Tag Archives: Travel

Tokyo, Canyoning in Minakami, and an Owl Cafe

17 Jul

We started our trip with a few days in Tokyo. I scheduled some early starts to take advantage of our jet lag because I remembered needing a few days to adjust in Seoul.

Our trip was at the start of Summer, but for the first few days the weather wasn’t too bad (and led to the erroneous belief that we were dealing pretty well with the heat/humidity).

Day 2: Tsukiji and Ginza

Our first morning we woke up bright and early for the Tsukiji Market. A little too early – we got there maybe 30-60 minutes before the outer market really opened so just kind of wandered around for a bit.

We had a delicious breakfast at Sushi Daiwa.
IMG_20180622_060417It’s apparently the second most popular sushi place in the market and I originally hadn’t planned on going because I didn’t want to wait in line, but we were able to walk straight in (FYI Sushi Dai, the most popular sushi place, already had what looked like a 2 hour wait).

This was the queue outside Sushi Daiwa by the time we were done:IMG_20180622_062135Afterwards we wandered around a bit more and bought a $5 giant oyster at Taito Fisheries. It took 3-4 bites to finish and was delicious.
MVIMG_20180622_071641 (1)Then we went to Ginza where we did some window (and actual) shopping. James bought two pairs of shoes from Onitsuka Tiger and we had omakase at Kyubey.
MVIMG_20180622_131941It was even better than Sushi Daiwa, but that makes sense given that it was twice the price!IMG_20180622_130535Sea urchin is so, so tasty.

We shopped some more afterwards. Probably the weirdest place we went to was Dover Street Market.
IMG_20180622_140956 It felt more like an art gallery than a clothing store.IMG_20180622_141103I’ll take two.

I can wear it while I watch the Gucci hat parade.
IMG_20180622_141041Afterwards we headed to Bar High Five where we drank delicious cocktails. I don’t have any photos of dinner so I think we decided we were still full from our giant breakfast and lunch, and just crashed at the hotel.

Day 3: Minakami Canyoning

The next morning we took a shinkansen to Minakami.
IMG_20180623_055856We went canyoning in the morning, which consisted of floating through creeks, ziplining, abseiling, and waterfall jumps.

Here I am leaping into the water in a quokka-esque fashion:
P6230110Whee!
3DAFD80C00000578-0-image-m-20_1488092927987This is James going down a natural water slide. They let us go down this one a couple of times – once forwards and once backwards.
P6230097Backwards was scarier by far since I had no idea where I was going, and got super disoriented once I hit the water.

But the freakiest thing was getting dropped from this waterfall:
P6230040
(We didn’t drop from that height – they lowered us about halfway so we didn’t bounce off the rocks)

Ziplining!

After canyoning we had lunch and went white water rafting. The water wasn’t very high and occasionally James and one of the other guys had to get out and push us over the rocks. All credit to the company though, they made the photos look very dynamic!
Then we had showers, got changed, took the shinkansen back to Tokyo and had a delicious tonkatsu dinner.
IMG_20180623_194251
Day 4: Sensoji and Akihabara

Sensoji is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tokyo so we went early to avoid the crowds (and the heat). IMG_20180624_073308It rained a little which cut through the humidity, and the weather was actually really comfortable for walking around. Asakusa has a ton of shrines and we found this bizarre one: MVIMG_20180624_082209We visited Tobifudoson, the shrine for flight safety (how niche!) and Imado, a cat shrine that claims to be the origin of the mani neko statue. We picked up some ema boards as souvenirs:
IMG_20180717_172547At Imado we also met a cat which seemed appropriate.MVIMG_20180624_091754James: I like that you can’t go near the shrine but the cat’s allowed to sit there and lick his butthole.

By this time the shops had started to open up so we walked back to the station and grabbed some tempura from a chain restaurant. It was delicious and ridiculously cheap – something like $12 for the two of us. IMG_20180624_101704Then for lunch dessert I had some gelato at Asakusa Suzukien which is famous for its intense matcha gelato. From a website discussing the store:

The matcha gelato has 7 degrees of richness. No. 7 is said to have the richest matcha flavor in the world. In the gelato industry, No. 5 is believed to be the richest that can be produced. Here at Suzukien, they exceed this limit to No. 7.

“No. 7?? Madness! Big Gelato said it couldn’t be done!”

On the bottom row you can see the progression in green intensity from 1 to 7.
IMG_20180624_105953I tried the No. 7 and the hojicha. No. 7 was tasty and indeed extremely matcha-y but I preferred the hojicha because I love hojicha. But it was definitely worth trying No. 7, if only for the ability to turn up our noses at all the other non-boundary-exceeding matcha ice cream stores.

I snapped a quick picture of the crowd at Kaminarimon Gate by the time we left – definitely better to go early!
IMG_20180624_094555My original plan had been to shop Kappabashi Kitchen Town but after some last minute research I found out about 30% of the stores were closed that day, so we decided to save it for next trip and opted for a rest at the hotel.

We got back to our hotel about 15 minutes before the Miyazaki Clock was set to go off. There were a whole bunch of mechanical vignettes that lasted about 10 minutes and it was really cool to watch.
IMG_20180624_115036We rested for a few hours, then headed off to Akihabara. I didn’t think I’d be that interested since neither of us are really into anime but we found a bunch of stuff to entertain us. =)

We spent some time marvelling at the weird shit like anime sex pillows (you can tell they’re sex pillows because of the hole), and also an hour or so browsing Japanese board games, but the real hero of the afternoon was the gachapon arcade. IMG_20180624_154353We were absolutely addicted to these things in Japan. They’re like those little toy gumball machines you loved as a kid, but the stuff inside is so much cooler.

Our favourite gachapon were the cat hats:IMG_20180624_153442Unfortunately we got the orange which was like, the lamest or second lamest one, depending on whether that peach has a leaf in the back. There were a ton of different cat hat series – fruits, vegetables, bunnies, teddies, etc. Also lollies:IMG_20180624_152139Every time we saw a gachapon in Japan we would check to see what wonderful capsules there were inside. Even on super hot days when we’d been walking for hours, we’d still cross the road for them. But anyway, here are some other awesome and weird gachapon we found in that store:

The Garbage Collection:
IMG_20180624_151924 Animals peeing at urinals:IMG_20180624_152128Spoon Hamster:
IMG_20180624_152451 Vomiting animals:IMG_20180624_152448Miniature Sniper:
IMG_20180624_152039The Statue of Liberty on her day off:
IMG_20180624_153923It was always so exciting opening up our capsules to see which one we got. =)

Then it was time for the owl cafe! James thought I had dressed up for the shrines but I had really dressed up for the owls. Here James and I are with Pot Sticker and Gorilla:
20180624_6D0A4880The cafe had a room full of owls chillaxing, with some of them off-limits because they had already been patted too much. You could hold two owls and James started with Pot Sticker:
20180624_6D0A4899Then moved to Spring Onion. He said at first Spring Onion was quite standoffish but then they got along. As proof he showed me these photos of them in tandem:MVIMG_20180624_184242
IMG_20180624_184301
MVIMG_20180624_184317
1x06_Visiting_Ours_(41) (1)
I hung out with Gorilla at the start. He started upright and majestic (and incredibly suspicious of me and the other birds):
IMG_20180624_181554Then partway through he kind of sighed and collapsed on my arm. There were two employees there and both of them came by at separate times and were like “wow, he must really like you!”20180624_6D0A4946 (1)(That’s me hunching over to be more like Gorilla – my posture isn’t quite that bad)

My second owl was grumpy little Okra.
MVIMG_20180624_184921He was so soft! We were only supposed to touch them very gently on the forehead but I would sneakily rub my cheek against him.

When the guy put Okra back on his perch he put him too close to another owl. Okra looked annoyed and took two very deliberate little steps away. Look at him glaring at poor Kuppi who did nothing wrong and was just trying to enjoy his break time. MVIMG_20180624_185227The staff took some really nice photos of us (which they sent to me digitally) and made one of the photos into a postcard. I also bought a souvenir feather of Okra to stick in my hat. =)

For dinner we went to Ippudo for ramen. It was delicious.
IMG_20180624_202716The next morning we packed our (slightly expanded) bags and headed to Kyoto!

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Travelling to Tokyo

16 Jul

Last month James and I crossed off one of our bucket list items and travelled to Japan for two and a half weeks. We loved it. It was so hot and humid but we had the best trip and I totally won’t be able to do it justice in my blog.

But first off, I want to say that the new United Polaris lounge at SFO is amazing. It has a really nice cocktail bar and an area where you can get meals cooked to order.

We were there for breakfast I had a “deconstructed” bagel (the deconstruction seemed a bit unnecessary but I appreciate the attempt at artistry).
IMG_20180620_093310
And James had a cheeseless omelette and a Bloody Mary.
IMG_20180620_093547Then we spent the time before our flight drinking cocktails and eating breakfast dessert. (Actually I was the only one who had breakfast dessert because James doesn’t believe in it – or lunch dessert for that matter).

When we boarded they let me sit in the cockpit!!
IMG_20180620_122117Don’t the controls look like they could be from the 1960s or something? It’s not even an old plane – one of the pilots told me that it’s less than a year old.

The pilots were super nice and funny. They immediately offered to take a photo, we chatted about Tokyo, they showed me what some of the controls did, and they moved the chair back and forth for me.

Me: Is it true that they don’t let you guys eat the same meal in case of food poisoning?
Pilot: They don’t even let us breathe the same air.

During the flight James and I both opted for the Japanese dinner and immediately regretted it because it was massive.
IMG_20180620_135720Way too big for a plane meal.
IMG_20180620_141459James (afterwards): Did you also think it was over and then get surprised by the second course?

Yes. Yes I very much did.

We landed at Narita in the late afternoon, grabbed our bags and took a train to Tokyo. After checking into our hotel we explored nearby Odaiba.

I don’t know why there’s a Statue of Liberty but I love it.
IMG_20180621_195735 And a Unicorn Gundam! IMG_20180621_202000At certain times there was a show where music would play and bits of the Gundam would light up and move. It was pretty cool. =)

We were both a little bit tired from our flight. James said he actually just wanted to stay in the hotel and veg but that seemed like a waste, so just wandering around Odaiba and admiring the lights was a nice, low-key way to end our first night in Tokyo.

Five Days in Boston!

23 May

James had to go to Boston for a work trip and we decided that I’d tag along and we’d make a mini trip of it. =)

We stayed at the Liberty Hotel, which is a former prison that housed, among others, Malcolm X. The hotel was gorgeous but we had a ton of problems with the a/c, the customer service was pretty ineffective, and overall I wouldn’t recommend staying there. At least the lobby was gorgeous:
IMG_20180513_151143
Day 1

We arrived in the afternoon and went straight to Harpoon Brewery for a tour. Behold our incredibly stylish eye protection!
IMG_20180513_163424The tour was really fun and great value – it was only $5 and included an explanation of the beer-making process, a tour of the facilities, and about 10-15 minutes of unlimited beer/cider tasting. James and I were so full afterwards.

I don’t know why James is looking so sneaky in the tasting room:
IMG_20180513_165755 The beer on tap. Their apple cider was really good – even James liked it. IMG_20180513_171215
After the tour we split a giant pretzel (made with Harpoon IPA) which was delicious, and went on a Duck tour of Boston.

I think the Duck tour is good to do at the start of your trip because it’s a nice overview of Boston. Also when we got on the water James got to steer the Duck!
IMG_20180513_184303He got a congratulatory sticker afterwards. It’s hard to read in the picture but it says “I drove a Duck”
IMG_20180513_184644Two other people took a turn after him but they weren’t as good and the captain kept having to correct it when they oversteered. At the end of the tour the captain told James he’d done a good job and James was so very pleased.

Then we took an Uber to Somerville where we ate at Highland Kitchen and had drinks at backbar. Towards the end of the night when it slowed down we got to see the bartenders teaching the hostess how to make a couple of drinks and that was pretty fun and a nice way to end our first day in Boston. =)

Day 2

On our second day we walked the Freedom Trail. You can do an organised tour but we just followed the brick trail around the city and downloaded an app that explained the historical significance of all the different stops. It’s probably the number one tourist attraction you should do in Boston, and it’s completely free!

The Granary Burying Ground – we really liked how the building loomed over the cemetery:
IMG_20180514_095318We started around 9:30am, which was a bit early to get into the State House, but did time it pretty well for us to get to Neptune Oyster 20 minutes before it opened and before a huge line formed. It was a Monday morning and by the time they opened the line had extended to the end of the street (almost double the length in the picture, but the big truck blocked the rest of the line):
IMG_20180514_111410From my research it was almost universally agreed that Neptune Oyster has the best lobster rolls in Boston. We ordered fried clams and, of course, a lobster roll each: IMG_20180514_121036They were pretty good, but having tried a couple now (one in SF and one in Boston), I think I don’t really “get” lobster rolls. They’re OK but if this is the best one I now know I wouldn’t wait in line for one. I guess I’m just not that into lobster.

Unfortunately all the butter made James feel really sick and we walked pretty slowly for the next hour. We saw Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church, which is the “one if by land, two if by sea” church. IMG_20180516_120839By the time we got to the Bunker Hill Monument James was feeling a bit better. On the way I helped some lady with directions using Google Maps and while I did that, James took some selfies with this fish:
IMG_20180514_131740 There were two selfies, because the first one he had his tongue on the wrong side. I appreciate that he corrected it. IMG_20180514_131714I think James likes things with their tongues out because they remind him of Mouse:
IMG_20180501_143345Anyway, we headed to Bunker Hill Monument and got some (free) tickets to climb it:
IMG_20180514_135645There were 294 steps to the top and it’s definitely worth doing (unless you’re claustrophobic). The views were great.
IMG_20180514_140618We finished at the Charleston Naval Yard. The USS Constitution was closed but we got to see the USS Cassin Young, a submarine destroyer.
IMG_20180514_144742 James was fascinated by the missiles, and it was pretty cool getting to look around the (very cramped) ship. IMG_20180514_145938Then we went to the USS Constitution Museum which was kind of eh. If I’d known we were going to get held up at the hotel later I would have just skipped it.

When we went back to the Liberty we went to the front desk where they said they’d fixed the a/c issue and would call us in 10 minutes when we got back to the room to check. We fell asleep waiting for the call, only to be woken up by it 2 hours later when they finally remembered us. In that time it had gotten hot again because the fix had just been temporary, so they said they’d send someone up with a key to another room. We waited 45 minutes, called again, and they finally sent someone up. But that was a ton of time wasted, and we had to do the Skywalk Observatory at night instead of sunset like we’d hoped. =/ At least our second room had a nicer view.
IMG_20180517_200142I’d definitely recommend doing the Skywalk Observatory during the day. You can’t see the water at night and the audio guide kept referring to buildings by their colour, which obviously we couldn’t see. Also the lights inside the building reflected off the glass, making it kind of hard to see.

We had late dinner and drinks at Toro, which was really good (and still busy even at 10pm).

Day 3

This was one of James’ work days so I slept in, then did some shopping on Newbury street in the afternoon. Later I met up with James and his colleagues at Yvonne’s, where we had pre-game drinks.IMG_20180515_194445 My drink came with a giant marshmallow to toast! IMG_20180515_200136We had dinner at Fenway Park where I of course had a Fenway Frank.
IMG_20180515_211323 James got a pretzel, which he was very pleased about. IMG_20180515_222422Also, are you ready to see the most low-energy nachos – and yes, I’m comfortable saying this – in the history of the world? They are so terrible. You think you can imagine how shit they are, but you cannot.
IMG_20180515_213043My God.

The game started late because of the rain and we left before the end because it was obvious the A’s were going to win, and the others had work the next morning. On the way out we found a Kaye sign!
IMG_20180515_235245
Day 4

James had work again so I went to the North End to compare cannolis from Mike’s and Modern. I have had like, two cannolis in my life, but decided I would give my opinion on the great Boston rivalry.

Mike’s:
MikeMike’s had a ton of flavours like hazelnut, limoncello and amaretto (which is the one I got). I really liked the taste and the cannoli was absolutely massive.

After I finished that monster the last thing I wanted was more cannoli but nevertheless I persevered and went to Modern:Modern
Modern was smaller (like maybe 3/4 of the size) and I imagine more traditional, with no weird flavours on offer. I liked that they filled the cannoli to order rather than having them sitting out in the pastry case.

Overall Modern was probably the better cannoli – the shell was crisper and more delicate and the ricotta filling was very light. I also preferred the smaller size. But I really like amaretto so I liked the flavour of Mike’s cannoli more, even though I think it is the inferior cannoli.

After my cannoli comparison I met up with James and we headed to Google where James had to dial into a meeting.

One of the Google microkitchens was Cheers themed!
IMG_20180516_151300“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your LDAP”IMG_20180516_151227The buildings were quite nice and compact. We found some teacups and a (non-working photo booth):
IMG_20180516_153538While James had his meeting I went and explored MIT. It has a cool little museum that I wouldn’t go out of my way for, but is a nice way to pass 30-60 minutes. They had a bunch of robotics exhibits but this was by far my favourite thing:
IMG_20180516_164523“It will take 13.7 billion years (the approximate age of the universe) for the last gear to complete one rotation”. I spent a lot of time watching those gears.

Then we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before our dinner at Giulia. I separated that dinner into its own post because this one was getting too long, but Giulia was phenomenal – James said the best meal he’s ever had and it was probably top three for me. 

Day 5

This was our last proper day in Boston. We started it at the Museum of Science and the hour we had to ourselves was really fun, but then a billion school groups descended on the museum and it was terrible.

I’m in space!
IMG_20180517_102033Here James is riding some sort of lever-operated wheelchair.
IMG_20180517_102940This exhibit used an Xbox Kinect to sense our movement and we could interact with the stuff on screen:Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180517103244The main reason we went to the Museum of Science was for the lightning show. I’ve never seen lightning up close before and it was really cool and worth braving the hordes of screaming school kids to see. I didn’t get any pictures of the lightning but here is the machine that created it:
IMG_20180517_105046Afterwards we went to Fenway Park to do a tour. The guide told us about the history of the stadium, and we got to see the original (very uncomfortable!) seats, the press area and sit in the Green Monster seats:
IMG_20180517_132115(I think our seats the other night were in the lower section in the centre-left of the photo)

During the tour our guide talked about Jackie Robinson and how he broke the colour barrier. We all nodded knowingly except James, who asked what the colour barrier was, and everyone seemed very shocked. Later:

Me: Are you embarrassed that you didn’t know about the colour barrier?
James: (disdainfully) No. They’re the ones who should be embarrassed they even had a colour barrier.

In the evening we had a lateish dinner at Aria Trattoria in the North End. It was pretty good – but the food and service were a couple of significant steps down from Giulia while the price was only a single step down. (Giulia has ruined pasta for me forever). Then we went and picked up some pastries from Mike’s to take back to the hotel to eat.

We got cocktails at the bar then headed to the catwalk to eat and drink. The lobster tail from Mike’s had come highly recommended and we were both insanely disappointed to discover that it’s just pastry-wrapped cream. Look how excited I was before I tasted it:
IMG_20180517_225038Afterwards we headed back to the hotel room to pack and grab a few hours of sleep before heading to the airport the next morning.

And that was our time in Boston. =) I think we packed a lot in considering James had to work a couple of those days. The old buildings in Boston are gorgeous and I like how walkable the city is. James had some productive meetings, we ate and drank a ton, and we learned a bit more about the American revolution. All in all a very satisfying trip!

Days 5-9 of a Hastily-Planned Trip to Seoul!

7 Mar

Day 5 – Olympic Day

The Olympics were held in Pyeongchang (and yes, I think everyone did a bit of a double-take at the name) about 1.5 hours from Seoul by high speed train.

We had originally wanted to watch the snowboard halfpipe but it wrapped up before we arrived in Korea so we watched the ski halfpipe women’s finals and men’s qualifiers instead, which was still really fun.
IMG_20180220_095725The morning started with a hiccup because we missed our booked train and pretty much every other train was sold out (seat reservations and standing room) . Luckily the guy working there managed to find us a train leaving an hour later from a different station, and I’d built so many contingencies into our itinerary that we still managed to get to Pyeongchang, take the shuttle, buy souvenirs, and get seated 30 minutes before the event.

Our view of the halfpipe:
IMG_20180220_110858The view in the standing area was slightly better because you got a better perspective of how high the competitors were jumping, but it was maybe a 10% increase in view with a 150% decrease in comfort. And honestly, the best vantage point is always going to be from your couch – the main reason to go to the Olympics is the atmosphere.

We really enjoyed seeing people dressed up supporting their countries. Everyone was so friendly and we were all having a great time.

Aussie Aussie Aussie!
IMG_20180220_112534(Disclaimer: no Aussies were in this event – possibly something we should have researched in advance).

There was one Korean competing, which was really fun because there would be this huge roar from the crowd every time he came up. James and I agreed that having experienced that, we would have liked to see an event with more Koreans in it – perhaps an indoor one! It was a sunny day but incredibly cold when the wind picked up. We were both wearing thermals, gloves, hat, scarves, multiple coats/jackets and it was still chilly at times.IMG_20180220_152538To the right you can see the slopestyle course – in between events we saw groups of people practising on it.

The most heavily-represented fans were South Korea, the US and Canada, but there were a lot of European and Scandinavian countries there too. And an adorable tour group that wore a bunch of random flags as tiny shawls (why didn’t they just wear their own flags??). Here James is with some of them at the pedestrian crossing:
IMG_20180220_173827His Boxing Kangaroo flag was very much admired – I saw some people from the tour group eyeing it enviously and some of the Olympic volunteers asked him about it as well.

So majestic.
IMG_20180220_173506It took a long time to get into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium so we didn’t have a ton of time to look around – and we definitely didn’t want to miss our train again! There was a massive souvenir store and a center that had a bunch of cool stuff, like VR snowboard and bobsled and this robot fish.Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180220171004They also had a cool sculpture outside – I like how the Olympic rings at the bottom blend into it.
IMG_20180220_172819Also notice how cold that poor guy behind us is. He did not have the warming properties of Flag.

It took awhile to find the shuttle stop to get to the Jinbu KTX station but, having learned from our previous experience, we’d left plenty of time. Which meant we could take more photos at the station! A Jehovah’s Witness gave us some pamphlets then took this photo for us:
IMG_20180220_182327The Olympic mascots are Soohorang (white tiger) and Bandabi (black bear). James really liked the tiger and wanted to buy one for the cats as a souvenir. But the tiger was insanely popular – I think because they gave him to the winners, so he was more prominent – and the little version of him was basically sold out. They had a ton of little black bears but none of the white tiger. James eventually found the tiger at the airport – but you had to buy him bundled with the bear haha.

James has re-named them Pyeongchang and Shitbear. Now that we’re home he keeps taking photos of the cats with Pyeongchang and staging photos of them ignoring Shitbear.

Anyway, when we got back to Seoul we had some toppoki and ramen at a Marvel-themed bar.
IMG_20180220_210621 The toppoki in its uncooked state: IMG_20180220_210735Also cheese fried rice! It tasted a bit like a parma.
IMG_20180220_211120We were both surprised at how many cheese dishes there were in Korea. When we’re in Asian countries James is used to not having to worry about his lactose intolerance.

Unimpressed.
IMG_20180219_141646
Day 6 – DMZ Day

The only “must-do” on my list was visiting the Dermilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
IMG_20180221_135548The most interesting part is the JSA (Joint Security Area), and only a few companies do that, including the one we went with, Koridoor Tours. We were quite lucky to get in since we were doing everything on quite short notice.

Looking into North Korea:IMG_20180221_094234 (1)Do you see the concrete dividers between the blue houses? Everything beyond that is North Korea.

Our military guide said that there used to be North Korean guards visible but not anymore – he thought maybe because they realised they were being used in the tour. But back then both Koreas would post their tallest, buffest guards to intimidate the other side. You had to be at least 6′ in South Korea, but he said the tallest North Korean guards were 5’7″ or 5’8″.

Here is James half in North Korea and half in South Korea. The microphone line on the conference table is the dividing line between the two countries. IMG_20180221_095315Our military guide said he wasn’t allowed to cross, so he stayed on the South Korea side.

One of the South Korean guards – they were all completely still and expressionless the whole time (apparently if you got too close they would elbow you away – we did not test that out):
IMG_20180221_095343It was a surprisingly tense experience. Going from the Olympics, which is a symbol of peace and friendship between countries and had the United Korea team, to the DMZ/JSA, where you can tell that relations are not friendly, was definitely an eye-opener.

When I checked the Koridoor tour page today, it said “Access to the ‘Bridge of no return and Point of Ax Murder’ has been restricted due to the current development between South and North Korea.” Yikes.

Afterwards we went to see a train station that was originally supposed to link the two Koreas. IMG_20180221_111415If the JSA was tense then this was pretty surreal. Here is James in the sitting area, waiting for a train that will never arrive.IMG_20180221_105446For $1 we bought a ticket to go see the train platform area. One ticket to Pyeongyang please! IMG_20180221_105920After seeing how busy most stations were, it was kind of eerie seeing a completely empty, unused one. IMG_20180221_110452Apparently they keep closing and re-opening the station and the last time it was open was 2013. I guess the hope is that one day relations between South and North Korea will improve and it will be fully operational.IMG_20180221_110407A hard choice – Pyeongyang or Seoul? IMG_20180221_110331In that direction is North Korea. IMG_20180221_110541When Dorasan station first opened, the German government gave them a piece of the Berlin Wall as a symbol of reunification. IMG_20180221_110651The station also had a cool little souvenir shop where James got a t-shirt and a bottle of North Korean wine.

We had lunch and took a picture at what I think is a checkpoint for road travel to North Korea? I think our guide said this was how the North Korean Olympians travelled in. IMG_20180221_120929Afterwards we went to an observatory where we could actually see into North Korea proper. It was a reasonably clear day (our guide said we were quite lucky and it’s only like that 20% of the time).

In this picture on the left is a North Korean village and on the right is a South Korean one. The South Korean government put up their country’s flag on a giant flagpole and in response the North Korean government made an even taller flagpole to hoist their flag. IMG_20180221_123018The North Korean village is called the Propoganda village because it’s completely fake. The buildings are empty facades, don’t have glass in the windows, and some of them don’t even have interior rooms.

They also play propoganda and music at each other. I read that there was a period of about 10 years where they mutually agreed to stop, but resumed because of recent escalating tensions. The South Korean speaker is bottom right (it was playing k-pop and western music) and you can see the forest separating the two Koreas.IMG_20180221_122658Here is James struggling to use the binoculars. He is too tall for South Korea. IMG_20180221_122827Then we headed to the 3rd infiltration tunnel. It was one of at least four that North Korea made to infiltrate South Korea under the pretense of mining for coal. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but it was pretty much just a damp, crude tunnel with very low ceilings.

So yeah, that was our tour of the DMZ and JSA. Pretty interesting! We took the subway back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. We went to Jinmi Sikdang, which is famous for its ganjang gejang – raw crab marinated in soy sauce.

When the taxi driver took us there he couldn’t find any signage so he asked for directions from some construction workers. While we were paying we saw a well-dressed Korean woman go inside and James said that after we went in the driver also came in to look around – I guess he was curious what sort of restaurant would appeal to construction workers, tourists and fancy Korean ladies.

There isn’t even a menu – crab is the only thing they sell. You just tell them how many are in your party and they prepare the appropriate number of crabs.

It was so good. IMG_20180221_171804The crab was incredibly creamy and the salty soy sauce brine and roe made it perfect with a spoonful of rice or egg.IMG_20180221_175858Everything tasted like a richer, creamier version of normal crab. So the innards were super rich – you could really only eat a little bit at a time, as James found out when he ate a giant gob of it.

This was my favourite part of the crab – I don’t know what it was because I don’t think I’ve ever had it before. But it was a perfect little mouthful of crab with a ton of flavour and juices captured in what I thought of as the artichoke leaf-like part.

IMG_20180221_180615James isn’t a massive fan of crab in general but I loved it. He had some but mainly kept himself occupied with the side dishes while I demolished 1.5 portions of crab.

Day 7 – Shopping Day

This was the day of James’ meeting so I took the opportunity to explore some of Seoul’s famous shopping districts.

I started in Myeongdong where our hotel was, but was pretty put off by the pushy cosmetics salespeople. I did like A-land, which was a cool department store where I bought a ton of CosRX skincare:
IMG_20180307_114715I  also liked this men’s jumper that I ended up getting in grey. Though now I’m like … was that a mistake? I have a lot of grey hoodies and no black ones!
IMG_20180222_105952Afterwards I went to the Ewha shopping district and also the Dongdaemun shopping malls. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed since a lot of the stores have the same stock. There was one really good sock store on the fashion street in Ewha – it had the largest selection of socks out of any store that I saw in the markets, so if you want to stock up on souvenirs that was a pretty good place for it. (Later when we were walking all around Myeongdong looking for the perfect combination of socks, I thought longingly of that place)

For dinner I met up with James and his coworker for Korean BBQ. It was pretty cool – the extractor vents were so powerful and quiet – even though everyone was having BBQ you couldn’t see or smell any smoke and you couldn’t hear the vents working.

Look how hot and glowy it was!
IMG_20180222_200434 They cooked the meat for us to a perfect medium rare. The meat was seasoned really well and so tender, smoky and delicious. IMG_20180222_200544I remember being reasonably full after the meal (I wanted to leave some room for street food) but now remembering how good it was I’m like “why didn’t I gorge myself??”

Afterwards James and I did some shopping in Myeongdong.
IMG_20180222_191348We bought some socks. I’d packed a selection of thin and thick socks but my feet had swollen so much from all the walking that I couldn’t wear the thick socks and needed to buy more thin ones. I dragged James around to a bunch of different shops because I wanted only the kitchiest, more hilarious socks.
IMG_20180223_084632(I got the one on the right because the little egg guy looks like he needs to pee)

When I looked up souvenirs from Korea, socks would always show up on the lists and I was like “huh?” But now I get it. They’re super cheap and fun – under $1 each. James enjoyed using the sock conversion rate for other stuff we bought in Seoul – so a $5 meal = 5 socks.

I also bought a twister potato (I can’t remember how much it was – I think around 3 socks). It had a kind of cheese powder on it and was way tastier than I was expecting. Photo evidence indicates that I found it delightful:
IMG_20180222_215708 And here I am, wielding it like a sword with a hat stall in the background: IMG_20180222_215731Also you can kind of see how I had to lace my boots to avoid hot spots and the painful/swollen parts of my feet. By that time I was basically using 4 eyelets to hold the whole thing together.

Day 8 – Oppan Gangnam Style!

On this day we explored the fancy part of Gangnam. We started at K-Star road which was a road decorated with a ton of K-pop band bears. The biggest, most prominent one was Psy:
IMG_20180223_104243As you can probably tell by now, Korea had a lot of these cute photo opportunities everywhere. I made James do this at the train station (but I think he kind of got into it):
IMG_20180223_103906We stopped at a place in Gangnam for lunch where I had oxtail soup:
IMG_20180223_123426 And James had something called “bomb ribs”: IMG_20180223_125618They were really good and not too expensive even though it was clearly a really nice restaurant in a really nice part of Seoul.

We walked to Garosugil, which is a really picturesque part of Gangnam with cool stores and trendy Koreans. James liked this bear and wished to emulate its fashion style:
IMG_20180223_135323My favourite store was a Karl Lagerfeld pop up that we randomly wandered into:
IMG_20180223_150401I tried on some t-shirts and in the changing room they had these gauze sheets to put over your face to stop makeup from getting on the clothes – pretty nifty! PANO_20180223_143640I ended up getting this one:
IMG_20180307_115308(It’s a bit wrinkly because, quite frankly, I wore it a couple of times when we got back and had to fish it out of the laundry for this photo).

We decided it would be better to kill time in Gangnam rather than heading back to the hotel only to stay 30 minutes before leaving for dinner, so James plotted a route to our dinner destination. On the way we passed a ton of plastic surgery places which we thought was pretty interesting.

And to my delight we also passed the Sulwhasoo flagship store! IMG_20180223_181226I had gone to Lotte to buy a couple of Sulwhasoo products because apparently the discounts there are quite good, but was really put off by the crowds of pushy, rude Chinese tourists. As you can see, the Sulwhasoo store was amazing in comparison and we were the only ones there.

We explored the ground floor, which had displays of ingredients and pretty containers:
IMG_20180223_173406 The store assistant brewed us some ginger (or maybe it was ginseng?) tea, and let us just explore around on our own.

I bought some Balancing Water and a large size of the First Care Activating Serum, which came with a 30ml sample. The lady who helped us was so sweet – she gave me a ton of samples – a toiletry bag, miniature candle, moisturising mist (which she said was for the plane ride home), and a balancing kit because I mentioned that I liked it. =) She also added some men’s samples for James!

The packaging was beautiful.
IMG_20180307_132350 The one on the bottom is their regular fabric wrapping and the one on top is a special Lunar New Year one for the year of the dog.

They also engraved it for me. =) (On the lid of the one in front and under the characters of the one behind) IMG_20180307_132550The more I think about it the more I marvel at the brand’s cleverness – because every time I use their skincare I’m going to be reminded of how lovely and luxurious that experience was.

Then it was time for our dinner at two Michelin starred Jungsik. We went with the tasting menu with a wine pairing split between us, and they made James dairy-free versions of the dishes he couldn’t have.

I wish I’d taken notes because I’m already forgetting the specifics of some of these dishes. =( I remember the ice cream one was a salmon pate in a cheese cone and the one to the right of it was a croquette-like dish with an incredible aioli sauce. They were all delicious.
IMG_20180223_191537I think these might have been battered fish?IMG_20180223_192004The next course was nori crackers and assorted toppings. From the top it was wasabi, kimchi, tomato, seaweed jelly, cream cheese, seaweed, roe, and yam, with tuna in the middle.
IMG_20180223_193536The tuna and roe were the best but I was super enamoured with the concept of the seaweed jelly.

Next I had a scallop in brown butter with peppercorns.
IMG_20180223_200031_1And James had mushrooms with sesame oil in a tiny little jar. IMG_20180223_200021Octopus with gochu sauce
IMG_20180223_201717 Royal bibimbap. I was a bit worried when I saw this on the list because we didn’t really want to eat more vegetarian bibimbap, but it was basically a truffle risotto (mine had cheese) and was fabulous. Here are our bowls before we mixed the rice and truffles: IMG_20180223_203615This was some sort of fish with spinach. I can’t remember what the fish was but it was very tender and very good.
IMG_20180223_205211 Galbi – it was great but I was starting to get really full at this point! IMG_20180223_211111A palate cleanser before dessert. James was given raspberry sorbet and I can’t remember what mine was, although I think the sauce was honey-based.
IMG_20180223_212441My dessert – chestnut ice cream, shaved chocolate, and I can’t remember what the honeycomb things were but I really liked them. IMG_20180223_213133James’ dessert of granola, soy milk and sorbet.
IMG_20180223_213155Which was followed by creme brulee for me and a little sorbet for James. Then some fancy tea: IMG_20180223_214853And even fancier cookies:
IMG_20180223_215241It was a lovely meal, quite well-priced, and I was so impressed that the waiter and sommelier was able to explain everything in english.

After dinner we capped off the night at a speakeasy called Alice. It was so much fun – combined with the gorgeous dinner, definitely the best night of our trip! The speakeasy was not signed but we knew we were in the right place when we saw this:
IMG_20180223_222025The vibe was good, the music was great, and they played the Alice in Wonderland cartoon on the wall. And OMG, the cocktails were so fun. Behold!

00002XTR_00002_BURST20180223223650-ANIMATION(And yes, there are tiny Pringles in the back. Because there was a cover charge – which is a thing in some Korean bars apparently – they gave us a small basket of snacks).

Look how happy James is with his Pringles and his glowing drink!
IMG_20180223_225159 My drink, which came with some birds and chocolate covered nut “eggs”. IMG_20180223_223739The menu was really cool too – graphic novel style and, leafing through it later in the night, we realised that it actually had illustrations of the drinks!
IMG_20180223_233150James’ next drink had a cheshire cat cocktail with fairy floss stuck to the outside as a snack. IMG_20180223_230920And mine came in a bunny mug!
IMG_20180223_230737Which, along with my previous drink, was also illustrated in the menu:
IMG_20180223_233133This was the bar area behind me. IMG_20180223_230718 Hmm, looks kind of familiar …IMG_20180223_233159One of the waiters really liked James. The bathroom was occupied when James went to use it and “his” waiter said to sit down and he’d let him know when it was free. He waited at the door until the guy left, then grabbed another waiter to hold his spot while he came and got James. They weren’t doing that for anyone else (not even me!!)

Later in the evening James asked him if there were any more drinks with unique presentation and he recommended:

The Stone Pot Ginseng (which James was happy about because it was what he wanted anyway):
IMG_20180223_235340And I don’t remember what this one was, but it was a little bit rose-y, a little bit citrusy and it came with an aromatherapy diffuser thingy that sprayed a rose scent while I drank. IMG_20180223_235544OMG!

We left it at three drinks because we were pretty tired and tipsy (though again, looking back I’m like “why didn’t we order more?? I want to know what the other drinks looked like!”

We asked about buying the bunny mug and our waiter (whom I think of as “James’ guy”) checked for him because they were custom made, then came back and apologetically said “I think the cost is not reasonable” – it was $170 (170 socks!!!)

So we nixed that idea – though maybe we should have bought it! It’s only money – and it would have made us happy every time we looked at it. Ah damnit. Anyway, James’ guy called a cab for us and while we were waiting he brought out some shots for the three of us to drink together. What a fun way to end our last night in Seoul!

Day 9 – Travel Day

Our final day! =(

After buying my socks I had massive sock regret at not getting more for our friends as souvenirs. So in the morning we went to Namdaemun market and Myeongdong and bought a shit ton of socks. We got pokemon socks, cat socks, Australian flag socks, Star Wars socks, chicken socks (for Cat), and more Psy socks (for souvenirs).
IMG_20180307_143650_1At the market we had some king dumpling buns (3 with pork, 2 with pork and kimchi, and the lady threw in an extra, unsellable – but still tasty – deformed pork and kimchi bun. They really hit the spot for a morning snack – 5 for $3.50:
IMG_20180224_091500I also became obsessed with these furry keychain. I got this gorilla for $5 (and later found out they were selling them for $3.80 at Myeongdong *sigh*. But look how cute he is! I keep patting his soft leathery face: IMG_20180307_144525
James chose this colour because he thought it made him look like a yeti.

And this keychain is my favourite. It was really expensive ($15) but I figure the price was ballpark enough not to keep haggling because the seller let me walk away at $10 and had started at $30. I had to go back in defeat 15 minutes later and buy him because I couldn’t find him anywhere else.

I think of him as a boy but in my head I have named him “Lady Gaga”:
IMG_20180307_144540
Oh, and as a last picture, this fucking strawberry. I kept seeing this franchise around Myeongdong and every time I would get freaked out because that little prancing strawberry is so disturbing.IMG_20180224_123755_1
Ugh, look at it frolic. So gross.

Then it was time to go back to the hotel and pack. It was a bit of a tight squeeze getting everything in because we bought more souvenirs than expected (socks!)

So yeah, that was our hastily-planned trip to Seoul. It came together pretty well I think, and we had a great time. =) I think if James had to go back I would want to tag along again – we could go back to Alice! Eat more KBBQ and go to some of the restaurants we missed!

(Buy more socks!)

Days 1-4 of a Hastily-Planned Trip to Seoul!

27 Feb

James had to go to Seoul for a work trip so he took some leave and we burned some frequent flyer points to get me there and make a mini holiday out of it. It was all at the last minute, which goes against my need to over-plan our holidays, but somehow we managed to make it work!

Day 1 – Travel Day

We got to the airport and through security waaay faster than we thought we would (thanks TSA Pre-Check!) so started off with a boozy breakfast in the United lounge. I had some Moet and James had coffee spiked with Bailey’s, a Bloody Mary and a glass of scotch. A morning glass of scotch. =/ (When we went to our gate there was a 30 minute boarding delay and James said in the most disgruntled voice you can imagine, “we’re going to be sober by the time we get on the plane.”)

Overall it was a pretty uneventful trip (we got ramen on the flight! That was pretty exciting) and we basically slept as soon as we got to our hotel.

Day 2 – Culture Day

This day we pretty much knocked out all of the big cultural attractions of Seoul. We’re not temple/palace people so we decided just to see the main two, which I think was a good choice.

We started off with Gyeungbokgung Palace, where we saw the changing of the guard and did a tour of the grounds.
IMG_20180217_102439Afterwards we wandered over to the Korean Cultural Museum area, which had a lot of Seollal (Lunar New Year) activities and crafts. There were lots of families and people in costumes wandering around which was fun. We made these woodblock prints:
IMG_20180217_112404But had great regrets that we didn’t stop at the “Crafting Dog-Shaped Humidifier” stand (initial ironic-regret turned to actual-regret later in the trip as James’ knuckles started cracking and bleeding from the dry air!)

We really liked these statues of all the Chinese Zodiac animals (a luckily-timed shot, because the place was packed):
IMG_20180217_110948We then walked to Bukchon Hanok Village, which has hundreds of traditional Korean houses, preserved to show a 600 year old urban environment. The alleyways were quite narrow and steep, and I liked the contrast with modern Seoul in the background. =)
IMG_20180217_120303We tried a couple of places for lunch but they were closed because of Seollal. Eventually we found a street dumpling place in Insadong that seemed to be doing a brisk business and ate there.

Then we walked to Jongmyo Shrine, which is the shrine for kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Like I said earlier though, we’re not really shrine people and I think we could have skipped this to shorten the day. Though on the walk there we did find a little exercise park with this fun workout machine:

giphy

Also at the shrine there was a raised path with a sign that said “Please do not walk on this pathway. This is for the spirits.” So now whenever James sees a bike path or something like that he tells me it’s for the spirits.

Then we headed to Namsangol Hanok Village, which had some reconstructions of what I assume were upper class Korean houses. There were some Seollal celebrations going on there too, and we made a wish that, in a few days, would be burned with thousands of other wishes.
IMG_20180217_155112Then we walked to N Seoul Tower, climbed a billion stairs, and saw some amazing views of Seoul.
IMG_20180217_164146The tower reminded us of the Space Needle in Seattle.
IMG_20180217_170254While we waited for sunset we explored the stores inside. There were a bunch of people waiting in line for a VR experience, so we figured we might as well join them to kill time.

Here we are, uncertain about what we’re even waiting for – the San Franciscan way:
IMG_20180217_171424I chose the (most popular) harness one which looked pretty impressive:Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180217174300But was actually quite shit because the harness didn’t even try to match the movement of the video. The disconnect actually made me feel super sick and I had to close my eyes while I got randomly jostled around. =(

This is James on his bike, which he said was also crappy.
IMG_20180217_174731And here he is looking at a 3D video in the tower:
IMG_20180217_175138By the time we got around to buying our tickets for the observation deck, they had a sign saying that the wait to get to the top was >70 minutes, which was way too long, so we decided to head back.

We spent a frustrating amount of time trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t closed, and in the end had some mediocre seafood fried rice. We were utterly wrecked by this time, cos we’d walked 9.5 hours and I had discovered my new boots weren’t completely broken in. =( Just in time for …

Day 3 – Hike Day

We actually ended up walking far less than we did on our first day! We spent the morning hiking (a tiny) part of the fortress wall that used to surround part of Seoul.

Here we are at the Changuimun Gate before our hike:
IMG_20180218_095843We had to sign up for a pass that allowed us access, because in the 1960s North Korean soldiers had used this portion of the wall, which is quite high-up so apparently tactically advantageous, as part of an assassination attempt on the South Korean president.

It was definitely high up. Living in San Francisco we’re pretty used to stairs, but this hike had a shit ton of stairs.
IMG_20180218_103054The military was everywhere, but they were basically all kids in their early 20s, and when we said hello (one of the few words we know in Korean) they would smile and bow at us.

Our passes!
IMG_20180218_103930 (The soldiers were definitely looking for these, because at one point I’d put my jacket back on, which hid my pass, and one of them gestured to me to pull it back out so he could see.)

This is James hamming it up next to a tree with bullet-holes from the assassination attempt: IMG_20180218_104517You can see how long the wall stretches!
IMG_20180218_112254We ended the hike at the Sukjeongmun Gate at the north. You can keep going around the whole wall but we were happy to stop since we’d done the most interesting part. =)
IMG_20180218_114158We returned our passes, then caught an Uber (which is 2-3x the cost of a cab in Seoul, so that was the only time we Ubered) to grab some lunch.

I wanted to try some stuff that we don’t normally get in the US, so had jjajangmyun, which is a Korean/Chinese fusion dish of noodles in black bean sauce.
IMG_20180218_125404It wasn’t really much to write home about. The noodle texture was really good but the dish wasn’t as flavoursome at it looked (the deep brown colour fooled me!).

James also got an Oreo churro for dessert, which he said was average and also not as exciting as it looked. =(
IMG_20180218_133121We were still knackered from the other day, so we went back to our hotel, had a nap, and then dinner and a ton of drinks in the hotel lounge (all freeeee! Thanks to James’ Marriott Gold status) and had an early night because we had another big day coming up.

Day 4 – Fun Day

Fun Day lived up to its name! We started off at the Trick-Eye Museum near Hongik. It was super tacky, but really quite fun! There were lots of photo ops with various trompe l’oeil exhibits, and you could download an app that made the exhibits interactive.
giphy-downsized-large

Cheesy but cool, right? Right??

giphy-downsized-large (1)
We kept holding our phones up to all the exhibits to see how they’d change.

Magic!

IMG_20180219_104955Enormous James and Tiny Kaye – how do they make their marriage work?
IMG_20180219_104642Because James is such a cool dude, that’s how! Cowabunga!
ArtCam_2018219103951Then we exited via a mirror maze (surprisingly disorienting!) to the main area, where we entered their small ice museum. It was really cold inside and I’m pretty sure everything was some sort of plastic, not ice, but it was entertaining enough for 5-10 minutes.

Third wheel!
IMG_20180219_113708There was a cool little slide:
giphy-downsized-large (2)
Back in the lobby there was a little cafe where you could get a latte with a custom picture on top! You had to take a photo of yourself on a phone that had some special app installed (I assume) and then they printed it on your foam. Behold!
IMG_20180219_115512Afterwards we headed to a meerkat cafe which was insanely adorable. The meerkats were so curious and sweet! A couple of them took naps on James:
IMG_20180219_130836Apparently a group of meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. But it should be “abundance”. Look at that abundance of meerkats.
IMG_20180219_130917
They loooved standing on our shoulders and peering around.
IMG_20180219_131202 They also stuck their paws down our butt-cracks and fished around a bit. =O One of them grabbed James’ braces which he did not like, a couple of them scurried down my shirt, and one of them kept sniffing around my nose and mouth and eventually stuck his nose right up my nostril.

Me: Did you get a shot of the meerkat sticking its nose up my nose?
James: Yeah I think so.IMG_20180219_131103
(That’s the handler’s hand as she tried to dislodge my meerkat).

They also had some friendly raccoons:
00005IMG_00005_BURST20180219123819_COVERAnd wallabies.
IMG_20180219_132414
And if you know James you know that of course he couldn’t leave without annoying a couple of the resident cats with his friendship:
IMG_20180219_134927Afterwards we walked to Kyochon Chicken to grab some chicken and beer. It was really, really good.
IMG_20180219_145257Then we took a train to the Gangnam business district to have a peek at Google Seoul and for James to grab a coffee from the microkitchen. James said this was his favourite room:
IMG_20180219_170006 And I thought this one was pretty cool too: IMG_20180219_170202
It was less exciting than all the other Googles I’ve been to – the views were amazing, but we’d seen fantastic views our previous two days already. At least the coffee helped perk James up. =)

To finish off our sightseeing we headed to Samsung D’Light just down the road. It’s a big Samsung store on the ground floor with more conceptual stuff on the top two floors.

James tried some VR, which he said was much better than the one at N Seoul Tower (James: and we didn’t have to wait in line!!).
IMG_20180219_174342In his virtual reality he is riding a racing pig but in actual reality he is sitting in a chair.

Upstairs they had this surprisingly fun quiz thing, where you went to multiple stations and answered questions about yourself and it would ostensibly tell you about your personality, but really it was just an excuse to show off cool visuals on their awesome screens.
IMG_20180219_180003Here is James designing his ideal planet:
IMG_20180219_175817He was very proud of this picture, which had captured his movement to make an artsy composite picture (like he’s seriously proud of it – it’s now his Facebook and Google profile pic):
senseUs on the big screen!
IMG_20180219_182932There was a car racing game with a swish curved monitor, car controls and chair.IMG_20180219_180859This was some interactive display about … I want to say a composite chip maybe?
IMG_20180219_181139On the top floor there was this really awesome “house of the future”. You can see from the photo that the house was blank, but if you lifted up the tablet everything would be coloured-in on the screen with a bunch of actors and CGI showing the technology and how the house occupants used it in their everyday lives. As you moved the tablet around it would show you the section you were pointing at – on the same angle and everything!
IMG_20180219_182122(We initially didn’t realise how to use it – it was on a stand angled downwards and when we pressed start we were like “WTF it’s just a shot of people’s feet”)

We finished off our Samsung experience with even more VR (an abundance of VR!). This one was a rollercoaster. =D
IMG_20180219_183438Seriously it was so much cooler than the one at N Seoul Tower and we just walked straight on – we were the only ones there!

For dinner we had bibimbap. It was okay but very rice-heavy (I didn’t realise they didn’t come with meat because all the ones we’d had in the US did) and there was so much of it I couldn’t finish. =(
IMG_20180219_195111 James mid-bite with it all mixed together: IMG_20180219_195612It turned out James had more room – just not for rice – and he ordered some fried meat on a stick at the Myeongdong street market.
IMG_20180219_210656Then we went back to our hotel and had an early night because we were going to the Olympics the next day!

A Point Reyes Christmas!

12 Jan

James and I spent Christmas in Point Reyes this Christmas. It’s about 1.5 hours from San Francisco, so it’s perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Christmas Eve

We’d picked up our rental car the day before, so got an early start on our trip. Here we are heading out of the city:
IMG_20171224_081946We arrived at the Point Reyes Lighthouse a little bit before it opened. There were very few people around, and on the walk to the lighthouse we saw some elk. This one crossed the road right in front of us!IMG_20171224_095757I guess he has a fancy necklace because they monitor the elk population or something?

We had some nice views of the seashore and (what I’m going to assume were) Cypress trees.
IMG_20171224_100144Before descending to the lighthouse, a warning to us all:
IMG_20171224_100802There were just a couple of other groups, and everyone was very considerately staggering themselves, so we had the lighthouse to ourselves.
IMG_20171224_101407We saw the Fresnel lens and the inside of the lighthouse. James read the lighthouse keeper’s diary and said it was basically the diary of a man slowly going mad. Apparently it was mainly complaints about how little work the other lighthouse keeper did, and also every few months he would see a boat.

The way back up – 308 steps!
IMG_20171224_102810We went to Point Reyes Station to do some grocery shopping (it was slammed!) and then headed to get our oyster lunch(es).

Our first stop was Hog Island Oysters where we ordered raw oysters, oysters with barbecue sauce, and half a Dungeness crab.
IMG_20171224_123909They sold oysters that you could take home and shuck yourself, which sounds amazing. Maybe next time!

Afterwards we went to The Marshall Store. They were more expensive than Hog Island, so if you’re getting plain oysters you should probably go elsewhere, but the smoked and barbecued oysters were incredible – and the barbecued oysters came with a giant, satisfying hunk of bread!

Hog Island Oysters had the pretty fairy lights, but it was really nice sitting on the water with our delicious oysters. IMG_20171224_140411Afterwards we headed to our rental cabin in Point Reyes, ready for an early start the next day.

Christmas Day

We got to the Palomarin trailhead around 8am to hike Alamere Falls. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the area but the parking lot was empty on Christmas Day.

It’s an 8 mile (12.8km) round trip – we actually did 10 miles (16km) because we missed the turn-off. We think there used to be an official sign but now there’s just this mysterious rock arrow pointing into some bushes.
IMG_20171225_102019On our hike back we watched from around the corner to see what people would do, and everyone took the shortcut. I guess James and I are just very untrusting people. =(

After a long and circuitous walk on an empty beach, we finally arrived!
IMG_20171225_113928The falls emptied out to the ocean, which was really cool.
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Here is James having lunch at the base while I wandered around.
IMG_20171225_114252When the tide came in it cut off the beach route that we had taken to get to the falls. The shortcut involved a bit of a scramble up a cliff. IMG_20171225_120228At the top there were several little falls before the main waterfall.
IMG_20171225_120731 We think this was the top waterfall but you can never be sure. IMG_20171225_121216
There were a lot of people on our walk back and when we got back to the carpark it was full, which was a bit surprising given that it was Christmas. But I guess I don’t know how full it would have been on a regular day to compare.

We got home, showered and napped. Then we had dinner, drank a bottle of champagne and played Exit: The Abandoned Cabin, an escape room game. It was so cosy and satisfying spending the evening solving puzzles together. What a perfect day. =)

Boxing Day

This was our cabin at sunrise.
IMG_20171226_074223 (1)After we checked out we went kayaking on Tomales Bay. It was a beautiful morning and the water was like glass.
MVIMG_20171226_110400 We spent a lot of the time following this bird around. He hated us; every time we paddled within 50 meters of him he glared at us and flew away. MVIMG_20171226_104019We saw some elk on a beach. They also weren’t happy to see us, and fell a couple of times trying to jump a ledge to get away from us. Sorry elk!
Elk at Tomales Bay failing to climb a ledge, as seen from our kayakWe stopped for lunch on Heart’s Desire beach and then continued on our kayak journey. The water had gotten quite choppy and we were fighting against the current. I say “we”, but unfortunately for James, my paddling was largely decorative.

You can tell by his happiness levels. Here we are, kayaking out:
IMG_20171226_102750 (1)And kayaking back:
IMG_20171226_124600Logistically it had been a poor decision to kayak on the day we didn’t have a hot shower immediately available, but it was the only way I could have fit everything in since the kayak place wasn’t open Christmas Day and the lighthouse wasn’t open Monday to Thursday.

But anyway, we dried off as best we could and headed back to San Francisco. It was a really wonderful way to spend the Christmas break. =)

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home (OMG my ankles were so sore after the hike) and playing with the cats. Then in the evening Jaimie and Jeff came over and we played Watson & Holmes (where we were all completely out-deduced by James).

I Still Call Australia Home

10 Oct

We just got back from three weeks in Australia! We were efficiently visiting for two weddings – Julian’s and my cousin Jon’s. Like last time, we used pretty much all our free time to catch up with friends and family (and also gorge ourselves).

Plane Anthropology

On our flight to Melbourne, our section of the plane (the blue Economy Plus area) had hardly anyone in it – behold!

Screenshot_20170904-223549I had optimistically put myself in 21L and James in 22L but had been obsessively monitoring the situation in case of a flood of newcomers to our section – I figured rows 16 (the one we vacated), 17, 18 and 20 would be my canaries in the coal mine, and if I saw those starting to fill up I’d change our seats so James and I were in the same row.

It was pretty interesting to watch people figure out that there were empty rows for the taking, and start to spread out and stake their claim. The first people to catch on were a group of guys in rows 22 and 23 – they separated and took the DEFs in row 20 and 21. The other empty rows were taken maybe 10-20 minutes after we’d sat down, and well before the boarding doors closed. 24DEF was the last to go, and after that it was people just circling around looking for empty rows. I counted eight of us who had the very best situation – an ABC or JKL row to themselves (DEF was less optimal because you didn’t have a wall to lean your back against to stretch your legs out on the seats).

I also thought it was interesting how reluctant people were to move to a row where someone was already sitting. As far as I could tell, almost everyone who started with their own row stayed that way. Everyone technically only had the right to their own seat, but clearly the seat poachers realised how desirable it was to have a row to yourself and didn’t want to be the one to take that away from someone (also a lot of people had defensively moved to the middle seat of their row).

Which brings me to the 17JKL bloc. I was particularly fascinated with it because it was one of the few filled rows. 16JKL was also full but the guy there moved to 16ABC pretty quickly, and the 16s weren’t really that desirable because the seat arms don’t lift up (which was partially why we had moved our seat allocation). But anyway, early on in the boarding process (after the 22/23 guys had spread out but before other rows had been taken) I saw a lady from 17JKL look around and realise that the blue section was likely to have empty seats. She asked a flight attendant if she could move, and I guess the flight attendant told her that after boarding she could take any empty seat, because she stayed put but kept looking around.

Which was a huge mistake, because by the time she started walking around, all the rows had been claimed, and even people who had moved (and had just as little “right” to the row as her – except for the apparently crucial part of being there first) had started to feel territorial about their space. I heard her ask to sit with a single in 17 or 18 ABC, who straight up lied to her face and told her that someone else was sitting there! She got rejected from another row and was roaming around looking for someone who was too nice to say no (from my live email updates to Cat and Ivo: “the unwanted lady just moved seats again to someone else’s row. She was like “can I join you here?” NO! Nobody wants you!!”).

Obviously she had to do it because moving would be a significant upgrade for her, but just as obviously people didn’t want her in their row because it would be a significant downgrade for them. I think she ended up in 18DEF on her third attempt.

The flight took off 30+ minutes late, but watching people tetris around was the most engrossing 30+ minutes I’ve ever spent on a plane. Also I slept nearly the whole way, sat with my legs stretched for the rest, had nobody reclined in front of me, nobody pulling my seat to get up, no lines for the toilet, and had three tray tables/seat backs to organise my stuff – highly recommended!

(I had high hopes for our return flight which was looking similarly empty, but it filled up a couple of days beforehand. So we did the only reasonable thing and upgraded to business. =P)

Catching Up

The whole point of visiting Melbourne is to catch up with family and friends, and we always make the most of it! I love our friends in Seattle and SF, but there’s nothing quite like being around the people we grew up with. We met up with my school friends, James’ school friends, James’ computer science friends, and my cousins.

Being with my cousins reminded me of when we were kids and hung out every weekend (except half of them have kids of their own now!)
IMG_20170928_163922I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but Cat said that she also got teary-eyed looking at that picture. We were so close growing up, and it’s so much fun hanging out with them – we’re only fully assembled every couple of years or so, because of Klene living in Sydney and me in San Francisco.

Last time we visited Melbourne we didn’t see as much of my parents as I would have liked, so this time we had a weekly dinner with them and Cat/Mitch.

It’s funny, because I feel like at times, Cat and mum didn’t always get along that well – Cat used to get exasperated with her easily, and mum would come to me and be like “you tell Cat to do X, because Cat won’t listen to me”. But now Cat writes all these funny, sweet anecdotes about mum on facebook, where apparently “Mama Chen” has quite the following among Cat’s friends – even some of my friends have told me they love the Mama Chen facebook updates!
21768353_10156217380865656_6916487172671501806_n (1)All of James’ high school friends have kids now, and about half of my school friends have kids. Everyone is getting so old! Here we are with James’ uni friends after a brunch catch-up:
IMG_20170923_130956

Stuff I Had Totally Forgotten About:

Chicken Salt

The first time we went to get fish and chips (with flake! Not that cod bullshit they have here) and they asked if we wanted regular or chicken salt, James and I were like “OMG how could we have forgotten about chicken salt???”

How is it not a thing here? Possibly for the same reason the US doesn’t have Burger Rings, chicken Twisties and chicken flavoured chips (that aren’t a novelty flavour like chicken and waffles) – Nancy said “people in the US don’t like meat-flavoured chips” (!!!)

But anyway, we brought back three different kinds of chicken salt.

Magpies

I never saw them in Seattle or SF but they’re everywhere in Melbourne. I was walking down the street and heard a magpie sing and was hit with this intense wave of nostalgia. I used to hear that sound all the time, and hearing it again after all those years felt simultaneously foreign and familiar.

Melbourne Food

It is so good, especially the Asian food. James and I reckon the best Asian restaurants we’ve been to in the US would be middle of the pack in Melbourne.

James had his first proper Melbourne coffee and said he’d forgotten how good it is – and also how strong it is! We went out to brunch with Joel, Nancy, Damo, Joan and their kids, and afterwards James said he was really jittery from the coffee – whereas Joel and Nancy made themselves another cup when they got home.

Anyway, here is a random selection of food we ate and took photos of:

My pavlova freakshake at Naughty Boy cafe:
IMG_20170917_095758Sushi platter from Shyun:
IMG_20170923_181953The “Money to Burn” cocktail at Eau de Vie:

20170925_085924-ANIMATIONEau de Vie was really fun – the cocktails were delicious and beautifully presented. We love speakeasies and didn’t realise that they were now a thing in Melbourne. Mitch had a cocktail with some fairy floss and a paper plane:
IMG_20170913_204716 I think this one involved a drink being poured into a glass full of hickory smoke. 00004IMG_00004_BURST20170913212612_COVER
Next time we go back to Melbourne James wants to do Eau de Vie’s food/cocktail tasting menu because he was absolutely in love with the place.

(Also, James fell asleep on the train ride home. It turned out he had actually started to get tired after dinner and before we went on a 20 minute hunt for a speakeasy, and certainly well before we had 3-4 drinks each at said speakeasy – but he said he was having such a good time with Cat and Mitch that he “wanted to keep the party going”).

The “Meat Fruit” at Dinner by Heston:
IMG_20170926_181002 (1)

Vegemite gyoza at Shizuku Ramen & Craft Beer. You can take the girl out of Australia …
IMG_20170910_192420
Zombie VR

Ivo said she wanted to do this, and to be honest at the start I was dubious. I mainly went along with it because I thought it would be fun to hang out with everyone – I could take or leave the VR experience, really. It was at Zero Latency in Melbourne and it ended up being amazing.

They were running a bit late so we could see the people before us. They were wearing their gear – VR set, headphones, motion capture stuff, guns, some sort of computer backpack – yelling at each other, and sort of shuffling around tentatively in this massive warehouse space. I imagine we looked just as goofy when we were doing it.IMG_20170917_205923_1It was really immersive – not just 3D but completely responsive to our actions because of those little motion capture bobble things. I can’t believe there isn’t something like this in SF!

We did the zombie and the space one, of which I think the space one was better. There was some really cool stuff, like where you walked up this torus, and when you looked down you could see your friends still down below you and it felt completely real. And walking across high platforms, hiding behind boxes, dodging baddies … it was really, really cool.

The zombie one was just a straight up shooter experience, which is why it felt a little less interesting. It was still really immersive though, and thus pretty freaky having a zombie running right at you.

Mitch did really well and ended up coming with the third highest score ever. The guy working there was really impressed! They sent us all these cool stats afterwards, like how accurate our shots were, how many points we’d scored, how far we’d moved etc. I thought the funniest stat was that during the space boss battle, all of us moved a pretty consistent distance – from 8-17 meters … except James, who apparently just spent the whole time walking around and had travelled 112 meters! WTF James!

Souvenirs

Generally stuff is way cheaper in the US so we tend not to buy too much stuff when we visit Australia. James usually replenishes his supply of Bonds undies, and I pick up some clothes, but this time we decided to go all-in on Aussie snacks:
IMG_20171001_174837Things James missed the most: banana lollies, wizz fizz and musk sticks

Things I missed the most: chicken Twisties, Burger Rings, honeycomb chocolate, noodles

You can’t really tell in the photo but there’s a couple of boxes of Wei Lih noodles that the Pringles and chicken salt are sitting on. They’re sooo much better than any other instant noodle I’ve had and I can’t find them in the US. They were $23 for a pack of five on eBay – outrageous!

James and I taped two boxes together and checked them as luggage, and they survived the trip really well. And it was only a little bit embarrassing collecting them from the carousel and carrying them through the airport. Cat reckons I’d be able to tape four boxes next time – I think definitely three, but I’m not sure if four would exceed the allowed luggage dimensions.

I also bought some sneakers from Country Road (I’m having mild regrets on that one – they look cool but they’re made of fucking neoprene and make my feet sweaty) and this awesome croissant rain coat from Gorman that I will never, ever regret:

ggfj004104i1_print

image from Gorman

Every time we visit, we’re surprised at how much cooler Melbourne is than we remember, and how our friends are just as wonderful as we remember. And we sort of get stars in our eyes and think about moving back even though it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes we just miss being around people who sound like us, you know?

But anyway, we’ll be back next year for Cat’s wedding!