Dining Out: Alandalus (Morocco & Spain)

The country of Morocco is one that fascinates many, particularly Europeans, who often see it as the easy option when it comes to stepping onto a different continent. With it being just 14.3 km away from Spain at its closest point, it’s very convenient for Europeans to take a quick ferry over to experience a taste of north Africa.

Alandalus is a Moroccan and Spanish restaurant which I came across whilst visiting family nearby. It is just a few minutes walk away from Ekoda station on the Seibu Ikubukuro line and I recently dropped in to quite literally get a taste of some Moroccan cuisine. 

IMG_6264 IMG_6261

Back in January 2010 I went on a short trip to Seville in the south of Spain and Tangiers and the blue mountain town of Chefchaoeun in the north of Morocco so in a way this was the perfect restaurant for myself. I consumed some lovely local food in the latter and so was keen to re-experience some of it at this restaurant.

IMG_6249 IMG_6250

My visit was during lunch where there are about nine Moroccan and nine Spanish sets on offer at 1200 yen and 1100 yen respectively. A varied range of Tapas dishes are also available but my focus was on the tajine dishes. For those unaware tajine is a stew of sorts cooked slowly in a clay pot. There are six different types available at lunch including ternera, pollo, albondiga, verduras, boquerones and bacalao and if you know what they all mean then you’re a better person than me! Basically they’re a mix of meats, vegetables, fish and fruit! Yes, that’s right, fruit is used in tajine particularly olives.

I plumped for the first one on the menu as that’s often the most authentic one. Tajine ternera was accompanied by a healthy-sized salad, bread and a pot of mint tea and once it had cooled down to my liking, the main dish provided a very distinctive fruity taste which was very nice.

IMG_6245 IMG_6254 IMG_6256 IMG_6247

This dual-nationality restaurant, which is situated on the second floor overlooking a busy crossroads, is fairly sizeable by Tokyo standards and has two sides to it with the kitchen and bar side (as well as some seating in what, to my untrained eye, looks more Spanish in style!) on the left as you enter at the top of the stairs. Take the door on your right and it opens up into a spacious open-plan dining area decorated with the kinds of Spanish and Moroccan paraphernalia which makes such a place seem more authentic.

IMG_6246 IMG_6260 IMG_6257 IMG_6259

No doubt I will return to these place with my wife in tow the next time we visit some of her family in the area. Hopefully one day we’ll also visit Morocco itself as I’m very keen to visit Marrakech as well as Ouarzazete which is one of the world’s premiere filming locations that has featured in countless number of films albeit usually doubling up for a “dangerous” Middle-East location.

Alandalus is located at 1-75-1-2F (Takishima Building) AsahigaokaNerima-ku. 

Posted in Food & Drink | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TF Flashback – Christmas In Fukuoka (2005)

When my wife and I went to Kyushu in Golden Week (end of April/start of May) earlier this year it wasn’t actually my first trip to the most southwesterly main island of Japan. As the title implies, I visited Fukuoka on the northern shore of the island to spend a few days with Yoshiteru (Teru); a guy who I knew quite well from our days together in Perth, Australia (2001).

After only 90 minutes sleep I had to get up at 3.45am to take a 6.25am flight from Haneda Airport to Fukuoka; the capital city of Fukuoka prefecture. With a baby screaming most of the way I wasn’t feeling too awake when I met Teru (for the first time in four years!) at 9am having transferred to Gion on my arrival but thankfully I was able to sleep for a bit at his apartment before getting out to see the local area.

First up was Kushida-jinja Shrine in Hakata-ku followed by the Ramen Stadium; a typically Japanese-English name for a mall possessing many ramen restaurants selling the delicious local-style Hakata ramen which still remains one of my favourites when it comes to these fine noodles in a soup broth. A look around town, drinks and pool was how we spent the rest of the day.

untitled  untitled untitled untitled

The following day was Christmas Eve and in the afternoon we took a train to Karatsu in Saga prefecture to see Karatsu-jo castle. The castle, which was originally built in the early 17th century, stands beside the coastal scenery of Karatsu Bay and is a little unusual as it’s stonework rises directly out of the water, using the ocean as a natural moat. The views from the top and all around were pretty impressive and afterwards we took a forest walk which included a stop along the way to purchase what was billed as the special Karatsu burger!

untitled untitled untitled untitled untitleduntitled

We went to a nearby restaurant at night for a few quiet beers and some fish. However, a couple of his female friends turned up which resulted in us going to karaoke till 5am! We didn’t rise till 1.30pm on Christmas Day which is late, even by my standards! I went to Shofukji temple near his house by myself and then to Dazaifu (about a 30 minute train ride away) with Teru, I remember putting 2000 yen on my phone card (this was in pre-Skype and wi-fi days!) to try and call home but it didn’t work! It was a strange feeling walking around this city and it taught me that in the future I would need to keep myself much busier if away from Britain at Christmas!

untitled untitleduntitled untitled

In the evening we went for a few drinks at some Christmas party in Tenjin (the downtown region of the city) not that we were really in the mood thanks to the exertions of the previous night! The following morning I left on a bus at 9.20am as I headed on to Hiroshima where my travels around Japan continued. It would be my first time to visit the famous city but certainly not my last!

So that’s how I spent Christmas in 2005 and whilst I enjoyed seeing a different city and meeting up with an old friend I didn’t really take to spending the festive season in Japan and have subsequently never been here for Christmas since! However, now I’m married that will no doubt change in the next year or two!

Posted in Japan Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tokyo Daytripper: Yamate Area In Yokohama

Whilst spending a couple of nights in Yokohama recently my wife and I spent our one free day wandering the Yamate area following an all-you-can-eat Chinese lunch in Chinatown. As my wife had never been to Chinatown, that was the main reason for the getaway but a walk was very much in need afterwards.

Just east of Chinatown through the Yamate tunnel on the left are the hills of this historic area known as The Bluff. It features some well-preserved residences from former periods of Japanese history when Westerners settled in the area which was  one of only a few port towns where foreign traders were allowed to reside. Japan had long been an isolated country closed off from the rest of the world and so in the 1850’s there were some overseas traders looking to profit from the newly opened country.

We started off at Yamate Park and the first old residence was Bluff No. 68 (below left) which stands across from the Yamate Museum of Tennis. Thankfully its free to enter the house not that there’s that much to see! This time of year is supposed to be the best though as these big houses (by Japanese standards!) recreate the Christmas of countries around the world and possess the traditional dishes and sweets of the country being represented.

IMG_6289 IMG_6292

There’s something Spanish in the style of Berrick Hall (above right); the largest Western residence in Yamate which was built in 1930.

Located on the edge of Motomachi Park is the Ehrismann Residence (below left) which was the next place we saw and was originally built in 1926 though it did get relocated in 1990 to where it stands now. It was built for a Swiss businessman and among it’s rooms are a sun room and a drawing room!

IMG_6293 IMG_6294

Yamate has many parks, museums and other western-style buildings and is a nice scenic break from the more popular areas of Yokohama. Other sightseeing spots like an old wooden style phone box, a church, international schools and restaurants  indicate the presence of western residents over the last hundred years or so.

IMG_6296 IMG_6297

The green wooden western-style building nearby is the last remaining one of its kind and was built in 1909 (200 yen entry).

IMG_6298 IMG_6299

Bluff No. 234 wasn’t too far away and was built for four tenants to live in with the two storey building including four identical apartments. This one was built shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and there’s a restaurant in the neighbouring building.

IMG_6295 IMG_6300

We wandered on by the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery (without going in) but as it was cold and getting dark we decided to cut through America-yama Park to the European feeling Motomachi shopping street running parallel to the Nakamura River. Once I’d finally managed to drag my wife away from the fashion shops we rounded off the evening by strolling along Yamashita Park which is famed for its beautiful waterfront views of the Port of Yokohama.

Posted in Japan Travel, Tokyo Daytripper: | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TF Top 10……Films Set Around Christmas!

It’s Christmas time and holiday cheer is very much on the horizon which often involves people watching classic festive films like ‘Scrooge‘, ‘A Christmas Carol‘, ‘Santa Clause: The Movie‘, erm ‘Jingle All The Way‘ or many of the special TV episodes filmed for this time of the year.

Others like ‘Home Alone‘ (1990), ‘Die Hard‘ (1988), ‘Gremlins‘ (1984) and ‘Lethal Weapon‘ (1987) which are just set during the Christmas season are also popular choices so I have delved into the Tokyo Fox archives to find some movies (of course ones that I have been to some filming locations of!) with seasonal connections whether it be a major one or a really tenuous link!

So here then, in no particular order, is the TF top 10……

1. In Bruges (2008) – Certainly not the first one that comes to mind when you think of films taking place at Christmas! Two Irish hit-men hide out in Belgium during the holiday season not that it’s at all important to the storyline. The woman at the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel, where they stay, is doing something with the Christmas tree in one scene and their angry boss, Ralph Fiennes, shouts at his wife in front of their tree and kids in another.

Dec2010-Jan2011 409 Dec2010-Jan2011 377

2. Ghostbuster II (1989) – The sequel is set in New York City during the Christmas period and culminates on New Years Eve as a crowd of locals sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. A Christmas tree is visible during at least one scene and I guess one other festive link this has is that it was made (according to some critics!) to sell toys at Christmas time!

P1010316 ghostbustersfirehouse

3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – This Stanley Kubrick-directed erotic thriller is not your traditional Christmas film in any way! It opens at a big Christmas party before  Tom Cruise’s jealous character goes on a sexual odyssey so that he can feel equal to his cheating wife. However, not all is straight forward as he soon witnesses a secret sex society and people begin dying. It’s lacking in festive tunes and the common joviality shown by many at that time of the year. Christmas trees can be seen throughout as London doubles up for New York in holiday season.

Dec2010-Jan2011 186 Dec2010-Jan2011 044

4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – In his one and only appearance as James Bond, George Lazenby takes the reins of the double agent in the sixth 007 movie. Part of the film takes place at Grindelwald in Switzerland during the Christmas season snow is all around. Festive connections include a Christmas tree at the Piz Gloria clinic, presents for the ladies and there’s even a Christmas song called “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown.”

Dec2010-Jan2011 157 Schilthorn-03_main

5. Love Actually (2003) – By far the most festive film in this list as a large group of inter-related people are followed for the five weeks leading up to Christmas, exploring their various love-states. An all-star cast take part in this feel-good film.

Dec2010-Jan2011 205 DSC07360

6. About A Boy (2002) – Bachelor Will (Hugh Grant) has no job and doesn’t need to have one as he can just live off the royalties of “Santa’s Super Sleigh”; a Christmas song his father composed in the past. Towards the end of the film we see Will hosting a Christmas gathering at his place with his new extended support system.

Dec2010-Jan2011 433 Christmas trip 2011-2012 423

7. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – Thirty-something singleton Bridget is introduced to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at her parents’ Christmas party and is not impressed. He’s snooty and wears Christmas jumpers but as we know that eventually changes over time among several pivotal holiday-themed/snow scenes.

Christmas trip 2011-2012 099 Dec2010-Jan2011 127

8. The English Patient (1996) – A Hungarian cartographer choosing to maintain the assumption by others that he is an Englishman is badly burned in a plane crash during World War II and relays parts of his past via flashbacks and one of these includes a Christmas party scene where amidst a chorus of Silent Night, Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is seduced by Almásy (Ralph Fiennes).

Euro-Trip 2010 028 Tunisia Aug '09 072

9. When Harry Met Sally (1989) – Several Christmas and New Year’s-related scenes take place in this romantic comedy which spans over 15 years.

P1010450  P1010451

10. I am Legend (2007) – A viral outbreak occurs on Christmas Eve 2009 in Manhattan, and quickly spreads across the world. The epidemic seemingly begins in the lead up to the Christmas season and festive decorations can be seen throughout the early parts of this Will Smith movie.

P1010452 P1010344

Bonus: The Bourne Identity (2002) – Remember when Bourne and Marie seeked refuge in the French countryside? Well, they go to stay at her stepbrother’s place where Bourne notices the Christmas lights are still on. That sign of recent occupancy tells him that they have to leave before the owners return. It is also snowing throughout most of the film which is usually a good indication that it’s the holiday season.

Posted in Movie Locations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TF Top 10……Movies Filmed In Central America

Before I went travelling around Central America during the Christmas and New Years holiday of 2012/2013 I spent the months before preparing as only I do! Forget internet research and thumbing through guidebooks, for my work beforehand is often all about watching movies (and TV shows) filmed in that part of the world. Thankfully there were just about ten of them which makes it perfect for a Tokyo Fox top 10 listings feature; the perfect aid for anyone going or thinking of going to Central America.

This area, sandwiched between North and South America, possesses seven countries (eight if you include the southern part of Mexico as is often the case) of which five feature here. Sorry but I don’t know of any western productions being shot in Honduras or El Salvador!

Here then, in no particular order, are the Tokyo Fox top 10 movies filmed in Central America…

1. Nicaragua – ‘Carla’s Song‘ (1996): Robert Carlyle leaves Glasgow behind to go to war-torn Nicaragua to help Carla search for her past. Estelí; the third largest city in Nicaragua is where a lot of those scenes were filmed. It is 150km north of capital city Managua.

2. Belize -‘The Mosquito Coast‘ (1986): Based on the novel of the same name, this tells the story of a family leaving the USA in the hope of finding a happier, simpler life in the jungle but things don’t quite go to plan. Hotel Mona Lisa on the south side of Haulover Creek in Belize City was one of the filming locations.

3. Belize – ‘The Dogs Of War‘ (1980): This one is also based on a novel and is about a small, international unit of mercenary soldiers privately hired to depose of the President of a fictional West African country so that a British tycoon can gain access to vast mines of platinum. The movie was shot in Belize City and the Chateau Caribbean hotel was where Christopher Walken’s character stayed upon his arrival.

4. Guatemala – ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope‘ (1977): The rebel base where Luke Skywalker and co launch their attack to destroy the Death Star and save their people from Darth Vader’s grasp was shot in Tikal. It gets only 13 seconds of screen time and features the Millennium Falcon flying over Yavin 4 which is overseen by a rebel standing on top of Temple IV in the western part of the national park. More details here.

Screen Shot 2012-04-20 at 15.33.50 Screen Shot 2012-04-20 at 15.34.19

5. Guatemala – ‘Moonraker‘ (1979): Tikal features again on screen but this time only for three seconds! 007 travels through the Amazon in search of villain Hugo Drax’s lair, encountering Jaws and other henchmen along the way, before he discovers it supposedly at Temple I of Gran Plaza. More details here.

Screen Shot 2012-08-26 at 20.05.16

6. Panama – ‘Quantum Of Solace‘ (2008): Due to its diversity Panama doubled up for both Bolivia and Haiti. Colon at the Caribbean end of the Canal represents Port Au Prince in the latter and Casco Viejo in Panama City fills in for Bolivia. The ruins of the Old Union Club were revamped for villain Dominic Greene’s party. More details here.

Screen Shot 2012-09-30 at 21.16.52 Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 21.32.00

7. Panama – ‘The Tailor Of Panama‘ (2001): Another 007 connection for Panama with Pierce Brosnan playing a far seedier agent than Bond. Filming took place in the picturesque old town of Casco Viejo, the lobby and bar of The Marriott Hotel and Gatun Lake. More details here.

8. Panama – ‘Contraband‘ (2012): To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills in this action crime thriller. The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal and the  local neighbourhood known as El Chorillo featured in the filming. The latter is an impoverished area within Panama City where some of the more salacious scenes take place.

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 09.31.22 Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 09.32.25

9. Costa Rica – ‘Spy Kids 2: Island Of Lost Dreams‘ (2002): The artificial Arenal Lake which is situated in the northern highlands was one of the locations used in this sequel production along with Manuel Antonio National Park. Known for its beautiful beaches and hiking trails this impressive landscape has white sand beaches, lush foliage, great mountains and tropical forests which made it a prime area to film this sci-fi family adventure film.

10. Costa Rica – ‘1492: Conquest Of Paradise‘ (1992): Directed by Ridley Scott, this overly long flop of a film details the discovery (albeit a fictionalised one!) of the New World by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and the effect it had on the indigenous population of the Americas. Filming took place at Playa Herradura (Herradura beach) in Puntarenas; a coastal town on the Pacific Ocean located about four km north of Jaco.

Posted in Central American Travel, Movie Locations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tokyo Daytripper: Kamakura (2014)

Over a year ago I splashed out 5000 yen on some second hand hiking boots in anticipation of climbing Mount Fuji from base to summit but injury meant I had to pull out of that adventure a few days before we planned to do it. Those boots were still yet to be worn till last month and keen to do some actual hiking in them, I took a trip recently to Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture.

This was my fourth trip to the city and my first since 2010 when my mate Hugo was over from Sweden for a couple of weeks. I’ve had it in my mind for a while to re-visit the area and see a few different parts but still decided to start my journey at Kita-Kamakura station as I’ve always done. From there I headed up the road to Jochi-ji temple where the Kuzuharagaoka hiking course begins adjacent to it.

DSCN0063 DSCN0066 DSCN0064 DSCN0065

Despite being a weekday the trail wasn’t quite as sparse as I’d hoped with groups of schoolgirls and oji-san clogging up the path where the first stop was Kuzuharagaoka-jinja which possesses two big stones tied to each other with fancy red string. They represent the gods of matchmaking and if you throw some coins in the box you’ll supposedly be married within a week! I kept my change in my pocket as I’m already married although by coincidence I did have my wedding ceremony two days later!

Not too much further along the trail was a pleasant open space (full of school kids on a school outing) possessing the statue of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the samurai founder of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185).

DSCN0067 DSCN0068

Autumn leaves in full red colour were very apparent in this area as well as at a small park not too far away.

DSCN0069 DSCN0070 DSCN0071 DSCN0072 DSCN0073 DSCN0074

I’d never even heard of Zeni-arai Benten when my student recommended this shrine a while back so I took a slight detour from the hiking trail to seek it out as it did sound like an interesting place. It was packed with yet more school kids and towards the far end of the shrine is a cave where it is considered good luck to wash your coins in the clear sacred water. I quickly performed this ritual in a very half-hearted manner and then made my way onto the next place.

DSCN0087 DSCN0077 DSCN0085 DSCN0080 DSCN0081 DSCN0083

I somehow managed to miss Sasuke Inari jinja shrine and didn’t turn back to find it and return to the hiking trail which I kind of regretted as the rest of the day was spent walking along boring roads. Eventually I got to Kōtoku-in temple (200 yen entry) which plays host to the 13.4 metre Daibutsu (Great Buddha) and even after so many visits, it’s still an awe-inspiring sight. Quite easy to see why it’s a national treasure and with clear blue skies and a hint of Autumn foliage it made for an even more beautiful natural backdrop.

DSCN0091 DSCN0093 DSCN0094 DSCN0098 DSCN0096 DSC07717

My original plan was to do a few other sights (such as the beach at Yurigahama) before journeying on to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu complex but I didn’t wanna use too much energy up ahead of a busy wedding weekend so just went as direct as I could between what are probably the two biggest sights in Kamakura. This inevitably meant another dull walk rather than the hiking trails I craved.

DSC07729 DSCN0109

The highlight of this place for me was the 60 steps that lead up to Hongu (Main Shrine) from Maiden and Wakamiya Shrine. As it was all free to enter I decided to visit the shrine museum (200 yen) which features some time-honoured treasures including weapons and objects of craftwork. It’s a very small museum and not really worth it unless you have some deep found interest in such things.

DSCN0112 DSCN0113

Within the precinct of the shrine, there are many historical buildings and places including the park which is an oasis of lotus ponds, lush greenery, a scenic bridge and a mountain view. It is the symbolic centre of the samurai government and stages religious, political and ceremonial activities.

DSCN0114 DSCN0115

There was a hiking course quite near to this shrine but enough was enough and so I ended up just walking the short distance to Kamakura station to take the train home. Three days later I would go hiking again but this time with my wife, her parents and the family dog. We went hiking in Sandankyo in Hiroshima prefecture and our wedding was sandwiched somewhere in the middle of these two hiking trips!

Posted in Tokyo Daytripper: | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiroshima 2014: Hiking In Sandankyo

With the Autumn leaves in bloom my father-in-law thought it would be nice to journey on up to the Sandankyo area the day after our wedding shenanigans had taken place. As part of the Western Chugoku Mountains Quasi-National Park this canyon is designated as a national place of scenic beauty and is considered one of the top 5 special valleys of scenic beauty and one of the top 100 scenic spots in Japan.

DSC07760 DSC07762 DSC07799 DSC07764

Sandankyo is about an hours drive from Hiroshima City and whilst the majority of the signs are only in Japanese, there is an English map available at the information desk at the main entrance. The whole area is fairly vast with many hiking courses ranging from five minutes to five hours which feature some fine picturesque spots including waterfalls, caves, streams, rocks, rapids, deep pools and the Autumn foliage.

DSC07766 407 DSC07763 DSC07771 DSC07767 DSC07768 DSC07772 DSC07775  404 406

The scenery reminded me of some of the places I went hiking on the south island of New Zealand and parts of Australia. Nearly all tourists here were local as I guess very few international visitors to Hiroshima venture too far from it’s major two sites. The benefit of me having a family here who know the area well and can take me to such little known gems like this.

DSC07778 DSC07776 DSC07780 DSC07782

The hiking course was all fairly easy but one still needs to concentrate as the paths are quite thin in places with sheer cliffs and gushing water alongside which you need to be aware of.

DSC07794 DSC07783

I didn’t know it at the time but our destination was Kurobuchi; an area 2.7 km away where we had to take a boat across the water amid a beautiful setting of tall standing cliffs and dark green waters. It took about 5o minutes to reach this place and the boat, propelled by an oar (pole?) rather than a motor, was a 500 yen return trip per person.

DSC07788 DSC07790 DSC07793 DSC07795

We had some lunch at the Kurobuchi Lodge. Oden and onigiri (rice balls) were on the menu in the tatami lunchroom and it’s not usual to mention the toilets but due to their location they’re worthy of a quick mention. They were situated across the gorge and could only be reached by a rope bridge and as I crossed it, ‘Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom‘ (1984) came to mind with images of Indy using his sword to cut the bridge in half.

DSC07797 DSC07798

Later that evening we went out to a rather expensive sushi restaurant; my first time to ever eat such food in a non-kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) environment.

DSC07801 DSC07804

Posted in Japan Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment