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Toraya – Tokyo

Toraya  is the oldest existing wagashi (Japanese  confections) store.  Dating back to the mid sixteenth century in Kyoto, where it became a purveyor to the imperial court under the reign of Emperor Go-Yōzei (1571-1617).  Towards the end of the Edo period Toraya moved their center of operations to Tokyo, leaving  behind the orginal store in Kyoto.

Currently, The flagship store  is in Akasaka, and  other locations in the main luxury department stores around Tokyo.

The Toraya store in the lower lever of Tokyo midtown,  a commercial, business and residential complex in Roppongi, is a great example of the modern life of this 400+ year old business.  It is an excellent location to go for delicious Japanese sweets.  This Toraya location also serves as an art gallery and a cafe as well as an amazing  wagashi  related souvenir shop

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Les Cols – Olot

In the remote town of Olot  in la Garrotxa, a volcanic area in the north of Catalonia; chef Fina Puigdevall – with the help of RCR Architects –  put forth  Les Cols;  a stunning two star Michelin restaurant; voted most beautiful in the world by a handful of publications.

Puigdevall’s culinary proposals are rooted in the surrounding landscape.  The majority of the ingredients are grown and raised at the restaurant, maintaining an ultra local and organic practices.  It is beyond “farm to table” as the table is at this beautiful 13th century farm.

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Le Grand Bleu – Tokyo

 Le Grand Bleu is one of those shops, that unless you are on the inside ultra-hip fashion Industry you would never find or even take a second glance at if you happened to stroll past.

On a quiet street, not far from the Reiyukai Shakaden Temple, sits a true rock fashion boutique.  Complete with new and vintage clothing, accessories, and jewelry from all over the world.  Every world rockstar touring Japan makes a stop here.  The US based equivalent would be LA’s Maxfield., though, Le Grand Blue gives off a much more authentic vibe.

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Tapas Molecular Bar – Tokyo

While highly-touted, we found Tokyo’s Tapas Molecular Bar more Vegas entertainment than Michelin Star-worthy.  Usually we would not review a restaurant that does not excite us, but here we do as it is so heavily marketed.

Chef Ngan Ping Chow, originally from Hong Kong, is rather entertaining, a very good performer with knowledge of different languages  and the main attraction.  He creates decent examples of current modernist techniques.  This is a good introduction for people not immersed in modernist cuisine, a.k.a. tourists.  Tapas Molecular bar is definitely not for gourmets, as the food is not breathtaking in flavor at all.

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Istanbul – Turkey

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Istanbul is a truly massive metropolis.   With a population of almost 14 Million inhabitants, spread across 2 continents,  soaring minarets and massive mosques, it is a city that sits at the cross-roads of the world.  Please check our list of detailed posts here.  We really loved our time in this wondrous city!

So just know that the traffic is crazy and by far the best – and most fun – way to get around is by ferry.  You can traverse up and down the Bosphorus for cheap while seeing all the wondrous sites from the water.  Not quite as economic, but much more fun, is the water taxi aka speedboats for hire.  There are a few different companies and your hotel concierge can advise.

We recommend the ferries and then walking.  There is a mini metro system that works mainly in Sultanahmet; with one line going over to the Asian side and a couple others towards the Tunel and Nisantasi districts.

Locals are overwhelmingly sweet and attentive.  Every time we got lost someone would walk us all the way to our destination and answer all our questions.  Being naturally untrusting New Yorkers, we were always looking for the catch; the “what’s in it for them”.  However, in the end we had to admit that there was no catch.  People were truly helpful, polite and caring!

We never had an incident, but that doesn’t mean one should bring the guard down.  Istanbul is what it is because of it’s strategic location between two continents, and is the main hub for human trafficking worldwide.

Like most hyper-touristic destinations, beware of taxi drivers overcharging,  In Istanbul, some taxi drivers might triple and even quadruple the fare.  It’s always good to check with the hotel for estimated taxi fares.  If you feel you are being abused, just step out of the car  and tell the driver you are calling the police – there are standing police everywhere – that will usually take care of the situation and the driver quickly change the rate !

For a magical afternoon, take a casual Sunday stroll in Kadikoy while  watching the people fish along the Bosphorus and marvel at the blue blue water and jellyfish everywhere!

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