Day One in Tokyo – Asakusa history, beauty and fun

Getting a real vibe for a new city usually means getting emerging yourself in that culture so getting hands on in Tokyo will probably lead you to the Asakusa area.  This was the top recommendation from the hotel concierge when we checked on what to do in Tokyo so we gathered our city and train station maps and set out to see what all of the fuss was about.  One of the things I love most about Tokyo is their train system.  Admittantly I got a little flustered when I could not get my credit card to work but after exchanging some cash the English prompts and signs made it easy to get around the city not to mention the price was right.  With Asakusa just eight stops down from the Ginza district we were off for some Tokyo exploration.

While the train offers English prompts everywhere, the streets signs from Tokyo do not so getting your bearings quickly is an important tool in making it around town. As maps have never been my strength, I had to rely on my following skills by pegging other visitors and following behind others who seemed to have a sense of where we were going.  As I began to see more and more stores and shops pop up I knew we were in a visitor friendly part of town and learned what we were in the Nakamise shopping area.  These rows of shopping streets have everything from Japanese snacks to souvenirs in every shape, size, and form.  It is a great place to find something for friends and family at home as there are offers from the very cheap fans and cards to luxury kimonos and swords in between the open air market and store front areas.  As we hit the Kaminari Gate it truly struck me of the majesty, beauty and history that was sure to make the trip one of a lifetime.

After some wandering around we got to the main attraction for Asakusa, the Sensoji Temple.  This Buddhist temple built over thirteen hundred years ago is a great introduction to some beautiful Buddhist traditions. From the handwashing station to the prayer walls it was a great place to gain some reverence for a culture not your own.   This is definitely one of the places I wish I hired an English tour guide to give me a true understanding of some traditions that I stumbled through by watching others.  The temple and surrounding gardens are a great place to wander around and just take in some of the beauty.  As my trip was in the fall the leaves were falling and it was a great place to sit and relax or have a leaf throwing party that really just reminds you what a blessing it is just to be alive.  Either way the beauty of the city quickly welcomes you in making the city seem a lot less foreign in a lot less time.

With all the things to see in Asakura what went from a planned stopped turned into an all-day affair. From my daughters quest to try new favors at the food vendors to my kimono instructional there is so much to do and learn in the Asakusa area.  If the walking of the day has you pooped you can also hop in a water taxi or a ricksaw to cap off a day of exploration the beautiful and historic Asakusa area.

Squeezing in the fun with two days in Chicago

At least once a year I try to make it my business to visit my favorite US city, Chicago, for a whirl of fun, friends, family and of course food. My most recent trip afforded me 2 days to get all the fun I could squeeze out of Chicago with my two favorite travelers, my kids, in tow.  With a weekend base camp of the Hard Rock Hotel on the Magnificent Mile I took off right away to get reacquainted with a city I adore.

It’s hard to tell if it’s my loved ones that make the city fun for me or if my friends and family there embody the spirit of the city, explaining my love for both. Chicago is brazen and busy and metropolitan but it still has woven in it the love of life that appreciates art and food and friends that keep me coming back for more.  Automatically at the top of my agenda is to connect with people, but there is no reason that cannot be combined with some other city highlights.  Of course food is supreme in Chicago so be it brunch at Yolk or a deep dish Pizza at Giordano’s there are some things that are undeniably often imitated and rarely duplicated on the Chicago food scene.

My top highlights from the trip, however, were not my usual food fest. Instead something old and something new took the cake.  On the something old side a walking tour of the Magnificent Mile area always does my heart good.  Coming from Houston where walking is rare I love how easy the city is to maneuver by foot and all the possibilities at hand.  In an afternoon of walking you can explore Millennium Park and its art installations, meet new friends for you kids, wander in and out of shops, and get some great live street entertainment.  All these things make Chicago the constant top pick for US city.  On the new side I was able to do something that has escaped me before, Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula.  From first stepping into the hotel I knew it was something magical and afternoon tea was a great mix of prim and proper with smiles and giggles from the opportunity to spend great time with great friends.  The champagne that comes with tea doesn’t hurt either.  All in all Chicago gives you a chance to do almost anything under the sun, even in a pop in pop out weekend.

Off to the races with the TL Charity Polo Match

Almost any reason to dress up and wear a hat is a good one but when it adds in charity, polo, and picnic you have a first class reason to pull out all the stops. At the Tomorrows Luminaries Charity Polo Match at the Chukkar Farm Polo Club you get a great day time party, polo match, and some of the best dressed in Atlanta all in one place.  One of the things I love best about events where you dress to the nines is that looking great puts people in a great mood.  When you are feeling your best you can’t help but smile and the feelings and great vibes are contagious.  So despite the heat everyone was grinning from ear to ear as the Hendrick’s poured and the music enticed you to move to the beat.

The event is located in Alpharetta, Georgia and from someone who is not from Atlanta that means it is really far. As we took off on the really long ride that we were really late heading out for I began to wonder if it would be worth it.  We had to pack our own picnic, dress our own table, and make it all the way to the country to attend.  But as soon as we arrived and took in all the fabulousness at hand we knew the answer was absolutely yes!  We made our own spread of everything we liked but the guests around us were friendly and more than willing to share and point out some things that shouldn’t be missed.  Of course this included the Hendricks stations pouring up the one and only gin I will drink in some cocktails perfect for the occasion.  While you sit perched high upon a hill with a lovely polo match in play you realize this is one of the moments where being grown up and being able to appreciate new experiences is so great.  As the day moved on the great live band and subsequent friends and friends shots that continued made it truly and event and a day to remember.

A-Town Birthday Showdown

I love celebrating life so when a good friend calls with birthday plans in Atlanta chances are I’m going to try and join in on the good times.  My most recent trip to Atlanta was a great weekend getaway to celebrate friends, fun, and oh so many laughs.  Of course with a trip with 5 ladies there are going to be some standard checks on the things to do list, eat, shop, and party so away we went to paint the town red in Atlanta.

As a foodie, getting a taste of a city is always at the top of my list and no restaurant did it better for me on this trip to Atlanta than Serpas.  The restaurant does serve American food but with such an edgy twist on classics it leaves you wondering exactly where it came from and how you can get more.  The national acclaims have come flowing in and every bit of praise is completely worth it.  I had the Stuffed Airline Chicken and after my foodgasm I was pretty sure it was the chef’s way to ask me to marry him.  The chicken was both juicy and crunchy with a stuffing that made you lick your spoon stopping only long enough to stuff some savory mashed potatoes in your mouth.  Hmmm hmmm hmnmm, this restaurant will make you want to change your weekend plans.

Outside of food the question becomes where will you get all of your shopping and fun done in the city.  We just Buckhead as our base location because how close it is in the vicinity of great food and shopping.  When traveling with a group of five it is important to make things convenient enough for everyone to have their own freedom in doing things.  This way you don’t end up want to strangle someone for taking too long to get dressed or not wanting to stick to the pace you are on.  Although Buckhead is a great shopping location, there are few better central locations to party than downtown Atlanta.  The variety of clubs makes popping around a breeze so you can get everyone pumped based on their preference and ensure a good time is had by all!  The variation in the trip was key to ensuring we all got to celebrate as a group and do the things we enjoy individually as well.

Karaoke change up with a live band to back you up

karoke-at-the-alley-kat-4Your heart’s pumping, the music is thumping and it’s time for your moment in the spotlight!! Nope you are not really a star but for a couple of minutes when your song is up in karaoke, with a live band backing you up, you sure may feel like one.  I will never claim to be a great singer, but with karaoke being a cherished holiday past time for my family I have learned to perform and make the most of my karaoke selection.  On a random Friday night I wandered unto karaoke at The Alley Kat Bar with a twist!  As opposed to playing to recorded music, you get the chance to sing your karaoke with a live band, making the experience all more surreal.

Karaoke with a live band may not seem like much different than regular karaoke or even from the shower concert that you might put on every morning. This, however, does not give credit to the feel, timing, and even back up that a live band provides.  When I needed it they tried to harmonize, when I missed words they were there to pick me up, and just the natural feeling of getting amped up by musicians perhaps far more talented than you provides an extra boost of confidence that allows you to really hop into your karaoke character!

karoke-at-the-alley-kat-2 karoke-at-the-alley-kat-1 karoke-at-the-alley-kat-3karoke-at-the-alley-kat-liquid-courageSo regular me was lost for a moment, as the band began to play and the words began to stream upward I channeled my shower voice and my mirror dance moves and began to belt out the Eurthrmnics. Oh yes, Sweet Dreams were made of me once I got rolling and to the amusement or delight of the crowd I settled into an awesome night of fun.  Funny thing how much music came connect you with others and even yourself and as I wound down my time in the spotlight I realized that with the band included karaoke would never be the same.

Sailing the Mediterranean with MSC Cruises

MSC Cruise Line (3)Although not a household name in America MSC Cruises is one of the world’s largest cruise lines and offers cruises to a wide variety of destinations from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and even to the Orient. With my previous experience only being US cruise lines, however, my introduction to MSC came out of convenience.  Because I knew my goal for 2016 Spring Break was to take a cruise in the Mediterranean the options were limited. As the weather in the Mediterranean at this time is not the warmest in March I found many of the cruise lines I was familiar with did not offer the Mediterranean route at that time.  So MSC Cruises quickly became my first and only choice for my adventure.MSC Cruise Line (4)

MSC Cruises managed to deliver a mix of both comfort and luxury in a wealth of offerings that was honestly too much for me to explore on this first trip. Setting off on an adventure is normally invigorating, however the plane, train and automobile it took me to get on the boat wore me out!  Being Jet Lagged is a beast and with daily ports in some really amazing locations it is easy to get busy with the things there are too do off the boat.  Still in really taking the time to explore I was able to find a little bit of everything making it a spot on choice for family entertainment.  From shows to gambling to fantastic swimming pools there was always an option for how to spend your time while on the ship.  With a full list of activities on the daily rooster it almost becomes difficult to remind yourself that vacationing does require some rest and relaxation on the list.

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Here is the quick roundup of some of the most important components of MSC Cruises:

MSC Cruise Line (5)Dining: Throughout my seven days I had what felt like an authentic variety of Mediterranean and European options. Certainly there were days that were a little more of what I like to eat, like this delicioso lobster, but every day there were some basic staples that you could choose like salads and soups.  Each meal had a variety of courses so even if one missed the mark you still left the table feeling satisfied.

Entertainment: The full on theatre show I was only able to catch once but it was a full on dancing and singing spectacle. Each night offered two main stage professional shows as well as a kids dance competition that lasted throughout the sailing.  For me what was a little more accessible was the entertainment throughout the ship from singing to dance lessons.  This is a great way to hop in and be involved as you wander the ship and stay as long (or as little) as you like.  Of course the casino also had a big pull for me but what probably pulled me the quickest was the nightly BINGO games!  If shows are not your speed there was also dance parties in a couple of locations as well as a sports bar and small bowling alley.  In room entertainment was a little more limited as the channels were primarily not English and those that did show in English were all news channels.  After purchasing the Wi-Fi, however, I was able to master Netflix and Chill while finishing our cruise.

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Beauty: Time did not allow for a full spa visit but the sauna options on the cruise were right on point. I avoided the crowd with morning and evening visits to make sure I got a chance to unwind in between all the sightseeing.  I was able to get a pretty good product demonstration including facial while on the cruise and highly recommend it.  Not only did I love the products it is a great use of time during your sea day without breaking the bank.

MSC Cruise Line (6)Pools: When I was planning for a vacation where the temperatures did not even peak in the 70’s, swimming was pretty far from my mind. Once I got on board, however, and realized just how many of the pools were either indoor or offered a hot tub option I had to stop immediately and join in on the fun.  Although there was a pretty big demand at the indoor pools I am sure with the summer months the outdoor pools get a lot of action.  No matter the time of year however, the view of the water from the pools on the top decks is phenomenal.

Customer Service: Perhaps my favorite part of this cruise line was the staff. Everyone was friendly and willing to help.  As I celebrated my birthday on the ship the chocolate covered strawberries were a great night cap and ended an amazing day on a high note.  With the international staff I was able to hear a little about destinations all over the world and they made sure to point me in the right direction and keep a smile on my face.

All in all I really enjoyed my MSC experience!!!  The great attitudes and attention of the staff definitely would have me check out a MSC cruise all over again.

Pussy Control and other reasons why I was completely in love with Prince

PrinceSo like most love stories my love (or obsession) with Prince started rather innocently. I am an 80’s baby but Prince never struck a note in my young mind other than the fun of blasting him as my aunt picked me up from school in her Saab.  No, our personal love story began one fateful date when I asked to use a tape to go running in the park in high school.  My aunt obliged and gave me a mix tap with Prince on one side and Jimmy Hendrix on the other.  So along I went in my run, hearing songs I had heard before on the radio until a new one came on.  I listened as I ran, to the beat, and the funk, and more importantly the words and instantly I was undeniably, passionately, and unabashedly in love with the music of Prince.  The song was Pussy Control and it wasn’t the time of song you would hear on the radio.  In it he jammed but the lyrics, about a girl who grew up to be boss despite everyone doubting her, spoke to my soul.  My run had to stop as a rewind was necessary.  As I began again to run this song became my personal anthem.  Of how I would boss out, take control, not be afraid to be strong and proud, so different than how I saw myself at that time.  Instantly I decide to learn more about this person called Prince.

As my collection of his albums grew I heard in the music of myself, or at least who I wanted to be. Strong, sexual, comfortable in my own skin, smart, vivacious, and fine as hell (well at least in my own opinion and if I believed it well F what everyone else thought).  Then at my first concert I left with my mind officially blown.  I saw this beautiful little man play EVERY SINGLE INSTRUMENT on the stage.  He ran between his piano to a guitar to a bass and then sung and danced, every step sexier than that one before and I was mesmerized.  Over close to two decades after that day I saw him every chance I could in any location I could make it to.  I brought countless albums and found steady solace whenever my day was bad, or good or anywhere in between.   In his life I learned to fight for what I believe, and to be willing to risk everything for that believe, to be who I am and only regret if it is not everything God meant me to be, and that it is okay to be misunderstood as long as you stay on your journey for truth.  I am heartbroken by his death but so happy I was a true fan in life and better yet that I gave this love to my daughter in her mandatory annual Purple Rain viewing or Prince pop quizzes.  As I mourn the loss of this music legend I see a life well lived and one that inspired me and so many others to do them and do it well.  Until the end of time I will truly Adore him.

 

Prince you will be missed.

Sip and Stroll 2016 with the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair

Sip and Stroll 2016 (13)The Sugarland Wine and Food Affair always spells spring to me as a great kick off to the beautiful weather and people that festival season heralds to Houston. This year for their Sip and Stroll even they welcomed in a new venue but with the same delicious favorites making it a must for any foodie’s calendar. The Sip and Stroll hopped over from the Imperial Sugar Factory to Sugar Land Constellation Field in its Saturday fun fare offering guests an opportunity to explore great samplings of food, drinks and even shopping.

Sip and Stroll 2016 (16) Sip and Stroll 2016 (3) Sip and Stroll 2016 (5)

Moving venues is always a little confusing as you wonder if you will have the same experience. The festival did a great job in still pulling in some of the events staples like the crowd favorite Lobster Rolls so you still had a bit of a nostalgic feeling in the new venue. Although I am a fan of the indoor/outdoor combo of the previous venue offered, with the tents all visible this year you have a better idea of things you want to visit with the new set up. What is even more important, however, is that it is still a phenomenal event when it comes to the food and drinks. I love the easy movement the event offers between wine and spirits. The mixologist did some phenomenal things between Mint Juleps and the always dazzling Hendricks refreshers. With this best of both worlds offer, it is a good break for your palette from the wine so you can take a breather and narrow in on your favorite tastes.

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The food was as scrumptious as ever, with an international taste of everything. Where else can you have a little bit of barbeque, lobster, meatballs, and arroz con pollo and it all be mouth watering? Although not a competition, having all great venders descend on the event keeps everyone on their toes and striving to deliver the best they have to offer. When all this is combined with a nice breeze, beautiful setting and a great band, all is right with the world. Well at least in the three hours of the Sip and Stroll Saturday for the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair.

Sip and Stroll 2016 (6) Sip and Stroll 2016 (2) Sip and Stroll 2016 (15) Sip and Stroll 2016 (9) Sip and Stroll 2016 (7)

Tastes and Toasts for all at the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair

Sugarland Wine and Food affair logoThe next four days showcase a shining star on the food and wine calendar for the Houston area with the Sugar Land Food and Wine Affair 2016.  Every year for four days the best of the best is offered with the festival offering culinary, wine and spirits appeal to a wide range of taste.  To be sure attending at least one of these events is a must on your calendar so take a look into matching just what you love with some of this weekend’s offerings:

Cori and Kyra fun 1For the adventurous lush: If you are always on the hunt for a new bar and a different drink look no further than the Hendrick’s Gin On the Rocks Bartenders Challenge. Five master bartenders in the Houston area take on the challenege to find a new and interesting twist on a superb liquor, Hendrick’s Gin.  The Hendrick’s challenge two years ago took gin to places I did not know it could go and made me a superfan of Hendrick’s. If you don’t go for the drinks you will definitely stay for the atmosphere as the fun festivities of the night is a great kick off to a phenomenal weekend.

For the music lover: Saturday’s Sip & Stroll at Imperial is a great way to get out with friends and enjoy both great food and drinks but also great music.  It is a fun, carefree take on such a prestigious weekend with some heavy hitters letting their hair down for some fun in the sun.  With rows and rows of food and drinks it is a great way to unwind, relax and enjoy some of the best of the best in food and wine.  Plus the band is always amazing and keeps you on your feet and moving so you can go the distance with the food.

SFWFA 2015 Grand Tasting (4)For the connoisseur: Despite having attended food and wine festivals throughout the country, the innovation and passion from The Grand Tasting always keeps me wanting more.  In fact the gourmet frito pie I had last year is still on my mind a year later.  This event pulls together some of the most sought after chefs in Houston with some amazing wine pairings.  When attending this event make sure to bring your paper and pen to remember some of your favs and your wallet to get in on one of the best silent auctions around.

For the brunch enthusiast: Set in the Sugar Land Town Square the Bistro Brunch is a chance to unwind after a long week and even longer weekend!  The brunch first introduced me to chicken fried lobster and waffles and I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for that foodgasm!  The brunch is a mellow wrap to the action packed weekend a chance to get adventurous on your take on brunch with an array of lunch offerings.

For the constant student: If tasting is just not enough and you want to learn more and more about the food and drinks you love check out some of the classes offered over the weekend with For the Love of Bourbon & Cheese and the Tasting Mastery series.  These classes can put a refreshing spin on some of your favorites and let you fall just a little deeper in love with the food and spirits that you go crazy for.

No matter your budget or preference take some time to explore the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair.  It’s a guarantee that there is something for everyone!!! Still want more info, check out some of my previous years wrap ups below:

A show the whole family can love with Toruk – The First Flight

Toruk The First Flight Cirque Du Soliel (10)Cirque du Soleil has built its foundation on revolutionizing the circus by combining it with breathtaking acrobats and theatre quality showmanship. This effort was again in full force with the Toruk – The First Flight show that touched down in Houston.  Finding shows that you can take on as a family is difficult, especially with kids of different ages.  You have to consider if it will be enough to keep the hyper ones still and the loud ones quiet and the scary ones from screaming while also thinking about what you as an adult would like to see.  Delivering in perfect harmony and with Cirque du Soleil building on the Avatar movie phenomenal the Toruk – The First Flight had us thrilled at first mentioned and kept everyone spellbound throughout the show.

Toruk The First Flight Cirque Du Soliel (9)

Of course if you love Avatar you will love the show as the visual beauty and out of the world story line continues from the movie. If you are not familiar with the movie, however, there is still so much beauty and intrigue in the Toruk show.  I love how Cirque is able to intertwine a story with great singing, visual and technical performances.  While one second you lose yourself in a song the next you are on the edge of your seat watching soaring jumps and twists.  For my daughter and I, we loved hearing the story of a Avatar prequel and seeing the different tribes all showcasing different aerial feats.  For my young son its bright and ever-changing effects kept him surprised and occupied throughout the show.  It was truly like escaping to a magical world and so good I think it’s hard to really think of it as a show.  The Toruk experience gives you all the oohs and aahhhs you would expect from Cirque and gives the kids and family some of their first taste of the arts that should be enough to get them interested what else there is to offer.

Toruk The First Flight Cirque Du Soliel (5)

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