Portland Japanese Garden 

When visiting the Pacific Northwest, you probably wouldn’t think to look East for inspiration. But did you know that Portland, Oregon is home to two exquisite gardens with Eastern influences: the Portland Japanese Garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden?

Having called Japan home for many years, I sometimes find myself comparing Japanese inspired things, food, etc. to ‘the real deal’.  I’m not a Japan snob, but I often find a lot of ‘ethnically inspired’ things to be tacky and not very nice. That said, the Portland Japanese Garden exceeded our expectations and I’d even say that it is arguably the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.

The garden’s five areas include a flat garden, strolling pond garden, a tea garden, natural garden, and a sand and stone garden. Everything is really well thought out and there were moments when I felt I had been transported back to some of my favourite garden spots in Kyoto or Tokyo.

There is a small entrance fee to the garden, which is located directly above the Rose Garden in Washington Park. As the trek up the hill to the Japanese Garden can be quite strenuous for some, I recommend taking the free shuttle bus from the parking lot to the Admission Gate. Spring and autumn are probably my favourite times to view Japanese gardens, but each season has its own unique beauty.

Have you visited a Japanese garden outside of Japan that you think is noteworthy? If so, please share with us in the comments!

10 Great Places To Eat Around London (v2.0)

Dining out in London is always a treat. And when you’re no longer confined to a student budget, food adventures can get pretty exciting. I still stand by all of my previous recs–you can’t really go wrong with Busaba Eathai or Belgo. Or even a cheeky Nando’s (don’t judge, just enjoy).

Here are some new favourites which I hope you’ll enjoy!

1. Shoryu Ramen (Liverpool Street)

The ramen craze took a while to hit London but it has since brought some very slurpilicous noodles to the city. Gone are most of the ramen shops from my Uni days, and such as well, as the new generation of ramen shops are often on par with those in Japan (and can satisfy the ramen snob in me). We’ll definitely be returning to Shoryu Ramen (perfect post-cricket meal). The tonkotsu broth is rich and creamy and you can really taste the freshness in their house-made gyoza.

2. Poppies Fish & Chips (Spitalfields)

Poppies is something of an institution in London and is a great spot for traditional no-frills fish and chips and delicious jellied eels. Some places have too much batter for my liking but I thought the batter to fish ratio here was perfect. I can’t really describe jellied eels in an appetising way–cool, fishy, slightly salty and gelatinous goodness? You either love them or you hate them and I think most people are turned off by them so they’re actually quite hard to find in London.

3. Pollen Street Social (Mayfair)

Dining at Pollen Street Social is a special affair. They offer a lovely (yet light) course menu, which is accompanied by an adorable arrangement of canapés and a three-course dessert. The food here is not only pretty to look at, but also a delight to eat. I must admit it’s not terribly filling but the portions aren’t so ickle that you’ll leave hangry.

 

4. Masala Zone (Earls Court)

Veeraswamy on a budget–what’s not to like? There are several Masala Zones around London offering fresh and amazing flavours but for a fraction of the price. You can’t go wrong with thalis. Great value=happy hubs.

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I can’t believe I forgot to mention Veeraswamy before, but their food is superb (especially their fish curries) so you must eat there, too!

5. Fancy a Snog? (Covent Garden)

In addition to having a cheeky name, the frozen yoghurt here is on point and I love all the fresh fruit toppings.

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6. Orjowan (Earls Court)

I cannot recommend this Lebanese restaurant highly enough. Everything is fresh and flavourful, the service is friendly, the price is right, and I thought I just about died and went to heaven when I tasted their chicken wings dipped (by the second bite, smothered would be more accurate) in light and fluffy garlic sauce. It’s insanely delicious–a total party for your tastebuds!

7. Hotel Chocolat (all over London)

Quality British chocolates at a reasonable price.

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8. Belgo Centraal (Covent Garden)

Sometimes all you need is a simple meal of moules-frites and a chilled glass of Früli.

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9. Polo Bar (Liverpool Street)

I’m only adding this place because I know it will make the G happy. They’re open 24 hours, offer a respectable menu of British comfort food, which I’d gladly eat when it’s not 35ºC inside the cafe.img_2045

10. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (Chelsea)

Where do I begin? It was a dream come true to dine here, but we were sadly unimpressed with the Menu Prestige (which put hubs in a sour mood). All of the food was beautifully plated, but I think they forgot that it also has to taste nice (rather, being a 3-Michelin starred restaurant the food should actually knock your socks off). While there were some tasty dishes, most of the courses were either under-seasoned or the flavour combinations were just weird. Having said all that, it’s still a special experience, especially if you’re new to fine dining. But if you’ve dined at other Michelin starred restaurants before I would proceed with caution.

Monkey Does London

Having called three countries and seven cities home, London has always had a special place in Monkey’s heart. It’s been a while since Monks played tourist in London–from Tower Bridge to Westminster (he managed to avoid the Charlie Chaplin scammers), Trafalgar Square to seeing old pals at Number 10, riding Britain’s only cable car to the O2, having a look around Selfridges, Hamleys, the London Eye, etc.–he was able to pack it all in, with great weather to boot!

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Backyard Adventures: Suomenlinna

If you fancy a little maritime adventure while you’re in Helsinki I highly recommend making a trip to Suomenlinna (Sveaborg), which also happens to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Built during the Swedish era as a maritime fortress and a base for the Archipelago Fleet, Suomenlinna is only a quick 15-20 minute ferry ride away from the Market Square.

You can easily spend an entire day at Suomenlinna. In addition to several shops (in which you’ll spot some Moomin goodies) and museums, there are many trails that lead to spectacular views. We were excited to come across an enchanting family of swans–the fluffy cygnets were just adorable.

IMG_3914.CR2Before you go, check the HSL website for detailed ferry schedules. Finnish weather can be unpredictable so be sure to dress in layers. When we set out on the ferry the weather was quite nice but as we arrived at the fortress we were suddenly surrounded by fog. I might as well throw in a reminder to wear comfortable shoes. We saw several ladies looking quite miserable in skinny heels–not the best choice for walking on slightly rugged, unpaved roads.

Island Hopping in Finland

The Turku archipelago is easy to fall in love with, especially when the warm sun is beating down on your back, and you have some hot smoked rainbow trout fresh out of the smoker in one hand and a delicious korvapuusti (Finnish cinnamon roll) in the other.

While we drove around exploring the islands, I could picture the characters of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book coming to life in the ever-changing mood of the northern summer and everything felt simultaneously exciting and calm. I also imagined the Moomins and all of their picnics and outdoor adventures.

I love the sound of the Finnish language and am by no means an expert at picking out Scandinavian languages, but after we had travelled beyond a certain point I was pretty sure most of the locals were speaking Swedish.

Nautical summers are my favourite and because of that I felt completely relaxed and at home as we hopped from island to island. We started out in Nagu/Nauvo, the port to the Turku archipelago, passed through Pärnäs/Pärnäinen and Korpo/Korppoo and turned back just in time to catch the last ferry back to Turku. We hand’t exactly planned on an island adventure–it was a spur of the moment decision after spending the morning in Moominworld. If only we had more time…the weather was perfect, the food was simple but delicious, and the pace of life was perfect.

Hungry in Helsinki

We visited Finland a week before the start of the Finnish summer holiday. I thought it would be enough time to fit in a few tasty meals before the entire country shut down. Sadly, a lot of the restaurants that were on my food itinerary were either closed for renovation or for an early start on the summer holiday.

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Hyvää huomenta! Breakfast was included in all of our hotel stays–lots of meat, dairy and rye.

That said, we were still able to sample a variety of the local fare. I loved the full Finnish breakfasts served in our hotels, the Hotel Scandic Paasi, Helsinki, having the best selection. We had a lot of salmon soup and fried whitefish (the Kauppatori stalls served the best soup), as well as a bit of reindeer and mash and fresh berries.

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Kauppatori Food Stalls

Our favourite restaurants were Gastrobar Emo and Ravintola Gaijin (literally means Foreigner Restaurant in a blend of Finnish and Japanese). Emo served a refreshing menu featuring a lot of seasonal vegetables, although I’ll admit we were a bit hungry after the meal.

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High Five Menu at Gastrobar Emo

Although the food scene is slowly becoming more diverse, ethnic food is still harder to come by in Helsinki. We craved steamed white rice after 10 days of rye and potatoes so decided to go back to our gaijin roots on our last day in Finland.

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Ravintola Gaijin’s Tasting Menu – Menu Gaijin

A lot of our friends were surprised we chose Finland of all the Scandinavian countries to visit because we’re so big on food. We got a lot of “You should’ve gone to Norway!” I had no idea that Finnish food ranked so low on people’s ‘must try’ lists. In any case, I had to see Moominvalley with my own eyes. And why not Finland? Although we did not find as many choices for food as we may have had on our other travels, we enjoyed almost everything we tried.

If we ever have a chance to return to Finland, I would like to try Ravintola Juuri (you really broke my heart last summer…we had reservations, but due to delayed renovations they were cancelled) and Patisserie Teemu & Markus (the mere thought of how disappointed I was when we finally found you and you were CLOSED makes my tastebuds ache for you all over again).

Monkey Does Old Town

Here are some snaps of Monkey around Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia. The steep cobbled streets were not fun to navigate with tired chipolatas. Trying to dodge large swarms of tourists added to the misery at the time. The photos bring back much fonder memories of the day in Tallinn, but in hindsight we should have rested a bit more before making the journey across the Baltic.