Travel and Reading Blogs

I’ve decided to start dedicated blogs for my travel and reading adventures. Click on the pictures below to go and check them out!

Laurasaurus Travels

I have quite a few followers who are here for the travel posts I sometimes do. I’m guessing you guys aren’t super interested in sewing or all the other random stuff I bang on about, so head on over to Laurasaurus Travels for all travel all the time*.

I will probably be re-covering some of the adventures I’ve previously posted here at some point, but in a different way, so I hope they will bring a fresh angle to my trips. I’ll also be posting about trips which never made it onto this blog – I’ve got a few posts up already about our visit to Russia.

If you came here for the travel, but stayed for the sewing, then I hope you’ll enjoy reading both blogs.

* Not literally all the time. I have a full time job and a cat to take care of. I will try and keep up a regular posting schedule, though. Realistically, you can expect one post per week.

Your Name-2

At the start of this year, I realised I needed something to keep me sane on the long journeys to and from work. I decided that a challenge was in order, so this year I am going to try and read one book per week.

I thought starting a blog where I would review each of those books in more detail than my usual ‘it was quite good’ on Goodreads would both challenge and encourage me when things got tough (my money is on sometime around May).

I’m not sure if anyone reading this blog is into books, but if you are, then come and join me at Laurasaurus Reads. I will read anything which is within grasping distance, so you can expect quite a bit of variety. While my bookshelf is heavily weighted towards fiction, I do have quite a few interesting looking reference books on the go. I will try my hardest not to review the anti-histamine packet I have just read the back of (side note: I have hay fever! Spring must be on its way!)

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“Pure Laurasaurus”, as a friend calls it, is where the sewing, lifestyle and crafty stuff will (still) be at. I don’t think anything will change here; posting will probably remain idiosyncratic, because although I dream of an organised blog schedule, I’m not going to write if I don’t have anything interesting to say.

Tokyo: Akasaka and Nogizaka

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Sleeping

During our visit to Tokyo, we stayed at the Hotel Grand Fresa in Akasaka. We chose it because the price was so reasonable,and it turned out to be a fantastic base for us during the trip. It was only a one minute walk to Akasaka station, which was on the very useful C line (sealion!), and you could walk to Roppongi in about 20 minutes.

When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered we weren’t able to check in for about three hours. While this was not ideal after such a long journey, we decided to use this time to our advantage and scope out the local area. The receptionists took our bags and lent us a big umbrella, and we stepped out to experience the city for the first time. They actually came running out of the building, chasing us with the umbrella, which was quite sweet. God, Japanese people are nice.

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When we did manage to check in, we were able to pick and choose from a large selection of toiletries and teas on offer to guests in the reception area. Laden with bath salts, we headed up to our cosy room, which was actually in a different building. Although tiny, the room was well equipped, with a small kitchenette (kettle, sink, microwave), little wardrobe, TV, and JAPANESE BUM-WASHING TOILET!!! Yes, all my dreams had come true. It was wonderful.

Sightseeing

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At the end of Akasaka-dori, across Sotobori-dori, we discovered Hie-jinja shrine at the top of an escalator! The instant we stepped off the escalator, we found ourselves in an oasis of calm, completely different from the bustling city below. We had a little wander around, watching people praying, and enjoying the peace and quiet, before heading back down to earth.

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Taking Akasaka-dori in the other direction leads you to Nogi-jinja, a shrine dedicated to Count Nogi Maresuke, a general in the Japanese army who committed ritual suicide on the day of Emperor Meiji’s funeral, in accordance with the samurai tradition of following your master into death. At 8am on a drizzly Sunday morning, this was a peaceful place to while away some time with just the gardeners for company.

Eating

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Akasaka-dori and the roads around it are full of great looking places to eat and drink. Embarrassingly, we got breakfast from Starbucks on quite a few days, but in my defence, they drew cute little cats on our cups, and the cinnamon buns were gigantic.

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On our first evening, we met up with Paul and Jamie at Akasaka metro, before taking a walk along one of the livelier looking roads to find a spot for a drink and a catch-up. We found a spot in a bar which had covered its walls with posters of J-Pop stars, and had an inflatable vicar playing guitar outside. We ordered highballs, which are incredibly popular in Japan – you can buy them premixed in supermarkets. I wasn’t a massive fan of the ones made with just whisky and soda, but the flavoured ones were a lot more interesting – ginger was a particular hit.

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After drinks, we spent a long time looking for the perfect place to eat, dismissing the many Korean restaurants on offer as it seemed right to eat Japanese food on our first night in Japan. We eventually found a fantastic little Ramen place, where the lady running the joint helped us to work the machine where you selected and paid for your (very reasonable, delicious and enormous) meal. Inside, the restaurant was cosy and felt very down to earth. Although, it seemed that they regularly had famous Japanese guests (and Bruno Mars), as the walls were covered in signed sheets of paper.

Tokyo: Nippori

After visiting Japan recently, I’ve decided that instead of doing my usual diary style posts about our trip, I’d separate my posts by neighbourhood, rather than day. It’s the sort of thing that I would find really useful if I was going somewhere, so I hope that others might, too. First up, the last place we visited…

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It’s unusual for me to be able to combine my two big interests (at least blogwise) in one post, but a visit to Nippori Fabric Town allows me to do just that! Luckily, Sally gave me a special dispensation to buy fabric in Japan during the Summer Stashbust, otherwise this would have been a very sad visit.

Ben and I caught the metro to Nishi-nippori (C-16 on the Chiyoda line)and then walked for about ten minutes down to Nippori station (JR Yamanote line), where we met Paul and Jamie. I was conscious that nobody else was very interested in fabric shopping, but I was willing to take advantage of their politeness and make the most of my time in fabric heaven. While we waited for Paul and Jamie, we enjoyed a spot of people watching, including these children and their plants.

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The fabric shops are located on or near Nippori Chuo Dori, which runs directly east from the square outside the station. I found the map at the top really helpful for locating the places I knew I wanted to visit from blog research, although you should note that Japanese maps put the direction you’re facing, and not north at the top of the map. It makes sense after a while. Oh, and you should bring cash, as a lot of the shops don’t take cards.

I wanted to visit Mihama, as I’d heard a lot about their discounted and precut bags of fabric. You can’t open the bags before buying, but people seem to have a lot of luck there. Sadly, I… um… well, I couldn’t work out how to get into the shop. It may have been shut. Tokyo is really confusing, and there were so many other places to visit that I decided to move on, rather than force my way into what could have been somebodies house.

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Fortunately, I was soon cheered by the discovery of the first of five(!!!) Tomato shops. Each shop has a different theme, although I didn’t find this immediately obvious during my visit. There’s Notion (selling notions), Arch (selling sale fabrics, and housing the “1 metre for 100 yen” section), Main Building (with more metres for 100 yen, as well as multiple floors of fabric goodness of all sorts), Interior (selling curtain and home furnishing fabrics), and finally Select (selling some more fancy stuff, including organic cotton).

It always takes me a while to get into the swing of a fabric shopping trip, but by the time we got to the second Tomato shop (the main one, I think), I was ready to start buying! I wasn’t sure whether the language barrier would be an issue, but the shop assistants were polite, helpful, and very efficient, even if we were holding fingers up at each other to signify lengths. I made an early decision to buy three metres of everything, since that would cover most eventualities. I’m not sure if it’s possible to buy half metres, since I didn’t know how to express that with my hands.

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A nice light fitting in the nana shop

I think we visited all of the Tomato shops, but I only bought from two of them (the main one and Select). I also browsed in a lot of different shops, buying from one other place (I don’t know which one – it was between Interior and Select). That shop had some nice traditional fabrics (which I didn’t buy) and a lovely old nana working there. I wanted to take her home with me, but apparently she wasn’t for sale.

We also looked into a shop full of buttons (including some awesome sewing, skeleton and cat themes ones), but I struggle to get excited about notions after a nasty childhood encounter with the dragon lady who ran the button stall at our local craft fair. I was accused of muddling the buttons up into the wrong pots, which I so wasn’t doing and it was all very unfair and traumatic for six year old me.

I’m really pleased with the fabrics that I bought. I didn’t want to buy for the sake of it, even if the prices were low. There were some really cute fabrics available, but I only bought things which I could really see myself wearing. Want to see?

380 yen (2 GBP – why has my pound sign stopped working??) per metre from Tomato. I’ve given this to my mum, who is planning to make a dress.

380 yen (2 GBP) per metre from Tomato. Not sure if you can see the second layer of geometric print in this picture. Current plan: dress (maybe a Megan or a Lilou)

Foxy fabric. I can’t remember how much it cost, but it will probably become a blouse. This came from the nana shop.

Reversible spotty chambray (the other side has anchors, but they don't photograph well). 850 yen (5 GBP) from Tomato Select.

Reversible spotty chambray (the other side has anchors, but they don’t photograph well). 850 yen (5 GBP) from Tomato Select. Current plan: 70s style sundress.

Gorgeous stripy cotton voile(?) from Tomato Select for 1500 yen (9 GBP) per metre. Current plan: some kind of top

Gorgeous stripy cotton voile(?) from Tomato Select for 1500 yen (9 GBP) per metre. I don’t have a plan for this yet, but it will become something beautiful.

After finishing up the shopping, we decided to retrace our steps towards Nishi-nippori station in search of a place for lunch. As it wasn’t such a touristy area, it was a challenge to find somewhere with pictures outside (by far the easiest way to know what you’re ordering), but we stumbled across a place with delicious and cheap katsu basically right opposite the station. In most restaurants you get a jug of water on the table, but here we were able to help ourselves to something which tasted like a cold combination of rice tea and coffee. It was strange, but quite nice once you got used to it!

In the area: Heavy rain put us off a walking tour, but Yanaka is just on the other side of the railway track, and I reckon you could make it around both areas in a day. Having survived earthquakes and WWII, Yanaka is more historic than a lot of Tokyo. With a lot of wooden structures and temples, it sounds like a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Our guidebook (Lonely Planet Pocket Tokyo) suggested a walk starting at Yanaka Ginza, before heading in a large semi circle around artists studios, coffee shops, bars and shops. This is on my list of areas to visit when we get the chance to go back to Tokyo. 

Seattle Part IV

Thursday 8th May

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We met in the morning for brunch at Oddfellows. I went for biscuit and egg, which turned out to be a scone with some scrambled egg and, confusingly, jam.

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After filling ourselves with noms, we headed to the exhibition space in order to set up for the evening. It was hard work, but we managed. We had an extra pair of hands when the lovely Ashley from the International Bipolar Foundation arrived. They were instrumental in helping with this project, so it was nice that she could be there to see the exhibition.

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Ben was lucky and avoided any of the heavy lifting as he was the official photographer for the event (actually the reason we were in Seattle in the first place). He was in charge of taking pictures of us dragging gigantic babies around, holding up boards, drilling and assembling various pieces of complicated hanging equipment.

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The show went really well. There was a great turnout, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I got to meet some friends of friends, as well as some strangers, and a man who kept looking at my boobs.

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Ellen Forney came along!

By the end of the night I think we were all glad to have a bit of a sit down after a day on our feet!

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Friday 9th May

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With feet still aching from the exhibition the night before, not to mention the fact that we hadn’t stopped walking since we arrived, we headed for breakfast at Top Pot (classic), before gingerly walking downtown to the aquarium. It began to rain half way, so our feet were glad to stop for another coffee break!

Seattle Aquarium took a little bit of finding. We ended up exploring quite a few levels of Pike Place Market on our way down, but it was worth it. The first section includes a section where you can touch some of the creatures of the deep, but they all looked a bit minging, so I decided to leave well alone. As well as various fish, I spotted a couple of octopi, watched the feeding of the harbour seals, and spent a long time cooing over the sea otters.

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In the evening, we met up with Tom at Dick’s Drive In, where we devoured a couple of burgers each, before heading to Rhino Room for cocktails (for the boys) and wine (for me).   After a couple of drinks, we headed back to the exhibition to see how Missy and Kim were getting on during their second night. Again, it was pretty busy, and they seemed really happy with the turnout. It was a bit chilly in the venue, so Ben, Tom and I decided to head upstairs to chill out with a second dinner, before heading home in a cab.

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After packing up, we arrived at Kim’s house in time to help everyone unload the exhibition from the van. We had a spot of lunch before helping out with a shopping trip to buy food for the Eurovision party which they were having later that day. Sadly, our flight time meant that we couldn’t attend the party, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t help out with our knowledge of european food and drink.

Finally, we waved goodbye to our friends at the airport and caught a flight home, looking forward to not walking anywhere for a few weeks!

Seattle Part III

Wednesday 7th May

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There was a morning disaster when Top Pot had run out of donuts, but we soldiered on with life and walked down to the Space Needle with empty stomachs. As we were there pretty early there were no queues and we were able to catch the first lift to the top.

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The views were absolutely fantastic, and it was nice to be able to take our time wandering around. Although we took some of the classic tourist shots, it was also fun to take a few more unusual pictures which will probably serve as a better reminder of our trip.

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It was so much less stressful than our trip to the Empire State Building, and you don’t even have to pay for your cheesy tourist picture – they email the derp directly to your inbox!

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I’d like to think this is among the top ten worst pictures ever taken of Ben and I, but I can’t be completely sure… Here’s the worst one – Empire State strikes back!

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Next up, we headed to EMP, which is a music and sci-fi museum. A slightly strange combination, but they make it work. There were exhibits on Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix, as well as a cool room where you could play with some instruments. We weren’t very good at that and left quite quickly.

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The sci-fi section of the museum was fun. I got to have my picture taken on the Iron Throne, pretend to be a raccoon, and punch a dinosaur in the face!

 

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That evening, we went for delicious cocktails at Sun Liquor with Missy, Tom, Kim and Kathi, before walking down to Mamnoon for some of the best middle eastern food I’ve tasted. In fact, it was so good that the vegetarians in our party turned meat eater for the night. It was a surprise to find the traditional food served in such a modern setting, but that really added something different to the meal, and we all had a fantastic time sharing the plates we’d ordered (basically the whole menu). Everything was nicely washed down with crémant. I had taken some pictures of the amazing food, but they were drunk and blurry. Use your imagination. It was the perfect celebration in preparation for the exhibition the following night!

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