2015: The Year I Finally Went to New York City

For the last ten years, one of the saddest truths about my travel escapades has been the fact that I, an American, had never been to New York. This was a source of slight embarrassment when speaking to my friends who were not American and HAD been to New York. Especially, as they had traveled from the other side of the world to visit the “Greatest City in the Universe.” I had numerous reasons for this. For one, the convenience really wasn’t there. For anyone who has never been to the U.S. before — IT’S BIG! From Seattle to New York — it’s roughly a six hour flight. Secondly, the U.S. doesn’t have as much time off from work as most other places in the world. The average is roughly 14 days of vacation for the  year — this makes the time you have to travel quite short. So once I had the time, I was always more interested in international travel than domestic.  But, then in 2015…something changed all that. I found myself living on the East Coast and New York was suddenly much more accessible — being only a few hours away by train or car. So, in October I took advantage of a three days weekend and drove to the Big Apple for what I would call “An Introduction to New York City.”

Most of it was spent walking around, seeing the sights and meeting up with some friends who lived there. And after all the years I have heard about how amazing New York is — I have to say it lived up to the hype.

One of the biggest highlights for me was seeing Washington Square Park — particularly the chess players. Director, Stanley Kubrick used to be a chess hustler in Washing Square Park and was so good at beating his opponents that supposedly he was able to fund much of his third film, Fear and Desire, from his chess winnings. It was also incredible to see the Chelsea Hotel (buried under scaffolding) where Dylan Thomas, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Janice Joplin and countless other artists stayed and lived. Then of course there was the pizza…

Time in New York was sadly short but that just leaves more things to see when I’m there next time.

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Long Lunches at the Italian Embassy

One of the biggest perks about working on Embassy Row in Washington D.C. was going to lunch at the Italian Embassy. Some of the embassies have unique features that usually represent something in their culture. For instance the Japanese Embassy supposedly has a traditional tea house inside of its compound while the Finnish Embassy is known to have a sauna. In the case of the Italian Embassy  — it’s an authentic Italian cafe.

The eatery is casual yet polished with red walls and large black and white photographs of Italian celebrities drinking espresso, hanging on the walls. In the warmer seasons, an  outdoor patio is set up with umbrellas and tables for people to eat outside. Italians hang out at the bar to get a macchiato before heading back to work upstairs. Then of course there is the food. The pizza and the pasta is just as good as any I’ve ever had in Italy. All the ingredients are fresh and everything is baked fresh that day. Needless to say — it’s no surprise that the Italian Embassy cafe attracts the staff of other embassy workers come lunch time.

A Bespoke Event: Savile Row in D.C.

Earlier this week, an exclusive exhibition — Savile Row and America: a Sartorial Special Relationship — took place at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington D.C. The event paid homage to the craftsmanship and history of the tailors on Savile Row in London. The exhibits included everything from Buffalo Bill’s overcoat to Michael Jackson’s jackets. There were also special installations dedicated to Gregory Peck and Winston Churchill. Due to my current job, I was lucky enough to be  be one of the many people to help put this exhibition together.

This is just a snapshot of my favorite parts of the show.

Hanging patterns

Just outside the ballroom of the Residence, cardboard patterns were hung around the chandelier. Patterns are cardboard cut outs of client measurements. Once a person’s measurement have been taken, a tailor saves the pattern so they can create garments for the client in the future without having to re-take their measurements. Some of the hanging patterns included those from Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Laurie and Katharine Hepburn.

Continuing to the end of the corridor was the Winston Churchill exhibit…

Lent to the exhibition by Churchill’s family and private collectors —  the display features Churchill’s military uniform from his time as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars (a calvary regimen), a pinstripe suit and overcoat.

Several heirlooms were also among the items. An engraved pillbox given by Churchill to his wife in 1908 is seen above as is an intricate cigarette box given to Churchill by his wife and later passed down to Churchill’s son, Randolph. These two keepsakes are particularly special as this is the first time they have been put on display.

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The dining room of the Residence was focused on formal wear. Some of my favorite pieces in this room included a blazer lent by David Oyelwo, who is famed for playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. The blazer was worn at the Critics Choice Awards where Oyelwo was nominated for Best Actor. In the spirit of King, the lining of the blazer includes the lyrics to one of King’s favorite gospel songs. Another stand out piece is an Alexander Mcqueen jacket, which features a line of cigar smoke trailing across it. To add to the effect, a cigar was placed on the table next to the jacket to have the illusion of being lit.

The ballroom was a collection of suits and garments that had links to Hollywood and celebrities in one sense or another.

Mark Ronson’s cream wedding suit stood out at the center of the ballroom. Next to it was the blue and black dinner jacket Eddie Redmayne wore when he accepted his Oscar for “The Theory of Everything.” Not far from the original Andy Warhol portrait of the Queen, stood two of Michael Jackson’s iconic military style jackets from his world tour.

Last but not least, a special tribute was paid to Gregory Peck and his valued relationship with Savile Row tailors, Huntsman. Gregory Peck loved his bespoke tweeds and wool suits from the tailoring house and according to his son, Anthony, often reserved the highest compliments for the Huntsman tailors/cutters for their craftsmanship and detail. Gregory Peck’s  Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” was also on display. A film in which he wears a Huntsman blazer.

The Savile Row and America exhibit was only on display for two days at the Residence. But, the event left an impression. Savile Row tailors have been creating garments and suits for well over a hundred years. The saying goes “There is nothing like a well- cut suit.” Suits made 40-years-ago can still be worn today. There is an iconic timelessness to a good suit, especially when it’s one cut and made specifically for you. Here’s to another hundred years for Savile Row.

Capitol Hill Books: An afternoon in a quirky book shop with a sense of humor and free beer

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Two weeks ago on an extremely cold but sunny Sunday afternoon. A friend and I were slugging our way back to the metro station after seeing the last vestiges of Eastern Market in D.C. As we were turning to leave the market — I spotted a local bookstore my friend had mentioned wanting to check out. Upon entering, a grumpy looking old man in a worn baseball cap yelled at us to shut the door behind us. Then in the same breath informed us that there was home brewed beer in the back yard.

This, Ladies and Gents, was our first introduction to Capitol Hill Books.

Amused and a little disconcerted — we took in our surroundings. The bookstore was literally in a row house and it looks as though a hoarder of used books has filled it with every volume imaginable. Complete with three floors (basement, ground floor and upstairs) — the place was entirely cluttered and disorganized with large hulking book shelves filling every nook and cranny of the building. If there wasn’t space for a shelf to fit then there would be a pile of books stacked high. No part of the shop was safe from the onslaught of books. Even the bathroom had a whole genre of books in it — French poetry or theatre, I believe.

As we made our way slowly around the cramped shop (trying not to bump into people or shelves) we started to notice the signs for some book titles. On a copy of The Little Prince was a little note over it that said “The story of a young Vladmir Putin, the self-appointed prince of Russia.” When walking over towards the coffee table book section a handwritten sign on the shelf informed us they were great for “emergency kindling, step-stools, intellectual peacocking.”

As we made our way to the back of the shop — there was sure enough a door leading to a back yard. As promised, there were two kegs of home brewed beer with several people already filling up their plastic solo cups. A coffee porter and cherry ale.

By the time we left (45-minutes later) the shop had begun to get crowded. We made our way to check out with four used books between us (including the earlier mentioned copy of The Little Prince) and having consumed four cups of the coffee porter (which was delicious).

Capitol Hill Books as I came to find out, is a known D.C. gem and it’s no wonder why.  In spite of how easy it is to order books online these days or go to a Barnes & Noble — there is something special about a quirky book shop. Capitol hill Books offers tons of personality. It’s not a place to go searching for a specific book but rather a place to discover a new one.

If you’re in D.C. and love bookstores — check out Capitol Hill Books. But, claustrophobics beware — it’s a tight squeeze!

A Coffee Snobs Guide to Seattle

Seattle is one of the best places in the world for coffee. And no, i’m not talking about Starbucks. When I meet people who are planning on visiting the Emerald City, my biggest piece of advice is to check out the local coffee scene. Coffee shop owners in Seattle put a lot of love and attention into their coffee.  Many coffee houses in Seattle roast their own beans or buy from a local roaster. You can find coffee beans from Honduras to Rwanda and they all taste totally different. Here is a small list of a few cafe’s I have been able to sample during my time living in the Seattle area.

Espresso Vivace (Locations: Capitol Hill and Eastlake)

When I first moved to Seattle in 2009, I had not quite come to appreciate the vibrant coffee culture the city was famed for. But, then an old friend took me to Espresso Vivace on Capitol Hill and so my education began. Vivace is something of an institution within the Seattle coffee community. They have served Seattle since 1988 and they roast their coffee beans on sight at their flagship store on Capitol Hill. My favorite coffee drink to get there is the Cafe Nico. This is a very rich drink that comes in a 4 oz or an 8 oz and is essentially a breve (half cream and half milk) macchiato with orange zest and cinnamon. However, it’s definitely more of an afternoon pick-me-up than morning fuel.

Milstead & Co. (Fremont)

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Cold brew coffee

Milstead & Co. coffee is located in the artsy neighborhood of Fremont, just down the hill from the famed Fremont Troll. I first went there last summer in the middle of a heatwave and was immediately impressed with it’s rotating selection of roasted coffee and it’s outdoor seating area which features a large piece of the Berlin Wall. Okay, the piece of the Berlin Wall actually belongs to the historic society next door that also shares the space but it’s still a very cool feature. Milstead’s cold brew coffee served over ice in a large pint glass was the perfect thing to kick the summer heat. If you aren’t feeling up for coffee their burnt sugar lemonade/iced tea over ice is also pretty noteworthy.

Slate  (Ballard)

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A “de-constructed latte” from Slate. Espresso in one glass, steamed milk in the second and a latte in the third.

Slate was a coffee place that was a huge disappointment the one and only time I went. I was immediately put off by the fact that rather than being a coffee house the place had the atmosphere of a cramped wine bar that happened to serve coffee. While you can pick up a coffee to go, if you choose to stay and sit in the cramped quarters of Slate you soon learn that they have table service — which is unnecessary since the place is so small and isn’t a restaurant. This means that you are obligated to tip the wait staff for a cup of coffee. The coffee, while just as good as any in Seattle, isn’t exactly mind-blowing or offering anything different to what you have tried before. This makes the fact that they charge you $4-$5 for a cup of coffee that comes served in a 6 oz wine glass even more ridiculous.  Overall, the place wasn’t worth the money or the time.

Trabant Coffee & Chai  (University District)

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Trabant was not one of my main stops for coffee when I lived in the U-District. It’s known as one of the best places to get a chai tea in the city. I don’t  like chai tea so I never bothered to go there until I got my first big job out of college. The bus I had to catch in the early hours of the morning stopped directly in front of Trabant. It soon became the place to go to when I was running late and hadn’t had time to grab breakfast or coffee.I soon realized that while Trabant is famed for their chai tea– they were no slouch when it came to espresso. Then one morning I was running VERY late. I quickly ordered a non-fat latte and a chocolate croissant to go. Just as the barista finished my coffee —  my bus pulled up outside the door. I would either have to pay and miss my bus or leave my order and run for it. The barista took one look at me and shoved the coffee and croissant into my hands and said “Go! Don’t worry about it!”After that, the coffee and the staff totally won me over. Trabant has continued to do well for itself in the years since. They have solidified themselves as a go to place for coffee in the U-District neighborhood and have opened a second location in Pioneer Square.

Next time you are in Seattle, indulge in one of the city’s favorite pastimes and enjoy a very high quality cup of joe!

Other worthwhile cafe’s to check out:

Seattle Coffee Works (downtown)

Bauhaus Coffee (Ballard)

Bulldog Newsstand (University District)

Victrola (Capitol Hill)

Photo credit: Espresso Vivace coffee sign image was taken by “Another Believer” and obtained through Wikimedia Commons

Another Move, Another City!

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Nomad – a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

At the age of ten — after my first re-location from Japan to the U.S. — I had this unnerving feeling to “move”. At the time, I attributed this to my extreme homesickness for my birth place. Perhaps that was a big part of it. But, as I grew older I realized it wasn’t so much a need to go back to Japan but to just go….anywhere. Itchy feet, the travel bug, wanderlust…there are many names for it. Either way, I knew early on that settling down in one place was not for me. Today, at 27 I can happily say that I have succeeded (so far) in being a bit of a nomad.

In the last ten years I have managed to live in six cities on either side of the ocean. Now, I am thrilled to say I have moved yet again. Washington D.C. will be my current place of residence — at least for a little while.

I still have some posts on the back burner that I have been meaning to write about my beloved Pacific Northwest and I will finish those up in due time. At the moment, I am busy dealing with the stresses of starting a new job in the next couple of days, finding a place of residence and getting accustomed to my new surroundings. This is my first time living on the east coast and so far I love the fast pace of D.C., the diversity and of course the history!

As I begin this new chapter of my life, I reflect on a few things I have learned. As we get older, it’s very easy to lose sight of what we actually want in life. We often settle for the jobs that pay well enough but don’t inspire or challenge us. We get too focused on making decisions that are safe as opposed to choices that will make us happy.

Life is too short to just be comfortable. When it comes to getting what you want — sometimes you have to take a leap.

Port Townsend: A Victorian Town in the Puget Sound

On the Olympic peninsula of Washington state there is a small town called Port Townsend. This small seaside community is a preserved historical area where old banks and saloons  have been restored and turned into inns/restaurants for visitors in the warm seasons.

Port Townsend was first settled in 1851, although it had been established as a harbor as early as 1792. There were big plans for the new town. It was thought that Port Townsend would become the largest port on the west coast of the U.S. and it was thus named the “City of Dreams.” Unfortunately, these dreams would never come to fruition. The failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad to connect the city via railway to the city of Tacoma coupled with the economic depression of the mid 1890s caused the once thriving boom town to go bust. The town managed to survive through fishing, the port, canning, a nearby military fort and of course the illegal activities of the day such as shanghaiing. In spite of the passing years, all the beautiful Victorian buildings that the heyday of the 1800s had left behind were preserved. So much so that in the 1980s, Port Townsend was included on the U.S National Register of Historic Places.

I grew up on Whidbey Island which is  across the sound from Port Townsend. I remember catching the ferry boat with my friends to get a large milkshake or root beer float at the over-priced 1950s style diner in Port Townsend and then peruse the European style book shop on Water street. Years later, I returned to get married in the old red-brick courthouse with the clock tower that oversees the entire town. While living in Tacoma for the last two years, Port Townsend has been a constant stop for me whenever I make my way home to Whidbey Island to visit my parents. Stopping in Port Townsend to wait for the ferry is always a welcome break from the road. I stop and get a quick slice from Waterfront Pizza where you can find many of the locals picking up a pie on their way home from work. If I make it there earlier, I’ll stop for a latte at Better Living Through Coffee and make my way over to the William James bookstore (the same one from my youth) and finger through the cluttered stacks of used paperbacks.

Today, tourism is a thriving part of Port Townsends economy. The number of gourmet bistros, historic buildings, and incredible views of the Olympic mountains as well as the Puget Sound make it the perfect weekend getaway.

Photo Credit: All photos belong to me with the exception of the photo of Jefferson County Courthouse (the building with the clock tower). This photo belongs to Joe Mabel or Jmabel and was posted to wikimedia commons with permission to share. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Port_Townsend_-_Jefferson_County_Courthouse_01.jpgr

A Little Advice for Visiting Pike Place Market

When you live in Seattle — visiting Pike Place Market is both something to look forward to and dread. The market, which has been in existence since 1907, carries practically everything you can think of. You can buy fresh flowers, produce, fish and then also pick up a German newspaper, some African deck chairs and a used copy of “Atlas Shrugged,” if you so desire.DSC_0014

Pike Place is full of nooks and crannies and no matter how many times you visit — there is always something new to discover. So, why do we locals dread the market? Because it is probably the most visited place in Seattle and is constantly overcrowded with tourists.

Therefore, when out-of-town friends want to visit the market; I always advise them to go early, go hungry and bring cash.

Get to the market around 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. Most of the vendors at the market have set up by that point but the market has not begun to get crowded. Saturdays are the absolutely worse time to go. I recommend going sometime during the work week.

Don’t stop for food before heading for the market! There are so many amazing food stalls and restaurants to stop at. Some of my favorite places for pastries are Piroshky Piroshky (a Russian style bakery) and Le Panier.

Piroshky Piroshky is a tiny in and out place that is often crowded but everything here is delicious! Some memorable items are their oven-baked apple with sweet cream cheese and their Oskar Star. Le Panier is the resident French bakery and serves as an actual cafe where you can sit and have a cup of coffee or tea with homemade macaroons and chocolate eclairs.

For a quick bite, I like heading to the Michou Deli where you can pick up a panini or salad made with market fresh ingredients. Mee Sum Pastry is a Chinese dumpling and pastry shop that offers the perfect lunch to eat while you walk. Their bbq pork dumpling is incredible!

Bringing cash is not as big of a deal as it used to be due to the fact that many vendors can use their smartphones to make credit card transactions. But, I still recommend it because as a hustling and bustling place — cash keeps things moving quickly. Try and get cash before you make it to the market. I have seen a grand total of three cash machines in the market and they charge huge fees!

On the big draws of the market….

The Market Theatre Gum Wall is a popular place to stop and gander. Be aware that this is an area constantly swarmed by people taking photos and it’s not uncommon to see couples there getting their engagement photos done. This is another good reason to get to the market early if you wish to have an unencumbered photo session.

The Flying Fish is always a popular place to be. The world famous fishmongers throw a fish every hour or so and are entertaining to watch.

The first Starbucks is also located at the market. However, it is a major tourist trap and there is always a line of tourists out the door. Honestly! I think if I ever walked by it and there wasn’t a line out the door, I wouldn’t recognize it! From everything I have seen and heard, it’s worth just getting a photo of the storefront and continuing on.

In conclusion — avoid the hectic experience, but enjoy the market!

Any other tips on visiting Pike Place? Leave them in the comments below.

Photo credit: Mike Menshikov and Andy Melan

A City of Monuments — Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. is a place filled with history and culture. There are so many museums and monuments that it’s impossible to see even half of it on a four day trip. So far my favorite places to visit  are the International Spy Museum and the Library of Congress. However, I have a whole bucket list of things I still need to do in D.C. — including visit the Newseum!