Seattle’s Best Parks

We finally made it up to “The Emerald City” for a glorious extended weekend. The city is surrounded by lush green trees and massive lakes and reminded me a bit of summer in Helsinki. It’s one of the more beautiful cities in the United States, if not the most beautiful, that we’ve seen. I would describe it as San Francisco and Vancouver, BC morphed into one.

Seattle is home to over 6,000 acres of parks. Although we barely scratched the surface of said parks, here are some snaps of our favourites.

Gas Works Park

Featuring an old gas works plant that manufactured gas from coal and later converted to crude oil, Gas Works Park is a great spot for a picnic and stunning views of the city.

Kerry Park

Sitting opposite some million dollar homes, Kerry Park offers the best view of downtown Seattle on a clear day–allowing photographers to capture the Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one frame. Apparently Mt. Rainier only shows itself 10% of the year so we were lucky to see it from all angles the entire weekend. One definitely gets great views at Kerry Park, but I kind of feel bad for the residents, as the neighbourhood is swarming with tourists any time the sun is out.

It’s not every day that the mystical and stunning Mt. Rainier makes an appearance. A great part of our trip consisted of us standing in awe of the mountain, which looked like it was suspended in air, almost like a backdrop on a television set. Similar to Mt. Fuji, knowing that we were in Seattle during one of the rare times Mt. Rainier was visible made it all the more special.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Another great park with stunning views. We appreciated that there were separate pathways for pedestrians and cyclists, which made for a much more relaxing walking experience. The attention to such detail really made Seattle stand out for us. Even the bike lanes throughout town seemed better designed than any other “bike-friendly” city.

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Tulips Aren’t Just for the Dutch

One day Monkey will tiptoe through the tulip fields in Holland. But this spring, he shall take in the vast array of natural and farmed beauty that the PNW has to offer.

img_5098Tucked away in Woodburn, Oregon, you’ll find the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, home to a vibrant field of colourful tulips and daffodils. While the farm isn’t massive by Dutch standards, Mt. Hood serves as a stunning backdrop to the bright bulbs on a clear sunny day (sadly my ickle iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice — it’s much better and bigger in the flesh). Apparently there are several other tulip farms up toward Washington State and Canada. If you know of any prime flower viewing spots, please let us know!

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Sakura Surprise

Ever since I was a wee girl I have been captivated by the fragile beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms), and I wished I could somehow preserve the soft pink petals forever. Living in Japan for many years, I learned to appreciate the small celebrations that took place with every change in the seasons. I always looked forward to spring as I could spend hours, day or night, under the cherry blossom trees.

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Outside of Japan, London has Kew Gardens, Washington DC has Tidal Basin, and New York has the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was nice to discover that you can also get your cherry blossom fix in Portland (Oregon) along Waterfront Park. The blossoms had pretty much reached their peak when I stumbled upon them and were gone after a few days, so I’m grateful that I got a chance to enjoy them on one special spring day.

Do you have a favourite cherry blossom viewing spot outside of Japan?  How about in Japan?

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Moomin Moments 2.0

Believe it or not, it’s been almost a year (just three months shy) since I got something Moomin, so getting The Moomin Colouring Book made it feel extra special.

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Apparently ‘adult colouring books’ are all the craze and even though this one is less complicated than the adult books, I’m well excited to get started on filling in the adorable images of Moomin and friends. And what more perfect tools to add a touch of colour than some Moomin colouring pencils! Do you have a favourite colouring book or set of coloured pencils?

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Batch PDX

Ironically, it was a disappointing chocolate experience that led me on a mission to find the best chocolate created in Portland. If you know me, you would understand that I just couldn’t leave things on a bitter note — enter Batch PDX.

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There are a lot of brands of chocolate to choose from, some of which masquerade as high-end chocolate with their fancy packaging and exorbitant prices. I’m all for pretty packaging but don’t label a chocolate with, e.g. “Earl Grey”, and not match the expectation that the chocolate will carry at least a hint of the bergamot flavoured tea in the chocolate. There’s nothing more disappointing than biting into a chocolate thinking it will have a nice balance of flavours and it ends up tasting like plain chocolate. I know it’s such a first-world thing to moan about, but it really does upset me when that happens!

But this is precisely what Batch PDX does well. Their Earl Grey truffle uses the necessary amount of bergamot to complement the chocolate. Something as delicate as tea can be easily lost in the richness of chocolate so it’s crucial for any tea-flavoured chocolate to have that balance. Batch PDX’s Orange Habanero truffle is another great example of a chocolate with perfectly balanced flavours. No ingredient overpowers the other, from the chocolate to orange essence, to the heat that slowly starts to form at the back of your tongue. I’ve had the privilege of trying almost all of their flavours and even the flavour combinations that I’m not usually keen on tasted good to me — now that’s the sign of a talented chocolatier.

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Oh, and you must try both of Batch PDX’s award winning bars — think elevated and decadent relatives of their original inspirations. I love that the chocolates are not sickly sweet, which make them healthier, right? Other great things about Batch PDX is the fine attention to detail, the perfect size/cost ratio, and they’re not pretentious. Jeremy Karp, the creator of these fine bites of goodness is also an absolute delight to meet and he actually takes the time to understand his customers.

Some of my long-time favourites include La Maison du Chocolat, Hotel Chocolat, Prestat, Teuscher, and I’m now happy to add Batch PDX to the list.

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.