A Fall To Remember Photo Journal #2: Seoulful Wanderings

The trip to Seoul from Chungju after the rowing events at the 17th Asian Games was something I was really looking forward to. Fall was just beginning, but I can already see the hint of beauty it will bring during my wanderings.

~  Day 1: From Chungju to Seoul

Finally leaving Hotel the Base in Chungju which has been our home away from home for over a week.
Finally leaving Hotel the Base in Chungju which has been our home away from home for over a week.

~ Day 1: Gyeongbokgung Palace (Northern Palace)

Touring the palace on my own. View while waiting for the English tour to start.
Touring the palace on my own. View while waiting for the English tour to start.
Tour guides in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate
Tour guides in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate
Cute kindergarten students about to start their tour
Cute kindergarten students about to start their tour
Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Hall)
Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Hall)
Gyeonghoeru (Pavilion)
Gyeonghoeru (Pavilion)
I forgot the name of the hall but I think it was inside one of the buildings in the Geoncheonggung (Palace). It is said to be where the King meets with his ministers.
I forgot the name of the hall but I think it was inside one of the buildings in the Geoncheonggung (Palace). It is said to be where the King meets with his ministers.
Walked past this area, which was no longer part of the guided tour so I don't know exactly what this place is. But it's one of the quietest places I've seen while doing my solitary walk in the palace.
Walked past this area, which was no longer part of the guided tour so I don’t know exactly what this place is. But it’s one of the quietest places I’ve seen while doing my solitary walk in the palace.

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Juxtaposition of the old and new
Juxtaposition of the old and new
Gwanghwamun
Gwanghwamun
After the changing of the guards at Gwanghwamun
After the changing of the guards at Gwanghwamun

~ Day 1: Insa-dong

I have visited Insadong very briefly two years ago with my friend who’s based in Seoul. But I did not get the chance to walk the entire stretch of road that’s the heart of Insadong. From Gyeongbokgung Palace I headed to Insadong and enjoyed a meandering walk (despite my sore feet). There is much to see and soak in. I was not able to take a single photo of this walk though.

~ Day 1: Donhwamun-ro, Jongno-gu

Finally met with my friend Bixie after her work. We had dinner at a restaurant a few meters from where I was staying.

I am not really a bulgogi fan, but this one was the best I've tasted so far.
I am not really a bulgogi fan, but this one was the best I’ve tasted so far.

~ Day 2: Suji’s Deli and The War Memorial of Korea in Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu

Brunch at Suji's Deli
Brunch at Suji’s Deli
View from our table
View from our table
We both ordered the lumberjack, but mine's with iced cafe latte while my friend opted for the orange juice. Love the food!
We both ordered the lumberjack, but mine’s with iced cafe latte while my friend opted for the orange juice. Love the food!
At the entrance to the War Memorial of Korea
At the entrance to the War Memorial of Korea

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Countries who helped
Countries who helped

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Went to a place 2 or 3 bus stops away from the War Memorial to meet with my friend's German friend who's renting out his home. My friend wanted to check so we took the (very) uphill trek to his place. We passed by to what the German friend said to be the house of the richest man in Korea. The house occupies a whole block and this is just one part of it.
Went to a place 2 or 3 bus stops away from the War Memorial to meet with my friend’s German friend who’s renting out his home. My friend wanted to check the place so we took the (very) uphill trek to his place. We passed by to what the German friend said to be the house of the richest man in Korea. The house occupies a whole block and this is just one part of it.

~  Day 2: Myeong-dong

From Yongsan, we went to Myeong-dong for more sightseeing. We explored most of the area and ended up shopping. Enjoyed huge discounts on my favorite face care products. We also tried some of the street food and bought some cheap trinkets at the sidewalks. A pleasant albeit tiring detour with no photos to speak of.

~ Day 3: Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Hapjeong

The DMZ was in my list of must-see places for this trip. I initially planned to take the train from Seoul to Dorasan station, but my friend said it would be better if we join one of the many tours being offered. We were picked up by the tour operator from my place then we transferred to another bus where we joined the others. Looking back, I think it was a good thing that we opted for the tour. There were certain areas where taking pictures is not allowed and that includes the 3rd tunnel. The said tunnel was bigger and less difficult to squeeze into unlike the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. But for some reason, the trek back out drained me out. So if you are planning to take the tour sometime soon, a little endurance training would help.

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Looking out to the north
Looking out to the north

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Inside Dorasan Station
Inside Dorasan Station
Lunch at Hapjeong
Lunch at Hapjeong
Coffee time
Coffee time

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Cafe across us
Cafe just across from us

There were several other places we went to or passed by briefly that’s not on this journal. I have had a tiring eight days before the Seoul trip, but I somehow managed to muster the energy to visit as many places as I can. I was not able to go back to Gwanghwamun Square as  planned. I am glad that I was able to go there during a previous visit. There are many still I have to see. I hope I get to visit again soon. Fall, indeed, is a great time to see Korea.

I left the hotel at 4AM to catch the bus to the airport on September 29th. It was drizzling outside. I did not have my umbrella with me and there was no one for me to borrow a spare umbrella. So putting my coat over my head, I started the roughly 300M trek to the airport bus waiting shed. A few meters from the hotel, an ahjussi with a big umbrella came out from one of the buildings. He saw me walking in the rain with my luggage in tow. But he did not stop. I was following him the whole time and even stopped beside him while waiting for the green light to cross the street. I suddenly thought that if I were home, I am sure that anyone who would see me in that situation would offer to help. Still, despite the drizzle and all, there was something soothing and peaceful walking in the rain lugging a suitcase. I wish that I could do the same at home and feel as safe as I did then.

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee & Serendipity Photo Journal #3: CBTL ~ The Peak, Gaisano Mall, Davao City

I love coffee but not all coffee shops that offer even the best cups appeal to me. Paying for a good cup of coffee is all about the experience for me. If I’m going to pay extra for coffee that I can prepare on my own, it has to be somewhere I can thoroughly enjoy. And that could be just about anywhere since I don’t usually look for anything more than my usual caffè americano, latte, or mocha fixes.

Davao has its share of good local coffee shops and a growing number of popular international chains. So far I’ve been to the Starbucks branches located at two different malls. I’ve also visited the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores at three of the city’s major malls. Most of both international brands’ branches are frequently packed with people. Finding a table, much less one that you like, is often a hardship once the peak hours begin. Like most coffee shops, these places have taken on a meeting-studying-working spaces look and feel.

The best times I’ve had in some of these coffee shops are in the mornings soon after opening time. So far, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at The Peak in Gaisano Mall is easily one of the best in providing the ambiance for a quiet and relaxing experience. While I’ve seen it packed with people at mid-day until evening, it’s usually not crowded during the early hours. The sense of solitude as well as good coffee, music, and food are the foremost reasons I keep coming back.

Here are some photos taken from previous visits.

CBTL, The Peak interiors during a morning visit
One morning at CBTL, The Peak
Caffè latte. I forgot the name of the cake. The barista just recommended it.
Caffè latte. I forgot the name of the cake. The barista just recommended it.
My favorite lemon square. For drinks, I tried the Tropical Smoothie.
My favorite lemon square. For drinks, I tried the Tropical Smoothie.
Caffè latte and a slice of triple chocolate mousse
Caffè latte and a slice of triple chocolate mousse
Iced caffè latte in soymilk and a new favorite - cranberry biscotti
Iced caffè latte in soymilk and a new favorite – cranberry biscotti
Delectable treats
Delectable treats
Outside seating
Outside seating
Because they have a clean, fresh-looking and -smelling restroom with toilet paper and handwash, which is often one of the neglected customer loyalty pull factors. Although I have to say I've never been in it during peak hours so I'm not sure if they're able to keep it as clean as this.
Because they have a clean, fresh-looking and -smelling restroom with toilet paper and handsoap, which is often one of the neglected customer loyalty pull factors. Although I have to say I’ve never been in it during peak hours so I’m not sure if they’re able to keep it as clean as this.

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Related posts:
Coffee & Serendipity Photo Journal #2: Ryuma Coffee Shop ~ Davao City
Coffee & Serendipity Photo Journal #1: Can-More ~ Chungju

Finding Happy

01.16.2014 “Writing is closer to thinking than speaking.” ~new notebooks with my QOTD, a pen, iced cafe latte with soymilk, cranberry biscotti (which was good as the barista said it would be), a quiet coffee shop, my favorite spot, and the wait to watch 47 Ronin = happiness ~

What makes a good day? Nothing much, really. You just have to be fully present in the series of moments that unfold. Some so fleeting that they could escape you if you get distracted.

The best events in life sometimes escape us when we are brimming with so many things that we hold on to. To make a good day is to empty ourselves before we set out.

Maybe the best way to start is to consciously let go of what preoccupies our minds and hearts. Spend a brief moment to revisit what was – relive them, appreciate them, and leave them behind. Both the good and the bad. Every single day, we let go. Only then we become more prepared to embrace the happiness that awaits us.

A Bucketful of Wishes: Wanderlust, Sakura Dreams, and Everything Japan

I have read a number of interesting bucket lists lately. I figured it is high time to write some of mine too. Putting goals in writing is after all the beginning of achieving unbelievable feats. I imagine bucket lists as containers of seeds about to take root, bloom, and bear fruit.

(source: pixabay.com)
Shirakawa-go (source: pixabay.com)

A wanderlust for Shirakawa-go had me thinking it is high time to rekindle my dreams of traveling especially to my most favorite place in the world. Japan. Here are some of the things I will move mountains for on my next visit there:

  • Run at least one hour every day ~ Waking up early for a run is great. Waking up early for a run in unfamiliar streets in Japan is a dream. I have had the pleasure of running with my team in the quiet streets of Aioi, with a triathlete friend in the pathways of Shinagawa and in amazing routes between a hotel to a castle in Aizuwakamatsu as well as the quaint town of Minamiaizu in Fukushima. Running has always been a deep experience for me after I get past the pain of pushing myself to the limits. But there is always more to the exercise than that. It is a time to commune with nature and the energy that surrounds every runner. I think it is during those moments while running that we truly are in touch with ourselves and the world around us. Among my best memories are the beautiful images I have passed through while running in quiet pathways and busy streets of Japan.
  • Sit under cherry blossom trees ~ I call it my sakura dreams. It is my personal version of hanami. I blame a book I read when I was ten years old. It was about a tiger and a cherry blossom tree. I forgot the title of the book and the story, but the image of the cherry blossom tree has forever been etched in my memory. Since then, I have always dreamed of walking and sitting under sakura trees in bloom.
  • Visit Shirakawa-go ~ I saw a picture of Shirakawa-go years ago that made me want to see the place for real. It is the image I see every time I think about Japan, before I got the chance to visit some parts of the country. There is just something about the place that draws me. A fairytale-like appeal that promise things magical and wonderful. I want to be amazed as I walk around enjoying the scenery, to savor every bite of food, and to sleep peacefully at night in one of the farmhouses that serve as inns in that place.
  • Walk the path in the bamboo forest outside Kyoto ~ All the photos I have seen convinced me that it is one place I definitely have to see for myself.
  • Ride the shinkansen ~ I am fascinated with the idea of a bullet train. I wonder about the speed and what the experience would be like to sit inside the train as I try to look at the view outside. But it is an expensive way to travel so I am really looking forward to a time that I would be able to splurge on this one. Traveling in Japan is not exactly a walk in the park on a shoestring budget.
  • Muster enough courage for onsen ~ I am a very private person so the idea of sharing a bath with many other girls the traditional Japanese onsen way petrifies me. But it is high on my list of things I want to do in Japan. I look forward to my first open-air onsen bath.
  • Master the subway ~ I find Tokyo’s highly efficient subway system daunting. Everything seems to be in precision, even the people who travel on those trains. I want the confidence of traveling alone and successfully pulling off every step without getting lost in translation.
  • Eat like a local and drink sake ~ My sense of adventure when it comes to food is sadly lacking. But enjoying a variety of food is an essential part of traveling. You have not truly experienced the place without tasting its sumptuous fare. I am happy to say that I discovered my liking for (salmon) sashimi in Japan where I first tasted it a few years ago. I learned since then that adventure and curiosity when it comes to food make traveling more fun.
  • Go to more shrines, temples, and castles ~ There is a timeless appeal to shrines, temples, and castles that gets me. I like to spend some time visiting as many as I can either by chance or design.
  • Cuddle with the cats in cat cafes ~ It can be a bit expensive but I would willingly save up for some neko appreciation time in a relaxing ambiance while sipping a cup of tea.
  • Taste as many Kit Kat flavors as I can ~ Kit Kat’s many flavors in Japan is like the muggle version of the Harry Potter famed Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. They are among my favorite things to see in every 7-11 store I got to visit when I was there. I have tried the Green Tea flavored ones and a few interesting yet less exotic other varieties. But there are still much to try, especially the wasabi (dark chocolate) Kit Kat.
  • Climb Mt. Fuji ~ A mountain, the climb, scenic views, fresh air, and more. What’s not to love? Given the chance, I would scale the heights and enjoy the view from the top.
  • Live, laugh, love ~ Among the happiest memories I have are of my Japan trips. I know that whatever experience comes when I am there will unfold as they should be. And I believe that traveling is all about how we live, laugh, and love at every moment given to us.

Coffee & Serendipity Photo Journal #2: Ryuma Coffee Shop ~ Davao City

One Saturday a few weeks ago, my sister and I decided to try the Korean restaurant which was nearer to our place. The food was good. Some were even better than those served in a go-to Korean place we’ve tried the previous week.

After finishing our meal, my sister insisted on checking out some stuff in a Japanese grocery store located a few meters away from the restaurant. It was then that we noticed a coffee place two or three shops down.

From the outside, there was nothing that suggested that Davao City‘s Ryuma Coffee Shop was any different from the many other cafes strewn around town. The only thing that really captured my attention was the signage saying it’s a Japanese coffee shop. Since I’m addicted to anything Japanese, it didn’t take long for my sister to convince me to check out the place.

Coffee wasn’t part of that Saturday’s plans, but I figured I could make room for a Japanese coffee shop experience.

The coffee shop’s second floor lounge ~ loved how it was quiet and cozy. A good place to spend some time alone or with family and friends.
Our corner table
Sister, mirror, and some Japanese books. There were also a few manga titles right next to the counter on the first floor.
One of the many decors
And these too
Ebony and ivory ~ a reversal of roles
Seeing my sister’s Strawberry Ice Cream Shake almost made me regret why I didn’t order the chocolate. My Kilimanjaro coffee looked kind of sad next to her strawberry shake and pudding.
Tasted as good as they looked
Kilimanjaro coffee served with milk and brown sugar crystals on the side

There was something about Ryuma coffee shop that got me during that visit. Maybe it was the curious mix of richness and simplicity. Whatever else that’s brewing there, the delightful blend of coffee and serendipity was more than enough for me.

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Updates: (photos added)

Choices of reads at the first floor of the coffee shop
View from a couch
Coffee jelly
Blue Mountain coffee served with milk and white sugar crystals (I prefer the brown sugar crystals though)

Coffee & Serendipity Photo Journal #1: Can-More ~ Chungju

Coffee shops. They’re like, everywhere. With so many cafes ran by popular international brands to local owners, there’s bound to be some place anywhere in the world that promises both a delicious brew and the ambiance that suits different tastes.

Finding can-more was a happy accident for us a few months ago. Located at the third floor of a building somewhere in the heart of Chungju, South Korea, it was unlike any other coffee places I’ve seen in the past. Quaint and relaxing, I imagine spending (rainy) days with a good book and a steaming mug of coffee or tea in there.

The building that houses a quaint coffee shop.
Outside, looking up
Surprised by the unexpected
Tabletop menu
Shades of blue in a roomful of pink
Coffee and company

Can-more, a simple yet perfect blend of coffee and serendipity.