Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: Two trips to Hokkaido, including one decided after a tempura lunch at Mikawa Zezankyo, in a Tokyo minute

In San Sebastian with Juan Mari Arzak
last July, living a #Travelife

In 2014, we were certainly living a never-endingly eventful Travelife and our daily schedule looked like a pilot's flight plan.

Amidst all this truly wonderful traveling, our very sudden 12-hour trip to Hokkaido sometime in 2014, unplanned and unexpected, is certainly one for the books.

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There we were having a very nice lunch one day at Mikawa Zezankyo, widely considered Tokyo's best tempura restaurant. 

The master himself -- Japan's National Treasure, as he is dubbed -- was frying the most delectable tempura this side of the universe for us.

Then my mobile phone rang.

It was one of my friends, ringing from his beautiful villa in Hokkaido, which is so large and so tastefully done that many people actually thought the Aman Resorts was setting up shop in the area, when his house was being built.

But, no, it wasn't the Aman Resorts.

It was just my friend, building a vacation home in Hokkaido because he's crazy about skiing and that part of Japan has some of the best snow in Asia.


My friend said: "I've been so busy I haven't had time to keep up with your travels. But just now I read your blog, and I realized you're in Tokyo."

Yes, I was in Tokyo.

He continued: "I'm not going to take it personally that you didn't contact me -- but why the XXX didn't you do so, anyway?"



I sighed. Long story.

I'd flown to Japan to join a dinner of a lifetime, and then I'd ended up staying a bit longer than expected just because the weather in Tokyo in May was so perfect while Manila was terribly hot.

It was that simple, really, in my never-endingly eventful Travelife.

On my second trip to Hokkaido this year

I've also got a confession to make.

I'm one of these out of sight, out of mind people, so I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people I don't see often enough. Maybe it's because I'm writing a thousand words a day and traveling a thousand kilometers a week.

Between all this and a never-ending Travelife, it's just hard to be good at texting or emailing friends, even if I think about the people I care about constantly.


That's me at the City of Dreams in Macau last April.
Follow Travelife in real-time on Instagram.

Finally, there was the fatigue issue.

In the last four weeks prior to that lunch in Tokyo, I'd done Macau, the Czech Republic, France, and Tokyo -- with stopover visits to Frankfurt, Istanbul and Hong Kong.

In South Africa last year, living a Travelife

And there was South Africa coming up the week after Tokyo, with three safaris and a spa holiday.

This was going to be followed by a driving trip all over Morocco, staying in some of the most fabulous places on the planet and touring around in the fanciest sedan anyone can get in that country.

In Morocco last June, living a Travelife...

So it was a pretty hectic Travelife, and Tokyo, in spite of all its fun activities and entertaining, was and still is my downtime compared to the rest of my life.

This is why I don't contact too many people in Tokyo when I'm there.


Anyway, my friend said: "If I knew you were here, I would have asked you to fly to Hokkaido. XXX (a famous Japanese chef and a household name in Japan, actually) is cooking dinner here tonight, and I've got some friends here as well."

What's with all my Tokyo friends and how they've been hiring Michelin-starred chefs to cook private dinners for them?

Has the Nikkei been that good recently?


When he found out that YYY and I were having lunch at Mikawa Zezankyo, Tokyo's best tempura restaurant, as we talked on the phone, between Tokyo and Hokkaido, my friend continued: "Won't you and YYY come over for a night at least?"

I was quite busy on my last few days in Japan before heading out on another adventure in my never-ending Travelife, and YYY's schedule was about 100x worse.


Anyway, to make a long story very short, we decided to join this landmark dinner in Hokkaido that same evening. Call it a crazy spur-of-the-moment decision because we'd had such delicious tempura for lunch.

However, to make it in time for the first course of this famous chef, we needed to proceed straight to Haneda Airport from the restaurant and try our luck with flights.

We had no tickets, no extra clothes, and I didn't even have my camera. And my iPod was seriously running out of battery after I'd taken so many photos at the tempura restaurant.

Of course, I'd left the iPod charger at home. Who'd have thought I was going to Hokkaido after lunch, anyway?


Fortunately, the domestic airline schedules operate like buses in Japan, so there's a plane leaving every 20 minutes or so, even for Hokkaido.

We drove straight to Haneda Airport from Mikawa Zezankyo with only the clothes on our backs -- and we just had enough time to buy tickets and to buy clothes at the Uniqlo store for one night of dinner and sleeping, plus a decent change of clothes the next day.

Fortunately, I found a simple black dress at Uniqlo that could pass for attire for a fancy dinner, in a pinch.

That's me, taking photos in Morocco last June


And then, my friend had his caretaker/driver and his Range Rover waiting to pick us up at the airport in Hokkaido.

We literally slid into our seats at the dinner table minutes before the first of 10 courses was served, after a quick shower and a change into this black Uniqlo outfit that surprisingly suited me well enough.

And that's how I ended up on a 12-hour trip to Hokkaido that was so amazingly spontaneous, and delicious, even for a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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