A Fast and Furious 24 hours in Tokyo

THE size, the pace, oh, and the price of Tokyo has always been a daunting one. It’s been on the bucket list, so when a 24-hour opportunity came up? Kon’nichiwa.

While that amount of time hardly scratches the surface, you get a feel of the energy that makes it one of the most diverse and riveting cities in the world.

Invited to fly the first flight from Brisbane to Tokyo, the good news for Queenslanders is they can now get to the buzz of Japan in just over 9 hours.

Arriving at Narita airport, everything is precise and poised. But don’t ever think that English is everyone’s second language. Simply, it isn’t. Even heading over to buy a SIM card at the airport — a usually fairly painless exercise — was tough. (And after all that I never did get it to work.)

Anyhow, the train from Narita airport to Ginza station in central Tokyo was the best and most affordable option but if you had a lot of luggage I wouldn’t suggest it.

Finding room in the luggage cabins can be hard. Also, it’s important to be on the platform at the exact time of departure. There are NO time delays, ever, on Tokyo trains.

Once we got off at the underground it was a short taxi ride to our hotel in Ginza. In Tokyo, Japanese taxi drivers WEAR GLOVES. They are lace (doily) head rests and seat covers and good drivers are charming and poised. Our inn — the affordable Mercure in Ginza — is a perfectly positioned, great service hotel. It’s not high-end but incredibly clean, well-positioned and just plainly, very, very good. (Oh, and you can ‘buy’ a late check out, which was worth every cent considering the humidity of our quick trip.)

A quick freshen up, and all of a sudden it was 9pm, so we popped around to a quick and easy noodle bar and ate. Lots. After dinner, of COURSE we ventured to Joysound — a karaoke bar which was the starkest, most brightly lit Karoake space ever. But when were placed in the ‘Party Room’ and left to our own karaoke devices, the light show and mad song choices had us at Dancing Queen.

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Next day it was up early and for a twirl around the Ginza district — filled with designer labels and the extraordinary Mitsukoshi department store (with the best basement food hall I have ever seen). We then made our way on the metro to Harajuku where dress-ups (usually) rule supreme.

I get the feeling the oppressive heat may have had something to do with not AS many men and women dressing ‘up’ in a style that has become the area’s signature. Needless to say, there is still this obsession with ‘girlie’ dressing or of wearing clothes fit for 8-years-olds, but on 18 and 28-year-old bodies.

We kept going in and out of air-conditioned shops — the heat was THAT intense — and realised it was time to talk food. After another queue (there are queues everywhere) we stumbled across the Ichiran ramen noodle bar, a very cool and affordable Japanese chain, which had eating stations that were similar to voting cubicles.

Just before you get a seat, you punch in your choices and pay before you head inside to wait by a ‘vacant seat’ allocator. As soon as you got to your ‘cubicle’ there was paperwork to do, filling in a form that had me determine the chilli, garlic, and noodle choice of my already paid-for lunch. I loved it!

When the form was filled in, you pressed a green button and a hand from behind a small bamboo curtain in front of you took my order. Insane!

There are masks on every 5th person and for some reason I noticed that the kimonohas gone from being a traditional piece of clothing, usually worn to ceremonies & more formal events, to a piece that has re-emerged as a weekend staple.

We were exploring central Tokyo on a Sunday, and there were kimonos everywhere. On women and men. It was brilliant.

OK, so around 16 hours into my Tokyo sojourn and to walk off our lunch we headed to the mega Roppongi Hills Mori Tower only to be gobsmacked at the extraordinary reach of Tokyo. I’m usually a bit ‘blah’ about observatories, but this was a real must simply bacuase it gave you an idea of the breadth of size of Tokyo.

OK, so Tokyo was steamy beyond. By that I mean, stifling hot and humid. So to be honest I would avoid high summer if you wanted to go on a leisurely holiday. Needless to say we loved the bar near our hotel, the Ginza Itamaebar, where we found a mid-arvo icy cold beer and the best tempura. Japan is not, I repeat not, one big Sushi Train. Far from it.

In fact, you hard pressed to even encounter the revolving food stations that have become the norm of the Aussie take on Japanese culinary culture. Which leads me to a little treat I gave myself. I always try to go to somewhere vaguely flash when I am somewhere new. So in Tokyo it was the Park Hyatt for drinks and dinner so I could have my Lost in Translation moment.

I perched myself at the bar (the same one Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansen sat at in the film) then took myself into the hotel’s restaurant where I happily sat by the window and watched all the action go by. This was pure, up-market Tokyo.

And like *that* my time is Tokyo was just about up. Tokyo is HUGE. It was great to get a taste of if & next time I’ll maybe go to Niseko or Hakuba and continue a quest to eventually make my way down a Japanese ski slope.

Japanese form guide

• Maybe it was me but you don’t see many/hardly any people eating in public

• Business cards are presented with two hands

• A warm towel or hand towell is a staple at most eateries

• Queuing seems mandatory — and no one complains

• Trains leave and arrive at a precise time — there is no room for error

• Shoes are taken off and at some restaurants and left in foot lockers (no wonder there are so many mechanical & battery-operated pedicure appliances around.)

• Is the only place where you don’t look like a complete hypochondriac wearing a mask

• It is also totally fine to wear a sock, a half sock and a sandal.

• Waiters, taxis et al don’t expect tips. Seriously. But we liked doing it anyway …

Melissa Hoyer was a guest of Qantas on board the inaugural flight from Brisbane to Narita airport and on the Haneda airport to Sydney flight coming back to Australia

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


Qantas adds more Tokyo flights

QANTAS is expanding its presence in Japan with the launch of double daily services between Australia and Tokyo this weekend. They’re even serving ‘Japanese’ Kit-Kats to celebrate.

Flights will depart from Sydney to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport followed by the departure of a flight from Brisbane to Tokyo’s other airport, Narita, over the weekend.

Qantas International chief executive Gareth Evans said the almost doubling of capacity to Tokyo marked a new era for the national carrier’s presence in Japan.

“This significant capacity expansion has been extremely well-received by Qantas customers and especially by corporate travellers heading directly to downtown Tokyo, who can now save up to one-and-a-half hours on their airport commute by flying into or out of Haneda,” said Mr Evans.

“Customers travelling on the new Brisbane-Narita route can explore Tokyo or beyond with popular holiday destinations across Jetstar Japan’s extensive domestic network, like Sapporo, Fukuoka and Osaka.

“We’ll be working closely with our tourism partners to showcase all that Australia has to offer for the Japanese audience, and with a free-trade agreement in place we’re anticipating healthy demand for travel in both directions,” added Mr Evans.

Launch celebrations will happen over the weekend with Japanese-themed activity throughout the terminal and a water cannon salute to mark the departure of QF61 from Brisbane.

Traditional Japanese ceremonies will also take place at both Narita and Haneda Airports.

The Qantas Brisbane-Narita flight will be operated by the airline’s refurbished A330 aircraft, with lie-flat seats in business, new economy seats and new in-flight entertainment.

To celebrate the launch of the new Japan services, customers onboard flights departing to Narita and Haneda, and in Qantas international lounges in Sydney and Brisbane, will be treated to Japanese-inspired menus for the first week of August, including tuna tataki nigiri in business class and green tea-flavoured Kit Kats in premium economy and economy.

Melissa Hoyer will be a guest of Qantas on the Australia-Japan leg this weekend.

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


The city more tourists need to see

I KNEW this was going to be a fun trip as soon as we landed off our QF bird at Los Angeles airport when the longest stretch disco Hummer I’d ever seen was our next mode of transport.

It was that kind of OTT, rock-star, kooky kind of stuff you always look at other people doing, but hey, who was complaining? The Hummer was about to take us to one of the more understated, yet simply gorgeous American if not small cities I’d ever seen.

I had never really heard that much about Santa Barbara (with a population of around 220,000) except that there’d once been a 80s/90s TV soap based on the Californian coastal town all about goings-on of the lives of the wealthy Capwell and Lockridge families. (Fun fact: Santa Barbara aired in over 40 countries and became the longest-running television series in Russia.)

Anyway, back to why I’m here. Santa Barbara is referred to as the Amercian Rivieraand faces south on the longest section of the West Coast of the US and has a climate referred to as Mediterranean. Although, it was pretty chilly when we were there in May (Note to self: pack another sweater next time).

Santa Barbara is popular for its tourism, bay, and its resorts, but it’s not often a place peeps add to their must-see list.

So, here are some of the reasons you should do exactly that:

• As soon as we hit Santa Barbara — a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles — it was bags down and straight to the (downtown) Salt Caves. Yup. Santa Barbara is renowned for Salt Caves which are designed to provide “a unique natural environment to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate the body and mind, especially after a long flight”. So, we sat in the cave rooms for half an hour and soaked in the atmosphere of Himalayan salt rock and its health-enhancing qualities. And yes, it felt good.

• The Urban Wine Trail had us tasting some of the finest wines produced in Santa Barbara County, all within blocks of downtown and the beach. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail gave novices (like some of our gang) and aficionados (like others in our gang) the opportunity to learn about and taste wines Santa Barbara County’s best vineyards. Informative, not up themselves and just great fun.

• We also had a “pedicab” — a man-wheeling bike that basically took us for a spin around the town as the driver pointed out some of the best zones in SB.

• Speaking of zones, you do so need to visit The Funk Zone? OK, OK, it’s a shocking name, but it’s a tourist and hot neighbourhood precinct where the best muncheries, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms can be found, surrounded by industrial and manufacturing plants and even crisscross train and car routes.

Visitors and celebs alike hit the F Zone to check out galleries and real SB life. It has become so cool-school, some businesses well outside will even say are Funk Zone-adjacent, just so they can use the spoils of popularity of the zone.

• You can’t help but take in the exquisite Spanish architecture of Santa Barbara and its plethora of deco-style theatres dotted throughout the town. A Monterey-style adobe in California was built on State Street (the main drag of Santa Barbara) by merchant Alpheus Thompson while the dominant architectural themes — Spanish Colonial Revival and the related Mission Revival style are still encouraged through guidelines created after a 1925 earthquake destroyed the downtown district..

• You need to do a Sunset Cruise or the Santa Barbara Sailing Center. Basically, you sit back and enjoy a twirl around a small but dynamic little harbour admiring, either on a kayak — with the chance of spotting a whale to two — or on a boat with views back to shore and out to the Channel Islands. But don’t forget your wind jacket!

• And what about the digs? Wow. yes, wow. We tested out Belmond El Encanto and it is a seriously god-smackingly beautiful hotel. The view was great and the villa/bungalow suites were absolute perfection. As for the service? after arriving home from dinner one night, I had left my key in my room and the staff went totally out of their way to get me back in as soon as possible. That may sound trivial, but it wasn’t a chore or a pain – it seemed just like normal quality service for the staff to be actually wanting to do something for a guest at midnight!

This article was originally posted on news.com.au

Melissa Hoyer was a guest on flights from Australia to Los Angeles on Qantas and of Tourism Santa Barbara.


Qantas summon sommeliers & mixologists

MORE surprising than the fact Qantas has taken sommeliers and mixologist on board is the fact that our national carrier is the third biggest purchaser of Australian wine. Yes, THIRD.

The airline has announced a new team of wine experts and ‘mixologists’ from the Rockpool Group, who’ll be responsible for choosing the wine, champagne, spirits and other liquid refreshments for the airline’s domestic and international flights and lounges.

The new team, named The Qantas Rockpool Sommeliers, will feature 16 experienced sommeliers and mixologists (aka, mighty fine cocktail gurus.)

Qantas Chef and restaurateur Neil Perry said his team’s expertise in wine and mixology will offer the very best restaurant experience in the sky to Qantas passengers.

MH Qantas 1

“Rockpool has worked with Qantas for over 18 years to design menus and we are thrilled to be working more closely to select beverages for the airline,’’ said Mr Perry.

“We are committed to continue providing the finest Champagnes and the boldest wines from across Australia and deliver a restaurant experience on the ground and in the air.”

Gareth Evans, CEO Qantas International, said the group is providing an exciting new direction for the airline’s wine and beverage program.

 

“Qantas’ new holistic approach to food and beverage will mean not only matching our menus with the perfect wine, but with the perfect cocktail or champagne,” said Mr Evans.

“We invest over $15 million dollars in the Australian wine industry every year, so we take the selection process very seriously. We are really proud to showcase Australian wine to the world, and we’ll keep supporting boutique Australian wineries as well as the iconic drops that have defined Australia’s global winemaking reputation.

“Qantas is the third largest purchaser of wine in Australia and we also invest significantly in training our own teams to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge to recommend wines to our customers,’’ added Mr Evans.

MH - Qantas 3

Among the group is Head of Sommeliers Australia, David Lawler and one of only two Master Sommeliers in Australia, Sebastian Crowther, as well as head bartenders of Rockpool restaurants around the country.

The sommeliers will blind taste, review and select from 1,200 Australian wines and Champagnes over four days each year and provide tasting notes for the International First and Domestic Business cabins.

They also provide recommendations while the Rockpool mixologists will create monthly cocktails.

More than 150 cabin crew are currently trained as on-board sommeliers and more will be joining this group this year while over 2000 Qantas Cabin Crew have completed an introductory, intermediate or advanced level of wine training. Cheers!

This article was originally posted on news.com.au

A waterproof beach towel? Absolutely!

The Sandusa is the world’s first sand-resistant beach towel, created on the Gold Coast, Australia by Baz Brown, an avid surfer and keen beach-goer. Tired of wet, sandy towels, he set about developing the concept of the Sandusa, which is now sold all over the world.