Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Friday in Tokyo
Thursday in Tokyo
Wednesday in Tokyo
Friday in Tokyo
Thursday in Tokyo
Narita to Tokyo to Hiroshima
Flying to Japan
St. Pancras and Kings Cross
Pizza Pilgrims and Late Night Ribollita
Michelin Starred Cheese Sandwich
Pizza with Andrew
Monaco to Nice to Paris to London
- Friday in Tokyo
- [Friday 14th November 2014]
Last day of the trip, spent n Tokyo. More views of Mount Fuji in the morning.
- Thursday in Tokyo
- [Thursday 13th November 2014]
Was treated to a nice sunset over Mount Fuji in the early evening. Then dinner at Chien-Fu, and Erika tried on a yukata.
- Wednesday in Tokyo
- [Wednesday 12th November 2014]
Got the shinkansen to Tokyo in the morning, had dinner at Obika in Roppongi in the evening.
- [Tuesday 11th November 2014]
Last day in Hiroshima. Took some family portraits for Shichi-Go-San (although I think we were a year early!) and went to Kura Sushi for dinner.
- [Monday 10th November 2014]
Went to Miyajima to visit more family, and take in the autumnal leaves at Momijidani park.
- [Sunday 9th November 2014]
Spent the day with some of Chie's extended family.
- Hiroshima Zoo
- [Saturday 8th November 2014]
Took Erika to Hiroshima Zoo in the daytime. In the evening Chie and I went out, leaving Chie's parents to babysit, and found a place serving vegetarian okonomiyaki.
- Friday in Tokyo
- [Friday 7th November 2014]
Spent the day working from the Tokyo office, then got the shinkansen back to Hiroshima in the evening.
- Thursday in Tokyo
- [Thursday 6th November 2014]
Got an early shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo in the morning, worked in the afternoon, and went out with Andy in the evening.
- Anpanman Museum
- [Wednesday 5th November 2014]
Took Erika to the Anpanman Museum in Fukuoka and then got the shinkansen back to Hiroshima later in the day.
- [Tuesday 4th November 2014]
Woke up at 5am this morning, which didn't really feel like very singificant progress in terms of a sensible sleeping schedule, considering I'd gone to sleep at the same time as Erika - around 8:30 - the night before.
We were a bit better organised this morning, and managed to head out not long after 10. We'd decided to head to Kyushu, Japan's third largest island, and quite convenient from Hiroshima as it's only about an hour from there to Fukuoka, Kyushu's main city. Before getting on the train we picked up some doughnuts at "Mister Donut" and had these as sort of elevenses en route.
Erika fell asleep not long after we arrived in Fukuoka (where for some reason the main station is actually named "Hakata", apparently the old name for Fukuoka). Although Kyushu is famous for ramen noodles, unfortunately it's a dead loss for me as they appear to be universally based on pork broth - so it's actually better for me to just eat ramen when back in London and pretty much forget about it altogether when in Japan. So actually for lunch today we went our separate ways - I found a safe option in a branch of a chain of Italian restaurants called Capriciosa, which we'd been to in Tokyo back when we lived there - whilst Chie went off for ramen.
After lunch, we got on a local train and headed out of Fukuoka to where Chie's friend Ai-san lives. She has an apartment right next to the sea - there's a sandy beach on her doorstep, and a sea breeze wafting through the windows of her lounge. Ai-san has been to stay with us in London quite a few times, particularly when she used to work as a cabin attendant so was able to get standby flights very cheaply, but we'd never seen where she lives before. It was also really great timing as she'd very recently had a baby girl, I think she's only about 6 weeks old. It occurs to me how much I seem to have forgotten abotu babies now that Erika is very much into the toddler stage - and I was almost as nervous to hold little Hina-chan as I had been about handling babies before Erika was born. Erika seemed quite fascinated by her which was really lovely to watch.
After tea and cake at Ai-san's flat she decided to take us out for a drive along the coast to see a couple of local scenic spots. First we went to Sakurai Futamigaura, a beach where there's a rock formation which I think is meant to symbolise a married couple, or something like that. After that we took a drive along sunset road where, as advertised, we were indeed treated to a very picturesque sunset. Ai-san took us back to the station after that, where we said a rather hurried goodbye, as Hina-chan had made it quite clear on the way there it was time for her to be fed.
Once back in Fukuoka we headed to our hotel for the evening, the Grand Hyatt, which impressively we'd be staying at for free, having accumulated lots of points with Hyatt's loyalty scheme for all my stays at the Hyatt in Tokyo.
- [Monday 3rd November 2014]
I woke up at something like 4:30am, of course, and couldn't get back to sleep. So as I often to when jetlagged I got up and spent the time sorting through pictures and getting my blog up to date.
Once the rest of the household had risen, I enjoyed one of Chie's Mum's excellent Japanese breakfasts, and then we generally slobbed around the flat for most of the morning until we decided what we were going to do for the day. Eventually we settled on the plan of getting the ferry to Etajima, an island not far off the coast from Hiroshima, where there was a farm where we could pick our own "mikan" - what we in the UK variably call satsumas / mandarins / tangerines / clementines.
Getting there proved to be a bit of a trek, as we first had to walk to the local station, then get a train from there to the centre, then a tram to the port, then a ferry from there to Etajima, and finally a ride in the farm's mini-bus from the ferry port on Etajima to the actual farm. So it was 3 o' clock by the time we finally arrived, which meant we'd only have an hour there before they closed - but that turned out to be plenty of time.
It was rather an impressive sight to behold, a grove of mikan trees - and this particular farm was perched up in the hills, with sweeping views down to the sea. Not sure if this was a bumper crop or not, but there seemed to my untrained eye to be an absolute abundance of fruit; a citrusy paradise. In return for a very modest entrance fee the farm lets you eat as many mikan as you want on the spot, and you could pay extra to take a bag or a box away too. We really didn't need to take any back with us, as Chie's Mum had already bought quite a lot a day or two before, but we filled a bag regardless. There's something really special about being able to eat fruit straight off the tree, especially what for me is quite an exotic fruit - whilst of course they're widely available in shops in the UK, you don't ever see them growing there. It was also really interesting to be able to choose mikan at varying stages of ripeness, a luxury you wouldn't normally have with shop bought fruit. In particular I found the under-ripe green ones excitingly sour.
Erika really loves mikan so I got the impression it was as exciting for her as it was for us, and she managed to eat a good three or four during our time there - most of which she also peeled herself, whilst sat on my shoulders, dropping bits of peel on the top of my head. It was really lovely.
Eventually we decided we'd all eaten as many mikan as we thought we sensibly should in a single afternoon, and had filled up our bag, so we headed back to the port and got on a ferry back to the mainland. It was a much larger boat on the way back - a car ferry rather than the entirely passenger boat which we'd taken on the way there - and there was a little carpeted area full of small children crawling about, which helped keep Erika entertained for the duration of the journey. Chie's Dad came to pick us up in the car from the port in Hiroshima which helped to make our return journey much quicker than the outbound one had been.
Chie's parents made okonomiyaki for dinner which was very tasty as always, although disappointingly we didn't seem to be able to get Erika to eat much. Too many mikan, perhaps.
- Narita to Tokyo to Hiroshima
- [Sunday 2nd November 2014]
My flight landed at Narita airport at something like 8:25 in the morning Japanese time, and impressively I managed to get through the airport in under 25 minutes, to make it onto the 8:50 Narita Express. An hour later I was at Tokyo station, and decided to get the 10:30 shinkansen from there to Hiroshima. 40 minutes there should have been plenty of time to buy tickets and try to find something reasonable for lunch, but I was tired, and the hectic crowds of Tokyo station, even on a Sunday morning, where a bit overwhelming. So I only managed to buy a single ticket when I should really have got a return, and couldn't manage to pay with a credit card, so ended up spending the majority of the cash I had with me. I also went through the inner barriers for the shinkansen far too early, and then realised there were only tiny little kiosks from that point on with barely anything to eat.
Still, four hours of continuously falling asleep but then immediately waking up again on the train later I was in Hiroshima. Chie and Erika came to the station to meet me, and Erika squeezed through a gap in the fence to come and say hello even before I'd gone through the ticket barriers. That was really lovely.
Once back at Chie's family home, after distributing omiyage, it was generally agreed I was in dire need of an afternoon nap, and I slept until it was dinner time.
After dinner, we headed over to the part of Hiroshima near where Chie's Grandmother lives, as the local shrine was having what I understood to be the Japanese equivalent of a harvest festival. A stage had been set up, and there was some kind of play set to music involving samurai in brightly coloured outfits and lots of twirling around. I didn't really understand what was going on, but it was quite atmospheric, and all felt very Japanese.
- Flying to Japan
- [Saturday 1st November 2014]
Woke up at 7, and then spent a couple of hours packing and tidying up the flat before heading off to the airport to get a flight to Tokyo.
On the flight I finished off Shakespeare's Local and watched three films - a Chinese film called Personal Tailor which was entertaining in places, and quite enlightening about Chinese attitudes to money, a delightful period drama called Belle and an awful fomulaic Hollywood turd called Lucy.
- [Friday 31st October 2014]
Spent the daytime trying to finish things off at work, and also made a visit to the bank to make another transfer for the flat purchase. Frustratingly we still hadn't quite got to the point of exchanging contracts yet, but the proposed completion date was the 14th - when we'd still be in Japan - so I needed to get all the finances in place before I went away, because internet banking turns out to be pretty much useless when large sums are involved.
Andrew at work had had a ridiculous idea that the middle of the big dystopian roundabout in Wandsworth would be a good place for a "pop-up bar", and somehow that had morphed into a Halloween-ish activity. So that's where we went after work - Wandsworth - and had a Negroni (premixed at the office, and transported in a thermos flask) in the middle of a roundabout.
There were about six of us in the end, probably about the right number. After our al fresco cocktail in the middle of the roundabout, we headed back over the river to the Sloaney Pony for a beer, and from there to an Italian restaurant for some pizza. Yes, my third this week.
- St. Pancras and Kings Cross
- [Thursday 30th October 2014]
Headed home after work to get up to date with some laundry and other admin chores, but headed out again later on in the evening to meet up with my old boss for a drink and dinner in King's Cross / St. Pancras. Dinner was at a fairly new (as far as I could tell) swanky restaurant called Plum and Spilt Milk, which apparently had a sort of golden era of railways inspired theme, but it wasn't so obvious to me. Having already had some ribollita earlier in the evening I wasn't hugely hungry, but then I remembered vegetarian options in these kinds of upmarket restaurants were usually pretty insubstantial, so that worked out fine. The mushroom vol au vent was decent enough I suppose - with the caveat that I was happy I'd already had a hearty bowl of soup first. The dessert was a surprise hit - the eponymous signature dish - which involved stewed plums and brioche, normally both things I'd avoid in the dessert menu, but this worked really well.
- Pizza Pilgrims and Late Night Ribollita
- [Wednesday 29th October 2014]
Went to the bank in the daytime to transfer the deposit for our flat purchase. We haven't actually made it to exchange contracts yet but it seemed like a good idea to leave it with the solicitor so that everything was ready on our side.
Went out for beer and pizza with Simon after work, and were joined by a couple of his friends from university who I've met quite a few times before. Started with beer at the Argyll Arms, then proceeded from there to the new branch of Pizza Pilgrims at Kingly Court.
When I got home, for some reason I felt compelled to make a batch of late night ribollita.
- Michelin Starred Cheese Sandwich
- [Tuesday 28th October 2014]
At the start of this month I'd told the solicitors and estate agents that I'd like to aim to complete the purchase by the end of October, partly just because having some kind of time frame to work made it seem less like it would just rumble along indefinitely, but also because me being in Japan for some of November would make various things more difficult. I'd rather hoped all the loose ends would be tied up by this point, but there were still some outstanding enquiries, and today I decided I was fed up waiting, and told our solicitor to just push ahead without them. So today began a flurry of banking activity to get all our funds in order.
My old boss was in London this week (quite a few people working on the new project he's involved in are based in London which is good as it means he seems to end up here once every few months). The original plan seemed to be for me to join in on their team outing, but for one reason or another that didn't work out, and I ended up staying late at the office, then going for a Michelin starred cheese sandwich with my old boss and his brother at St. John. We both seem to be fans of the surprisingly unfussy cheese sandwich served in the bar there. It's not deconstructed or re-interpreted or anything like that, it's just a fairly straightforward cheese sandwich. We also managed to get some madeleines which were delightful as ever.
- Pizza with Andrew
- [Monday 27th October 2014]
I'd originally planned my social calendar for the latter half of this week while Chie and Erika were away, and had somewhat intentionally left Monday and Tuesday fairly clear, as I thought a bit of a quiet rest would probably be a good thing. As it happens though I ended up going out - at least for a bit - every night this week. Tonight was at least a fairly subdued evening - Andrew and I just went for a very quick pizza and a beer after work, and that was pretty much it.
- Monaco to Nice to Paris to London
- [Sunday 26th October 2014]
Despite my very comfortable bed and very pleasant hotel room, I hadn't managed to sleep all that well, and rather pathetically had started to really miss the girls. In the end I think I might have been better off going somewhere completely new this weekend - seeing lots of places where I'd recently been to with them, but them not being there, actually made me a bit sad.
Still, breakfast at the Hermitage was pleasant enough, I ate outside which was an unexpected treat for the time of year. As I had a while before my train, before checking out I went for a morning stroll around Monaco, heading over to the market at La Condamine, thinking I might sit in one of the cafes there and have a coffee, and maybe buy some porcini or something to take back to London. In the end though I didn't seem to be in the mood for either of those things, and just wanted to get back home as soon as possible.
Given the problems I'd had with trains yesterday, I decided to get on a connecting train from Monaco to Nice an hour earlier than I'd originally planned, which gave me time to have lunch in Nice. I got off the train at Nice Riquier, given that it was a bit closer to the old town, and walked from there to Rene Socca, which I'd really enjoyed on our previous trip. Even though I arrived there before midday, and it was now late October rather than early September, there was a similarly long queue for the socca counter. Whilst the socca and beignets de fleurs de courgettes were very tasty like before, it was twinged with a bit of sadness as again it was a place I'd been to with the girls, but they weren't there this time.
I walked from there to the main station in Nice, where I got on a TGV to Paris around 1:30. As it turned out everything ran to schedule today. Sitting across the aisle from me were a Japanese woman and her young half Japanese / half European daughter, which seemed like a funny and perhaps poignant coincidence. They spoke to each ohter in a mixture of French and Japanese, and it occurred to me I understood pretty much everything they said.
Arrived at Gare de Lyon just after 7, and proceeded directly from there to Gare du Nord. I wandered around outside the station a bit looking for something quick to eat, but didn't find anything which really appealed, so instead made the usual mistake of going through check-in / security for the Eurostar to find an even more bleak environment there. Funnily enough I spotted the three people I'd sat with on the train on the way here - I actually sort of predicted I probably would - but didn't feel in the mood to talk to them, so just went and hid at the other end of the departure lounge.
My return Eurostar left about 8:30, and the carriage my seat was in was ridiculously cramped - there were about 2 inches between my knees and the kness of the person sitting opposite me, and it felt very claustrophobic. So after a few minutes of that I gave up my seat, and wandered the train to try and find an end of a carriage without anyone else in. I actually ended up walking through the business class section, and sitting on a fold down seat in the end of one of those carriages. Amusingly the staff serving the food and drinks to the business class passengers offered them to me too - me being me I turned it down, but it was interesting to see that once the train has left nobody really checks whether you're actually meant to be in business class or not.
The train got back to St. Pancras at 10pm, I jumped on the tube and was back home by 10:30.