Louvre: Mother of all museums

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The winged victory of Samothrace has been voted amongst some of the most famous sculptures in the world.

I believed that the Louvre was the biggest museum in the world hours after being there. I started to doubt if there could be any place in the world with an art collection that large and crazy. The Louvre changed the way I saw art, my definition of what a museum entails and my appreciation for art.

I had read that one needed at least three to four days just to finish the museum but I underestimated it. I expected it to feature just the Mona Lisa and a couple of paintings and that would be it. I was beyond shocked when I went there. I arrived before the queues in the morning and left when the museum closed twelve hours later and I doubt I even finished exploring the whole museum.

The Louvre is so big, I ended up getting frustrated and emotional. After a while, I started just scanning around the museum without absorbing the details of the art. I thought that paintings were the only art the museum held and I was shocked at what I discovered. The museum celebrates every kind of art one can think of. Paintings, sculptures, ceilings, carpets, home decor, silverware and others.

I was shocked to find a gallery of African art in the museum and a large collection of Egyptian art. I was also shocked that they appreciated home decor and carpets as art. The museum’s definition of art is broad. They even have Islamic art and a section dedicated to grave, burial art.

From now on, I will compare every museum I visit to the Louvre and I know none will come close. The Louvre made me appreciate art and made me understand why people would pay so much money on art. After twelve hours of walking, my feet were sore, I was exhausted and I had learnt to appreciate art more. The museum was a maze and I discovered it freely without a guide and without following the map. It was fun and frustrating getting lost.

Paintings

The Louvre has a large collection of paintings. As I was getting lost in the maze, I discovered more and more themed galleries which I would have otherwise missed had I left early.

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Ntendeni’s favourite painting in the museum. Out of the thousands of paintings, it was the only one where a black woman was the focus of the art.

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Ceilings

At first, I did not pay attention to the ceiling and I was missing out because the ceilings at the museum have art of their own. What frustrated and wowed me about the museum was that the art was in all directions from top to bottom. The ceilings stood their ground as art on their own.

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Sculptures

The museum boasts a large collection of sculptures from all over the world, from different periods and showing different styles.

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Galleries

I felt honoured to be amongst other art lovers appreciating the work in the museum. I also felt overwhelmed because each gallery had lots of beautiful work and I did not have the time to study each piece of work properly.

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Other art

I went to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and ended up being overwhelmed by all kinds of art. Some of the sections that shocked me were Islamic art, African art and the large collection of Egyptian art. I was humbled by the museum’s appreciation of various types of art from all over the world. They also have decor and carpet art!

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My morning started with some overpriced breakfast. I needed the caffeine binge if I were going to survive the museum though.

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Mona Lisa: the Louvre’s superstar

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Ntendeni managed to take a picture of the Mona Lisa early in the morning before the crowds.

Behold, the number one reason people visit the Louvre. The Mona Lisa, usually listed at number one as the world’s most famous painting. I had known about the painting for some time and knew that it was sought-after and well-known; but I had no idea how small it was until I was doing my research to prepare for my trip to Paris.

Many people visit the Louvre just to see the strange smile and the gaze and nothing else. The most sought-after painting in the museum, it is always overcrowded throughout the day and I am happy I arrived early in the morning before the madness. The most disappointing thing about the painting is the size of course. I used to imagine it being a large piece of art, the kind that fills an entire wall and makes you look up.

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The Mona Lisa is the most overcrowded work of art in the museum.

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The barriers around the painting to keep admirers, and crazies, out.

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Unlike Mona Lisa’s smile, Ntendeni’s smile needs no conspiracy theories and mysteries to decode. 

 

The Louvre

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Ntendeni crushed the Louvre off her bucket list.

Behold. The world’s most famous glass pyramid. I wanted to say it was the world’s most famous pyramid but forgot Giza in Egypt? The pyramid has become the image that comes to people’s minds when they think of the Louvre. Besides marvelling at the works of art, I took my time just to photograph the pyramid. Once you see it in real life, it draws you in and you cannot help but just stare.

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The famous pyramid at night.

One morning at the Louvre

It was my second day in Paris. I was tired and sleepy, two words that basically describe my entire stay in Paris. I had not had proper sleep since leaving Japan and I could feel my eyes struggling to keep open. However, I woke up early in the morning to beat the queues.

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The Louvre from the inside.

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Carrousel du Louvre

As I was leaving the museum, I saw an interesting inverted pyramid and went on its direction. I didn’t know there was an underground shopping mall connected to the Louvre.

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The inverted pyramid at the shopping mall fascinated Ntendeni.

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Ntendeni at the Louvre.

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Eiffel Illumination

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The Iron Lady shows off at night.

What is better than visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Watching the beautiful illumination at night. I joined thousands of tourists and admirers just to adore the illuminated Eiffel at night. Once it gets dark, the tower remains illuminated. As a bonus, it sparkles for five minutes at the beginning of every hour at night. The sparkles are a wonderful spectacle and a must on the to-do list while in Paris.

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The Eiffel Tower sparkles for five minutes.

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Thousands of people gather in all directions around the tower to appreciate the beauty of the illuminated sparkling lady at night.

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Ntendeni waits with other admirers for the tower to sparkle. 

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Ntendeni enjoys views of the Eiffel Tower from Arc de Triomphe.

 

Eiffel picnics

It is a past time and a memorable experience in Paris to have a picnic at Champ de Mars, the park at the bottom of the tower. It reminded me of Hanami, cherry blossom picnics that the Japanese enjoy in spring.

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People enjoy picnics at Champ de Mars as they wait for the tower to sparkle.

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Climbing the Eiffel Tower

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Of all the Eiffel Tower pictures Ntendeni took, this was her favourite. The flowers decorated the tower. 

It is official!!!!!!!!

I did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I spent a week of summer in Paris!!!!!!!!!!!

After years of dreaming, months of planning, sucking a couple of my month’s salaries dry, without help from a travel agent, I finally went to Paris and now it is in the past. I no longer talk about Paris in the future tense or dreams. It is now in the past and no one and nothing can change that. Not demons, not witches, not bad luck, not the devil. It is in the past and no one can change it.

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Ntendeni opted for the more fun, and cheaper, option of climbing the tower instead of using the lift. 

I arrived in Paris midnight and did not get much sleep. I woke up early in the morning to see one reason people go to Paris, the Eiffel Tower. No, it is not the museums and monuments that make people visit Paris. It is the Iron Lady. The one and only original in all her glory.

I arrived early in the morning to beat the queues. My plan all along was to climb the 704 steps to the second floor. After doing some research online, I realised that it would be a more authentic and sporty way to experience the Iron Lady than to take the lift. I only took the lift to the third, final floor and all the way down.

It was unforgettable climbing the tower, gradually rising with the views and feeling the structure under my feet. It made me appreciate the architecture more. I would advice anyone who is visiting the Eiffel Tower to climb the steps instead of using the lift. It is also cheaper to do so and the queue is shorter than the lift.

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Climbing the Iron Lady made Ntendeni appreciate and feel the architecture.

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Ntendeni woke up early to beat the long queues.

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Ntendeni bit the fear of heights by looking down and walking on the glass walk.

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The Iron lady

One of the reasons for arriving early in the morning was so that I could take pictures of the Iron Lady clear of other tourists.

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My first ski experience

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Shiga Kogen is the largest ski resort in Japan.

Skiing was one of the priorities at the top of my checklist of things I wanted to try while still living in Japan. That was the main reason I booked a holiday in rural Yudanaka in December. Were it not for the pursuit of a ski experience, I would not have bothered with this rural obscure town. When I found out that Snow Monkey Park was another bonus around the corner, I made the trip final.

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Ntendeni’s body was sore after a day of skiing.

Skiing looked so easy when I saw it on TV. I was very ignorant and did no basic research before skiing. I was ignorant of the equipment that was required to ski. I used to see people skiing in certain flat, thin boards attached to their feet but I had no idea those things were called skis and had no idea that they were mandatory.

I am embarrassed when I think about how I wanted to ski in my normal leather boots. I thought that a person could ski in normal clothing. I had no idea that my normal boots and fabric jackets would not be suitable. The clothing would get wet and the boots would not slide at all.

I wanted to save money and dodge ski rental but I had no choice. After my friend, Angelina explained that we needed the entire gear, I decided to book two days worth of rental. I found out about ski boots for the first time in my life. I didn’t know that such things existed. I was also shocked at how uncomfortable they were. I also did not know about ski poles, ski helmets, ski pants, ski jackets and ski goggles. I did not know the required gear and the experience was a life lesson.

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Ntendeni’s first day of ski experience was spent at ski school.

After trying to use the skis myself, I realised that I did not even know how to stand in them. Everything was too slippery. Although I did not want to, I had no choice but to dish a couple of thousand Yens on ski school. Both days were filled with discouraging falls, including one which haunted me, where I fell and got buried in the snow near a cliff. It left me scared for my life and wondering what would have happened had I fallen from the very top and got buried in the snow below, where no one could see me. What if  I got buried in the snow and no one saw me or saw where I ended? The fall scared me and made me hate skiing.

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Ntendeni and Angelina occupied the entire working day of the poor ski instructor.

Me and Angelina were impossible to teach. We were such slow learners. We ended up feeling sorry for the instructor. He was patient and worked with us the whole afternoon until ski school closed. We fell the whole time.

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Ntendeni and Angelina were envious of the kids that were better skiers than them.

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Besides the falling, there were some great selfies taken on the ski lift.

We removed our skis and decided to walk to the ski lift. We knew we would not go from the lift to skiing down the slope so we sat there hoping to get back to the bottom on the lift. That was until the lift operator stopped the lift and ordered us out. After falling over and over again, and hard, coupled with my struggle to latch the boots on the ski bindings; we decided to walk all the way down on the uncomfortable ski boots.

After falling too many times, thank God I realised I had dropped my money to use for the next following days in Nagano. It was otherwise going to be painful losing such a large amount and not knowing where to find it in the snow. God is indeed alive.

At the end of the experience, I ended up discouraged, hating skiing and being fearful of the many “what if” scenarios that were playing in my head.

The bright side of falling

The falling was hard and discouraging but the pictures looked good.

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Angelina(in blue gear) practises her skills.

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After falling her life away, Angelina decided to just walk down the rest of the slope.

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The kids were good at skiing and left us wondering, “Why weren’t we born in Japan?”

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Tendi the falling ice-princess

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A selfie to lighten the mood after falling.

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Ntendeni fell hard and got buried in the snow. The experience left her shaken.

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Giving up with grace

After falling too many times, I settled for a kiddy sledge. I tried to take it up the top of the slope on the lift but I was disappointed when they did not let me in. The lift is for those who are going to ski, not for kiddy sledges or walkers.

The truth is that ski resorts are impossible to enjoy if one cannot ski.

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After realising that the struggle was too real, Ntendeni settled for a kiddy sledge.

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Skiing is an expensive sport. Ski gear and resort lift passes are expensive.

 

Black eggs

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I spent my first two afternoons in Hakone at Owakudani. I had always wanted to see a live volcano ever since studying volcanoes in high school. While that dream has not come true yet, Owakudani came close. It is a great boiling valley with active boiling pools of sulfur-rich water and vents that spew steam and volcanic gases.

Besides the active volcanic activity, people are attracted to black eggs the valley is famous for. The eggs get their black colour by being hard-boiled in natural hot springs. The sulfur in the water gives the eggs their colour.

Legend has it that one egg adds seven years to one’s life span. If the legend is anything to go by, the five black eggs I ate have added 35 years to my life. That is more than the 26 years I have been living. In that case, I still have more years to travel and live life to the fullest.

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The eggs get their colour from being boiled in sulfur-rich hot springs.

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Owakudani is an active volcanic valley. 

Black ice-cream

After eating the black eggs, I ate black ice-cream. Don’t be fooled by the colour. The ice-cream tastes like any normal vanilla ice-cream. I believe the black colour of the ice-cream is all a marketing ploy to capitalize on the fame of the black eggs. After doing some research, I learnt that the black colour in the ice-cream was a result of charcoal being poured into the ice-cream mix. They also had some black steamed buns in the area.

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Do not be fooled by the black colour. It tastes like normal vanilla ice-cream.

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Ntendeni spent two afternoons at Owakudani.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Ashi

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Ntendeni’s one beautiful morning at Lake Ashi.

Besides bathing in beverages and a limited budget, another reason why I wanted to visit Hakone was the Hakone shrine gate at Lake Ashi. Living in Japan, shrines and shrine gates are everywhere but this one was different. I was attracted to the shrine gate in the lake.

Hakone shrine

When many people think of  Lake Ashi, the first image that comes to mind is that of the Hakone shrine gate on the lake. Hakone shrine has a couple of shrine gates but the most fascinating is the one at Lake Ashi.

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Ntendeni tried to take a centered picture in the middle of the Hakone shrine gate but the waves in the lake made canoeing difficult.

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Ntendeni at Lake Ashi

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Ntendeni woke up early in the morning to take beautiful pictures of the shrine gate without all the other tourists.

Pirate ships

Lake Ashi is also known for the pirate ships that give people views of Mount Fuji and Hakone shrine from the lake.

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One of the pirate ships.

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Mount Fuji

I was fortunate to see clear views of Mount Fuji for all the days I was in Hakone.

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Lake Ashi

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Ntendeni canoed against the waves to take the ultimate picture of Hakone shrine.

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Ramen: My new favourite food

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Odawara noodles are the best Ntendeni has ever had. Odawara, 2017.

I cannot believe that for the first five months I lived in Japan, I did not care for noodles. I used to wonder why in the world Japanese people would queue in the heat just for a bowl of noodles. Who queues for a bowl of noodles though?

Growing up in South Africa, the only noodles I knew were instant Maggi noodles which were associated with student struggles. Noodles where I come from are seen as last-minute, lazy meals or affordable meals which are the last resort during tough student financial struggles. Normally, people add water, boil the noodles in the microwave, drain excess water, pour the seasoning packet from the pack and eat. Noodles were always the one meal I hated.

After coming to Japan, I realised that they had a ramen restaurant  culture. Never in my entire existence did I think I would pay money just for a bowl of noodles or pay someone to cook it for me. Never would I associate noodles with skill. I never thought there would be people out there trained to make noodles! They even have ramen schools!

But the noodles in Japan are not from the microwave. They cook them properly and have different varieties. They also come in various broths, seasonings and meat. They are also varied from the thickest to the thinnest. I did not know that such a simple ingredient as noodles would go a long way into making a proper meal.

Thanks to the Tokyo Skytree disappointment on new year’s eve that led me to try my first bowl of noodles. I have never looked back ever since. I now go around hunting amazing noodles. One day, I spent maybe 30 minutes to an hour hunting noodles in Koshigaya. I am addicted!

Odawara ramen

The best noodles I have ever eaten are from Odawara, a town 35 minutes away from Tokyo by bullet train. This is where I began and ended my golden week with a bowl of noodles. When I order noodles, I always order the biggest bowl and choose the thickest noodles, the deepest and oiliest broth, the most seasonings and the most meat. When it comes to ramen, I want the best and I want it all.

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Ntendeni began her golden week with a bowl of ramen. Odawara, 2017.

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Ntendeni will now judge all ramen on the scale of one to Odawara. Odawara, 2017.

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Ntendeni always orders ramen with the most meat.

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The bowl of oily ramen that closed off Ntendeni’s first golden week in Japan.

Koshigaya ramen

The first bowl of ramen I ordered in Koshigaya did not leave me satisfied. I found it too watery and the bowl too shallow. I was still having a hangover from Odawara ramen.

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The noodles were not oily enough and the meat was too little for Ntendeni. Koshigaya, 2017.

After searching again, I finally found a decent bowl of ramen in Koshigaya. It exceeded my expectations.

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After spending more than 30 minutes hunting down ramen, Ntendeni finally found a good bowl in Koshigaya. Koshigaya, 2017.

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The broth and the ramen came in separate bowls.

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Eggs, seaweed, pork and noodles in one dish? A combination unthinkable to a South African.

Konosu ramen

I enjoyed a great bowl of spicy ramen when I went to the doll festival acclaimed city of Konosu in Saitama prefecture.

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Ntendeni was impressed with the bowl of spicy ramen in Konosu. Konosu, 2017.

Sapporo ramen

Sapporo is acclaimed for its great ramen. I find it amazing how in Japan, different regions compete to create the best ramen and chefs dedicate their craft to innovating new styles and tastes. As a South African, I would have never imagined that people would put their skills and passion into…noodles!

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Ntendeni had a taste of Sapporo ramen during the snow festival. Sapporo, 2017.

Tokyo ramen

A bowl of noodles outside the Tokyo Skytree is what started all the craving.

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The best bowls of ramen are those with the most generous servings of meat. Tokyo, 2017.

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Ntendeni always orders the noodles with the most meat.

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The ramen menu.

Kita-Senju, Tokyo

The latest bowl of ramen I ate was at Kita-Senju station in Tokyo, the station where I always change trains on my way to and fro church every Sunday.

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Again, Ntendeni went for the biggest bowl and the most meat. Kita-Senju, Tokyo, 2017.

Other noodles

As I was going through pictures of my life in Japan, I found other noodle dishes I had tried before.

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Yakisoba noodles from Minami-Koshigaya Awa Odori festival. Koshigaya, 2016.

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Vietnamese noodles from the Cup Noodles museum in Yokohama. Ntendeni loved the taste and texture of the thin noodles. Yokohama, 2016.

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Soba noodles on a bamboo tray at a dinner party with colleagues in Koshigaya. Koshigaya,2016.

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Noodles at Ntendeni’s first dinner with colleagues. Koshigaya, 2016.

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Ntendeni shared the noodles with colleagues. 

 

Bathing in beverages

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Bathers enjoy a Japanese sake(rice wine) bath.

As if the wine bath was not mind-boggling enough, Yunessun also lets you bath in Japanese sake(rice wine), green tea and coffee.

Coffee bath

The coffee bath was my favourite in terms of the aroma. I love the strong smell of coffee beans.

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Bathers relax in the warm coffee bath.

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A couple massages each other in the coffee bath. 

Green tea bath

My favourite green tea is matcha. Ever since tasting matcha and matcha products in Japan, I tend to judge all the other green teas on a zero to matcha scale. I was disappointed to find that the green tea bath was not as matcha as I expected but as someone who loves green tea, it was still a privilege to bathe in a version of it.

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Green tea bath.

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Bathers enjoy the green tea bath.

Tendi the posh bather

One day, I will tell my children that I took baths in wine, green tea, sake and coffee. If they do not believe me, I have the receipts to prove it.

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Ntendeni enjoys baths in wine, green tea, sake and coffee.

Doctor fish

The other pool I was looking forward to was the pool with doctor fish. Here I joined fellow bathers and put my feet in a pool filled with tiny fish that nibble away dead skin cells. The fish give a tickling feeling as they feast on the dead skin.

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Doctor fish feast on Ntendeni’s feet.

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The fish eat away dead skin, providing a natural foot spa.

Yunessun does not only focus on over-the-top baths. The resort has normal swimming pools available.

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Couples enjoy a collagen bath.

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The main swimming pool at Yunessun.

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A warm waterfall.

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