Quarterly Travel Update: Chicago, Punta Cana and Honolulu

I can’t believe its October. Really? Where did the time go? I feel like I just wrote a quarterly travel post (yes late!) not too long ago.  But here I am – writing away.

Just so you know I didn’t go anywhere the month of July and for most of September. My abstract for a national conference was accepted as well as poster presentation but I differed. My wonderful colleague took the reins, and in a quasi warm July in Orlando she presented for the both of us (and did a fab job too!).

That leaves August – a month where one week I was in Chicago, the next I was in the Dominican Republic and the last week, I went to Hawaii (Honolulu).  Phew. Even typing that out makes me sort of tired, either that or my head cold is getting to me.

Chicago (Aug 4-7)

If you haven’t been, it’s like the cousin of New York. Great food, fun people and interesting things to see. I had the opportunity to interview Joel Gamoran, the national Sur la Table chef and host of Scraps. You’ll have to stay posted for my article that will come out soon (long over due – but I’m using this long weekend to finally get it in order). We had breakfast and talked about lots of food related things like, what does whale sperm taste like and why scraps and not bees. I had a lot of fun and my only regret is that we didn’t take a photo or a cute boomerang video to capture our time together. Next time! Note: He also has a new cooking book called, Cooking Scrappy

I managed to re check out the Art Institute while in town and eat the best burger of my life at Au Cheval. It was a great idea to start the day with it and slowly work it off with my friend Kayte Malik (founder of Dresscode – see the article I wrote about the company here). Nothing really beats the egg, thick cut bacon with a double hamburger patty. So great.

I stayed at the Chicago Athletic Association, which was an old school gentleman’s club turned into hotel a few years back. Beautiful restoration job with a roof top bar called Cindy’s and cool speakeasy called the Cherry Circle room (very Madmen). I loved that Shake Shack was connected to the hotel too (although I didn’t have a burger from there or crinkle fries which are my go-to’s).

 

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Aug 15-18)

I went for an interesting press trip, which turned sideways. All I can really say is that the resort was descent and the spa was beautiful (Chic Punta Cana by Royalton) . I’m glad my group was small and we all got along well.

 

Honolulu, Hawaii (Aug 31-Sept 5)

I was pleasantly surprised with Honolulu. I think its because it’s a touch on the more expensive side, it keeps the those looking for ultra cheap vacations away. It was the perfect mix of city and beach.

And the food is great – I totally forgot the huge Japanese influence there is in the city. Some great recommendations included the Koko Head café and the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian (with my favorite Royal Hawaiian Hupia cake).

I will say that going to Honolulu in the summer time was really hot. 35 degrees and doing the Diamond Head hike was less than ideal but having the pineapple smoothie at the bottom was a wonderful refreshing end.

Dole Plantation was ok – again the heat took its toll and while the maze would have been fun, I think we lasted maybe 15 minutes before we decided it was best to head back.  And I didn’t really love Dole Whip. It kind of tasted artificial to me – it needed to have more cream and less powdered confections.

Ko’Hana Rum Distillery was a quick drive outside the city and a great break from the heat. It was interesting to learn about the Agricole technique of using sugar cane juice versus molasses to make the rum. It’s a boutique distillery, they are slowly exporting off the island. I grabbed a bottle that had honey and cocoa mixed with the rum.

On my last day I ended up finding this really great café called Heavenly across from the hotel that we stayed at (the Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach) with locally sourced food. So yummy.

If you are interested in a City Guide on Honolulu, you will be in luck as I am curating one soon. Until next quarter.

 

ELENA:)

 

 

 

Tokyo: August 31 – Sept 6

 

 

Tokyo. To me, it will always be New York’s Asian cool cousin. And those that know – I love NYC.

Same busy vibe. Great food. Architecture, design and fashion. Now, on the cusp of the 2020 Olympics – I’m finding less of a language barrier than I did 5 years ago and even less than 10 years ago.

This time, the journey surrounded a climb of Mt. Fuji, which engulfed my focus two months prior. I had no idea what I was getting into. And there were really no expectations – I even forgot there was a possibility that I wasn’t going to see the sunrise. (Note: For the record, I saw it).

The arrival day was spent getting organized at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo (Roppongi Hills) and checking out the touristy spot Gonpachi (known best for the Crazy 88 fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill) for some izakaya.

The next day was a ‘lazy day’ having a tour of the beautiful Grand Hyatt Tokyo, eating a traditional bento box lunch and indulging in some beautiful nail art at the house spa. That night we attended the amazing artist collaborative, teamLab. The sensory art installation was nothing short than amazing. It was a true feast for the eyes with so much interaction. Music, lights and a huge disco ball were just a few of the highlights.

Bright and early we travelled to Mt. Fuji (which was a long 3 hour bus ride). I bought my walking stick and we were on our way starting the actual climb at noon until 5pm where we rested in a mountain hut for 5.5 hours. We had a hamburger and rice dinner and rested. In all honesty, the rest area was so cramped that my friend and I had to go out in the open common area and reorganize our bag and eat some cup of noodles before we ascended at 10:30pm. We got to the summit at 4:45am by taking a detour – the mountain was so busy! By 5:12am we caught the sunrise and I got my last logo on the walking stick. And then we were on the descend and 3 hours later were waiting for the bus to take to drive us back into the city.

The day after the climb was a hard one. I had no idea the effects of a downhill climb would be on my thighs. They burned. So much so that I wanted to avoid anything that involved walking; which is hard because that’s what exploring a city like Tokyo is all about it.

That same day, I checked into the stylish and pretty Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills for the remainder of my stay. After indulging in some pastries from the Pastry Shop, we had another informative hotel tour.  After we checked out an Owl café in Harajuku (yes – I felt bad after). We had dinner at a secret shabu shabu restaurant with the best beef I have ever tasted in my entire life. The beef was melt in your mouth great!

The last full day, exploring the city meant checking out the 4 level Gucci store in Ginza, having lunch at Aoyama Flower Market cafe and indulging in a sake tasting at a hidden spot in Kappabashi called Sanwa 720. I learned that sake from the north is quite dry and sake from the west is sweet. After, we headed to the store that sells everything under the rising sun – Don Quijote. It was the perfect spot to grab souvenirs and packs of milk tea (my favourite!).

Before heading to the airport to leave we made a stop to the Nikon museum. It was cool to see the vast history of the world famous camera company.

It was great to be back and this trip made me realize that Tokyo still remains my favourite bustling big asian city.

ELENA:)

 

Top 5 Things I learned on my Trip #1

TOP 5 Things I learned on my trip…

1) Learn something new. Sounds simple? It is, but really travelling to a whole new country gives you ample opportunities to try something completely different. Learn something new and enhance your travelling experience. As much as i loved shopping, my feet needed a break. I took a short class on Ikebana (Japanese floral design) at the Ichiyo School of Ikebana in Nakano and learned about technique and function. Very interesting and fun!

ELENA:)

Top 5 Things I learned on my Trip: #2

TOP 5 Things I learned on my trip:

2) If you like it, just buy it. Ok. There is this pair of knee high boots that my friend and I fell in love with. Sure they were $600 but they are so fantastic. Alas, they are suede. Rain and Suede do not mix. So i did the sensible thing and left them back in Tokyo. Wrong! Now, after emailing the designer – i have sourced out two people who could potentially buy the boots and ship them over. Sheesh. Should have just bought them when i had the chance.

ELENA:)