an overrated experience, and that we would trek all that way and just see a bunch of monkeys sitting in water from a distance, but I was absolutely wrong. It was worth every cent we spent on it and I could have stayed there for hours. It was one of the things I was so excited about doing this trip and I’m so glad I got the chance to come back and do it after my last holiday.

Soba for lunch and a snooze on the bus back.

Kyoto we’re coming for you.

E x

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset