Brian’s Travel Spot: Tokyo

A quiet, narrow Tokyo street 10 minutes' walk from the madness of Shibuya but feeling a million miles away.It’s almost been two weeks since I set off from Heathrow to fly, for first the time, to Japan. You can read about my (lack of) preparation for the trip and my thoughts about it in the previous Travel Spot. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of my trip, including where I went and what I did, I’m taking a different approach with this Travel Spot, concentrating on my general impressions of Tokyo and, in another post, Japan (at least, those bits that I visited).

My trip’s been split into three parts. Part I involved three nights in Tokyo where I was pretty much getting over my jet-lag and gentling exploring random parts of the city. Part II was work, a Monday to Friday meeting that was ostensibly the purpose of the trip and involved moving to a swanky hotel in Shibuya (think Piccadilly Circus/Oxford Street or Times Square). Part III, the bit I’m on now, sees me exploring Japan by train for a week and will be covered in another Travel Spot.

Back to this Travel Spot, where I will kick off with some general observations about Tokyo, before moving on to talk about coffee shops and other matters.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Japan

This is a slight departure from my normal Travel Spot series, less recording what I’ve done, more advanced warning of what’s coming. Whether I expand it to recap my travels remains to be seen, but for now it can stand as a reminder of an increasingly busy year!

You see, I’m off to Japan. I’ve known about it for a while now. I booked the flights in early February, but only really started planning the trip at the weekend. For reference, today’s Wednesday and I’m leaving for the airport at noon!

This is very unlike me. Normally I’m a thorough planner and preparer, even if I then use my plans as a basis for improvisation rather than rigorously follow them. I suspect that I’m a bit of nightmare to travel with, so it’s just as well that I travel alone most of the time.

I’m back with British Airways after dabbling with various airlines over the last year. It’s the one part of the trip I have planned: my exit-row aisle seats are booked and I’m looking forward (honestly, I am) to 12 hours on a 787. It might give me a chance to do some preparation for this trip!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part I

My hire car for the drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, parked up on the side of the road in the Joshua Tree National Park. The striking blue paint job made it easy to find in car parks!Welcome to the third instalment of this, the latest in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series, which document my various travels. The first two parts of this particular Travel Spot, which covered my first visit to Phoenix in October 2016 and my return in January 2017, were rather portentously entitled “Phoenix and the Grand Adventure”. This, the third part, is the start of the Grand Adventure itself, a road trip that would ultimately see me driving over 1,200 miles, starting in Phoenix and ending, almost exactly seven days later (to the hour!) in San Francisco.

However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. After spending a week in Phoenix, where I was attending a four-day long business meeting, I set off in my hire car, a rather striking blue Ford Fiesta, with the intention to drive west to Los Angeles, then north up the California coast, mostly along Highway 1, ultimately ending up in San Francisco.

You can following my journey in this post, starting with my drive west from Phoenix. As is usual with my Travel Spot series, I will update this post as I go, so don’t forget to check back regularly for updates.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: My Return to Phoenix

Improving hotel coffee one Aeropress at a time with a little help from my Knock feldfarb hand grinder.Welcome to second instalment of the fifth in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. In the first part of this, the first Travel Spot of 2017, I explained how I was returning to Phoenix and took the opportunity to regale you with my adventures the first time around. We ended Part I with my arriving in Phoenix Airport having flown in via Salt Lake City, which, it turn out, was an excellent idea. Apart from the vile cold that I caught on the short hop from Salt Lake City to Phoenix and which I’ve just about got over now, a week later.

However, that’s enough moaning. I really enjoyed my return to Phoenix, confirming my original impressions that it’s a fabulous place both to live and to visit. What I hadn’t fully realised (although I knew it conceptually) is that Phoenix the city is quite small and what I think of Phoenix is in fact the greater Phoenix area (I may have made that term up!) which includes the surrounding cities such as Scottsdale (where I was last time) and the likes of Tempe, which is where we’ll start the tale of my return, after a quick word about my motel…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Phoenix and the Grand Adventure

Making coffee with my Travel Press on the flight on the way to Phoenix, October 2016. Grinding by Knock.Welcome to the fifth of the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series, where I attempt to document my various travels around the world. The first of these was back in 2015 when I did my coast-to-coast trip across the USA by train, followed by a return visit to the US this time last year. 2016 was a good year for travel, with a brief sojourn in Porto, followed by a round-the-world trip via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago.

This, the first Travel Spot of 2017 sees me off on a Grand Adventure around the US, starting with a return to Phoenix. Since I’m actually writing this at the gate in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, I thought I’d kick this Travel Spot off with a brief recap of my first visit to Phoenix which took place at the end of October last year, followed by what happened when I flew out this time…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Chicago

The Willis (was Sears) Tower, Chicago's tallest building.Welcome to fourth and final instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong, continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself and then moved onto Shanghai, where I was spent a week on business before having the weekend to explore. This instalment covers the final leg of the trip, Chicago, where I spent 10 days staying with friends before flying home, completing my first round-the-world trip in the process.

The more observant amongst you will notice that I haven’t actually finished my Hong Kong or Shanghai posts, but I wanted to get this post on the Coffee Spot before I actually completed my travels. It’s been a weird trip for me: because I was working in Shanghai and then staying with friends in Chicago, I’ve had very little spare time, so between keeping the Coffee Spot up-to-date, doing the day job, and socialising with my colleagues (Shanghai) and friends (Chicago), I’ve had very little time to do these Travel Spot posts. As a result, you can expect to see regular updates coming along for all three posts between now and the end of year!

A quick word about Chicago: although I say I was staying in “Chicago”, my friends live in Chicago in the same sense that I live in London (the point being that I actually live in Guildford). With that out of the way, let’s get on with the Travel Spot.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai

The futurist Oriental Pearl TV tower on the Pudong side of Huangpu River, as seen from the Bund at night.Welcome to third instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong and continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself. This post covers my time in Shanghai, which is the second leg of my trip. I’d never been to China before, so when I got an opportunity to go there on business, I took it with both hands.

I’ve been in Shanghai all week, but that’s mostly been spent in a meeting room on the first floor of the Hyatt, an interesting mix of modern western hotel, with Chinese architectural influences. So far I’ve not seen much of the city, although from just my limited exposure, I can say that it’s very different to Hong Kong.

I’ve now got the weekend to explore before I fly off on the third leg of my trip. Even though I’m still posting updates about my Hong Kong adventures, I wanted to get this post out while I was still in Shanghai, starting with my flight over. As with all the Travel Spots, this post is split into a number of sections which I’ll add to on a regular basis, so don’t forget to check back regularly for updates.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Hong Kong

The famous Star Ferry, seen here in 2008, crossing Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong island and Kowloon.Welcome to second instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong via Dubai. This post covers my time in Hong Kong, an amazing city which I first visited in 2008. That was primarily a business trip, but I tacked on some sight-seeing time at the end. Hong Kong had never been on my destination list, but I fell in love with it and have been wanting to return ever since.

Trying to sum up Hong Kong in a single post, let alone a 200 word introduction is futile: much like any big city, Hong Kong is an amalgam of different areas. This is particularly true when you throw in Kowloon, the New Territories and the outer islands. In nutshell, though, Hong Kong (the island) is a mountain in the sea, densely forested, both by trees and the skyscrapers which sprout up with amazing frequency. Think midtown or downtown New York, but done as the British would do it, in a “let’s muddle through” sort of way. Hot, humid, loud and busy, it exhilarates and exhausts me in equal measure.

This post is covers my four days in Hong Kong and, as with all the others, is split into a number of sections, so don’t forget to check back during the week for regular updates. For now you can read about:

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading East

My new travel kit: from left to right, starting at the top: Espro Travel Press, feldfarb grinder from Knock, UpperCup reusable cup and metal pouring jug.Welcome to the fourth of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. The first Travel Spot recounted my adventures in the summer of 2015 as I flew to New England, travelled across America by train and spent a week in the Pacific Northwest, an amazing, three-week long adventure. The second Travel Spot saw me back in America this February, flying into New York, before travelling down through Philadelphia to Washington DC, then back up to Boston via New York and Providence. The third was this summer’s one-off, recounting my Porto adventures.

As will all my Travel Spots, they provide a record of my travels, something a little different from posting the actual Coffee Spots I visit (which always takes place after the event). This, my fourth Travel Spot, is possibly my greatest adventure yet. Where I’m going will unfold with successive posts, but for now let’s just say it’s going to take me somewhat less than 80 days. My first stop is Hong Kong, where I’ll be spending a few days acclimatising myself to heat, humidity and, above all, time zone, before my second stop, Shanghai.

As before, I’ll post as I go, splitting the trip into a number of posts. This post covers my flight out to Hong Kong and includes:

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Porto

A view of Porto from across the Douro, with the Ribeira in the foreground at the river's edge and the Torre dos Clérigos at the top of the hill.Today’s Travel Spot is something of a surprise feature, certainly to me. I went to Porto last weekend with my friends Dave, Ian and Lev (I like friends with short, concise names: makes life so much easier). It was basically a weekend away with a chance to catch up and buy some port. They were flying back on Monday, but I’d decided to tack on a couple of days in Lisbon at the end, partly because I’d not been there for over 10 years, and partly to check out a couple of speciality coffee shops I’d heard about.

However, when it came to Porto, I really wasn’t expecting to find much in the way of good coffee. I had fond memories from previous trips of stylish European cafés with lots of excellent cakes, but when I asked around before the trip, my Porto friends said there wasn’t anything that I would recognise as speciality coffee. Not to worry, I thought, as I packed my beans, cafetiere, grinder, Aeropress and scales. After all, coffee wasn’t the primary purpose of the trip.

As it turned out, I was in for a surprise. Porto does, after all, have speciality coffee…

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