Tag Archives: Big City

Singapore Sights

Beyond visiting the Botanic Gardens in Singapore, we also spent a few days visiting the sights of the impressive, city (well, it’s really a country)! Though it may seem a small country to visit, there is a lot to do and there is always a fun and exciting buzz around the city – it also doesn’t hurt that it almost always boasts the perfect weather to lay by the pool!

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Our first stop was the Merlion which is the symbol of Singapore as it combines the the body of a fish with the head of a lion – it signifies its old roots as a fishing village and its original name which meant “lion city”.

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From the same vantage point, you can see the Marina Bay Sands hotel which we stayed at for a few days while we were there. The other building in the picture (the one that looks like a white Lotus Flower to the left of Ryan’s head) is the Art Science museum – seeing as we are both engineers and love science, you would be right if you guessed that we went there. The building itself is really cool and the dinosaur exhibit was pretty awesome!

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The main reason I wanted to stay there was so that we could go to the infinity pool on top of the hotel. The ship looking structure at the top is where the infinity pool area (called Sky Park) is – it’s currently the highest and largest infinity pool in the world so it was insanely cool to experience that! It’s on the 57th floor looking out onto the city – the views are absolutely spectacular! 

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Singapore Infinity Pool Collage

One of my other favorite activities while visiting was the Night Safari – it’s on the outskirts of the city so it’s easiest to take a cab to get there and it gets pretty crowded, but it’s certainly worth a visit! Seeing as many of the animals at the zoo are nocturnal, what better time to see them than at night when they’re active. You get in a tram and they drive you around the park past all of the animal enclosures. There are several stops where you can get out and take your time walking around. They ask you not to take pictures so you don’t disturb the animals so I don’t have any pictures from the animals, but my absolute favorite part of the park is where you can walk through the enclosure with the Flying Foxes and fruit bats (it’s the “Mangrove Walk which is off of the Leopard Trail) - the bats often whizz right past you! It was awesome! We also caught the otters being particularly playful and it was simply adorable! I’m really glad we spent an evening there!

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One of the other aspects to Singapore that I really liked was the cultural diversity – you are truly in an international city when you are walking around Singapore! You can tell by all of the food options, too – Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Singaporean, Italian, Spanish, Thai…you name it, they have it! We took a walk around some of those cultural areas of town, enjoyed some great food, interesting drinks (fresh squeezed sugar cane juice!), and soaked in the exciting vibe of the city!

Singapore Culture Collage

On one of our days, we headed to the resort hot spot, Sentosa Island. We went to go to Universal Studios because we both love roller coasters! We had a fun day wandering around the park and going on all of the rides. The park areas were extremely well done – Jurassic Park and the huge Egyptian figures were something to see! While that was impressive, I do have to admit that the rides weren’t anything all that special. We were lucky to be there on a day when the lines weren’t too long so it was easy to get onto the rides. If you’re short on time, I wouldn’t put this as very high on your list of things to do in Singapore but it was a fun day nonetheless.

Singapore Universal Studios Collage

In the evening, some of our friends who are living in Singapore, took us out for Chili Crab – it is one of Singapores’ most famous dishes and its delicious! After you messily devour the crab (thankfully, they give you bibs!), you can ask for rolls to dip in the sauce – so good! (we do not have any pictures of us eating chili crab because our hands were too messy to operate a camera – so we just dug in and enjoyed it and skipped the picture!). Be sure and try both Chili and Pepper Crab if you find yourself lucky enough to be in Singapore!

Jumbo Chili Crab

Afterwards, we went to the famous Raffles Hotel which is a historic and beautiful hotel where the fruity drink, the Singapore Sling, was invented. We indulged ourselves at the Long Bar with a classic Singapore Sling for each of us (shock factor, they are about S$18 each!) and had fun in the lively bar area watching the bar tenders make glass upon glass of Singapore Slings (apparently we weren’t the only ones that got the memo that you should stop by there to try it!).

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We decided to walk back to the Marina Bay Sands on our last night and ended up stumbling upon some random art exhibits on the walking path. One of the coolest exhibits was a cloud that was raining – when you walked through it, the water would stop in the area where you were standing. It was really cool because you could stand in the middle and it would be raining all around you but not a drop would get on you. One of our favorite things about traveling is when you spontaneously find fun/interesting things that you didn’t expect…this was one of those instances!

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We also caught the laser light show just in time! What a great ending to a great week!

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 All in all, we really enjoyed the few days that we spent in Singapore – we stayed busy exploring the city, ate some amazing food, and also had some time to relax (with a stellar view on the 57th floor overlooking the incredible city!). I really hope that you get to visit there some day to see all that Singapore has to offer!

NYE in Sydney!

As I said before in my last post about Sydney, spending New Years Eve in this amazing city was very high on my bucket list! We booked a cruise ahead of time so we could enjoy the fireworks in one of the best seats in the city. With tickets in hand, we didn’t have to board until 7 PM meaning we had all day to explore a bit more. So, to make our NYE even more amazing, we headed to Bondi Beach to spend the day.

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The weather was perfect so we enjoyed the day at the beach before heading back into town to get ready for the main event!

Bondhi Beach Collage

We went to Darling Harbor to get on the boat and then took a cruise around Sydney harbor – we got a great view of the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.

Sydney NYE Harbor Cruise

Harbor Bridge on NYE

Our cruise boat was in the Harbor of Lights parade so all of the ships had lights all over them and we made a big loop around the water before parking right in the front row.

Harbor of Lights Parade

We were one of a few ships allowed to be as close to the bridge & Opera House…we were literally right in the front row.

Front Row Seat - NYE Fireworks

The fireworks were amazing – it’s hard to put into words just how awesome it was. It was absolutely the best firework show we’ve ever seen!

Sydney NYE Fireworks 1

Sydney Fireworks 2

It was the best way to ring in the New Year – 2014 is going to be one to remember! I’m so glad we went and highly recommend everyone putting this on their bucket list!

Fabulous Sydney!

At the end of the year, we took a flight down to Sydney to celebrate closing out a great year and starting up another incredible one! Before the big festivities on New Year’s Eve, we had a few days to explore the city. I had been to Australia before and absolutely loved it but this was Ryan’s first trip down under. One of the best aspects to this trip was the fact that we got to leave winter behind in Korea and step into the beautiful summer weather! Hello shorts and flip flops!

Erin Pink Shorts Sydney

Our first stop was the Sydney Harbor area – we had to pick up the tickets for our NYE Harbor Cruise (more on that in the next post…I had been excited about that for months!). At the harbor, we walked around to check out the major Sydney sights – the harbor bridge and the opera house. While walking around, we stumbled upon a market in the Rocks – we perused the stalls, grabbed some great food, and also a beer at the oldest pub in Sydney. It was a fantastic place to hang out!

Ryan and Erin - Sydney

The next day, we went to the Featherdale Wildlife Park to meet some of Australian’s most famous creatures. We had a blast checking out the animals – kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, cassowaries, kookaburras, and many more!

Featherdale Animal Park

It was a great place to see all of them – a bit outside the city but it was a great smaller wildlife park (a quick travel note – head there early…the animals are a bit more active in the morning before it gets too hot so it’s worth waking up earlier to go). While there, we were able to snap a picture with this cutie koala – a required picture for any trip to Australia and we were happy to check that off our Australia bucket list.

FDWP - KoalaWe truly fell in love with this city and enjoyed every minute that we spent there! Our best day of course was New Year’s Eve…I’ll fill you in on all of that on the next post!

Weekend in Hong Kong!

You may remember that we wished you a Merry Christmas while posing with a Santa Claus in a mall in Hong Kong. We had popped over there for a weekend in December because we wanted to get a dose of Christmas spirit. In our small little corner of Korea, the Christmas holidays are not really that big of a deal (at least not in Geoje) and you don’t get the Christmas cheer with Santa Claus, snowmen, reindeer, twinkly lights, and Christmas tunes that just really get you in the holiday spirit. Lucky for us, Hong Kong is a short flight away, so we hopped on a plane and headed there to check it out! We sure got our dose of Christmas spirit – it was EVERYWHERE. Every hotel or shopping center had Christmas trees and decorations galore. It’s an interesting environment here in Hong Kong because you have quite a few Western Expats.

HK Christmas

On our first morning, we headed to a breakfast place called “Flying Pan” and both enjoyed an awesome breakfast – while breakfast places don’t seem all that worthy of writing about, they are for us. Breakfast spots are essentially non-existent where we’re living and going out to breakfast is one of our favorite things so we cherished this cute little restaurant and devoured our eggs.

Flying Pan

Afterwards, we walked over and stumbled upon some escalators. I realized these were the escalators that I had seen on the travel channel – it’s the longest outdoor escalator series in the world, so we hopped on and enjoyed a ride all the way up to the top.

HK Outdoor Escalator Collage

After getting to the top, we found ourselves walking around to explore this great city in the fantastic weather (seriously – it was 75 degrees and sunny and then got to about 60 during the evenings…it doesn’t get much better than that!). Unlike Korea, we really didn’t feel all that out of place here. It was a nice blend of many different cultures which we really enjoyed.

HK Botanical Garden

We found our way to the Peak Tram and got in line. The tram took you up to the top of the large hill and had great views of the city.

HK Peak Tram

That evening, we went to the other side of the water to see the Skyline and laser show. Hong Kong is known to have one of the most spectacular skylines in the world and it definitely does.

HK Skyline

The next day, we headed to the Stanley Markets and walked around looking for some paintings. We ended up finding a few great paintings and then walked along the water to grab some lunch. Although it was a bit of a drizzly day, we had a fun time exploring another area in Hong Kong.

HK Stanley Market Collage

We took the bus back to the main part of the city and spent some more time walking around the city. One our favorite sites was watching the guys on the bamboo scaffolding. They must have been some of the bravest people alive because they would be up there working on this stuff at insane heights using minimal safety equipment! They would drop the bamboo scaffold poles down to the guy on the ground and he’d catch them and pile them up on the ground. We found it fascinating!

HK Scaffolders

We got back to the main area of Hong Kong a bit before dinner and decided to head to our restaurant of choice a little early. Boy, am I glad we did! This is a Michelin rated dumpling restaurant called Din Tae Fung and there is usually a huge line but because we headed there at 4:45 PM, they showed us right to our seats and we were in heaven for the next hour. The dumplings were amazing, the chicken soup was the best I’ve ever had, the spring rolls were crunchy, and the vegetables were fresh and delicious. They have this restaurant in a few major cities and it is definitely worth going there if you have the chance.

HK Dumplings

We took a late night and I mean really late night flight at 2 AM to arrive back in Busan on Monday morning at 6 AM. It was a fun weekend and we snagged a great Christmas card photo – that was the real success!

London Calling!

London is one of my favorite places in the world…it’s another place that both Ryan and I have been separately but never together. As we were on our way back to Korea from Scotland, we stopped in London for a couple days. My favorite way to enjoy the city is to walk around and see all of the hot spots of the city. It was incredibly cold and even snowing at times, but we were able to hit a lot of the highlights. We saw the Tower of London and London Bridge…

Tower of London

 Big Ben and Westminster Abbey…

Big Ben

Buckingham Palace, and…

Buckingham Palace

Platform 9 3/4. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and so I was really excited to stop by here. Ryan’s not much a Harry Potter fan, but he was nice enough to let me stand in line and took my picture.Travel note: Platform 9 3/4 can be found at King’s Cross station and the spot with the trolley/luggage going into the wall is outside of the ticketing area which was quite touristy but I still thought it was a very fun stop.

Harry Potter

During our time, we were able to enjoy a few English pubs – we absolutely love the beer, the food, and the atmosphere of these places so we were always up for popping in to one when we got a little too cold. While walking around, we found yet another wonderful English pub where we had some great beer and the best fish and chips we had our whole trip (I’m telling you, we really had an obsession with this meal…we couldn’t get enough of it!). It is a welcome change to the way they serve fish in Korea so we were loving every bite!

Best Fish & Chips

Afterwards, we swung by Trafalgar Square to grab some great pictures and then…

Trafalgar Square

found the MI6 headquarters as seen in James Bond… 

Ryan at MI6

and finally, took a walk along the Thames river.

Thames River

Lastly, we went on a Jack the Ripper Tour which was surprisingly fantastic. I didn’t know much of anything about Jack the Ripper, but the tour guide was really enthusiastic and did a great job of telling the history and taking us to all the spots where the murders took place. It was fascinating and in a pretty neat area of London that we wouldn’t normally see. They even took us through the street that J.K. Rowling used as her inspiration for Diagon Alley.

Jack the Ripper Tour

Jack the Ripper Tour in Whitechapel

Afterwards, we grabbed a pint in the same bar where the first victim had her last drink and was killed…certainly a bit morbid, but it was interesting to be in a place where something so infamous took place so long ago. If you’re heading to London, I highly recommend the tour.

Jack the Ripper Tour

Goodbye for now, UK, I am certain we will meet again in the future (hopefully just a bit warmer next time).

Mind the Gap

Japan: Tokyo & Day Trips from Tokyo

The train ride was really nice because we were able to pass Mt. Fuji – it’s an elusive mountain because it is very easily covered in clouds and you can’t really see it. We were lucky enough to see the top of it while our train sped by.

View of Mt. Fuji from the train

When our train pulled into the Tokyo station, we made our way via the subway to our hotel. As usual, it was a very small hotel with a hard bed and a small bathroom, haha. I haven’t spoken too much about the hotels but they are very minimalist in Japan – at one of them, Ryan could touch both walls of the room if he stood in the middle and stretched out his arms. They also didn’t have wifi which surprised both of us – we always thought Japan was super wired, but we learned that Korea is actually much more connected than Japan.

Tokyo Train Station

Anyway…on with our fun adventures – it was really rainy that day, but we decided to go check out the local area to get a feel for the city and then head to Shibuya because we always seem to see that part of Tokyo in movies. We crossed the street and went up to the Starbucks to see the crossing full of people at rush hour. We grabbed a coffee and staked out a spot near the window (this was tough because all tourists head here during rush hour so it was a busy, busy Starbucks – luckily, Ryan and I are good at dividing and conquering…he went to get coffee and I pounced at the first vacant seats. It worked out well).

Shibuya Crossing – lots of umbrellas because it was a rainy day

After that, it was time to head back and then grab dinner. I know that many of you will be disappointed that our first meal in Japan’s capital was not Japanese food…nope, it was the classy establishment: Hooters. If you’ve ever been an expat, you’ll understand that simple reminders of home are incredibly exciting, so we stood in line for 35 minutes waiting for a table. We were not disappointed – the wings tasted just like they did in the US!

To make sure that we made the most of our Japan Rail Pass (and we because we loved train rides), one of Ryan’s friends who lives in Tokyo gave us some recommendations on day trips that we could do. We hopped on the train and got off at the Shin Yokohama station to visit the Ramen Museum. We had the same reaction – there is a ramen museum?! Yes and it’s the most bizarre museum I have ever visited because it has a small exhibit talking about ramen (all in Japanese so I can’t tell you what it was about) and then you go into the basement and it is set up as if it is late 1950′s gangster style Japan. There are several different mini-restaurants where you can get a bowl of their ramen. They were picked as being the best ramen restaurants all over Japan. We tried a couple different dishes and our favorite was one that was miso based with lots of garlic and ginger – simply to die for!

1958 Style Japan – Ramen Style

Ramen with a Miso Base and plenty of ginger – SO good!

 

Round 2 of our ramen tasting – this was really good as well!

 

Then, we got back on the train to go to a zen temple where it was said that one of Buddha’s teeth is stored. As we have told you before, the train is incredibly relaxing – unfortunately this meant that both Ryan and I fell asleep and completely missed our train stop. No worries, though – we got off and then quickly back on the train very well rested and headed back in the right direction. :) We got there and walked around the temple grounds which was an incredibly peaceful place. We saw the building where the tooth was stored, but of course, you’re not able to go in that building. Then we hiked up to the big bell and that wrapped up our visit to the temple.

Temple Grounds

Temple Cat

Monk walking around the Temple

Posing with the bell

Ryan killed this Asian wasp with his bare hands!

We headed right back on the train and went to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the train station and you walk through the cutest neighborhood of Japanese houses. Finally, we got there and we walked up and we couldn’t believe how big it was! We had definitely seen this in our history books growing up and it was unbelievable to see it in person! It is a giant, broze, sitting Buddha statue that is over 13 meters high! It used to be inside a temple but a big tsunami washed away the building and so it’s been outside ever since. After taking enough pictures, we headed back on the train to Tokyo to get a good night sleep before our next day trip.

In the morning, we woke up early and got on the train to Matsumoto to visit the famous castle there. It was a longer train ride and it went through some beautiful mountainous areas – it was a really beautiful train ride. We got to Matsumotto and walked directly to the castle – it was gorgeous! We walked in and around the castle and really enjoyed it. We were blessed with an extremely beautiful day, too, so we were very lucky! We stopped and tried one of the speciality foods there – oyaki. It was essentially a roll filled with yummy ingredients – Ryan had red beans in his and I had pumpkin in mine…very tasty.

Samurai Suit

Then, we got back on the train again and headed to Nagano. You will recognize this name because the winter olympics were here in 1998…we only walked around the city but there are a lot of ski mountains a little ways out from the city – hopefully we will be able to visit these sometime in the future to go skiing. Beyond winter sports, the primary tourist attraction in Nagano is the Zenko-ji Temple. It was built in the 7th century and then Nagano City was built around it. It is also one of the last pilgrimage sites in Japan so there were many people around the temple.

They put the hats and caps on because it was starting to get cold…

Fire breathing statue – smoke came out of his mouth – pretty cool!

Something about this scene just made me think of Japan…

Lanterns out around the temple area

After a nice exploration of the temple, we grabbed some soba noodles (Nagano is said to have some of the best soba noodles in Japan) which were very tasty and then headed back on the train to Tokyo. It was our last night in the city and our friend had graciously promised to take us to the top of one of the buildings (Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills) to see the city view at night. Before we embarked on that journey, he took us to an unbelievable burger restaurant – it was small but it was easily one of the best hamburgers I have ever had…he said that they use some kobe beef in there which makes it extra delicious.

Soba Noodles, Tempura, and Rice – so Japan!

At the top of Mori Tower, there is a special exhibit going on for Disney’s 110th Anniversary. Basically, they turned their helicopter pad on top of the roof into a crazy Disney tribute – there are mirror covered Disney characters that spin around while bright colored lights shine on them and music plays – the first song is always “It’s a Small World” – it was an interesting scene up at the top dedicated to Disney, but the cooler part is that you get to be up on the roof, looking at the panoramic view outside without any windows in your way (the usual look out point is in the building and is indoors). The views were awesome!!

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo City View – we’re purple because of the Disney Lights

It’s hard to make out but these are the spinning mirror Disney characters with colorful lights flashing on them…one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced…

 

Afterwards, we met up with one of our friends who has recently moved to Tokyo. He took us to show us the “real” Japan which consisted of walking through a lot of alleyways looking for small restaurants/bars where businessmen come at all hours to have some yakitori and some beer/saki after work. We found quite a few and had a lot of fun! It was a great night!

The menu was up on the wall in one of the spots we stopped at (those wood panels are all menu items)

On our last day, we headed to the airport on the Sky Train which was a very fitting last activity (seeing as we loved the Japanese train rides so much). A great end to a wonderful week in Japan! :)

Last picture of us in Japan while on the Sky Train :)

Forbidden City

The next morning, my parents got to the hotel and it was so wonderful to see them! They had already had some adventures in China because they had spent the past few days in X’ian seeing the Terra Cotta warriors so they filled us in what a great time they had in China so far. Both my dad and I have always wanted to see the Forbidden City so we decided to head there first as it wasn’t too far from our hotel. We hopped on the subway and headed that way. It turns out we were not the only ones that had this bright idea…it was incredibly crowded with lots and lots of people! We got tickets and went inside! It is such an impressive place and much bigger than I ever imagined! We ended up walking around the Forbidden City for 5 hours! It was awesome! Such a great day!

My mom, dad, and I at the Forbidden Palace

Male Lion at the entrance of one of the palace steps…

Tebow in honor of my sister, Heather

My dad and I doing the Tebow pose in honor of my sister

One of the thrones in the palace

Wall of the Nine Dragons

One of the 9 Dragons on one of the walls

Momma Lion – notice the little cub under her foot; they say the female lion is always on the right side because women are always right!

One thing that happened continuously during our time in China is that people would do 1 of 2 things: they would either try and take a picture with us in the background or come up to us and ask if we could take a picture with them. I turned around while viewing some of the Imperial Palace treasures to see this: Ryan was asked to take a picture with this girl. It was too funny!

Here’s another where this woman had asked me to take a picture with her son. You’ll see more of these throughout the China posts…it was just too funny!

Stroll with Buddha and Confucius

We pulled out the map of Beijing to see the different sites around to visit and saw that there were two religious sites pretty close together – a Buddhist Temple and a Confucius Temple. We thought it would be great to check out two Eastern Religions while we were here in China so we headed that direction. Our hotel was great because it was very central to a lot of the different places that we wanted to see – we got on the subway for a short ride and go out at the Yonghe Temple (also called theLama Temple)- it’s a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that is said to be one of the most important monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism. We knew we were going the right direction because there were people selling incense on the street. They were quite large bundles of incense and we didn’t understand why until we got into the temple – it’s a huge place with tons of people! It was really interesting to walk through – I had never seen people making offerings to Buddha before – at each Buddha, they had to leave 3 sticks of incense as an offering and there were also several people who were lighting it and saying prayers in front of the various temples.

First building in the Temple

Buddha Statue

Buddhists with incense as an offering

Bright Blue statue – notice the crown of skulls

Another Buddha statue

Dad & I in front of the Temple

They also had the largest Buddha carved out of a single tree  (26m) – it was even in the Guinness Book of World Records! It was a great experience to see how important the Buddhists temples are to the people here in China.

26m Buddha carved from a single tree! It’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records!

Afterwards, we walked over to the Confucius temple across the road. This was much quieter than the Buddhist temple which made it very peaceful.

Ryan & I with Confucius :)

The Temple

Stone Scroll

We heard some music playing towards the back of the area and we poked our head in and realized that they were performing some dances. We watched the show that they had for a little while and they we walked through the stone tablets.

Dance Performance

There were some great statues there…this one was my particular favorite. I’m not quite sure how to describe his look here but you know he means business.

Confucius Scholar statues

The atmosphere of each of the temples was very different but we enjoyed seeing both – one being very busy and full of people and the second being much quieter and peaceful. I’ve always found it interesting to learn more about peoples’ religions around the world so this was a great stop during our time in Beijing.

Firsts Sights of Beijing

When we first learned that we would be moving to Korea, my parents decided that they would meet us in China – we thought that was a great idea because it’s a short trip for us (2 hour plane ride) and we would get the chance to have some once in a lifetime adventures together! We flew into China and could immediately tell that this was very different from where we live in Korea. It is such a big city and there are SO many people everywhere! Luckily when we were on the plane, we had made a friend who helped point us in the right direction to our hotel. He took us most of the way there and then we had to go our separate ways…a taxi cab driver immediately came up to us shouting Chinese numbers “I take you to your hotel: 200 Yuan!” and so Ryan did some negotiating and got us a pretty low price, so we hopped in. This guy was driving like a mad man… cutting people off and then he pulled up at an alley and told us that is where our hotel was…we were a little skeptical, but we got out and started walking down the alley…we knew it was part of the hutongs which are alleyways where the old courtyards used to be. Luckily we passed some tourists on the way who assured us that we were going the right way. The hotel (Double Happiness Hotel) was really neat because it was once the home of an Chinese scholar/dignitary – it was almost like being in a museum. They had pictures of the previous owner around and several courtyards when you could sit and relax…it was very relaxing, particularly being in the middle of Beijing in one of the hutongs.

The antique Chinese bed in our Wedding Suite at the hotel

In between the rooms, there was a great courtyard area. In the mornings, we would sit there and read – it was surprisingly quiet for being in the middle of a huge city. We also have some great memories sitting out here in the evenings playing cards. That was actually probably one of my favorite parts of the trip – we had such a fun time being there together and the surroundings were relaxing yet different enough that you knew you were doing something completely different in a unique place together. 

Ryan and I walked around for a little bit, grabbed some food and found our way to Tiananmen Square – it was closed off for a military march to go and get the Chinese flag and take it down for the evening. It was particularly crowded because Raul Castro was in town and was participating in several events around that area – they even put up the Cuban flag for him in the square.

Tiananmen Entrance to the Forbidden Palace at night

The soldiers walked over to take down the Chinese flag…

Weekend in Seoul

We spent the past weekend in Seoul and had such a great time!We took Friday off work and headed to the bus station in the morning for our four hour bus ride. We got to the station 10 minutes before the bus left, grabbed tickets, and jumped on the bus. The seats were big and reclined a fair ways so it was much more  comfortable than I had always imagined bus rides in Asia. We certainly enjoyed taking a nice long nap. When we woke up, we were driving through the middle of Korea and it was really beautiful! It was very green and there were mountains and fields of rice on both sides.

Ryan & I on the bus to Seoul

Scenery during the bus ride

We got to Seoul in the early afternoon and ventured into the subway to find our way to our hotel. Both Ryan and I have always loved taking public transportation - we’d love to live in a city where we could take the metro to work everyday. We finally made it and we dropped our stuff out and headed out into town – our first stop was to grab some lunch. We found a little dumpling stand and had some of those – they were excellent. A little known fact about me is that dumplings are one of my culinary weaknesses so our trip was already off to a good start after we got some of those! :)

Dumplings – our options were kimchi or pork…we went with pork ;)

The weather was a little rainy but we didn’t want to let that stop us, so we caught a cab and headed to one of the 5 palaces that are within Seoul. Our guidebook had said if you only have time to see one, make sure it is this one: Changdeokgung. We walked around the palace – we really like the architecture and how colorful everything is!

There is a “secret garden” within this palace and we wanted to check that out as well – you had to be on a tour to be able to go into this area and the English tour had already finished, so we signed up for the Korean tour anyway – we hung out with the group and looked around. It was great! So much of the buildings were for reading and relaxation and it was surprisingly peaceful for being in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities.

This building is a two story building for reading – the first story is a library and the second story is reserved for quiet reading…I think my Aunt Elly & Aunt Cathy would love this place so this picture is dedicated to them. :)

Stone inscription from one of the Kings about the importance of authority

750 Year Old Juniper Tree – they believe it is the oldest in the palace

After this tour, we walked around the Namdaemun market that was near our hotel – it was huge – it spanned for blocks with people out selling everything you can imagine from socks to purses to pineapple on a stick. There were even stores underground!

Our friends had told us to check out the International area of Seoul which is called Itaewon (eee-tay-wahn). They recommended a Mexican restaurant which was good – margaritas and fajitas were just what we needed. It’s amazing how much you miss the small things from back home…like sour cream and restaurants who serve margaritas! They also recommended that we check out the area behind the Hamilton hotel because there are lots of fun little restaurants and bars. We did just that and it was such a lively place – so many people out and about and lots of different places to go. We grabbed a few beers in several of the bars and then headed back home because it started pouring down with rain!

Ryan and I enjoying margaritas!

I couldn’t help taking a picture of this – on the end of this guy’s truck was a rotisserie with chickens roasting and people would stop by and pick one up for dinner…

Look how excited he is for a big Paulener beer! :)

The next day, we woke up early and headed to the USO for our DMZ/JSA tour (see the post here: DMZ/JSA Blog Post). Once we were back from the tour, we headed to the Seoul tower. To get to the top, you take an outdoor elevator up to the cable car, the cable car up to the base of the tower, and then an indoor elevator to get to the top of the tower. Once at the top, it was very obvious just how large Seoul is – it stretches for miles and miles. They had markers all over for how far different cities are from where we were standing. One thing that I thought was crazy was that we are twice as far from home in the US as we are from the North Pole. I never thought I would say that!

This is the cable car up to the base of the tower

Picture at the base of the Seoul Tower

View of the city – it really is a huge city!

We are more than 10,000 miles from the US…

…but only 5,000 miles from the North Pole!

Afterwards, we walked around one of the other areas of Seoul called “Myeongdong” which was bustling – there were tons of people walking around the shops. We really enjoyed all of the energy and it was fun to look around the shops.

We started to get hungry and being typical Americans, we started to crave pizza. We looked around for a bit and couldn’t find any Western restaurants and then we turned a corner and there was an Italian restaurant! We were happy to have the opportunity to satisfy our craving (that does not happen nearly as often in our current hometown of Okpo) and we ordered some pizza & lasagna – it was surprisingly delicious!

Afterwards, we grabbed a cab back over to the Itaewon area of town to enjoy a beer and people watch a bit. This was great because there is such a wide range of people walking around – there were many expats from all of the world and also quite a few Koreans – there were all different ages, too – it was really fun to see such a vibrant group of people enjoying themselves!

Our last day, we slept in a little bit and then headed out for some Dunkin Donuts (we like getting reminders of home sometimes) and as we were getting our coffee, we realized we were standing next to the side entrance to one of the other palaces. There was a guard standing outside and I remebered that they have a Changing of the Guard ceremony several times a day. We decided to hang out and watch it. It turned out to be a good find…certainly unique.

Notice the Dunkin Donuts in the background, haha

We walked around the city a little more and then decided to grab some more dumplings (they really are my weakness) and then find our way to the bus station to head home.

Right before we went in the train station, I decided to try on a pair of shoes at one of the stands – they were everywhere and I wanted to see if I could get some. I tried on the biggest size and it was not nearly big enough…so, moral of the story is that American feet may or may not be too big for Korean shoes that are sold in the markets. Oh well…it was worth a shot!

We really can’t wait to check out Seoul again – we had such a great time and it was a wonderful city!

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