All posts by melodylamoureux

I am 29, mom to a French Bulldog and a registered nurse.

My Hometown: Hong Kong

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It was 2013 (the year before my wedding) I went home with my mom.  We went in September and it was still unbearably hot and humid.  We were only there for about a week.  We had tickets to a Jay Chou concert at the Coliseum.  Hong Kong had changed so much from what I remembered.

I love “Chinese Breakfast” – it is cheap and delicious!  For less than $10 CAD, you can have a delicious and filling breakfast special to start the day.  It may not be the healthiest…but I love it.  “Chinese Breakfast” : Milk Tea, instant noodles with spam and eggs, congee, rice rolls…

Wong Tai Sin Temple – the most popular temple in Hong Kong!  I think it is the most popular because it had been around the longest, thus, most “effective” in getting what you wish for.  Worshipers bring incense sticks and offerings like chicken, roast pork and fruit to ask for good luck and spiritual advice. Most people seek advice on job matters, fortune and marriage.

Kau Chim (求籤) – a fortune telling practice that originated in China, in which the querent (person asking the question) requests answers from a sacred oracle lot.  To read about how it works: Kau Chim

My cousin in Hong Kong worked at this Ramen restaurant and she treated us to some delicious ramen!  The marinated egg in ramen is one of my favourite toppings…this was the best marinated egg I ever had (even after having Ramen in Japan, I never came across another egg that good…)  Here is a really good recipe/instructions on how to make it: Ramen Egg

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I came across this Syphon Coffee pot at a cafe inside a shopping centre…I had no idea what it was back then.  My trip to Copenhagen in 2016 (read about it in my other post) that was my first exposure to this wonderful way of making coffee…  I came home and purchased a Hario Syphon Coffee Pot.  Making coffee using the Syphon Coffee pot takes more time and effort than using a French Press or the Pour over method.  When my friends come over for coffee, they couldn’t understand why I would revert to making coffee the slow way…  I like to take time to make things that I enjoy.  The problem with instant gratification is that rewarding feeling disappears as quickly as it appeared.   To read more about the Syphon Coffee Pot: The History of the Siphon Pot

The Jay Chou concert!  I think this was the first concert I ever been to with my mom and my first concert in Hong Kong.  There were 9 shows and they were all sold out!  My uncle in Hong Kong manage to get us two tickets.  They were giving out these giant glow sticks at the door and we each got two!  We had really good seats inside and I was ecstatic!  My mom though…her jet lag was catching up and she was getting really sleepy before the concert start…I am pretty sure at one point she nodded off…haha  My mom got her second wind half way into the concert, she got really into it and was waving those giant glow sticks cheering like a little fan girl…until she accidentally hit the head of the person sitting in front of her.

The day after the concert, mom and I went out shopping and we were in this really dingy shopping centre.  I was in this store looking at instax mini films when Jay Chou walked in!! (Insert Scream Face Emoji)  I was completely clueless…I was only a couple feet away from him! (Mom alerted me after the fact as he was walking out of the store with his many many assistances…  I can’t believe I was in the same store with Jay Chou! I mean…what are the chances? Hong Kong have 7 million people!  I was too shocked to react and didn’t get a chance to say “Hello, I came all the way from Canada for your concert last night!” (Other people got word that he was in the area shopping and the paparazzi and fan girls started showing up and chasing him out the building >.<) The night before Josh was joking about how he hope that I don’t meet Jay Chou because he would fall in love with me and I would become Mrs. Chou instead of Mrs. Lamoureux!  The next day I emailed him and told him how I ACTUALLY ran into him…Josh didn’t believe me until I show him the photos.

 

“Dai Pai Dongs” – Hong Kong Street Foods

I love eating at “Dai Pai Dongs” even though the surroundings look very unsanitary.  I think if you are use to eating at unsanitary places, your gut flora will just adjust and eventually you will have a stomach of steel immune to food poisoning.  To read more about where to go for Hong Kong Street Foods: Dai Pai Dongs

 

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Osaka, Japan – Part 2

I loved Kyoto, It was my favourite part of the trip to Japan this time.  We rented Kimonos and took some photos around the studio.  If we had more time, we would’ve wore them around to the touristy sites like all other tourists walking around old japan.

Being in Kansai, naturally, we have to go to Nara to see the Deers.  We got some deer crackers for 5 dollars to feed the deers.  My favourite is the photo in which the deers looked like they were lining up to buy their own deer crackers! Haha.  The deers bow for their crackers, (I love the Japanese disciplined culture, even their animals are more polite than some human beings I know)

After the park and more sightseeing, we stop for lunch at this Soba noodle place.  It was delicious.  It was a fairly warm day, perfect for cold Soba noodles but I really wanted to try their specialty hot soba so I got that one instead (first world problems…I should’ve gotten both!)

The next part of our adventure is the infamous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.  I couldn’t possibly leave Kyoto without visiting this place.  The photos don’t do it justice, there is a serene feel that you can only experience when you are there (among all the tourists! haha)  Even though there were soooo many people, I enjoyed the walk and the surroundings.  Some people travel to see and do things in places in search of solitude, I like to travel to touristy destinations to do touristy things like snapping selfies and eating the most popular food!

Osaka, Japan – Part 1

A Night in Narita Airport

Because Air Canada is one of the worst airline ever (I have never had a positive experience flying with them) – especially their international flights.  Our schedule was changed and we were not able to make our connecting flight into Osaka (even though I had booked my flight 3 months ahead, the schedule changed resulted in us spending a full day in Narita Airport)  The only positive about staying the night in an airport is that Narita Airport is home to my favourite stationery store Traveler’s Factory

We stayed at 9hr Capsule Hotel It was the first time I have ever stayed in the much hyped “Capsule” style hotel in Japan.  When I was in Tokyo a couple of years ago, I wanted to try it but did not end up doing it.  The capsule pod was quite “roomy” – clean and neat.  I had earplugs so the noise of people coming in and out or their phone alarms going off did not bother me.  The pods don’t have lock doors (it is illegal to have capsule hotel rooms locked apparently)  I felt safe anyways and my luggage were locked up in lockers just outside.

We had Kaiseki style lunch that was delicious.  I think Kaiseki is my new favorite cuisine. My brother spent a lot of time browsing through the rows of Gachapon machines trying his luck.  I got some postcards, stickers and pins from a store that carry a lot of Yoshitomo Nara items (one of my favourite artists)

We had some sushi in a restaurant by the observation deck of Narita Airport, it was chilly and damp with some drizzling, but I went outside and saw planes take off.  The sound and the wind…it gave me this indescribable feeling…that makes me excited to watch the next plane take off, again and again.

Our luck with airplanes turned around when we surprisingly got upgraded to First Class with ANA on our flight to Osaka.  The flight time was only about an hour (I wish it was longer!) There was a bit of a delay which was alright with me because I got to lie down to have a nap.

Our AirBnB Apartment in Osaka

We stayed at an Airbnb apartment in Osaka for my trip to Japan this time. The apartment was small and minimalistic. The kind of apartment that a single person could afford in order to live in Japan. It was nearby a grocery store but on a quiet street with little traffic. We picked up the key at the apartment mailbox (we did not have to meet the host) It was like fulfilling a small dream of living in Japan in my own little apartment for 10 days.

I was told by my Penpals that the weather in March can be unsettling. We got lucky and the weather was very comfortable. It was cool in the morning and evenings but sunny and fair during the day. It only rained on the last day we were there (I like to think that was because Japan was sad that I was leaving…the same thing happened last time when I was in Europe, It rained on the last day of my trip)

Our first day in Osaka we walked around the Namba area and ate some yummy food.  We had more sushi with grilling our own fresh shellfish (razor clams, surf clams, giant scallops…) Eating Takoyakis and Fried Chicken walking around browsing at all the shops along the way.

Osaka Specialty: Rikuro Ojisan’s Fresh Baked Jiggly Cheesecake 

When I read about it on a Foodie’s blog, I had to have this Jiggly Cheesecake.  I was lucky enough to get a number before it was sold out for the hour.  I tried eating the whole thing myself because my brother wouldn’t share it with me (I managed a good portion of it).  At the bottom of the cake are raisons.

Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) in Kyoto was on my bucket list of places to visit.  Kyoto and its historical Japanese sights were my favourite part of my trip to Japan.    The thousands of Torii gates (鳥居) were beautiful to walk under.  I also found out that my favourite Kitsune Udon is actually “Fox Udon” That sweet piece of fried tofu in my Kitsune Udon that I love so much is a treat favoured by the Foxes (Kitsune) – the messengers of Inari (the God of Rice) The Foxes are everywhere through out the Shrine, Inari’s Foxes were generally considered helpful but they have also been said to bewitch people.  My brother wanted to come back here at night to see if those stories were true.

At Fushimi Inari, I got a Omikuji – #18 – a blessing, so I took it home with me.  I can understand some of the Kanji characters but other than that I kindly asked my Japanese Penpal to translate it for me.  My favourite thing to do at Shrines and Temples is to get my fortune from shaking the wooden box.  I even got a miniature keychain version that I carry around with me…

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We spent the night in Kyoto at Watazen Ryokan near the Fish Market.  It was a lovely Ryokan in central Kyoto that did not cost a fortune compared to many other ones that I was looking at.  Another thing checked off my bucket list was to stay in a Ryokan so I was happy.  We were greeted warmly by the reception staff (a friendly and kind looking Japanese man with grey hair) – there was a wooden box (the same one you get a Omikuji from) to shake for a “welcome gift” – I drew and won some oil blotting paper, so did my brother so he gave me his as well.

The man at the reception took us to our room and a “housemaid” came in shortly after to greet us and showed us where things were kept and some housekeeping rules.  I took the robes out of the closet to wear to use their public onsen.  My brother tried to put the bedding together before we head out to get dinner (there were so many different sheets it got too complicated so we gave up)  When we got back, the housemaid had made the beds for us and put water in the kettle for us to have hot tea.  We watched some Sumo wrestling on TV (it was the week of Sumo tournament in Osaka, sadly we could not get advance tickets to go and did not have the time to get up early for rush seating)

We head out near the Gion (祇園) district at night for dinner.  We finally found this restaurant that we read about that serves traditional Kaiseki Kyoto Dinner (what we did not realize and with the poor communication…the restaurant was near closing time and they only had one set dinner left in which my brother and I ended up having to share this small meal – and we were starving)

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After our delicious but small meal, we headed down to Gion (street) to see if we can see any Geisha but of course it was already too late in the night and most of them are already at work.  We walked by few nice tea houses and just saw a bunch of other tourists with cameras in hand like myself.

Before heading back to our Ryokan, we were hungry again because we had to share our last meal.  We stopped by a place that serves Tonkatsu.

March was too early for viewing Cherry Blossoms, Ume Blossoms (梅)  were just as beautiful even though it is not as popular as Hanami.  Also, Ume Blossoms symbolizes three things: Beginning of Spring, Protection, and Spirit of Health.  Ume trees were planted in the past to ward off demons and evils.

Being an avid manga reader, The Kyoto International Manga Museum was on my list of places to visit.  There is a cafe there where famous Mangaka visits and drew on the wall.  The food was fun to look at but not very good to eat.

After the museum, we walked over to Nijo Castle (二条城, Nijōjō) – a UNESCO heritage site.  Built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867).  We had a tour and saw how grand the residence looked inside the Ninomaru Palace.

I have been to numerous temples and shrines throughout my travels in China and Japan. When I was at the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (清水寺), I felt a strange curiosity and eagerness to learn more about Buddhism (It was kinda creepy actually).  Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)  and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

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My brother and I unknowingly wandered toward the “Love Stone” –  the Jishu Shrine located above the main hall of Kiyomizu-dera; dedicated to Okuninushi, a god of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two love stones 18 meters apart.  Legend says that if you can find your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed (no cheating) you will find true love.  The place was PACKED with giggly women looking for true love.

I also stopped by here, Koyasu No To pagoda

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My first Solo Travel Experience: Amsterdam

I love big cities, I was born in Hong Kong and my fondest memories of Christmases were from my childhood of being out and about taking in all the beautifully decorated skyscrapers and festivities.  There were fireworks, outdoor concerts/performances and game shows.   Something fun is always just around the corner.  When I decided that I want to see Europe because I have never been there I had my mind set on a vibrant and fun city with lots of art and good food.  I am not a thrill-seeker.  “Exotic” places in nature (such as riding a camel in the desert or an elephant in the safari) doesn’t really appeal to me.  I had to decide on a relatively safe place to travel to because I was going by myself.

I was reading “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living”  and after learning that Denmark was ranked the Happiest Country in the World that year, I wanted to go there.  I decided on Copenhagen – the capital city of Denmark.  I would have a stopover in Amsterdam so a teeny lightbulb went off in my head and planned a few days in Amsterdam as well.  When Josh came home, I told him I had booked my flights and hotel for my trip.  We had talked about me travelling on my own but I think he might have been a little surprised that I actually just went ahead and booked the trip.

Learning from my previous mistakes of flying with Air Canada, I flew with KLM direct to Amsterdam from Calgary which meant my luggage never got lost and my flight did not get delayed and the flight attendants were not miserable and condescending.  Also, I have this natural “talent” for falling asleep on flights as long as I have ear plugs in to drown out the crying toddlers.

After missing my train on one platform and having to navigate to several other platforms and trying to figure out which train to take into the city (it was like playing frogger) I finally made it to my hotel around noon time.  I stayed at “Motel One Amsterdam” – a chain of “hip” budget hotels in Europe.  I highly recommend it!  It was in a quiet area (not city centre) but only a 15 minute tram ride into centrum. I was able to check in early before 3 pm which meant I could have a shower and a power nap before going out exploring.  Perks of travelling alone: nap whenever I want and go out whenever I want.

 

After my shower and nap, I felt refreshed and excited – ready to explore.  I thought taking the canal cruise would be the best way to get acquainted with the area and relax.  The weather was perfect, sunny with a warm breeze…  The cruise was relaxing as expected…in fact, it was so relaxing that I fell asleep 15 minutes in…  My first thought as I climb into the boat was that I wish Joshua was here with me.  My first day in Amsterdam was filled with pangs of missing Joshua and wishing that he was there with me to share my awe moments as I trudge along the beautiful streets of Amsterdam and feast my eyes on amazing art in museums.  I thought about how romantic it would be to sit on the same bench where Hazel and Gus sat (from The Fault in Our Stars)…and not have one of us die.  I didn’t plan on doing a whole lot my first day in Amsterdam, I followed the tourist maps/recommendations and came across the MOCO Museum where I saw a line up outside.  I was ecstatic that they had a Banksy and Warhol exhibition running!    Interestingly, the second day came and those anxious feelings and missing Joshua went away rather quickly…

 

On my second day, I visited the three major museums in Museumplein (the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum)  It is indeed an art lover’s paradise.  I learned that for me, art museums are something to be enjoyed in solitude.  I can take as much or as little time in learning about what interests me without worrying about taking up other people’s valuable time.

 

The night before, I would make a plan – a list of places I want to visit for the following day.  And every morning, I would have a croissant and coffee while I read about the local news.

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One of my favourite travel quotes:

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.” — Freya Stark

Some mornings I wake up a little confused and disoriented…  And then I realized I am not home.  When my brain reorientate to where I am, that sudden realization is one of the best feelings in the world.

One of the negatives of travelling alone is not being able to order a variety of food to try at restaurants.  The positive?  Eating whatever and whenever (preferable before I get hangry) Another positive is not having to wait for a table, the busiest of restaurants (like this popular seafood restaurant was packed) and it was not at all difficult to seat one person at the bar.  The great thing about being seated at the bar?  People watching the handsome bartenders and chefs.

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Those were the most delicious razor clams I ever had…and to the right is a bowl of lobster bisque.

 

I love Gouda…and I could not possibly leave Amsterdam without smuggling some Gouda back to Canada…

I don’t remember exactly when or how I started my mini bottle collection but since then I always bring home mini bottles from my travels.  Go to this link to read about the History of the delft blue houses

One of the highlights of my trip was finding these KLM mini bottles at a market for cheap!  Earlier in the day, I bought a couple from this place but they were 20 Euros each!  (I bit the bullet and shelled out the money for it but later I came across this market and haggled…and got a few more bottles for only 6 – 7 Euros!)

 

I have to admit that I am very easily drawn to the most “Touristy” attractions of a big city.    I went to the Tulip museum (they actually had seeds that were pre-approved by customs to bring back to Canada)  I kind of regretted not getting some when I was there.  I did the tasting tour at the Heineken Brewery (I made my own Heineken bottle with my name on it – it is in my bottle collection)

 

The Rembrandt House Museum – I was in awe to see where the master worked and taught his pupils…

 

Sadly, I did not get to go into Anne Frank’s House (during the summer peak season, the advance ticket purchasers still have to wait at least 2 hours in line to get in to the museum!)  I did not want to spend my time waiting in line…I did walk by and took a photo of the building from the outside.  I felt that I could appreciate the story and the history lesson without having to step inside.

After a few days in the busy city, I took a day trip to Muiden.  I never been to a medieval castle before…  Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot’s legacy dates all the way back to 1280 when Count Floris V commissioned the construction of a stone fortress on the grounds.  I loved the garden there and spend an hour just taking photos of the flowers in bloom.

 

 

I loved Amsterdam, and the list of things I love about it is very long.  One of them are the Frenchies of Amsterdam.  Trudging down beautiful cobbled streets, I came across many Frenchies out and about!  Everytime I saw one, I miss my Darwin!  Read this article about the Rise of the French Bulldogs in Amsterdam

 

How I decided to try traveling on my own

It is a cold and snowy afternoon…my French Bulldog is curled up snoring lightly on my lap and I am leaning over him to type this blog post.  My back is going to be so sore after I am done.  I want to try and blog more in 2018.  Documenting my love for art, travel and books.

 

I married in 2014, my husband and I have been together for ten years this February.  Two years after we married, we were fairly happy with how successful we have been at “adult-ting” – paid off our student debts, work steady jobs, bought a new house, a new car, a French Bulldog and ready to start a family.  However, trying to have a baby turn out to be taking much longer and more difficult than we had anticipated.  I am a fairly patient individual…I think I have to thank working in mental health nursing for that.  When I found out that having a baby was going to take a lot more patience and time, I thought about what else I could do with our disposable income instead of just blowing it all on designer purses.

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When I was in Nursing school, I thought about travel nursing when I graduated.  So I thought travelling overseas on my own would be an interesting experience to have before I turn 30.  After reading some travel blogs and articles on how the modern “Solo Female Traveller” is “trending”…I booked a trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen in the summer of 2016.  Made popular by movies like “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild” – the Solo Female Traveler persona seems to centre around “finding yourself” and “stepping out of your comfort zones and learning about yourself”.  Wonderful, I thought.  Now I am going to have people asking me why I am not going on vacation with my husband or if I am having a crisis turning 30.  Those that are close to me know that I care minimally about what other people think of me.  My feelings around having to “explain myself” to people could be an entirely different blog post for another time – which is never.

I want to acknowledge I am very lucky to have a husband that supports me in pursuing my interests and travels.  He trusts me to travel alone and not fall in love with another tall blonde European bus driver while abroad.  With some reservation, a mix of anxiety and excitement, I packed my yellow Kanken backpack (like all hipster travelers) with my new camera and Traveler’s notebook for this new adventure.