March 24, 2010

the first spring fever (aka cherry blossoms)

The rain continues to pour down on us here in Kyoto, but there have been some beautiful springy days every few days. The most recent of such a day was this past Monday (which happened to be a national holiday), and I decided to take advantage of the short-lived sunshine to catch views of the first sakura, or cherry blossoms, in (nearly) full bloom...

I headed to Kyoto Gyoen, or Kyoto National Garden where the Imperial Palace is located. While a visit to the Palace normally requires a permission in advance (although it is open to the public twice a year), the Garden is basically a park and open to the public all year around - perfect for a picnic day out and having kids and dogs running around.

As you go into the park through one of the gates near the north-east corner of the park, you'll soon see rows of huge cherry blossom trees...

... and rows of people. But trust me, this isn't nearly as bad as it can get during the height of the season!

While the most common and widely seen sakura may be the kind called somei yoshino, the kind that first comes into full bloom is usually shidare zakura, or "weeping sakura", characterized by the long branches of blossoms swaying graciously.

Well it's pretty much impossible to take a good picture of blossoms with nobody (or anybody else than those you're trying to take a picture of) in it at most of the cherry-viewing spots, and after a while you'd start wondering if you are trying to shoot blossoms or humans.

And that used to annoy me when I was desperately trying to get some decent shots of the flower, but these days I have become more relaxed about it - I'd just enjoy the general atmosphere of excitement and cheerfulness that surrounds us, all of us, who admire the blossoms in our own ways.

After a bit of blossom viewing (and people watching), I took a little break for a few bites of goodies...

Ciabatta sandwich with provencal chicken (lots of olives and tomato) and a croissant filled with whipped cream and custard, that I'd picked up earlier the day at the beautiful bakery Le Petit Mec a few blocks to the west of the Garden (map) - complete with a bottle of green tea from, well, a convenience store. Now if you happen to remember that I came to Kyoto to spend a day of cherry blossom viewing in the spring of 2005, I did the exact the same thing back then: eating pastries from Le Petit Mec at the Kyoto Gyoen. Reckon things haven't changed too much over the five years?

Except maybe, I did have more time this time around, hanging about and looking around, taking my time admiring the beauty that was cherry blossoms.

And last time I didn't get to walk around the Garden much outside of the Northeast corner where the shidare zakura trees are, so I decided to go and explore deeper into the garden... (Truth is, I just walked down to the south and not necessarily "deeper into" the place, but anyways.)

Not surprisingly, there are a lot more to see in the garden other than cherry blossoms, and many trees and plants were full of flowers in bloom, too.

In fact, even though shidare zakura was nearly in full bloom, cherry blossoms of most kinds were still buds and would have another few days or even weeks before they'd come into bloom. What was in full bloom right now, rather than cherry, was peach blossoms.

And I swear I can't tell cherry blossoms from peach (or apricot or apple or pear, really), but I was 100% sure that these were peach blossoms. Why? Well, I'll let you into a secret:

A large sign that reads PEACH GROVE standing by the trees does give you some ideas, right? ;)

We love our sakura a lot, but momo (peach) is pretty darn adorable, too...

And so everyone was having a good time chatting, clicking, playing, and napping away the afternoon under the trees, some with their families and friends, some on their own. Isn't this a perfect way to spend a weekend or what?

... Now a little more of walk should warrant a few more bites if you ask me...

In another departure from my same old "Kyoto Gyoen & Le Petit Mec" combination of five years ago, this time I ventured into a new, um, bakery. This one's called eze bleu (map), another bakery near the Garden, also on Imadegawa Dori street.

It's not that the bakery itself is that new (it's been there since 2002), but it was my first time going there. Pictured are another sandwich (smoked salmon and avocado this time) and another croissant(-like pastry) (filled with cream and fresh raspberries), and I also bought several more pastries to take home. I like Le Petit Mec, but this one wasn't too bad either - must go back for further, ahem, research. In fact, Imadegawa Dori is what one might call the "bakery street" in Kyoto - apparently there are more than a handful of good bakeries that are worth a visit along this street, and I should go and check them out one of these days. Oh yes.

But oh, we are talking about the Garden and cherry blossoms today...

Well, this is pretty much it. This is how I spent an afternoon full of blossoms of many kind and a nice long-ish walk. Although you might think you've had enough of cherry blossoms around here, it's far from the case; more blossoms will be in full bloom over the coming week or two, and there will be more pictures/talks of cherry blossoms to come, for sure. So bear with me, or enjoy with me - after all, it's only a short few weeks' of craziness that happens once a year, and this is how we celebrate the arrival of spring.

Yes, spring is here!!

March 15, 2010

start of the day, start of the week, start of the spring

a peek at some of my breakfasts these days...

sakura steamer (cherry blossom-flavored steamed milk) and a blueberry scone at starbucks;

home-baked apple and raisin bread pudding (based toughly on this recipe) and tea;

a cranberry bagel from "our" bakery (about a minute's walk from our place) and homemade yuzu marmalade from sigrid; and

toasted brioche from the said bakery and homemade matcha dulce de leche (ver 2.0. with white chocolate) from the said friend and momo ichigo strawberries (like these).

We're getting a little tired of all these rainy days, but it's definitely getting warmer by the week, if not day. People are getting all excited for the cherry blossoms to come out and planning hanami or cherry blossom viewing parties (though you can't really tell whether it is the blossoms or the booze that you are appreciating more, but that's another story).

According to the "cherry blossoms forecasts" we should be seeing the flowers coming out sometime early next week, and in full bloom over the weekend. I can't wait! But for now, here is my past post (back in 2005!) about my trip to Kyoto for sakura...

Hope it is (getting) nice and warm where you are, and you all have a wonderful week! -c x

March 8, 2010

hello kyoto!

- late lunch in the mid afternoon at café bibliotic hello!


we arrived in kyoto on a sunny and warm friday, then spent the weekend busy running errands in the cold rains. so i was grateful for the sunshine and blue sky in the monday morning.

and even though the glorious weather was fairly short-lived, my day got only better as i caught up with my fellow (temporary) kyotoite for a lazybusy afternoon of chatting, lunching, lounging, shopping, and more chatting. there are few better ways to kick start a week than this - especially when it's your first week in a new city.

* café bibliotic hello! is a machiya-turned-into-cafe, arguably one of the best known of this sort - a super relaxing and cozy place. i have some photos i took last time i was there a few years ago here; more from the same trip in the autumn 2007 are here. you can also read a little about the cafe in english here.

hello the new week, hello my friends, and hello kyoto! -c x

March 3, 2010

a day for girls -in a hurry

It is hinamatsuri, or Girls' Day today. It's the time for families with girls to put out a set of ohina-sama (hina dolls) and place hina-arare (sugar-coated popped rice) and hishimochi (rhombus-shaped, tri-color layered mochi) in front of them, and make chirashi-zushi and drink amazake. Well, only I didn't.

I thought/hoped about cooking/baking something traditional or something inspired by traditional - but alas, neither happened; I was short of time, but you can call me lazy. So instead I took a short cut and went out for a quick trip to a nearby department store and scored a few things including a cake made to look like a hishimochi adorned with an edible pair of hina dolls. So it's like two in one (hishimochi + hina dolls)! Well, sort of. Scattered around it is hina-arare, just to boost the girlie factor.

I also grabbed a ready-to-eat chirashi-zushi for lunch, which was very forgettable - I wish I'd made some by myself. Maybe one of these days.

March 3rd is also called momo-no-sekku ("peach blossoms' festival"), because it's around the time for peach blossoms to bloom - although that's in lunar calender, so today it's more like late March to early April. But the tradition of appreciating peach blossoms around hinamatsuri remains to this day and we'd look out for some, usually still in bud, as we prepare for the festival.

On my way back home I stopped by a local flower shop and picked up a small bouquet of pink peach blossoms that came with rape blossoms and tulip, both of which herald the arrival of spring; and the lady at the shop gave me a bunch of white peach blossoms, too. A small thing, but that made my day. So did the warm, sunnier day that came after days after days of clouds and rains.

So my hinamatsuri this year was a very low-key, overly casual, and very much a cut-corners version, but a couple of years ago I made a little more efforts (and managed to blog about it): here, if you're interested.

Happy Girls' Day to all the girls! -c x