Rising with the sun in Aka, Kerama Islands, Japan

Aka island was our second stop on Kerama Islands. We took a little ferry across from Zamami at around 5pm, which locals seem to be using as regular transport to and from work.

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Our host at the guesthouse picked us up with his van from the harbour and then drove very slowly. Turned out that the guesthouse was less than 5 minute walk away from the harbour, so in his own way he was trying to extend our little journey. We had a little overview of the ground rules at the guesthouse and also learnt that breakfast would be at 07.20am and dinner at 6.20pm. Clearly our first reactions was ‘No Way Jose!’, but when we discovered that there is no other place for breakfast and no place for dinner on the island, we decided to just go with the flow.

The dinner, even if at 6.20pm, was fabulous. Some chips to start with, which I was very happy of, and a large choice of Japanese food. Some tuna and octopus sashimi, salad with shrimps and goya, a local vegetable, and very interesting mix of tofu and minced meat.

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After the dinner we had a little trip to the local shop.

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If normally our hotels included an onsen or a hot bath, then the guesthouse in Aka literally had two baths outside under the stars. It was pretty amazing to relax there looking at the stars before cosying up in our small rooms to prepare to rise with the sun.

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Next morning at 7.20am I was there, slightly grumpy with pillow marks covering half of my face. The cheese and ham toastie with half a banana and just the right quantity of fruit juice cheered me up. I still think of that breakfast as one of my top meals in Japan.

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We walked to Nishihama beach, also encountering a Kerama deer, which is unique to the Kerama island group. Apparently there are 330 people and 170 deers on the island. The deers can also swim between close islands, which I find pretty cool.

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Nishihama beach has a great view of Zamami. The beach is a long stretch of white sand and hardly any people. I occupied myself with reading through the most recent Vogue, collecting sea shells and jumping into the waves. The snorkelling, as it seems to be almost everywhere on Kerama islands, was great.

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However, for the afternoon we had planned a kayaking trip to some difficult to reach snorkelling spots. We kayaked all the way to Geruma island, which is also accessible by a bridge. However, the area where we kayaked, does not have any roads. Hence why there was an abundance of most beautiful coral ever. And also little Nemo.

Early dinner once again and warming up in the baths, counting the stars and having a sneaking movie night, we were once again ready to wake up with the sun rise.

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Visiting Zamami, Kerama Islands in Okinawa, Japan

Cloudless skies, light blue seas, white sand beaches, untouched coral and thousands of fish are not quite what one would expect to see when travelling to Japan. However, that’s just what we got on Okinawa Islands. Worth to say that the beauty lies in the small untouched islands that surround the main island. Okinawa in itself is pretty built up and resembles more of a huge city rather than an island in the Pacific. So I would recommend staying as little as possible on the main island and then heading off to explore the smaller ones.

Okinawa is relatively easy to access, now also with low cost airlines Jetstar and Peach(if you’re into fruit) airlines, which I’d say are the equivalent of Easyjet in Europe. Flight from Tokyo takes 3 hours, flight from Osaka 2 hours.

After spending a day on the main island, we took a speedy 1h ferry Queen Zamami from Naha to the Kerama islands, which are 32km away from Okinawa. Queen Zamami is a very impressive boat, I was prepared to feel pretty ill due to the high waves, but the built of the vessel breaks the waves and makes the ride a lot smoother.

Our first stop was Zamami, which we soon discovered is a lot more advanced in infrastructure compared to other Kerama islands. It has some restaurants and even a regular bus to explore the island!

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Ama Beach

Between January and March it’s possible to spot some of the hundreds of humpback whales that migrate from Alaska for warmer breeding grounds. As we were too late for the whales, but just in time for good weather, most of our time was spent on two different beaches.

Furuzamami is approximately 1.6 km away from Zamami port. Getting there involves walking up a steeeeeeeep hill, so if you’re not up for that, perhaps just wait for the local bus or hitch a ride with a local like we did. There’s two stalls for hot food in the beach house and a wide selection of Japanese ice creams. Blue Seal’s Purple potato was my favourite. You can rent snorkelling gear and get a lovely yellow beach parasol to protect you from the vicious sun, or not.

Snorkelling there is excellent, just a few steps away from the beach gives you a view to hundreds of fish and some good quality coral, which is destroyed in so many parts of the world. Furuzamami is probably also the beach where all the other tourists (not that there are many) would be hanging out during the day, so if you want a bit more privacy, I recommend you walk beyond the black cliff on the right side of the beach. Long beach with no-one there can be found.

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Ama beach is the beach to spot turtles at. We didn’t see any unfortunately, but then again we didn’t really go for a swim there. What we did have was a wonderful walk along the beach, collecting sea shells and spotting at the sunset. if you walk a little further from Ama beach, you’ll reach a great viewing point specifically for the sunset and also for the whales during the whale watching season.

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Sunset in Zamami

Place to eat in Zamami is . It’s a bar restaurant, with a wide selection of dishes. It gave us an idea why Okinawans are supposedly one of the oldest living people on Earth. Although, I was told by one of the locals that it’s more true for women. The men enjoy the local drink , local sake, a little bit too much. Saying that though, awamori is tasty and shouldn’t be missed. Locals drink it with Shikuwasa juice, Okinawan lime juice.  

Place to eat in Zamami is La Toquee. It’s a bar restaurant, with a wide selection of dishes. It gave us an idea why Okinawans are supposedly one of the oldest living people on Earth. Although, I was told by one of the locals that it’s more true for women. The men enjoy the local drink Awamori, local sake, a little bit too much. Saying that though, awamori is tasty and shouldn’t be missed. Locals drink it with Shikuwasa juice, Okinawan lime juice.

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Our meal choice at La Toquee consisted of pork, local sea weed pancake with dried fish that moved (not joking!), some large shrimps with burger sauce and lots of raw fish. I’m sure this meal would add a few years to my life expectancy, if only I hadn’t topped it all off with some French Toast and Blue Seal ice cream.

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Next stop Aka Islands.

Few favourites’ in Tokyo, Japan

Japan for me has always seemed so far away. Strangely enough though, there is only Russia between my home country Estonia and Japan. Flying over the northern part of Russia and looking at landscape with no habitation at sight, mighty rivers curling the landscape and hundreds of miles of snow covered mountains glittering in early morning sun was an experience in itself.

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My first impression of Tokyo was that people were slightly behind in fashion and the metro seemed somewhat old school. 90ies trainers, ladies wearing key chains everywhere, old mobile phones (i.e.no Iphones) and so on. However, first impressions tend to be rather misleading and Tokyo has many different layers to uncover for any visitor.

Here are some things and places I’d recommend going to try and see when in Tokyo:

1. Ueno We stayed in Ueno area, which is centred with Tokyo University. Very calm, with a beautiful park full of temples and museums. The Skyliner train from the airport actually takes you to Ueno, so very easy to access as well. Definitely worth a visit if you have time and want to experience something more ‘local.’

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2. Matcha Latte As the ryokans seem to only serve green tea, I was longing for something more caffeinated. So I went to a very Western establishment, Starbucks, and got something completely Japanese – Matcha Latte. It was pretty amazing, so not complaining for the local tweaks that have been made.  Slightly sweet though, so do not overdose.

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3. Harajuku it seemed that anyone who wanted to look unique or peculiar or just fashionable would go and stroll along the streets of Harajuku. Funky shops, unique looks. Just go there and soak in the atmosphere. Have to say that I found streets off the main street most interesting. The shops and atmoshpere even made it feel a little like Manhattan Beach in LA.

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4. Golden Gai, Shinjuku is a small area full of tiny (and I mean tiny) bars owned by more of an arty crowd. We ended up it two bars and leaving only about 4am. To be honest, you could keep going longer if you wished, just in time to go an visit the famous Tsukiji fish market. In these few hours we ended up being squeezed in a bar with almost 20 people, which probably should have fit about 7; dance around with a bunch of South Korean girls and have a private concert by a Japanese musician, who turns out was one of the patrons of the first bar. All the bars also have the tiniest loos in the world, worth a visit.image

5. New York Grill, 59th Floor Park Hyatt Tokyo. To be honest, then this one I only recommend for the view. Even a little effort to go up there to see the view for a few minutes or have a little drink gives you a fantastic opportunity to see the gorgeous view of Tokyo.

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Cley-next-to-the-sea in Norfolk tropics

Easter bank holiday weekends in England tend to be a little bit grim, cloudy with a few showers here and there. Well, not in Norfolk they’re not. The two times I’ve been there over Easter, BBC Weather has always predicted rain and what we got is this:

imageCley-next-to-the-sea (pronounce it like ‘eye’) is probably one of the cutest villages I’ve even been to. Long walks along the sea side, cute places to stay and eat at make it the ultimate destination where to go for a bit of relax and fresh air. Previously we stayed at the Cley Windmill, however as it was booked this time, we ended up booking a room at the Old Town Hall House, and thank god we did as we loved it so much! The Town House is run by a wonderful couple Jennie and James. As it happens, James has the experience of working at three-Michelin-starred Lucas Carton in Paris, the Ritz and Le Pont de la Tour in London under his belt. Therefore he offers fabulous gourmet meals to both his guests and locals on Friday evening for as little as £30. It’s an absolute treat, served in an intimate dining room, where one can also get some tips on the area from locals. The Guardian also published a review on the Town House whilst we were there, which was discreetly displayed at the sitting room (read it here). Apparently, the whole village is buzzing about it..image

Just to tempt you a little bit, I’ve religiously photographed almost the full menu that night below:

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Fried poached hen egg, spinach & Iberico bellotta ham
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Saltmarsh lamb, Boulangere potatoes, sweetbreads, wild garlic, almonds & mint

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Bahibe chocolate tart, banana ice cream, peanuts & honeycomb .. and a little piece of gold!image

Chocolate truffles

The day can easily be spent in Cley by walking and walking and walking. We did a lot of walking trying to see the seals that basked out in the sun at Blakeney Point. I think the whole walk took us about 5 hours. It also helped that it was low tide in the afternoon, meaning that we didn’t have to walk on the shingle. If you do not like to walk as much as we do, there’s also an option of taking a boat tour to see the seals from Morston Quay.

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It was quite a relief to get back to Cley over the marshes, the familiar windmill greeting us back. Famished as we were. To satisfy our appetite, we went to the Dun Cow in Salthouse, where the Old Wild Rovers sing some wonderful sailor tunes to fundraise for local charities. The food there is simple, but just what you’ll like after a very long walk.

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An excellent tip we got from locals on Friday night was to go to King’s Head at Letheringsett. Beautifully decorated with different rooms, fireplace and sun beaming in through the windows, it was a great place to wrap up our trip. With some more food. The staff were very friendly. I wonder whether everyone in Norfolk is so friendly.image

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imageIf you ever think of an area to explore in the UK, then Norfolk is a great option. Places I’d also recommend to visit are Burnham Market and Holt, two cute cities and I hear that Holkham beach is one of the most beautiful beaches there.

I heart London Sample Sales

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I don’t know how it took me so long, but last year in some point I discovered the world of London sample sales. There are quite a few and some are better than others, but it definitely satisfies both the shopaholic and bargain hunter in a few of us. It doesn’t help either that often they’re near my office. It’s great to own a few pieces of clothing or shoes, which otherwise would not be affordable.

The best source for sample sales is Time Out. However I have few times heard about them from friends who have found a discreet note in a newspaper.

My most satisfying purchases are my dandy slippers by Penelope Chilvers and high heeled boots by Charlotte Olympia. And thank god, even my husband said these are shoes worth talking about.

There is the danger to buy things one never uses and there is a danger to be stuck in a crowd of girls fighting over a pair of shoes. Thankfully it has never happened to me so far and well, I consider one good buy a success.

My little sample sales tips for you:
– Try to go at odd times, i.e. not straight after work or during lunch time
– Don’t buy something as it’s just there, look around, there’s plenty of sample sales, so just get the items you really love
– Sometimes it’s worth to bargain a little more.

What are your experiences?