Monday, 28 April 2014

A late night walk

It is late, very late at night and after staying at a friends' house for a few hours it is time to go home. A hearty hug, one last "See you soon!" and I am off.

The streets are empty. No cars, no sound, no people except for a few other occasional night owls who are on their way home like me. Normally when I am outside I like to listen to some music, to either shut the world out or to pretend I am in a film and this is my personal soundtrack.

But nights like this are different. They are quiet and peaceful and I like to keep them that way. Sometimes I can hear a car in the distant or a few birds just waking up.

I listen. I listen to this quietness and to my own thoughts rushing through my brain. They are memories of the great time I have had with my friends before, the laughs we shared. Most of the time they are very happy memories. However sometimes my mind gets stuck with thoughts about things that might have happened - or rather things that should have happened, because I wanted them to.
It is a tingling sensation in my stomach and my fingertips, a mixture of the fresh night air and quiet emotions.

At times I can still see the lights on in some of the apartments I come across and I wonder why these people are still awake. What are they doing? Are they having fun? What makes them unable to sleep?

When things are good you will most likely hear me whistle or sing a little song. It won't be loud, just a simple melody to enjoy myself.

I am not a loner, but I prefer to take these walks all by myself. They are my opportunity to get my head and mind free before I finally reach my doorstep. I feel light and refreshed.

The moment I fall into my bed and my head touches the big, comforting pillow, I can finally feel the weariness creeping up. After all, I have been awake for far to long. I close my eyes, take one last deep breath and fall asleep.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

As for many younger people nowadays,  blogs are a constant part of my daily life. They inspire me to try out new things, to rediscover old loves and stretch my boundaries. It is a good feeling to see how many passionate human beings are actually out there, doing what they love.
However I also noticed that managing all of these different blogs has become more and more difficult for me. At some point you just start to lose track, which is why I finally joined Bloglovin'.

This post is not meant to be an advertising for my own blog, but of course I would appreciate it if someone actually took the time to look at my profile.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin


In this sense I also want to take the opportunity to thank everyone, who has stumbled across my little island so far. It means a lot to me to know, that there might be someone out there who can identify with me and what I write. Neither am I next Ernest Hemingway, nor am I very talented, but I enjoy sharing my everyday life, my experiences and my thoughts.

So, thank you for you for reading! <3 p="">

Monday, 21 April 2014

Spring is in the Air

Today was the first Spring rain.
Well, had rained before this season, but this was the first real Spring rain. It is the kind of rain which leaves a warm feeling lingering in the air, once it is over. The rain itself is strong and heavy, but afterwards everything is calm. The sun is shining. And then there is this smell of wet grass and concrete.

Finally, after a few weeks of cold temperatures, windy days it feels like Spring is about to arrive. We already had a few very sunny and almost warm days and I had the chance to get my very first ice cream this year (however I can not believe that they want 1€ for just one ball, I still remember the times when I got two for this price. I guess time really does fly... or I'm just getting old.)


Isn't it funny how within a simple moment everything changes? Suddenly it is Spring, but just two days ago it was still Winter. It takes only a few changes of light, air and weather and it transforms your entire view on your surroundings.
From one moment to the next it is Spring.

The view on my way to work
To welcome one of my favourite seasons a friend make a trip to a nearby theme park called "Phantasialand". When I was a child I used to visit this park together with my mother and my grandparents, so a lot of great memories are connected to it. Over the years a lot of things have changed and a lot of the attractions I enjoyed as a child (and as a grown up) are gone now, which is really sad. But I guess, that children nowadays look out for other things.
Just a small glimpse of the "China Town" area
Because we went in the middle of the week, it was not very crowded and the longest time we had to wait was maybe 15 minutes. Despite the still pretty cold temperatures, we had an amazing day just letting out our inner child, taking one ride after another.

On another note, do you remember the last time I talked about my Sunday walks with the pugs? Well, last Sunday, my mother and I made another trip with the dogs and it was so much fun! It is amazing to see how green everything suddenly is. The whole world looks more alive and colourful


It makes me really glad, that Winter will be gone for the next few months, because even though I love the cold and melancholic atmosphere it creates, I actually started to dread the short days. They make me even more tired than I already am. Also, I was longing for the warmth of the sun, lighter jackets, ice cream and sitting outside without freezing.


So, welcome back, Spring. You have been greatly missed

Monday, 14 April 2014

Great Expectations

Recently I went to a party with two very good friends of mine - a so called trashpop party, bringing back all of the good old stuff like the Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and so on.
We had been excited for this evening for weeks. The last time we had had so much fun singing and dancing. It was one of those amazing carefree nights.

To start off the evening we went to a little ristorante to eat some pizza and "create a base" for the drinks that should follow. So, we had a quite enjoyable time just eating and chatting until we finally made our way to the club. We knew, that this particular event was quite popular, so we arrived a bit earlier. Well, we were not the first ones to come along with this idea.

To make a long story short: it was crowded. Crowded to an extend, that it wasn't even fun anymore to dance, because every 30 seconds there was someone trying to pass by, pushing his way through the masses of people.There was always an elbow digging into your side or a strand of hair sticking to yor face (and no, I am not talking about our own hair). Also, the music was not as good as the time before or was it just us?

Because suddenly one of my friends was not in the mood anymore. She was sad, maybe a bit overstrained (she is going through quite a lot of trouble at the moment) and so finally she just sat down and you know how that is: This kind of spirit immediately takes over the whole group. At least I can't enjoy myself once I know, that my friends are not feeling well. At that point it doesn't even matter if they are playing my favourite songs.

We ended up leaving the club early and making our way back home and to be honest I was a bit upset. There had been so much excitement, this uplifting feeling of anticipation beforehand, because of our first visit there and this time it was just disappointing.

Things like this happen all the time. You wait a long time for something to happen, but in the end, it is not the way you expected it. This an be either positive or negative, but  I have the faint feeling, that the second case is more common. A smaller event of this kind was, when I watched the movie "Blade Runner" with Harrison Ford for the first time.
I am not a big fan of Sci-Fi dystopic films, but my expectations were high for this one. In the end it was an entertaining film and it made me think about some things, but something was missing.

Something is always missing. 

I am still planning to go to the next trashpop party at the beginning of May but with another attitude towards it. As another friend put it: "There are other clubs in the area." I think one should not be put off by happenings like that. It is just a way of telling us to get real and to basically get our feet back on the ground.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Attached to a relict

Usually, if I were to write a text on my computer I would sit at my desk.
My back would face the window which reveals a nice view over the backyard and into the apartments on the other side.

This time, it is different. I am sitting on my couch, occasionally looking out of this very window.
The reason for this is, that I am using a new computer - a laptop. My first real laptop.
It is a gorgeous slim Acer notebook, super fast and quiet, sleek and powerful and I can use where ever I want. Right behind me, on my desk, stands my old computer, which I haven't turned on since yesterday.
He is old, yes, but he has been my reliable companion for oh so many years. I can not even count the number of hours I have spent with him during the past years or all the essays and presentations I prepared with him for school and university.

Actually, it was not even neccessary to get a new computer. He is still working just fine, but he has one flaw: Windows XP, only possible upgrade: Windows Vista. Because it is not safe anymore to use him, I had no choice. Sooner or later I would have had to replace him.
Well, I went for sooner rather than later.

It is silly, but I do feel a sense of guilt whenever I look at him - especially now. He does not care about all of this. He does not know about it, but I do and it makes me wonder. How can one get so attached to something actually lifeless?
Maybe I care way too much, but I feel really bad for "abandoning" him after all these years. After all these memories together (yes, I have memories with my computer, don't judge me!). It feels a bit like I imagine what it would be like to betray your partner with someone younger.

I am so attached to this relict from the past, that I can not even put him into his packaging for his by now well deserved retirement. At least not yet.

I know that some people wonder why I even bother enough to write an entire depressing post about this topic, but the thing is, that people are not the only once who influence us or the way we lead our lifes. There are so many material things which do the same: the first car, a certain notebook, a camera or in my case a computer. All these things were parts of our lifes for quite a long time and to me they do not deserve it to be thrown away just like that.

I look at my computer and remember the day I got him. It was a present from my stepdad: an all in one computer from MSI. I saw him standing on my desk and thought it was just a new screen, but no, it was an entire computer! You can not imagine how happy I was at that time. When I moved out I took him with me and when I moved again last year, he accompanied me again.
...
Damn, why does this have to be so hard?
And the fact that it was a present doesn't make it easier. 

I guess, I need a few more days, but then it really is time to move on.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

My Guide for Seoul (Part II)

Well, hello you travel-lovers out there. This is the second part of my personal guide for Seoul. The first part covered some of the city's more known and famous sights and activities. This part will focus on my own very personal favourites.
They might not be new or groundbreaking discoveries, but they stand for experiences which I enjoyed the most during my stay. So, let's get cracking!

Bomunsa

On a sunny spring day we decided to do something completely different. We wanted to leave this crowded and sometimes stuffy city and exchange it for a little adventure and let me tell you:
We were not disappointed!


Bomunsa is a temple located on a small island close to Seoul. Getting there is a bit tricky and it takes some time, but embrace it, because you get to see a lot of the country outside of Seoul. 


Getting there:
The easiest starting point is the Sinchon metro-station. Outside the station is a large bus terminal with different bus stops scattered throughout the street. The bus you want to take is the number 3000, which is on the left side of the metro station across the street. It might be the easiest to look for a Paris Baguette, which is nearby. The last stop of this bus is Ganghwado (강화도 ) terminal and this is where you want to get off and transfer. You want to take a bus which will take you to Oepo-Ri (외포리). From there you can take a ferry to the island where Bomunsa is located. 

Seagull-craziness on the ferry
 

You last step will be to take the bus to the temple.

On the whole you have to plan in about one and a half up to two hours of travel depending on the traffic and the same procedure on your way back. So, it is quite a time consuming journey, but it is worth it, trust me!

The temple is on a pretty steep hill, so make sure to wear good shoes.
Once you reach the first level of the temple you will be greeted by the wonderful chanting of the monks, fresh air and gorgeous buildings. I found the statue of a sleeping building especially beautiful. However the main attraction is a big carving of a seated Buddha at the very top of the hill.
Be prepared for a lot of steps!

How beautiful these lanterns must look lit up in the dark
I did not take a photo of the Buddha carving, because I did not want to be disrespectful, but the combination of the chants, the great air and the overall atmosphere created at this place make all the troubles worth it!

Bomunsa was one of my personal highlights of this trip. All the people we met were so nice and kind to us and Bomunsa itself is just beautiful. If you have a day to spare, go there!

Entry fee: 2000 Won


Additional notes:
- Getting to Bomunsa is difficult, but the travel expenses are alright. Getting there and back cost us maybe 10.000 Won.
- you should prepare a generous lunch box, because we did not see a lot of opportunities for a good meal. So, we were lucky, that we had stocked up on Onigiri and other food.

Bukhansan National Park

A few days after our trip to Bomunsa, we wanted to discover a bit of nature and Bukhansan seemed to be the perfect destination. The national park is in the north of the city and can easily be accessed by the metro in about 45 minutes (starting at Seoul Station). My very first advide would be to wear good shoes again, hiking shoes would be the best. Additionaly comfy clothes and a lot of food are staples as well.

After you made your way through a long street full of shops dedicated to hiking-items you will reach the national park. At the information center you will be provided with an English map and a possible route. We recommended a route to the peak of Dobongsan, followed by a walk over the crest to a second peak. On the whole we were supposed to manage our walk in about four hours.
See that bald peak? Yep, this is where we went
The first part of our walk was quite easy. You could feel how your heart rate went up, but it was not too challenging, but the higher we got, the harder and steeper it got, forcing us to take regular breaks. At first we did not expect to go to the very top of the mountain, but in the end we went for it. Up on top we were exhausted, but utterly happy and we were rewarded with the most amazing view over the city!



During your journey you have to be very careful. The stone can be slippery and you will not always have a rope or a handrail to keep you safe, so always stay attentive! Also, it was quite cold and windy at the top, so you might want to wear a hoodie or something similar. However, I do not know what it is like, when it is warmer.

On the whole this was the most exhausting day for us, but also the happiest. Again, we got to meet a lot of nice people, who were sometimes quite worried about us, wondering if we were okay. We shot some amazing photos and at the end of our four and a half hour long walk, we had this amazing feeling of sleepiness and achievement.

Don't forget to reward yourself with a great meal afterwards! We went for chicken and cheese fries at „Chir Chir“.

Experiencing a Korean Spa

If you want to spend a whole day just pampering yourself, you have to go to a spa! We tried out the „Spa Lei“ in Gangnam and the „Dragonhill Spa“ near the Yongsan Station. „Spa Lei“ is an all female spa, but both of the places are well prepared for foreign customers.
After leaving your shoes in one of the lockers, you will get your clothes, towels and a bracelet to keep track of your spendings.
After getting undressed you will be able to choose between a lot of different types of baths. They have different temperatures and in some cases various ingredients which are supposed to be good for your skin and health. Make sure to take a shower before entering your first bath!

Both spas also had saunas and in case you are willing to pay something extra you can get additional beauty treatments like a massage or a full body exfoliation. If you want to take a break, you can go to one of the restrooms and take a nap or watch a drama.

Especially the Dragonhill Spa has a lot to offer. Apart from the area which is for women only, there are mixed floors with different activities and an amusement hall, but we stayed in the female only area.
Our favourite place in both spas were the basins outside, because you could stay in there for a longer period of time and a slight wind every now and then was also quite nice.

Once you are done bathing and relaxing, take a seat at one of the little tables to shower and wash your hair (so bring your shampoo and shower gel). Some women go really crazy at this step, putting on masks and all the good stuff.
At the end of the day you will feel very relaxed and let me tell you: My hair did not look that amazing in a long, long time!

The entry fees are very reasonable:
Spa Lei: 12.000 Won
Dragonhill Spa: 13.000 Won
And even without the extra treatments and the food (which always costs extra), you get a lot for your money at both of the places.

Molly's Pops

Molly's Pops was one of our favourite spots in Hongdae. It is not cheap, but if offers you a great selection of very different ice cream flavours:
Chocolate Chip Mint, Mascarpone, Cheese, Milk Tea, Beer, Matcha, Grapepruit, Peach... they have it all! 
 Also, the lady, who runs the store is so kind!
All of the creamy flavours are very creamy while the fruity ones are very refreshing.
In March they had to raise the price for one ice cream pop from 3000 Won to 3500 Won, which might sound a bit crazy for some ice cream, but just try it! You will definitely get hooked!

Miscellaneous and additional advice

- After your arrival, go and get a T-Money-Card. You can purchase it either at one of the vending machines at the metro stations or at a convenience store. You can use it to pay for travelling by bus, metro and sometimes even taxi and at convenience stores.

- If you want some more culture, go to the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan. It is entry free and you get a lot to see mixed with an amazing view to the famous Namsan. Also, the architecture of the building itself is stunning.
Tip: We went to the museum first and then made our way to the Dragonhill Spa.

- The area surrounding the City Hall is very nice to walk around. From there you can go to the Seoul Museum of Art and the Gyeonghuigung Palace.
On our way to the art museum
 

The City Hall and its' surroundings
This concludes my overall guide for Seoul with all the places I would everyone recommend to see. I did not include specific places to eat or drink, because Seoul is always changing, always evolving. A lot of the places we went to during our first stay in 2012 have disappeared and new ones popped up. A great pub or restaurant we went to might not be there anymore once you get there. 

Always remember that travelling is about having fun and experiencing new things.  So, no matter what your next destination is, be open-minded and do not overplan your journey. Sometimes the best things happen, when you just... go with the flow, my friends!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

My Guide for Seoul (Part I)

This March I was in South Korea for the second time - Two weeks of culinary pleasures, shopping, hiking and cultural adventures. South Korea really has a lot offer and I think that many people underestimate it compared to other Asian countries.
To my mind Seoul can be just as exciting and eclectic as Tokyo, which is why I tried to put together a collection of my favourite places and activities in this very city. This is the first part, which covers up a few of the main tourist spots. The second part will be a bit more specific.
  1. The Base Station: Hongdae

Public transport in Korea is not very expensive. However you still want to stay at a place which is close to the most important spots in town. For me and my friends Hongdae is our favourite district. In general it can be described as young, quirky, loud and colourful. It is home to a lot of wonderful small shops, restaurants and cafés and it also has an amazing nightlife. 
When it comes to shopping I prefer Hongdae over Myeongdong, which is also very popular among young Koreans. While Hongdae is very laid back and fun, Myeongdong tends to be even more crowded and hectic. Shopping becomes a chore instead of being fun. That was at least my impression.  
Impressions of Hongdae's streets (all taken in 2012)



 
If you decide to stay in Hongdae, you also have the advantage that many main attractions of the city can be reached by metro in a fairly short time without many transfers. So, a hostel in the area around the metro station “Hongik University” is the perfect starting point for a lot of trips around town.
Concerning nightlife Hongdae is considered to be more laid back than Gangnam for example. Most of the very popular clubs are oriented towards a younger audience and if you don’t like hip hop music, they main clubs like M2 or Harlem might not be for you, but we had a very pleasant surprise at a club called “Club FF”.
For an entry fee of 15000 Won you get live bands, a few free drinks and good music provided by a DJ. The music was mainly a mixture of rock, alternative and your good old disco classics with a few new songs in between.
Inside the "Coffee Prince" café, which is also located in Hongdae (2012)

A note on Korean nightlife for the ladies:
No matter which club you go to as a female, you will notice that Korean men are quite persistent when it comes to pursuing their “prey”. Most of them are not very direct or outgoing, so you will eventually notice a few guys (sometimes in little groups) approaching you and trying to get close to you without a single word. Creepy, right?
If it annoys you, just tell them and maybe say that you have a boyfriend. For most of these guys it just enhances their prestige when they can say, that they made out with a foreign girl. If they have no luck with you, they will search for another "victim".
So, just a heads up: A relaxed girls night out will most likely be interrupted by desperate tries to flirt with you.Be prepared!

If you want to meet other foreigners, you should definetely go to "Thursday Party", rather a pub or a bar than a club. You do get to meet Koreans there as well, but it is mainly frequented by foreigners. No matter if they are in Korea because of work, uni or just for fun - it is a big get together for people from all over the world. The atmosphere there is always very relaxed and it is easy to start interesting conversations... or just play a round of beer pong.
  1. Changdeokgung

Seoul has a lot of palaces which attract visitors from inside and outside of the country. Most guides will tell you to go to Gyeongbokgung, which is the biggest palace of them. It is indeed very beautiful, especially in the Summer, but because of its’ immense size at some point everything will look the same.The stunning impression you have at the beginning, when you enter the court will slowly fade away. 
Gyeongbokgung's main hall in Summer 2012

A walk through the garden of Gyeongbokgung (2012)
 
So, my recommendation for you is to go to Changdeokgung. The palace is a lot smaller, but I feel like the architecture is more diverse. Even though it is not as big as Gyeongbokgung,  you have the feeling, that there is a lot more to see. Particularly the mixture of Korean architecture and the imperial interior design in some rooms is very beautiful. 
You should go to both of the palaces, but I honestly enjoyed my time at Changdeokgung more. 

Changdeokgung's main gate

by far my favourite picture aof this palace

Remember that part about korean architecture and imperial interieur design?


Entry fee: 3000 Won

  1. Namsan

Namsan is one of the classic tourist spots you have to see. It is probably one of the most used motives for postcards even if it just decorates a tiny corner of Seoul’s skyline. Once you reach the top of this hill in the middle of the city, you are rewarded with a great view (if the weather is good). To get up can either take the stairs, which is a nice little walk, or use the cable way (8000 Won one way). At night The N Tower is lit up in colourful lights.
Namsan is a great location to get an overview of the city and to take photos day and night. 

Slowly making our way to the top...

and taking pictures. Curse you, smog!
We went to Namsan after visiting the Namdaemun market. It is a bit tricky to get there, because some streets tend to be a bit misleading. Still, it was a nice walk and a nice way to spend a sunny day.

  1. Dongdaemun market

Dongdaemun is one of the old city gates and just like Namdaemun it is accompanied by a big market nearby. However both markets are quite different from each other. While the Namdaemun market focuses mainly on clothes and fake designer items, you will find a lot more food at Dongdaemun and for a very good price. For many 4000 - 5000 Won you will get a full meal and you will be able to get some snacks at one of the bakery stands. Just on a sidenote: I had my cheapest lunch in Dongdaemun. 

Namdaemun Gate

Other than that the market is divided into different streets. One is centered around fishes and aquariums and another one is dedicated to school supplies and toys (which was my favourite). 
The Han-River in summer 2012. You can easily get there from Dongdaemun


   5.   Insadong
    Another major spot for tourists is Insadong. In this area are a lot of these little shopping malls where pushy sales-women try to sell you the most unnessecary things to give away to your loved ones. Because the items in these shops are often overpriced and you are constantly being interrupted by the sales women, I would not recommend to go there.
    However Insadong ihas got a lot of nice food stalls where you can get delicious snacks for little money. They also have a lot of pottery and tea shops (again be careful because of the price). They also have a wonderful shopping mall which covers many different floors full of sweet, little shops.
    To me Insadong might not be the perfect place to go shopping, but it is definetely a must-see in Seoul and a good way to spend some time before lunch just browsing around and doing some window-shopping. 
    A peek from the inside of the "shopping mall"
         The best way to get to Insadong is by taking the metro. The nearest station is called „Anguk“, but you   can also combine Insadong with a visit at the royal palace Gyeongbokgung, because thedistance between the two can be managed in maybe 20 minutes


A small park close to Insadong and apparently a meeting point for older Korean men
These were the first five places you should visit, when you are in Seoul. They are nothing new and you can find them in every ordinary guide, but it is always good to hear/read a second opinion. Don't you think? 
The next part will be a bit more specific. We will get to know something about hiking, where to get the best ice-cream in town and why you should visit a Korean spa
See you later, alligator!