Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween trick or treating in Tokyo

My neighbour, former Indonesian First Lady Dewi Sukarno,
in her scariest Halloween outfit....

In Tokyo, the Halloween celebrations of my neighbourhood are perhaps Tokyo's most famous. It's located right in Central  Tokyo, a hop and a skip from Omotesando, but you'd never know it as it's perhaps the only all-residential neighborhood left in the city.

It's a nice neighbourhood to live in for people in the know as everything is a short walk or car drive away. In fact, I often walk home from lunch or dinner in Omotesando or Aoyama.

But it's incredibly quiet -- like living in a park.

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ALL IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Many well-known people live here including three of Japan's successive prime ministers, ambassadors, company owners (including the owners of two of the most famous department stores and the family who owns Sanrio) and even the guy who bought Viber as a side business.

One of Japan's recent prime ministers lives two doors down in a beautiful Swiss-style villa that has been in his family for generations.



This year, over 50 homes opened up to residents for Halloween, and the Halloween decor was truly serious stuff. Even the adults got into the fun, dressed up in the strangest outfits, walking the streets and living a #Travelife. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Japanese breakfast of grilled fish and special rice at Aman Tokyo



This was the delicious Japanese breakfast at the Aman Tokyo, with grilled fish, Japanese pickles, choice fruits and their special rice yesterday.

The Aman Tokyo also has a delicious pork pulled sandwich which you can actually have for breakfast as well, and that's what I'm going to have tomorrow.

BACK IN TOKYO

Post-birthday dinner last night
at one of Tokyo's best Michelin three-star restaurants,
living a #Travelife...

It's so nice to be back in Tokyo, living a #Travelife. And then we have the big Halloween festivities all over the city on Saturday.

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Sunday lunch at Aracama, with kare-kare, lechon kawali, sisig and pako salad


So for my first weekend in Manila two weeks ago, living a #Travelife, we decided to have a Filipino lunch at Aracama, a nice restaurant in the Fort that serves very good Philippine food with a slight twist.

This is a casual restaurant, but it's stylish and reasonably-priced, as well as conveniently located away from the madness and traffic of Makati. 

So when I want some kare-kare in my life, this is where I've been going recently, without a second thought as to other options.



NEW DISHES AND OLD FAVORITES
ON ARACAMA'S MENU

I already have my favourites here, so I usually don't look at the menu. Although today, I realised they'd changed the menu while I was away and added some new dishes.

Fortunately, along with the delicious new dishes, the kare-kare is still on the menu.

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A WONDERFUL KARE-KARE
AT GREAT VALUE

At PhP 520 or so per (large) serving, this kare-kare is great value as the cuts of meat included are better than what's usually placed in kare-kare at this price range.

I also like the fact that the vegetables are served tied together ever so neatly in a leaf and then placed on top of the kare-kare so that these are still crunchy and fresh when eaten with the sauce and meat.

THE SISIG AND LECHON KAWALI
AT ARACAMA


I usually order the sisig, as well. Aracama's version of the sisig doesn't come in a sizzling plate, but it's very nicely seasoned that I don't feel the need to douse everything with calamansi and hot sauce.


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LECHON KAWALI AT ARACAMA

Today, I ordered the lechon kawali for the first time. 

It was a huge portion that came presented very nicely, and the pork had just the right amount of crunch. This was also served with a very nice lechon kawali sauce that had a good blend of onions, garlic and soy sauce.


ARACAMA'S PHILIPPINE-STYLE
"PAKO" SEAWEED SALAD

My other great favourite here is the pako salad.

This is a seaweed salad mixed with tomatoes, olives and salted duck egg. It's very flavourful and balanced, especially with the slightly sweet-sour dressing they serve this with.


PHILIPPINE-STYLE SPAGHETTI

Finally, I often order their pasta pobrecita, which is a stylised Philippine-inspired pasta with goat's cheese, capers and salted fish.

It not only is delicious, but it comes beautifully plated as well.



Literally, pretty as a picture.

The perfect way to celebrate a return to Manila from Morocco, and an upcoming trip to Taiwan and Tokyo, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.


ARACAMA
The Fort Entertainment Center
Bonifacio Global City
Tel. (63)(2) 519-6815


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A reunion for the Travelife to Morocco. And about a dinner in Austria's best restaurant and a party for Yoko Ono in Tokyo.



Today I attended the first reunion of our Travelife to Morocco October 2015 group. What fun it was.

This must also be the fastest reunion in history, as I'd just returned last week from Morocco, and now here we were having a reunion.

Our Travelife to Morocco, October 2015 friends
with Felix, the wonderful GM of the Four Seasons Marrakech

Of course, the ladies were the most enthusiastic about having this reunion. This reunion began because we'd all been chatting like crazy on a common message thread on Facebook. There were so many messages, and many of them were coming in at 2 AM or 3 AM because so many people had returned home and not recovered from jet lag.

I usually keep my phone and iPad by my bedside table, but I've been putting it in my dressing room these days because it's pinging all night.

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THE REUNION BEFORE THE REUNION

Anyway, via this thread, we decided to have an impromptu get-together before an official reunion in three weeks so I could join one before I leave on my never-ending #Travelife.

Yes, I'm headed out in a few days to Taipei and to Tokyo, where I've got to attend a belated birthday dinner, host two more dinners at my Tokyo home for hedge fund managers visiting from Zurich and London, and attend a party for Yoko Ono.

Yes, it's a never-ending #Travelife and also a never-ending entertaining life. And I love it.

Partying like it's 1999 at the Palais Amani in Fes.
We booked out two beautiful riads in Fes just for our group.

DINNERS IN ISTANBUL, PRAGUE,
VIENNA AND BUDAPEST

I've also got two regional trips and two crossings halfway around the world before Christmas, so my next available block of free time is between Christmas and New Year's Eve. And today I've been so busy fixing up dinners in Istanbul, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. 

In Vienna, we're a large group and we're having dinner in Austria's best restaurant.

It was so fun to see so many people today. We all wore colourful outfits and reminisced about Morocco. The guys couldn't understand why we were getting together so soon, but we did anyway.

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WORKING HARD TO PAY FOR A TRAVELIFE

After the reunion, I sent a message to one of the guys in our group, saying: "You should've joined us today."

I was in the car when I sent this, and his response made me laugh out loud. He said: "I've got to work hard now to pay for the next Travelife..."

Over lunch, too, someone said: "This is like a club that travels around the world."

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WONDERFUL PEOPLE ON A TRAVELIFE WITH US
ALL OVER THE WORLD

Yes, it really is. So many of the wonderful people who'd joined us in Morocco had been with us in so many other places around the world.

Next to me were two ladies who'd come along to Northern Cape, South Africa last year, and one lady who'd been with us in both South Africa and Sri Lanka.

How wonderful life is, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Getting psyched for a holiday in Istanbul. And remembering the ghosts of the caravan serai on the road from Capadoccia to Konya.

In Istanbul a few years ago,
with some of our 70 readers and friends

So on Friday afternoon, there I was in the office, working hard and living a #Travelife, when one of the guys I'm traveling with to Turkey walked in unannounced.

Until Friday, I'd been too busy to get psyched about visiting Istanbul. Especially since I was just there last weekend on a stopover.

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THE WHIRLING DERVISH SHOW
IN ISTANBUL

"Are we going to see the dervishes?" He asked me.

Literally, Turkey had not been on my mind until that point. But when he brought up the whirling dervishes of Turkey, I remembered a couple of truly enjoyable trips I'd done to Turkey.

A #TRAVELIFE TO TURKEY
WITH 70 TRAVELIFE READERS AND FRIENDS

In Istanbul a few years ago,
with some of our 70 readers and friends

Several years ago, 70 of our Travelife Magazine readers and friends had actually joined us on a #Travelife to Turkey, and some of us had gone to the see the whirling dervishes in a show in the Old Town.

The whirling dervishes had even mesmerised me enough that I journeyed all the way to Konya on a private trip some years back. Konya is the heartland of the dervishes and I was eager to learn more about the dervishes.

I also wanted to learn more about the great poet and philosopher Rumi, who is buried in Konya.

Istanbul, see you sooner rather than later,
in my never-ending #Travelife... 

A GHOST IN A CARAVAN SERAI.
OR AT LEAST ORBS IN OUR PHOTOS.

I still remember how my companion and I had traveled over land from Capadoccia to Konya with our guide and driver, along the caravan serai road, on a semi-adventure holiday some years back.

We'd stopped at a deserted caravan serai along the way, and we'd poked our way through the dark, dusty and empty rooms just for the excitement of it.

Then, again just for the excitement of it, we'd taken some photos in one of the pitch-black rooms with his camera, and he hadn't used a flash.

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When we actually looked at the series of photos he'd taken later, we'd been eerily surprised to see orbs in our photos.

That certainly gave me goosebumps. When our guide saw these photos on my companion's camera, he said knowingly: "Of course there are many ghosts and spirits in the old caravan serai."

And especially in a deserted one, I suppose.

EMPTY SUITCASES FOR ISTANBUL

On Friday, I remembered these, and finally got excited for Turkey, even if this is still a couple of short weeks and two long trips away, and I'm even attending a party for Yoko Ono in Tokyo in between.

But today, I began setting aside autumn clothing for the trip to Turkey and two suitcases -- one completely empty. Yes, it's a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.  


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1001 Arabian Nights and my special recipe for chicken tagine and couscous for dinner tonight



When I invite friends over on the few Sundays that I am actually back home, living a #Travelife, I usually cook dinner from scratch. Meaning grinding spices and making all my own sauces.

It's therapy in a way, on one of my rare off days when I don't have to go anywhere or eat in a restaurant.

A MOROCCO HANGOVER

The dessert tonight at home,
living a never-ending #Travelife...

Tonight, I invited some friends over for a very casual dinner. And as I've just come back from Morocco, you might say I still have a Morocco hangover.

By the way, everyone else in our wonderful group of 35 friends on the #Travelife to Morocco must have some sort of a hangover as well, as we're already having a first reunion on Tuesday, having just returned last week.

And then, guess what. There's a reunion again just over two weeks later, although unfortunately I'm not joining reunion #2, as I'll be in Istanbul, living a #Travelife.

A REAL HOME-MADE TAGINE



Anyway, back to tonight.

It's not a special evening at all, but I I decided to make my special tagine with lemons I preserved and olives I marinated myself. I even roasted and ground my own spices for today, including coriander seeds and cumin.

Of course I'm also using saffron I'd purchased in Marrakech, on a walk back to our hotel through the souk after visiting the Maison de la Photographie.

HOME-MADE HARISSA, TOO



Then, to go with the couscous, I made my own harissa, which is the spicy sauce so beloved in Middle Eastern cuisine.

You can buy this abroad in tubes or as paste, but today I made my own using spices I brought back from this trip, which I also roasted and ground myself.

It was actually fun to keep busy doing this.



Then I put out all the lamps and mirrors I'd brought back with me from Morocco, to enhance the atmosphere. 

And putting everything out just made me realise what else I want to add to my house. I need two more elaborate tagine pots, perhaps a couple more mirrors and one more lamp.



I might even find the lamps in Istanbul next month, when I go for a holiday I'm increasingly getting psyched about. And if I don't, I'm planning to return to Morocco at the end of February anyway -- that is, if I don't get sidetracked on a visit to Mexico.

Then I'm basically done, turning my home into a little bit of Morocco, to remind me my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.


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Saturday, October 24, 2015

The private riad of the Hotel Selman is perhaps the best hotel room/ place to stay in Marrakech



My life is generally full of amazing and wonderful things every single day, and this recent Travelife to Morocco with 35 wonderful people was no exception.

Our trip was defined by time constraints and a general desire among most to see as many things as reasonably possible within the time allowed, the Travelife way.

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

A breakfast with a private horse show
at the Selman for my birthday,
living a #Travelife...

I'd handpicked all the places to stay and the restaurants to eat in for a reason.

We often tried to stay in the very best, or to eat in them, and when we chose otherwise, there were always for very good reasons. I was also always conscious of the fact that my friends were likely to get tagine-ed out way quicker than I am, so I tried to vary the meals between French, Moroccan and Western.

The best tagine of the trip
was at a charming riad
just outside the Ait Ben Haddou
in the desert

No Asian tour package meals for this trip, though, as I seriously believe in eating local, or at most regional, when traveling. In fact, I was probably the only one in the group who had a Moroccan breakfast every single day, and I certainly had the most tagine and couscous.

But I think that in a fairly enclosed culture and on a trip going to pretty exotic destinations, local food is the best option. And I avoid tourist restaurants when possible, too, although I often like to try the best restaurant of the best hotel in town.

THE BEST NEW HOTEL IN MARRAKECH

Strolling through the five-star stables
of the Selman Marrakech,
living a #Travelife...

I booked my friends and I at the Selman Marrakech for the last stay, as I figured everyone would want a relaxing R&R before heading out of Morocco.

By then, I imagined everyone -- or at least almost everyone -- would be souk-ed out, tagine-ed out and just zoned out after 1600 kilometers of a Travelife.

THE BEAUTIFUL HOTEL SELMAN



And as I had extended my stay, I actually had a couple of days in Marrakech at the beautiful Hotel Selman, and I deliberately made no plans except to chill out before the long trip back home.

The Selman by the way is one of Marrakech's newest luxury hotels. It's beautiful in a way that is just right without that oppressive feeling of having too much color and design, or that blank feeling of having too little.

THE PRIVATE RIAD OF TOM CRUISE
IN MARRAKECH



The private riads at the Selman Marrakech are simply perfect.

There are only five of them, each one walled in and stuck in one corner of a pretty vast estate for their own sense of privacy. I've stayed in some of the most beautiful hotels and riads in Marrakech, and the riad I stayed in at Selman Marrakech is currently #1 in my books.



Here, we stayed in the same private riad that Tom Cruise had used for his 18 days or so of filming Mission Impossible 5 in Morocco.

It's a lovely riad with a bedroom swathed in heavy silks to copy a Berbere tent, resulting in utmost peace and quite.

It also had a beautiful, simple courtyard which our butler filled with candles every evening. I loved to walk around here before going to bed.

THE ULTIMATE PRIVATE HOLIDAY

With 35 friends in Morocco until last week,
living a #Travelife...

It had its own generously-sized pool and gardens that gave you a wonderful feeling of relaxation.

And the designs of the rooms are done so cleverly that you get a semblance of Moroccan culture and yet in a very pretty and luxurious way so that you, your companion and your private butler need never set eyes on each other unless you wish to.

There are enough passageways and doors throughout the property.

STAYING PUT IN THE SELMAN



Of course, we never left the Selman after checking in.

In fact, I tried not to even leave my private riad as it was just so relaxing, although I did take the golf cart to spend an afternoon in the Selman's spa where I had a hammam and the most amazing massage ever.

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If you ever book yourself a stay at the Selman Marrakech, which I highly recommend, make time for the spa and look for Karim, as his detox massage is just amazing.

Wow. Talk about bliss and the perfect ending to a wonderful trip to Morocco with 35 friends, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.


Friday, October 23, 2015

My best shopping in Morocco, this time around. And about oil from the seed of the prickly pear, the next big beauty oil.



My private riad at the Hotel Selman.
The best place I've stayed in for 2015.
Tom Cruise stayed in this very same riad,
when filming Mission Impossible 5.

I just love shopping in Morocco, especially as I feel like turning my house into some kind of Moroccan palace whenever I walk into a beautiful hotel or riad. If this is your type of design, the decors of some of Morocco's famous hotels and restaurants are just so inspiring.

For design inspiration, I'd put the Selman and the Royal Mansour right at the top. These are two beautifully executed hotels, although slightly different in feel. I've stayed in both and loved them both, although they're impossible to compare side by side.

Both hotels are beautiful jewels, and it's a matter of preference. Read more about the Royal Mansour in the new issue of Travelife Magazine, out this week in all the bookstores.


DINNER AT LA MAMMOUNIA.
AND A CASE OF DEJA VU.

I also stayed at the historic La Mammounia on my very first visit to Morocco about 15 years ago, but I haven't returned to check in since its renovation, although I've had dinner twice by now in the hotel's Italian restaurant, interestingly, in the very same table -- which provided for an unnerving case of deja vu.  


COLONIAL INSPIRATION

I also love the smaller riad hotels for inspiration.

The Villa des Orangers, where we stayed in the lovely presidential suite on holiday last June, is a completely different style but so beautiful just the same. This is a photographer's dream of a hotel, with vintage pieces everywhere.

That's all of us with Felix,
the super nice General Manager of the
Four Seasons Marrakech

The Four Seasons Marrakech is also lovely in a very contemporary way that can't help but make you feel utterly relaxed. Read more about the Villa des Orangers and the Four Seasons Marrakech in the new issue of Travelife Magazine, out this week in all the bookstores.



SHOPPING IN MOROCCO

So in an attempt to make my own little version of paradise in one of my homes, I've been buying bits and pieces of Moroccan design although frankly none of it is a piece that would break the bank.

However I've chosen each item with care and loved it for the memories of the trips I associate with them.

COMPLETING A SET OF TAGINE
FOR ENTERTAINING



One thing I've tried to complete slowly on each trip is a set of intricately handcrafted tagine and serving plates for entertaining.

I've only bought one or two from an artisan workshop in Fes each time I visit, as they're incredibly heavy, and the other night I realised that I still have a bit of a way to go to complete my set.



However on this trip, I bought two and someone was kind enough to bring these home for me, leaving me with enough space for everything else I bought. I was completely overweight on the return to Asia.

MIRRORS FOR THE SOUL



This time around, I also picked up some handcrafted mirrors for my walls.

I have two small mirrors which I can't wait to put up, and one giant one I picked up on a whim without even thinking how I was going to bring it home or where I would put it. I chucked the small mirrors into my luggage and then checked in the large one at Casablanca airport and this
tipped the scale way too much as it's really large.


So I was actually charged overweight for the first time in my Travelife.




GOOD TIMING
AND EXTRA LUGGAGE ALLOWANCE

As I've said, nothing I bought will seriously break the bank so it seemed ridiculous to pay the 400 euros they were charging me for checking in a relatively inexpensive mirror bought on a whim on one of those last-minute shopping binges when we had 30 minutes to walk through an arcade of artisanal shops in Marrakech on the last day.



Fortunately Mr Y was checking in at the same time on another airline to another city just next to me. He hadn't done any shopping so his luggage was free and easy.

So without even asking his permission, I asked the porter to haul the mirror over to his business class counter to check it in there instead. I knew he had extra luggage space as he'd bought nothing at all, so I gave him the mirror and said: "Please bring this with you. I'll find a way to get this back sometime."

THE TRADITIONAL MOROCCAN DRESS



I also loved the djellabas, which are the traditional Moroccan dress.

They're warmer and less flashy than caftans, and I bought three at the souk in Fes on a walk around with my dear friend M, and at a boutique in Marrakech.

And since I bought these, I practically lived in them for the rest of the trip because they were so comfortable. Now I'm starting to pack for a quick holiday in Istanbul in a few weeks' time, two trips away, and I realise my djellabas will be perfect for Istanbul in autumn.



THE NEXT BIG BEAUTY OIL:
PRICKLY PEAR SEED OIL

The other thing I went slightly overboard on was oil made from the seed of the prickly pear. Everyone's so into argan oil, but the next new thing in Moroccan beauty rituals is the rare and way more expensive oil from the seed of the prickly pear -- not just from the prickly pear itself.

It's about four time the price of argan oil and way harder to find, so I bought everything I could find when I found it, as I tried one flask of this precious oil and just loved it.

MY FAVORITE GOLDEN TRAYS



Finally, in Rabat where the souk is more full of traditional crafts but way cheaper than the souks in the other cities, I picked up a couple of trays I've been meaning to get to place on little tables.

These went for a song so I was very happy, and I've made up my mind to get a few more the next time I find myself in Rabat, hopefully sooner rather than later, in my never-ending #Travelife.


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