From my travel journal: Tokyo, 2015 (2)

Because it’s Friday, and I’m over working for the week, and my mind is on travel because we just booked an Airbnb for our time in Tokyo and I cannot wait to get back to that incredible city…

 

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“First up, walked to Yoyogi Park, which was really, really green and very beautiful. I wandered around for a while & eventually made my way to the Meiji-Jingu Shrine/Temple area – swarming with people, construction going on, still breath-taking. On our walking tour, Mika showed us a Shinto tradition at their shrines – you toss a coin into the receiving tray, bow twice, clap twice, make your prayer, then bow once more. I had the opportunity to do this again there alone, which was really nice…”

Tea time: Tao Dan Park Bird Cafe, Saigon, Vietnam

Tao Dan Park
110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

This café stop on our last morning in Saigon was probably the highlight of our time in Saigon. Another suggestion from our wonderful Cu Chi Tunnels guide, she told us about the “bird café” in Tao Dan Park; each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Sounds odd, right? It is, but in a really beautiful way.

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Keeping pet birds is quite popular in Vietnam – you notice cages everywhere, beautiful, old, vintage-looking bird cages, with gorgeous little feathered creatures sitting inside. The café at Tao Dan Park is a real social event, where the men of the city roll up on their motorbikes with their covered birdcages perched on the back. They park their bikes and carefully lift the cages, bringing them to rest on the floor in the middle of the outdoor “café.” The covers are removed from the cages, and they’re delicately hung from the hooks on what looks like a collection of big metal trees with braches especially crafted for the cages.

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While the women are off presumably raising the kids, cleaning the house, running the shops and doing whatever else needs to be done, the men sit around for a few hours enjoying their coffee and listening to their birds sing. We pulled up a little plastic table and joined the growing crowd, husband with his Vietnamese condensed milk iced coffee, and me with my lemon tea and journal. While the tea is nothing to write home about (just a Lipton tea bag, boiling water and a squeeze of lemon), husband said the coffee was amazing, and that’s what everyone else seemed to be drinking, too. I got a lot of strange looks, being the only woman around, but probably no stranger than the perplexed look on my face when I first arrived trying to work out what the hell was going on. Travel is like that – we might all be a little weird to each other, but you learn to adapt to anything 🙂

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Through my eyes: Kyneton Botanical Gardens, Victoria

Kyneton Botanical Gardens

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Carpeted by miraculously still green grass and fallen autumn leaves, the Kyneton Botanical Gardens are beautiful on a winter’s day. Take a walk along the water, sit and read under the trees, relax…

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#TBT: Washington Square Park, New York City

Because I cannot WAIT for winter to hit again! I love rain and cold and grey skies. And we got that in spades here…

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I can’t even remember how we got here. I’d just fallen down some stairs a few days before in the ice and snow and rain of New York and done some torn-rotator-cuff damage to my shoulder. It was so cold, it was grey, it was raining and miserable outside, not many other people were out. I was trudging through the rain in my brown leather boots, pulling my scarf tighter around my neck, my hair was getting wet and I couldn’t have cared less.

Washington Square Park is one of the city’s favourite meeting places, with the arch and the fountain being popular spots for tourists and locals alike. I just thought it was beautiful through the rain on that cold day.

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Through my eyes: Yoyogi Park & Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

Yoyogi Park
2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/

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Good morning friends  : )  I hope everyone had a great weekend – I’m absolutely exhausted! After checking the calendar, we realised that this weekend just passed was our last free weekend before Christmas (…!!!!!), so we hit the shops like possessed elves, and knocked out all our Christmas shopping in 7 hours on Saturday! I’m so glad it’s done, but my goodness it was exhausting… And the weather was so beautiful, and I’d have loved to head out for a picnic and a bit of outdoor sunshine time! So this morning I’m going to take us all to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo for a visit  : )

For such a big city, Tokyo certainly isn’t lacking in beautiful big green spaces. I’ve always loved spending time in big parks on my own, ever since depression started taking over my life in high school. Sitting quietly on fresh green grass under a beautiful leafy tree has always been something that’s calmed me, so after a pretty busy first 48 hours, my friend and I parted ways for the day and I made my way to the park to re-calibrate a little. And it truly was a truly remarkable space…

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Also within the park is the majestic Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine, tucked deep within the park. Shortly after the deaths of Emperor Meiji (in 1912) and Empress Shoken (two years later), 100, 000 trees were donated from well-wishers around the world to create this beautiful park. The shrine itself came to be in 1920. The main buildings were sadly destroyed in 1945, in the midst of the second world war, and we rebuilt in the late 1950s. You can learn a lot more about the Meiji Shrine here, so instead of telling you more, I’ll just show you…

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Melbourne’s north side food truck parks: The Food Truck Park Preston -VS- Welcome To Thornbury

These things are popping up like… actually I can’t think of a clean, PG rated, appropriate analogy here. Suffice to say that seven years after Roy Choi and his little Korean taco truck, Kogi, started the food truck craze half way around the world, it is still well and truly going strong in Melbourne, which has fast established it’s reputation as one of the great hipster meccas of the world. And with hipsters comes good food. Sometimes pretentious crap, sure, but for the most part it’s pretty bloody good.

Before the food truck/street food thing caught fire, it was the fancy restaurants that drew the foodie crowds. The Mamasitas and Chin Chins and Fondas, which charged big money for intricate, well thought out, delicious, albeit little dishes, and played off the 2 hour wait for a table as a badge of honour. Those days are just about over, though, with the crowds no longer wanting to wait ages for tiny, elegant dishes; the tide is really turning to the out-of-a-truck street food thing. And ironically (because we all know that the basis of the hipster movement is to do “ironic things ironically” – thank you Anthony Bourdain for the clarification), the lines for this stuff (formerly pleb food) are now epic, too! The great paradox, for me, is that a lot of these people (I’m now referring to the yuppies, not the hipsters) waiting in line for their $12 “Vietnamese sandwich” whilst necking their craft beer probably wouldn’t even think about touching a $1 banh mi made with sans rubber gloves and tongs, and served off the back of a motorbike on the streets of Hanoi… but, I digress.

All of my cynicism aside, with the often excessive amount of rules and restrictions put in place by the local councils (because let’s be honest guys; they’re more about making money than keeping us safe from food poisoning!), this is as close as we’re ever going to get to a “street food culture” in Melbourne, so I’ll take it! Also, the fresh, clean astro-turf and gorgeous, modern touches like the wooden benches and seats are a little nicer than sitting on a plastic crate in a dirty gutter next to rapidly passing traffic. And I absolutely love the idea of a food truck park – it’s so nice and convenient to have it all in the one place!

We’ve been living in the heart of the Northern suburbs for just on two years now (WHAT?! TWO YEARS ALREADY?!?! Wow…), and our timing couldn’t have been better because it is well and truly becoming Melbourne’s suburban food and culture centre. Case in point – one of the main streets within walking distance to our house boasts a Japanese convenience store, a few Indian restaurants, a Halal butcher, a Lebanese bakery, a new-style hipster cafe, an Italian deli, and a good old fashioned Aussie fish and chip shop. All within no more than a kilometre of each other. So when not one, but two food truck parks opened only 3.5km away from each other, and both within a stone’s throw of our place, we were a bit excited!

 

First up in the red corner, we’ve got:
The Food Truck Park
518 High St, Preston
http://www.thefoodtruckpark.com.au/
https://www.facebook.com/thefoodtruckpark

Operated by: The Australian Mobile Food Vendors Group.
These guys are also the team behind the Coburg Drive-In Food Truck Festivals and the Richmond Food Truck Park, as well as numerous pop ups.

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday
12:00 – 2:30pm lunch session
5:30 – 9:30pm dinner session

Great to visit at:
Dinner time – it’s beautifully lit up at night, and big enough that the crowds aren’t too big a problem if you get there not long after opening time.

Vibe: Relaxed, comfortable, like hanging out in a good mate’s backyard with people sitting on the floor when table space runs out, kids running around having a good time. Very chilled out and welcoming.

Food on offer:
Ever changing rotation which you can check on their Facebook page, but some of the trucks that have made an appearance over the last few weeks include:
– Dos Diablos
– Smokin’ Barry’s BBQ
– The Dude Food Man
– Happy Camper Pizza
– Greek Street Food
– The Brulee Cart
– Nuoc Mama
Billy Van Creamy & Manny’s Donut Café, who joined powers to help me create this monster when I visited on opening weekend (a fresh, warm donutella from Manny’s with some of Billy’s peanut butter gelato… and also some of their salted caramel gelato. Because ¿por qué no los dos?)

The Food Truck Park Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Billy Van Creamy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Next up, in the blue corner:
Welcome To Thornbury
520 High St, Northcote
http://welcometothornbury.com/

Operated by: Maleik Edwards and the team behind Melbourne favourites like Mr Burger, Homeslice and Fancy Hanks.

Opening hours:
Monday – Thursday from 5pm – 9pm
Friday – Sunday from 12pm – 10pm

Great to visit at:
Mid week dinner or a sunny weekend lunch session – but arrive right on opening time because this place gets PACKED! Unless you’re arriving mid afternoon and waiting it out until dinner time, chances of getting a seat for an evening feed are not great.

Vibe: The fancier, trendier sibling of Preston’s park – younger, well dressed crowd, table or nothing (floor sitting didn’t seem to acceptable), fewer children and the ones that were there were sitting quietly at the tables. All very shiny, new and modern, little details all well thought out and beautifully presented. More similar to the friend’s house that you feel obliged to take your shoes off before entering.

Food on offer:
Again, rotating roster available on their website, including
– Mr Burger (duh)
– Mamma Van
– Dos Diablos
– Dude Food Man
– White Guy Cooks Thai
– Greek Street Food
– Gorilla Grill
– Ghost Kitchen, who make THE MOST MAGNIFICENT popcorn chicken you’ve even had the pleasure of stuffing your face with:

Ghost Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

And don’t miss the area on your way in, where Doughboys are hidden away. Because if you miss out on their doughy magic (like the Peanut Buster), your visit was close to pointless.

Doughboys Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Welcome to Thornbury Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
So, who wins the food truck park war of the Northern suburbs? YOU DO! They’re both fantastic, both very different atmospheres, and both with a lot of the same trucks rotating through. They’re both going to be popular fixtures as Melbourne starts warming up with a group of mates and a few plates of delicious food to share – and now that we’re officially a month into spring and weather is starting to get it’s act together, that’s your weekend sorted, my friends!

On that note, I’ve got a crazy busy work day ahead, after which I’m gonna load my bags into the car, and enjoy a bit of a long weekend mini road trip with the guy I’m celebrating a 5 year wedding anniversary with this weekend 🙂 See you guys back in a few days (possibly for a post-Grand Final day food truck park chill out session)!

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York
http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/

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“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was dedicated almost three years ago – a stunning four acre park that memorialises those four freedoms. You can read more on the website, but their mission statement reads:
The Four Freedom Park Conservancy’s mission is to operate and maintain Four Freedoms Park, a public space dedicated to celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms through educational initiatives and public programming.

I’m not into politics, nor do I care for politicians. I know next to nothing about my own country’s political history (and not even sure it’s worth worrying about considering the iPhone wasn’t even around yet the last time we had a prime minister run a full term), much less about a country on the other side of the world, no matter how big a world power they may be. For the most part, I don’t care. But those words up there hit me hard when I visited the FDR Four Freedoms Park in January; I was reminded of the concept of freedom (more so freedom from ourselves) writing this post on Wednesday night, and reminded again more specifically of the words themselves last week while I was putting together this article for Outlet Magazine. 75 years ago, in the midst of yet another world war (the speech was meant to help rally the American public against the threat of the Axis powers), this man had the strength and courage to speak up about the freedom that should be afforded to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD. And what really got me, still gets me, is how relevant those freedoms are, today maybe even more so than when they were first expressed.

Freedom of speech and expression: how many instances have we heard of in recent years where journalists have been made victims? Or even just regular every day people speaking out about their beliefs?

Freedom to worship god in your own way: how many people are persecuted and killed over religious differences, not just every day, but every hour?

Freedom from want: did you know that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the 3.5 BILLION poorest?

Freedom from fear: imagine living on constant fear of bombings, rape, drive by shootings, poverty, homelessness, abuse…

 

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The park itself is beautiful; from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s bright and colourful in summer, but it was another level of stunning in winter. You can visit any day except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, and you can take the cable car over – it’s a gorgeous view looking over the city on your way across. Everything about the island was perfect, from the decrepit old smallpox hospital to the modern design of the island by Louis Kahn, it is magnificent. It doesn’t get the attention of Central Park or The Empire State Building, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must visit in New York City. And while you’re there, take a moment of peace to appreciate how fortunate you are to have at least had the freedom to travel to such a beautiful place.

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Before I wrap this post up and we head to the weekend (yay!), I also just wanted to express my gratitude to all of the beautiful people who have stopped by and taken the time to leave a message after my re-introduction post on Wednesday night... It was hard to write and even harder to hit the POST IMMEDIATELY button; I expected that it wouldn’t have been for everyone and I may have lost a few followers. I never could have predicted the incredible outpouring of love and support I’ve received from this online community (and I’ve actually gained a few followers!), and I am so so grateful for it! Thank you all so much, from the bottom of my heart 😊🙏🏼❤️