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Forever young.. I wanna be forever young..

On Saturday, I visited my friends’ house to see their beautiful newborn baby girl. Noa chan is only two months old and absolutely adorable. She is already laughing and mimicking sounds and moves I make. We really bonded after I showed her my classic salsa moves. ^-^

Her parents prepared the most amazing lobster lunch. Me and my husband later joked about how “unadult” we are. If we were to have guests at out house, we wouldn’t even have matching sets of cutlery and plates, let alone a gorgeous feast like that. ^-^

On Sunday, my friend Mai invited me to Ghibli museum. It is impossible to get in without prior reservation so I was lucky to be invited. Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio that was founded by Hayao Miyazaki in 1985. Everything they create is so original, so out of this world and yet so close to heart. They promote the best of human qualities through very innovative storytelling. Their vintage animations are the best. I just love “Totoro” and “Kiki’s delivery service” and “Mononoke Hime”. New ones are good too but I haven’t seen anything newer than “Howl’s moving castle”. Me and my husband are dedicating this week to Ghibli animations. We are gonna watch one every night. I already placed an order at Tsutaya home delivery service.^-^

Unfortunately, it was prohibited to take photos inside which is so sad because they had a huge “Neko bus” and lots of other cute things. I even spotted Hedgehog in the fog posters on the inspirational wall in the drawing studio. ^-^ There were also re-created sets from “Spirited away” and “Mononoke Hime”.

The best part was a short movie that we watched at their in-house cinema. Every month they screen a different work that you can see only there. We saw the one about a girl going hiking into the forest. It was so kind and heart-warming I wanted to cry.

Outside, there was a garden courtyard with a well and a lot of artwork hidden here and there like this sewer cover in the shape of star or dustbunnies hiding in the window.

These are the postcards I bought at a souvenir shop. First three are scenes from “Totoro” and the last one is from “Mononoke Hime”.

I will keep them in my office for inspiration and relaxation. ^-^ These scenes help me remember and go back to those childhood memories of staying at my grand-grandmother’s house in a small village on the Finnish border. She lived by the forest and her house was surrounded with lush green hills with yellow flowers and endless bushes of wild raspberry. She used to scold me for eating too much before dinner. ^-^ At the entrance to the forest by a small stream, there was a huge tree with an old swing that my grandfather setup for my aunt when she was little. I used to swing there too right above the stream all day long listening to the birds and watching my mom and aunt gathering mushrooms and berries. That forest with the tree swing and raspberries is my secret place I go to every time I need to get away from stressful reality. Ghibli animations remind me of that simple life and just how truly precious it was. ^-^

On the roof, there was another small garden with a huge robot character from “Castle in the sky”. The details were so accurate – exceptional work.

On our way back, we walked through Inokashira park and then had lunch at a cute little local cafe close to “Kichijoji shotengai”.

I always go to Starbucks but these little eclectic places are really cool too. They are cozy and personal and hidden away from major streets. I should definitely explore more! I am planning a big trip to Kichijoji “izakaya” strip – tiny Japanese bars with sometimes only a few seats, all packed in an extremely narrow alley. ^-^ I am sure it is going to be a huge culture shock and an amazing experience. Can’t wait!

I’m out, please leave a message…

I had a great weekend in the company of my wonderful friends. On Friday, I met a Russian friend from Osaka who came to Tokyo for a job interview. In Japan, you start looking for a job a year before graduation. After receiving an official “promise” of a job, you go back to school for your final year. Don’t know if this system has any advantage but that’s what it is. When you graduate, you already know where you will be working. ^-^

That night was particularly cold in Tokyo. A mixture of hail, snow and rain made it extremely unpleasant to be outside so we were seeking refuge in cafes all evening. It’s funny how you hate being outside when it’s snowing but once you are inside with a cup of hot coffee in your hands, your perspective changes completely and suddenly you are in love with the silent white motion outside.

We were talking about business and opportunities and how it is very challenging to have something of your own in Russia. There are so many barriers for having your own business, so much shit you have to deal with.. I wonder if there will be time when all of the atrocities are gone and you can freely take your chances based on your abilities and not on your relationship with those who abuse their power…

The next day, I met with Sergey, my other Russian friend for a day in Odaiba – my favorite place in Tokyo. We checked a new photo exhibition at Gallery 21 http://www.gallery21-tokyo.com/en/index.html. It’s tiny but free and has a few very powerful works so if you are nearby, go check it out.

After that, we went to the movies to see  “Incredibly loud and extremely close” which was amazingly good. That child should be given every award out there for his outstanding performance.

On our way back home, we also checked one of Seibu’s “Art meets life” exhibitions called Power people by Leslie Kee -a collection of photographs of influential people who became big in Japan. There, we discovered a portrait of Tokyo-based stylist Misha Janette whom I met at Tokyo’s fashion night out last year. There was also a really cool photo-booth that took pics and then automatically uploaded them to the Facebook page. ^-^

In the evening, I met with Gow, Barbie and Shelly in Nihonbashi for dinner. I cherish these moments when my busiest friends’ schedule align and we get the opportunity to meet. ^-^ Sometimes, I just NEED to have girls’ talk to be able to relax and get my positive energy back. Although yesterday our main topic of conversation was Obama care and crooked teeth. ^-^

Today, I met with Gervin – my new friend from Philippines I met at Roberto Cavalli’s opening party last year. He is writing a very successful fashion blog http://jennechrisville.com and is cute as a button. He showed me his secret cafe in Harajuku which was so cozy and beautiful, it’s gonna be my favorite too. Then, we checked MoMA store for useless but nice little artsy things and then drooled a little over Issey Miyake’s origami bags. I am still thinking which one to buy.. It’s so hard to pick a color knowing they can release new ones at any minute.

Before going home, we did our last stop at Uniqlo to stock on Heat-tech because let’s face it – the calendar winter is about to end but it is still so freaking cold outside and it looks like it’s gonna be that way for while.

Accidentally in love

For winter holidays, me and my husband spontaneously decided to go to Bali. I have always wanted to go there but somehow Thailand was always an easier choice..  Come to think of it, there isn’t much difference in traveling distance or price.. Bali is even cheaper, now more than ever because of strong Yen.^-^

So the reason why we took off without an elaborate advanced planning (something we always do and are notoriously famous for) was because we found a very rare mileage deal for Tokyo – Singapore – Tokyo. Such deals don’t come often and certainly not for the New Years.. Once you are in Singapore there are so many cheap budget airlines available – you can go anywhere you want for like 100$. So, we chose Bali. ^-^

Unfortunately, the New Year falls to the monsoon season in Bali so the weather was pretty much always on the verge of rain. We had a couple of sunny days that however always ended up in late night showers… Other days, the shower would start in the morning, then stop by lunch but once we go out to the city, it would start again locking us up in one place for a few hours.. I do enjoy this kind of weather  – the heavy lead-colored skies, the urgency in the air from rain about to burst through the skies, the quiet moments in between thunder strikes…However, when you are on one week holiday bad weather is something you usually hope to avoid.. But in the end, it didn’t ruin our perfect getaway and if anything, made it even more enjoyable because it gave us a sense of adventure and an opportunity to focus on something else besides getting sunburned at the beach. ^-^

So we chose two places to stay in Bali. Our first destination was Seminyak which is located north to Kuta – area famous for its wild parties. If you want to get the taste of a busy nightlife but avoid the crowds of people in a semi-constant state of blackout drinking and partying  – Seminyak is a good choice. It wasn’t too crowded or too deserted. A lot of foreigners were as good as locals, staying there with their families, riding scooters, walking their dogs, doing groceries at the supermarket.. I reckon a lot are living there. The main street of Seminyak was lined with legal offices offering visa extensions. ^-^ During my stay I haven’t met anyone who would be on the same short schedule as me. Whenever I was asked about the length of my stay, my reply was always met with the same amused look – “What? A week? That IS very short!”. What can I do? There simply aren’t longer holidays in Japan. ^-^

Seminyak is relatively big. The main street runs long and harbors plenty of cute little restaurants, art galleries and shops.  Wherever I go I am always on the hunt for local fashion and interior designers and I was pleasantly surprised to find both and with a very strong voice and amazing quality. Unfortunately I was too absorbed in window shopping to take any pictures but here are some links to the shops I liked the most:

Biasa http://www.biasabali.com/index.php?/collections/for-her/

Ali Charisma http://www.alicharisma.com/fall-winter.php?id=13

Lily Jean http://lily-jean.com/collection.php

Magali Pascal http://magalipascal.com/

As for the restaurants, we tried different ones each day. Most of them had outside terraces and many were directly on the beach. The very first day, we had dinner at this cozy restaurant which was located on the “sacred” part of the beach. There are special places in Bali which are designated for religious rituals and processions so at that particular part of Seminyak beach, it was prohibited to swim. Of course, some middle-aged Russian tourists in skin-tight shocking pink Speedos were swimming there anyway… Oh well.. For every rule, there is at least one Russian breaking it.. ^-^

Besides the “designated”places, there are religious offerings everywhere you go. They are literally scattered around on the pavement, on the road, in front of shops and restaurants, inside too. More than half of them end up being smashed or stepped on so the overall look of the street can sometimes look messy but I liked the determination with which Balinese people continued preparing those offerings. I like when people are dedicated to their beliefs. I respect that.

That evening, we drank our Mojito and watched the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t painted with happy colors. The sky and ocean were dark and heavy but the sunlight was shimmering gold. The clouds didn’t move at all.. They were just slowly melting into the purple sky.  We sat there on the beach and watched the dark ocean till we could see no more. Then, we returned to our hotel.

In Seminyak, we chose to stay at La Villais spa & villa resort which was only a few minutes walk to the main street and 10 minutes to the beach. Surprisingly, not so many resorts in Bali have their own access to the beach (something that is quite common in Thailand). It might be different in Nusa Dua (manicured South-East part of Bali) but in Seminyak-Kuta area, only a few of the hotels where located directly on the beach..^-^

But I really loved our hotel. It was very private and secluded. Each villa was completely isolated from each other. We met other guests only during breakfast in the morning or by the main pool area.

Our villa had its own pool and it was quite big, at least in comparison to the other villas with plunge pools I found on Trip Advisor. The bedroom was in one building and the living room with kitchen was in another. The wall facing the pool garden was missing which was both unusual and exciting at the same time. I have never lived like that before but I really enjoyed it, especially my evenings sitting on the sofa, drinking Balinese ginger tea and watching the rain outside.

There were several Frangpani trees in our garden that not only smelled incredible but also showered our pool with its beautiful flowers every time it rained.

I stayed in the pool as much as I could, sometimes till the skin on my fingers turned white. I love water and I love feeling weightless.  I couldn’t get enough of it.

So the mornings, we stayed at out villa and enjoyed the sun or went down to a spa if it was raining. Spa was really amazing. It was cheaper than in Thailand and I could mix my own fragrant oils. ^-^ In the afternoons, we went exploring the town and its cuisine. We checked out all the hip places recommended by Timeout. It allowed me to observe the locals (Balinese and foreigners). I like watching people and contemplating their stories. There were a lot of Russians there – surfers, families, models on holidays…

A funny fact about my husband. He doesn’t really like taking photos (read: obsessed with photos like me) so every time I want one, I need to ask him for it. Except when I am drinking.. If there is a cocktail in my hand, he is compelled to take a picture. ^-^ So I have an extensive collection of such shots but I swear I am not an alcoholic!! I think it’s just his idea of a perfect vacation picture.. ^-^

By the way, that chubby tattooed man with a pierced ear behind me was Russian.. The night we went to an Italian restaurant, there were 4 tables speaking Russian!!! It felt more like Odessa than Bali… Oh, and another funny thing. Whenever I wanted to say something to my husband in private I would use Japanese or Russian. Only it was never really in private! I swear every Balinese waiter, driver or shop owner I met was capable of speaking one language or another!! I got into so many embarrassing situations thinking they didn’t understand me!!! Never, never underestimate people working in hospitality business!!!

Another day, we had dinner on the beach at a gorgeous restaurant called “Breeze”. The staff was amazing. They addressed us by our names and were very friendly and chatty. One waiter was a painter from Ubud who used to live in Japan!! ^-^ The food was absolutely amazing! I had the best gazpacho I’ve ever tasted, even better than the authentic one I tried in Madrid. I was in heaven!!! Of course we also tried Indonesian dishes like Nasi goreng (fried rice with meat, tofu and veggies) and bunch of other stuff – they often serve an assortment of local delicacies on one plate (aka tourist plate) and then explain each one of them but it was just too much to remember.. Everything was soo good though, the right amount of spicy and sweet!

That evening, as we were drinking our coffee and munching on a triple chocolate cake (courtesy of a guy sitting next to us who got a surprise birthday cake from his girlfriend! Yeah, the whole cake!!!), the air exploded with a loud rumble and within fracture of a second the rain poured down. It was like a curtain of water, I could hardly see in front of me. The lightning stroke every minute or so and the rumble was getting louder and louder.. A sane person would wait it out or call a cab. Me and my husband, we decided to walk back to our villa without an umbrella! I completely ruined my Tory Burch sandals but I couldn’t care less. Running down the dark street in an alien country under the pouring rain was quite a liberating experience! I wanna do it again!!

Our second destination was Ubud, a small village located amongst rice paddies and steep valleys. It is Bali’s major arts and culture center harboring many amazingly talented painters, dancers, wood carvers, designers and musical instrument makers. Ubud is also famous as a place to gather medicinal herbs and plants. You remember that Medicine man from “Eat pray love”? He was living in Ubud. ^-^

In Ubud, we stayed at Kamandalu resort which was gorgeous but very Japanese-oriented. Everyone spoke the language and everything in the room was written in Japanese. I mean it’s nice, thank you but I kinda want to get away from it!! Next time, I will stay at a family-run B&B and will make sure they don’t speak Japanese or Russian. ^-^ But apart from that, everything was perfect! Beautiful chalets with views to the rice paddies, nice landscape design and amazing kind people.

It’s funny how we chose this hotel because it was almost the only one with a pool in Ubud and yet we didn’t use it at all. ^-^ It was raining the entire time we were there so instead I cuddled with a book on a chaise longue with parasol in front of it and watched the rain… and occasional middle-aged Russians in skin-tight shocking pink Speedos swimming in the pool like no weather is ever bad enough. ^-^

So because it was raining, I spent a lot of time at Kamandalu spa. I ALWAYS feel nervous when someone is washing my feet or serves me tea while kneeling down but somehow it felt amazingly comfortable in Bali. You know how Japanese people are always polite regardless of whether they mean it? Well, Balinese people are also polite but you can feel true sincerity behind their smiles. They are radiating with kindness and you can feel it is for real.  I mean I still would prefer them not to kneel in front of me but they handled themselves with such ease and confidence , I had no choice but to relax and let it go.  ^-^

Ubud has the main street called Jalan Raya Ubud that is the address for the majority of Ubud’s art galleries, batik and paper shops, bookstores, jewelers and the coziest cafes. I was blown away but the variety of silks and candles and woven baskets.. I wanted to buy everything.. A little word of advice! When going shopping in Ubud, NEVER bring your husband. He spoiled the whole experience by constantly reminding me that I didn’t need a trillionth candle holder or pillow case.. Well, yeah I don’t need them – I WANT them!!

Everything was so cheap AND I was allowed to negotiate the price. Now that I am back to Tokyo, I curse myself for not buying more of that delicious mango jam and lavender bath salt…and the silk scarfs..and banana leaf paper…and candles… Ahhh…

The main attraction at night was to go to one of those amazing dance performances at Puri Saren (Ubud palace) or Puri Saren Agung (Water palace).

My friend Mia is a professional Balinese dancer so I already knew that I wanted to watch Legong dance because it is the one performed exclusively by girls. We saw it at Ubud palace and then again at this beautiful water lily palace the next day.

There is a terrace restaurant called “Lotus cafe” right in front of it so you can actually have dinner while watching the dance performance. Or, you can go for the best seat at Starbucks next door that also had a huge terrace facing the pond.

We chose the restaurant because it was our last night in Bali. Here I am with the cocktail.. again… ^-^ Where is all the food? I don’t have a single picture of anything we ate… I tend to forget to take pictures when I am having too much fun..

Other dances we saw were Barong (a dance of Lion and monkey) and Kecak (a trance-like chanting ritual).

That night, we made friends with the local guy who took us to the airport the next day. His name was Wayan which means “first”. In Bali and some other parts of Indonesia, names are decided based on birth order, regardless of sex. There are only three more names used and you can guess what they are. Yep! Second, third and fourth – Made, Nyoman and Ketut. If you are a fifth child in the family, your name will be Wayan Balik which means Wayan “again”.  Fascinating, isn’t it? ^-^

On our way back to Tokyo, we spent one day in Singapore. I really wanted to see my friend Anastasia who moved there from Tokyo a year earlier. We met at Clarke Quay and had dinner on the river not far from the Fullerton hotel.

She said it was tough to get used to Singapore mixed cuisine after so many years of living in Japan.. Everything is much more oilier and spicier… But the restaurant we found was very good.

After dinner, we went to the bay to watch lazer show, a novelty attraction of Marina bay – newest hotel on the town. Again, Starbucks was the place with the best view and it wasn’t crowded. I don’t really know Starbucks without a crowd. In Japan, it always comes with it.

I have been to Singapore several times so I didn’t do any sightseeing this time. In Bali too, I decided not to waste any time sweating inside tourist buses but instead experience life of a local – slow and very very relaxing. As much as me and my husband are determined to do it every time we travel, we usually fail to escape the pressure of seeing this and that. This time, we completely let go and enjoyed a real vacation – doing absolutely nothing at all!!!

So, it was a very short holiday but it completely rejuvenated me.  I am already planning my next trip, thinking of places to go and things to buy (yes, I want Balinese furniture, I can’t stop thinking about it). I understand fully now why my friend Mia is so crazy about it.. You can’t help but to fall in love with the place, the culture, the lifestyle and above all the people. ^-^

Ice skating in Midtown

A few days ago me and Laura went ice skating to Midtown, Roppongi. We couldn’t have chosen the worse day for that though. It was so terribly cold and windy. Later, I had to soak in hot bath for an hour to get warm again. ^-^ But it was fun anyway! There were only a few people there so we had the rink almost entirely to ourselves which was a relief as I am not very maneuvery.. It was only my second time to stand on ice.

Both Laura’s and my mom used to do figure skating when they were young so both of them are amazing on ice. Me, I never had an opportunity to skate till last year when my brother took me to a ski resort in the outskirts of Saint Petersburg.

Midtown ice park is beautiful because of its illumination at night. There are strings of light that fly back and forth in between the trees surrounding the rink.

I managed to skate without falling. I even learned to turn and twirl. The rink is open till the end of February so I should go again and practice. ^-^

One hour was enough for me to get so cold I couldn’t stop coughing. Next time, I will make sure to wear a hat!!! ^-^