Bonjour encore, Strasbourg!

Despite the pandemonium experienced during the final leg of our German road trip, we managed to travel to Strasbourg in three hours.

‘We are like an old pro now, aren’t we?’ I chatted to mum as we strode towards Hotel Cathédrale from La place Gutenberg. We were there a mere seven days ago and acquainted ourselves with the area already.

Bonjour, our one night nest!

Last time we were in the city, we only had a few hours to explore the place in reality. It was in a late Saturday afternoon when we arrived and had to leave for Würzburg next morning.

This time, we reach the city by lunchtime, therefore, we had ample time to explore the place further. Mum and I dumped our luggage in our hotel room and went out to see what Strasbourg’s Saturday was really like.

Saturday was market day, and there were stalls laden with antiques and crafts all around La place Gutenberg…

At one stall which specialized in vintage and second-hand books, I asked in my basic French if they had any book of Caroline et ses amis by Pierre Probst. An old vendor in a director’s chair with a Panama hat on looked very surprised and asked me why I knew about the books. I answered him in my basic French again that the series was my childhood favourite.

Caroline and her friends on summer vacation in original French…

Then, the Japanese version with which I grew up…

I loved all the characters in the series…

and especially Youpi, I loved the most because he was the naughtiest…

And I named my aunt’s Yorkshire terrier as Youpi as well!

It was before we had a family dog, and Caroline and her friends really made me fantasised about the life with furry friends…

The old man apologised that he didn’t have any Caroline book in stock and I had to walk away from the stall empty-handed.

It would have been wonderful if I could read the book with mum again…

Some years back, I did managed to buy a few copies of the vintage Caroline series at one of the antique bookshops in Passage Jouffroy, Paris. The books smelt rather musty, but they brought back all the memories of my early childhood.

‘Now, let’s stretch our leg further, mum!’ We turned northward and walked towards Rue des Grandes Arcades…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

The Society Club

The Society Club is another doggie friendly venue in Soho. They are found on Ingestre Place, a quiet street tucked behind lively Berwick Street and Broadwick Street…

They are a rare and out-of-print bookshop…

However, they also offer tea and coffee during the daytime and cocktails in the evening….

Tables and chairs are dotted around this small but airy space, and the customers are free to leaf through the books on the shelves.

We sat ourselves down around one of the table in the corner and ordered a pot of English Breakfast tea. I was delighted to find a book about the British wartime films as I was a big fun of old black & white films made by the Rank Organization. Hubbie and I had an impromptu game of who could name more famous British war films while we sipped our tea.
‘In which we serve?’ ‘Cruel Sea?’ ‘Sailor of the King?’ ‘Desert Rats?’ ‘The Man Who Never Was?’ ‘Sink the Bismarck?’ ‘Dunkirk?’ ‘Mrs.Minibar?’ ‘Battle of Britain?’ ‘Decision before Dawn?’ ‘A Canterbury Tale?’ ‘Reach for the Sky?’ ‘We dive at Dawn?’ etc, etc…

Again, Bella was a very good girl. She sat on a cushion and was chilled…

Guess how much this paperback copy of The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp’s was?

The book was autographed by Mr.Crisp himself, and it was £95.

After enjoying a quiet break at the shop, we headed home via Berwick Street.

The street was a little windy and Bella hated it…

‘I am not moving until the wind stops blowing into my face!’ She insisted.

A street market on Berwick Street was a quieter affair in the weekend. There were only a handful of stalls opened and one of them was a used bookshop.

It is always delightful to find a secondhand book stall on the street…

Because you never know what gem or bargain may be waiting for you. I found mine in the shape of “Los Angeles – The architecture of four ecologies” by Reyner Banham…

I remember reading it when I was a student at UCL. After all these years, we met again. ‘Can you buy this for me?’ I handed the book to Hubbie. When we got home, I found a postcard placed between the pages of the book…

As the spring approaches, and we spend more time out on the street, the odds of finding serendipity in all shapes and sizes will increase. I am so looking forward to it! Aren’t you?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Saturday @ Broadway Market

During yesterday’s errand, I was caught out in a sharp wintry shower. The rain was driving into my flimsy leopard print umbrella and the scenery I glimpsed through the corner of the shaky brolly was just wet & grim.
However, against my pessimism, the weather is rumoured to be better by this coming Sunday. Let’s have our fingers crossed!

I can’t believe it was only a mere two weeks ago when Hubbie, Mr.B and I basked in the warm sunshine at Broadway Market.

Mr.B was leaving his calling card at one of his favourite lamp posts…

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We parked our car around the corner from the market…

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Look how keen Mr.B was…

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Apart from an original street market on Broadway Market, there were two more sites accommodating stalls…

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A profusion of blue sky with very little breeze…

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Every direction we turned, there were at least a couple of stalls which were offering tasty looking snacks…

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Dutch mini pancakes with various toppings…

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Some middle eastern snacks?…

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A mega cute sandwich wagon…

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This stall was specialised in honey…

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On Broadway Market, free music was everywhere…

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He was so into his zone…

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This adorable duo seemed to be captivated by a trio of French musicians…

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The only drawback of this particular market was a shortage of suitable seating. Those who managed to grab seats were lucky ones even if they were in the shade…

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Most of us ended up planting our butts on the pavement…

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With Mr.B in the carrier so he wouldn’t be trampled by the market visitors, Hubbie and I looked around the stalls…

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On our way home, we dropped in one of our favourite stalls and bought cakes…

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Raspberry bakewell slice for Hubbie…

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and chocolate M&M for me…

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We also bought a bunch of tulips too…

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Don’t they look lovely? I love tulips.
Let’s hope this weekend will be a warm & sunny one…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Ameya-yokochō @ Ueno

Around the railway arches of Yamate Line & Keihin Tōhoku Line in Ueno area always reminded me a film, Blade Runner. Do you remember the first scene in which Harrison Ford appeared? It rained incessantly and the shop sign & neon blurred through a thick PVC curtain while he slurped a bowl of noodle in a nonchalant manner…

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The area around the arches and their vicinity is known as Ameya-yokochō (アメヤ横丁) or more affectionately Ame-yoko (アメ横), and one of the best crowd-pullers in Tokyo.
The quarter is occupied by multitudinous shops and stalls which trade in almost everything except automobiles – however, their parts are available – and most of the items on sale are markdown which attract bargain hunters from not only its neighbourhood but also the outside of Tokyo…

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While Tokyo and the rest of Japan keep on being gentrified, Ameyoko retains coarseness and directness which makes the area exciting and irresistible.
The most renowned alley is along the railway arches with numerous fishmongers trading in cases of fresh sashimi to bags of dried bonito shavings.
With their distinctively loud and hoarse shout goes like ‘Hey guys, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap, CHEAP!’, barkers do their best to attract the attention of passers- by…

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Unlike their counterparts in Osaka, folks in Tokyo in general, they don’t normally haggle prices when they shop. However in Ameyoko, they are encouraged to ask for a better bargain while negotiating the price and the scene is fun to participate. After a brisk yet friendly exchange, a vendor normally relents, saying ‘Alright guvner, you are the boss!’ Then, he quickly wraps up whatever he has sold, hands it over to the triumphant customer and moves on to the next passer-by.

There are two possible explanations how Ameyoko gained its name and notoriety.
By the large-scale bombing by the Allies in the spring of 1945, the area around the present Ameyoko transformed to smouldering wasteland. Once the ash settled, small temporary stalls started to sprout and the area quickly grew to be a large black market. Ueno Station nearby was a gateway to Northern Japan and train cars full of people arrived to the area, scrambling for whatever available to buy in order to survive during the general shortage of goods in post-war Japan. As the black market proliferated uncontrollably, it attracted all sort of vices, such as extortions and illegal prostitutions by Yakuza, daylight shootings and brawls also became an everyday norm. In order to clean up the area and make it safer, a desperate local authorities begged a local entrepreneur, Kondō Hirokichi (近藤広吉), for a solution. Hirokichi organised a market, Kondō Market, with a capacity for 80 shops and vetted its candidates rigorously in order to stump out any dubious dealing. This market was the beginning of the present Ameya-yokochō.

A Japanese word for hard candy/boiled sweet is “Ame”(飴=アメ). After the war, the shortage of sugar, refined or brown, carried on, making the people craving for sweet treats. However, artificial sweetener, saccharin, was introduced to Japan around the end of 1947 and the stalls selling candies using it surged into the market. The number of stalls selling sweets snowballed to more than 300 and the area was gradually known as Ameya-yokochō – Candy seller alley.

Screamind shop signs, advertising cut price chocolate…

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A bags of broken chocolate was on sale for ¥1000. Two for the price of one.

A majority of people, including me, believe that Ameyoko earned its name because it traded in goods from the USA after the war. As a teenager, I remember heaps of the U.S military surplus from the Vietnam War being strewn on the shop floors. Not only M-65 field jackets in cotton but also canteens, rucksacks, caps, helmets, jungle boots, ponchos, t-shirts, gas masks, etc, you name it, were found in numerous shops.

The tradition of selling American fashion still lives on…

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In my late teens, I was in love with anything American and the sights of well known brands from USA excited me to no end…

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It was before the era of the internet shopping and Ameyoko was the only place we could get hold of exotic brand like Red Wing or O’Neill.
Another joy of visiting Ameyoko was exploring narrow passages sprawling like veins around the market. With friends, I walked along the alleyways for all afternoon, hunting for lipsticks or eye shadows of foreign brands such as Estée Lauder and Revlon.

A timeless scene of the alleyway shop…

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While the rest of Tokyo keeps on evolving and gaining new identities by shedding off legacies, Ameyoko gains and retains a unique position in Japanese people’s psyche…

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It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s slightly seedy. But it’s also nostalgic and very real.
I would never want Ameyoko to smarten up EVER…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Day Out With SC…

After enjoying our brunch at Salvation Jane, SC and I headed towards Spitalfields Market while Hubbie walked back home – he was not a market-going kind of guy, you know.
Instead of walking through a busy concourse of Liverpool Street Station, we approach it via Exchange Square, Broadgate. On Primrose Street, we saw a huge lone reindeer towering over the pavement…

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The Christmas display was well made and pretty. However, it was ruined by some over-zealous fencing around its footings…

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Is this another example of modern-day disease, health & safety?
Without those heavy-handed precautions, the reindeer could have been much more beautiful and elegant. Who cares if some idiot, who is too busy tweeting or updating FB, walks into the ornament and knock his forehead? All of us should look where we are heading, not our eyes glued to phones. It’s common sense, isn’t it? By the way, SC and I also witness from the upper deck of a No.8 bus, a Christmas tree dedicated from Tiffany & Co at the Royal Exchange was pretty much spoiled by the fences around it. It’s just a Christmas tree, for Chrissake! What harm or threat will it present? It’s nothing like uneven pavement or loose potholes which can be discreet and potentially dangerous, is it? Utterly ludicrous…

At Old Spitalfields Market, we tried to locate my friend, Howie’s stall but couldn’t find it. The market was much busier than normal Saturdays, more stalls and more punters. So we gave up our search and headed towards Brick Lane.

On Dray Walk, we encountered a huge crowd queuing up to get inside of a sample sale at Ely’s Yard…

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Behind a Christmas tree sale hut, a long queue was formed and the people were standing in the cold patiently. It could have been an amazing sale since the interest it attracted among the crowd spoke volumes. However, waiting all day for possibilities of bargain didn’t appeal to us that much so we carried on walking towards Brick Lane.

At Vintage Emporium on Bacon Street, we managed to find a table and had a well-earned tea break…

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The place was busy with the customers who were like us, only too happy to find a warmer place to sit and chat over a cup of hot drink and some snack. And SC kindly bought me a huge mug of tea…

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Over the tea, we chatted about each other’s plan for the coming festive season. She was spending her Christmas and New Year Day in Hawaii with her family. How nice! Comparing with her plan, my New Year will be in wintery Nagano, Japan. Brrrrrr….!
Then, SC mentioned how much she coveted the sunglasses produced by my dear friend, Fei. We both thought it would be great if she could go away with a new pair of shades. So I phoned up Fei and invited her out for dinner and to show SC her amazing collection.
From Bethnal Green Road, we caught a No.8 bus and traveled to West End. At Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road, SC bought a sleek bedside lamp and we walked towards Oxford Circus through Fitzrovia. By the way, the way Oxford Street was clogged up with shoppers was a sight to behold!

We arrived at Tonkotsu, our favourite the ramen bar, on Dean Street around 7pm and had to wait for a table over 30 minutes. While I was in the queue, a gorgeous smell of the freshly cooked ramen tickled my nostrils all the time. It was undoubtedly one of the longest half an hour in my life…

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In the nick of time, Fei managed to join us and we were eventually ushered to our table.
Once seated, we promptly ordered our favourites, Chicken Karaage…

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Pork Gyoza…

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And a bowl of Soho Ramen each…

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It had been quite a while since I had eaten at Tonkotsu, therefore, I found the ramen extra tasty.
We chatted over so many subjects and had so much laughter.
After dinner, we moved on to our usual place for more chat & tea (& cake)…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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