Travel Essentials for a Coffee Addict

 The morning coffee is a non-negotiable, essential start to a successful day. Throw little people and travel logistics into the mix and if you can’t get a decent caffeine fix in your accommodation then the search for it becomes priority number one upon leaving (if indeed you make it out for the day at all).

When packing for 4 months of travel, our space was limited but we made allowances for the following 3 pieces of coffee kit (from left to right as pictured above). We were thankful for them every morning

AeroPress

Extremely easy to use, even quicker to clean, the Aeropress produces a rich and flavourful coffee that can rival any other brewing method. Part plunger, part vacuum press, but really it’s just a simple piece of suitably portable kit. There are various different brew methods that can be found online if you do want to get creative with it.

The Aeropress has been a stalwart of my coffee brewing arsenal for many years now. Interesting fact, it was invented by engineer Alan Adler, of Aerobie Frisbee fame!

Porlex Mini Hand Grinder

Ok, so this coffee grinder perhaps wasn’t necessary, but it’s a lovely piece of kit. Furthermore it tucks neatly inside the AeroPress for ultimate portability. This grinder has a ceramic burr that runs a little cooler than a steel equivalent. For connoisseurs/fanatics, the extra heat produced by a steel burr can apparently impact negatively on the resulting flavour.

I rather enjoyed buying beans from local coffee roasters as we travelled. And although grinding beans introduces a lag to ones morning coffee intake, it makes for a satisfying ritual.

DISK Coffee Filter by Able Brewing

The Aeropress uses small circular paper filters which I have travelled with before. The silver DISK Coffee Filter from Able Brewing however provides a much more elegant and transportable solution. There is further argument to say that this filter can also improve the quality of the resulting coffee. It allows more fines into the brew than a paper filter, increasing body, without removing any the oils present in coffee, improving the overall flavour. I can’t say I did a side by side comparison or that my caffeine starved palette in the morning would really pick up on such nuances, but I can vouch for the resulting brew being satisfyingly effective.

 

Parkdale & Mordialloc: A Perfect Day in the Sun

Just a cycle away down the coastal road, we wanted to try the Parkdale Beach Cafe & Kiosk after recommendation from a friend. As always when with wee one in tow, I was on the hunt for tot-friendly activities in the area to couple with a brunch stop. We ended up having a wonderful day spread across Parkdale and neighbouring Mordialloc, a combination I suspect we will be repeating many times. With stand-out food, sweeping panoramic bay views, wide beaches reminiscent of our touring in California only coupled with perfectly calm, shallow, emerald waters and an awesome play park, I was pinching myself this wasn’t just a holiday.

Parkdale Beach Cafe & Kiosk

This cafe had been recommended by a friend for its great food and views over the water. This sounded ideal and it was. An understandably popular spot on a Sunday late morning, the place was buzzing but seemingly able to accommodate the numbers with only a short wait. The seats outside are mostly shaded and face blissfully directly out to sea. There is also nice seating inside for days when a bit of air con is appreciated. We had half hoped our wee one would drop off to sleep before parking up at the cafe so we strolled on the beach path in front of the cafe for a hopeful stretch. The appeal of the beach proved far too distracting however and a nap was not to be, so we headed back to the takeaway kiosk of the cafe for some coffees and treats to enjoy on the beach.

The kiosk menu is limited when you’ve already eyed up the full menu. We ended up ordering bircher muesli and a sticky date muffin which they warmed through. I didn’t quite feel like either of these, but turned out they were both so delicious we had no problem polishing off the lot very quickly. This was us now installed on the beach below the cafe for the best part of the day.

Peter Scullin Reserve

After a wonderful few hours on the beach in Parkdale we decided it time to stroll 15 mins down the coast to Mordialloc in search of a play park. En route we strolled past Mordialloc beach which was very reminiscent of the wide, sandy beaches of California.  We had maxed out on beach time however and a play park had been promised so we continued on past. Soon we could smell barbies on the go serving up various parties underway in the park in the center of which was a large, covered nautical themed (SS Scullin) play park. Perfect, that was the wee one happy for the next while.

Tommy Ruff

Starting to get hungry, the thought of fish and chips over a store cupboard dinner was a little too tempting. Typing ‘fish and chips’ into Google provided a couple of options very nearby. Reading the reviews, Tommy Ruff looked pretty stand-out and it sure was!

Grilled fish and rice for the tot went down  so well one spoon just wasn’t sufficient to shovel it in fast enough. No idea how they got so much flavor into the rice. We both opted for the ‘Spiked’ fish burger, Southern fried with chipotle mayo. Hands down, Best.Fish.Burger.Ever. YUM. We will be back.

Cool decor, relaxed atmosphere. Perfect for post beach dining. Booster seats available.

Tokyo Strolling: Daikanyama

Daikanyama is one of my all time favourite hangouts in Tokyo. It’s low rise and boutiquey like Nakameguro but all higher-end. The boutiques are generally less independent, featuring subtly some big western brands like Paul Smith and Replay in amongst the Japanese stores, but the whole setting is very civilised and a delight to experience. It would be a real shame to miss this area if visiting Tokyo, not only is it a lovely place to spend an afternoon but it provides a totally different and wonderful perspective on the city to the likes of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza etc.

T-Site

The heart of Daikanyama is a beautiful pedestrian area called T-Site for which Tokyo’s Klein Dytham Architecture won an award at the World Architecture Festival. The area is built around Tsutaya (that’s where the ‘T’ comes from) but also features some great restaurants and shops, details below:

Tsutaya     

Tsutaya is a chain of bookshops in Japan, however this one is special, very special. Featuring in lists of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, much time can be whiled away experiencing this Tsutaya. Considering the digitalisation of books, music, movies etc. causing dips in sales of this type of media, this place inspires you to return to the older school formats. It spans 3 connected buildings, with sections covering all ranges of interests.

This place has the added bonus of having some immaculate baby changing and private feeding facilities.

Upstairs in the middle section of Tsutaya, there is a wonderfully luxurious and calming cafe/restaurant called Anjin. It’s open till the wee areas, so if sans tot it’s a great spot for a glass of wine. With small tot, they have very comfy sofas to lounge on with a coffee in the early afternoon. I used to meet a friend there when our wee ones were very wee, not sure I would take my now toddler there however since it’s a very peaceful spot where folks often go to work. Worth walking through at least.

Ivy Place       

Serving up an eclectic menu of quality western fare in a beautiful setting, Ivy Place is a sister restaurant of TY Harbour Brewery in Tennouzu (another great eatery but not a huge amount else to do in the nearby vicinity). As such, it’s worth tasting one of the beers off the menu, the Pale Ale was my favourite.

This is a very popular spot where reservations are recommended, although frustratingly the area of this restaurant which can accommodate tots does not accept reservations. A favourite before we had our wee one, I became disheartened by the wait times for lunchtimes where if you can get in they have lovely outdoor seating with sofas, perfect for very little ones. However, they actually have a very good call back system for those on the waiting list that doesn’t require you to stand in line, so once I realised this my strategy changed. I would visit the restaurant as soon as I arrived in Daikanyama, then go about my business (take wee one for a play in the next door toy shop – Bourneland) until I received a callback when a table became available.

In addition to the sofa seating, they do have highchairs that are open fronted. We would normally sacrifice one or both of our belts to secure the front, also allowing one to eat more, win win.

Borneland    

Bourneland is a chain of high quality toy stores in Japan, this one being conveniently located in T-Site. They also run some amazing big play areas (kid-o-kid) in Yokohama, Kawasaki and a few other locations, but in this store there is just a little play area, with a kitchen, shop, slide and a few other items, perfect for wee tots. They also have a table with some of the items better suited for older tots to trial.

Although only a smallish store, they’ve managed to squeeze in a handy and well kept (as they all are in Japan) changing table and toilet.

Log Road

In addition to T-Site, Log Road, built on top of the old Tokyu line tracks, is another great spot in the area worth a stroll down. Featuring a few shops and eateries, the highlights for me were:

Spring Valley Brewery       

This is Kirin’s craft brewery. Despite this phrase in itself sounding like an oxymoron, this is a great spot for lunch and maybe even a beer flight, complete with complementing bites. They have a large decking area out front, which if it’s not too hot, or cold, is just lovely.
They do have highchairs, but like in Ivy Place, only the open fronted ones, so for we often resorted to securing these with a belt..

 

Blue Star Donuts

An outlet of this Portland, Oregon gourmet donut joint. Great for a bit of sugar to power through a day’s sightseeing. The creme brûlée donut, complete with a syringe of Couintreau is the winner for the adult contingent of your party.

Kyu Asakura House

At the top of the road leading up to Daikanyama from Nakameguro, you’ll find tucked away a beautiful traditional Japanese house in the midst of the modern architecture. Built in 1919 as a private residence for politician Torajiro Asakura, this is a fine example of traditional Japanese architecture from the Taisho era. Only costing 100 Yen to enter, it’s well worth a visit. You can stroll round the property freely from room to room, rest on the tatami mats and explore the beautifully manicured gardens. A stop here makes for a very relaxing timeout.

Other Spots

If it’s a hot day and you’re in search of an icy treat, then there are 2 joints to try out. For gourmet ice pops, head to Paletas or if ice cream is more your thing, Softree serves up a good cone, complete with a chunk of fresh honeycomb.

 

Kamawanu is a shop selling ‘Tenugui’ (Patterned rectangular cloths of thin cotton, which can be used as tea towels, kerchiefs, gift wrap etc.) located in a traditional Japanese building in a backstreet of Daikanyama. Great place to pick up gifts and also for a slice of traditional Japan.

Urth Caffe is another restaurant with highchairs in the area, this time the reliable old Ikea Antelope. It’s a branch of an LA joint, serving up fresh sandwiches and other salads delights.

La Fuente on the second floor should excite you if you’re looking for baby and tot stuff. Expensive, but featuring mostly made in Japan clothing and some gorgeous organic cotton baby yukatas. They also having baby changing facilities and private feeding rooms.

If you do have a date night sans tot planned and fancy something tucked away in this area, Cedros was one of our absolute favourites. Their sake glasses sit proudly on our display shelves in memory. Their food is so, so good, lovely staff and intimate atmosphere. We used to visit frequently for brunch at the weekend but unfortunately they are now open only in the evenings.

Map (all locations starred):

Part of Series:

Tokyo Strolling: Series Intro

The general perception of Tokyo, as a city of 14 million, is busy, busy, busy. At rush hour on the train, yes, this is accurate BUT… there are so many lovely residential and boutiquey pockets to the city that completely shatter this image. I loved nothing more than spending my time strolling around Tokyo with wee one (from birth to 1), hopping from play area to tot friendly cafe* en route.

There are many little circuits that I enjoyed, too many for one post, so I’ve created a series of posts ‘Tokyo Strolling’ covering my favourite neighbourhoods, where to eat, where to play and how to connect them together for a days outing. I hope you can enjoy these as much I did.

Our apartment in Tokyo was in Meguro, so it is from this location that all my strolls began. We were in a tall building in the middle of lower residential blocks and houses making for wonderful sweeping views over the sprawling city, all to the backdrop of iconic Mount Fuji (see featured image). I miss this view a LOT! Meguro itself isn’t really on the tourist trail, apart from for Scandi/Japanese furniture enthusiasts flocking to Meguro-dori (aka furniture street). It is however a very convenient spot surrounded by some wonderful neighbourhoods and all just 2 stops from the famous lights and crossings of busy Shibuya on the Yamanote Line (much like the Circle Line in London, only clean and reliable…).

All strolls began with coffee perfection from Switch Coffee which we were blessed to have on our doorstep. With coffee in hand my day could begin, now just to decide which route to take…

Coming Soon….

*A couple of points to note:

Highchairs in restaurants in Tokyo appear a lot less frequently than in other western cities so if your tot does need a highchair then it’s good to perhaps research an eating spot before you set out for the day, or take a tot-seat or similar out with you.

I must confess that most of my restaurant recommendations are in fact for western cuisine, terrible I know, but they generally are more tot-friendly since the really authentic Japanese eateries tend to be smoky joints with counter seating.

 

Wine Tasting & Picnics: Los Olivos, California

Fess Parker (Featured Image)

Fess Parker was a hollywood actor, most famous for his role as Davey Crocket. Before our time so admittedly I had no idea before we stopped here. I also had no idea it had featured in the movie ‘Sideways’ until we were informed by another customer on a pilgrimage to all the wineries in the movie. This is where the main guy in the movie drank the contents of the spittoon so the winery’s name was not used!

The tasting room is very spacious, done up almost like a log cabin inside and outdoors there is a beautiful big lawn with picnic tables catering well to our needs. Nice wines too.

Andrew Murray

This winery was very close to Fess Parker so we popped in after our picnic. There’s lots of outdoor seating and they do have corn ball which is always a plus, but the seating is all rather close to the car park so need to keep an eye on the wee one. Although I didn’t think it was the best setup for a tot, they actually sell kids toys inside so they must be kid friendly!

It was quiet so again we were able to take our tasting outside. The tasting itself however was a little impersonal with very little information provided.

Rusack

This winery has again plenty of outdoor seating and the tasting was allowed to be enjoyed outside with your own picnic. It felt like a very homely setup in the tasting room, quite small and very friendly. They even let you keep your wine glass!

Not too much roaming space for a tot since it’s all seating really, but a relaxed atmosphere so it worked nicely.

Gainey

A beautiful setting, it is in fact where the featured image for this series of posts was taken (below). We visited here post Fess Parker and Andrew Murray so it was later in the afternoon and very quiet. There is plenty of outdoors seating in the beautiful garden surrounded by vineyards. There’s also a section of the garden without seating that was perfect for our tot to run around. Although we had already had our picnic, it would be possible to have one here and they don’t mind the tasting being brought outside to accompany it either.

Roblar

This was our last winery visit of the Californian leg of our trip and again ticked all the boxes providing the perfect fusion of wine tasting, picnic and happy tot. The wine tasting room is very large, with an informal feel. Through the wine tasting room it opens out to a large garden with a few picnic tables where we were able to enjoy our tasting.

Bonus points for the home-made chocolates they also sold.

Part of Series:

Wine Tasting & Picnics: Paso Robles, California

We only passed through Paso Robles, visiting 2 wineries en route, as reviewed below.

Halter Ranch

This was our first stop in Paso Robles. It was the weekend so much busier than we’d been used to and this turned out to be a big operation. The tasting room itself was packed but we did fortunately manage to get a table in the courtyard outside. Not an ideal setup for a tot even on a quiet day since there were no grassy areas to roam.

Plus points we were able to take the tasting to the courtyard but the tasting itself was a very impersonal affair, young staff repeating tasting notes word for word.

We got rather lucky when an older boy took a shine to our wee one which kept her happily entertained for the duration.

JUSTIN

Our second stop in Paso Robles and I rather wish it was our first. It’s a beautiful Hampton style building with lots of outdoor seating. It was rather busy again being the weekend but we managed to get a seat near a small grassy patch before the vineyards begin, so our tot had some roaming space. We were able to bring the tasting outside and the wines were really superb. I believe it has been bought by the Fiji water company so all tastings were washed down with a complimentary bottle of their water.

Whilst it was workable with a tot and the staff were nice and accommodating I think this place would be best enjoyed as an adult affair, taking the whole afternoon over it with dinner in their rather nice looking restaurant too.

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Wine Tasting & Picnics: Sonoma & Napa, California

See also Russian River and Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, for other activities we enjoyed in the area.

Bartholomew Park

This winery is situated in the heart of a 400-acre park. It’s a small estate vineyard, organically farmed and their wines only available for sale through the tasting room or their wine club.

Likely benefitting by it being very quiet when we rocked up, we really enjoyed the tasting since the chap provided lots of interesting information about the wines whilst also showing genuine human interest in those visiting. The wines were very much to our palette and we ended up splashing out on a bottle of their premium Cab Sav, Abbot’s Passage to enjoy with our picnic.

The picnic grounds overlook the vineyards and in the hills behind the winery are approximately 3 miles of marked hiking trails, with a view extending to San Francisco on a clear day. They do appear to offer picnics to order in advance from some really good local restaurants but we just brought along our own cheeses and bread.

Wonderful experience with a very happy tot. One of our faves.

Ravenswood

We went to Ravenswood after Bartholomew Park. It’s a much bigger operation with a focus on Zinfandel.

Our wee one slept through the whole thing which was probably a good thing. The tasting room is in a nice spot with some picnic tables outside but not so much space for a tot to roam.

Again, the chap doing the tasting was just lovely which really made the experience. He even gave us all a lift back into town afterwards!

Francis Ford Coppola

This estate is more than just a winery. It has a museum with lots of Coppola film memorabilia, a kid friendly restaurant and if the weather is nicer than during our visit, a whole big pool with sun loungers, all open to the public. So it has the potential to be a great family day out.

Our visit was late afternoon with the intention of seeking out a dry place to roam whilst getting wee one her snooze and then dinner when she woke up. All went to plan, allowing us a cheeky wine tasting pre dinner. Nice, easy drinking wines and great Italian food in the restaurant.

Gundlach Bundschu

This winery was a lovely spot to arrive at after a slightly harrowing cycle where we’d ended up on a very busy road with no bike lanes, that’s another story.

The tasting room is by a beautiful lake with a big area full of shaded picnic tables outside. Since it was quiet we were also able to bring our wine tasting to accompany our cheese based picnic, perfect. Great wines too.

For those with more energy upon arrival there are also some hiking paths around the grounds.

Rutherford Hill

This was our first winery and picnic stop in California and our only one in Napa. We’d had a false start at HALL Wines which I’m sure is great, just not really a workable setup with tots in the tasting room. In contrast Rutherford Hill was perfect. Very quiet when we arrived, the tasting staff were wonderfully relaxed and I think all related to or the owners themselves. We were able to take our tasting outside to their beautiful manicured garden to accompany our picnic. They even had corn ball which kept our wee tot especially happy posting the beanbags into the hole.

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Wine Tasting & Picnics: Series Intro

Wine tasting & picnics, who’d have thought such a civilised combination could be so tot friendly?!

Whilst in California we visited some of it’s many fine wine regions, not realising before our trip quite how many there were! 12 regions in total, running almost the full length of California. Many of these wineries are relaxed affairs with gardens amongst the vines featuring picnic facilities. Touring in Autumn, mostly mid week we were able to enjoy the wineries off peak, often having almost the entire place to ourselves! This was perfect for our requirements, since they were quiet we were able to mostly take each tasting outside to accompany our picnic, allowing our tot to roam free rather than trying to keep her cooped up in a tasting room whilst we listen to the tasting notes. This combination of wine tasting and picnics was win-win, happy adults, happy tot.

The other beauty about doing this in California is that you can, as we did, enjoy one day touring a wine region and the next on the beach, our 2 favourite activities, perfect!

Since we visited a few different wine regions it makes for a lengthy single post so i’ve broken this into a series covering each area, also allowing for more to added in future…

Mini Travellers

Baby in Japan

When we moved to Tokyo in May 2013, we were both in full time city jobs that we’d both been fortunate to relocate with. Working hard and playing hard we took every opportunity to explore the country. We fell in love with Japan and it will forever hold a special place in our hearts. We had never planned to have a baby there but when I found out I was pregnant in November 2014 we started the most amazing adventure in this foreign land.

Many expats in Japan opt to use one of the few English speaking doctors with private practices in Tokyo throughout their pregnancy and to facilitate the birth in hospital. This is an expensive route to take especially if like us you are on a local work contract and therefore with only Japanese health insurance rather than international.

There are a handful of hospitals in Tokyo where some English is spoken, not great English necessarily, but some. Of these, we opted for Aiiku upon recommendation from a colleague. They had a brand spanking new premises and equipment in Tamachi that felt like visiting a swanky office block rather than a hospital! Throughout my pregnancy I had regular check ups with a variety of different doctors of varying English abilities. Had my pregnancy been high risk or with complications the language difficulties may have been more stressful but as it was we were very lucky in having a very smooth pregnancy. I was especially happy with the fact that scans were taken every visit, so enjoyed plenty of sneaky peeks at the wee one inside.

The birth itself was a long one, starting Sunday morning until Monday afternoon. The staff on Sunday were a skeleton crew and whilst very sweet and helpful, barely a word of English was spoken. Come Monday morning however the dream team arrived. The most lovely midwife, speaking perfect English and an anaesthetist so thorough that I was given a choice of how much I would like to feel of the birth, checking comfort levels every 10 minutes, made for a superb birth experience.

Unlike the UK where you’re kicked out of hospital as soon as physically possible, in Japan you are required to stay in hospital for up to 5 days. A lovely relaxing prospect for second time mums who know what they’re doing I’m sure, but as a first time mum I found this rather daunting, since apart from one suite in Aiiku, partners were not allowed to stay outside of visiting hours. After 2 sleepless nights post pregnancy on my own with our new wee one, we moved to the rather luxurious suite so that my husband could stay, and finally I could start to relax…

I spent the next year rediscovering Tokyo through baby goggles and what a terrific place to enjoy a baby it turned out to be.