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Paris, Je t’adore

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetParis. How much garlic smell, macarons crackle, demonstrations noise and lights of fancy shopfronts in this word.

Last time I went to Paris was more than two years ago, so we decided to give ourselves a long weekend of pleasure of eating snails and foie gras, shopping on sales and just getting away from dull Viennese winter.

We finally spent enough time on Montmartre for me to understand how much I love it there! Last time we took a short walk because there were too many tourists; during my first visit in Paris we only went to the Moulin Rouge. I must admit I liked the city during demonstrations everyone is so scared of. No tourists, and even the locals stay in. Easy to get a table in restaurants, to take pictures without crowds in the background, and just to enjoy Paris the way it would be if it wasn’t too popular. The weather in January is also surprisingly fine! We came during the worst day of that week’s forecast, and it was still much better than what winter looks like in Vienna.

Yellow vests and constant complaints about winter aside, the main topic for me never changes – THE FOOD. This time we were better prepared than I was last times, when my travel companions were just walking me to the fanciest restaurants of Paris, like Chez Julien, Chez André and Fouquet’s, which are without any doubts amazing, but trying something different was what I wanted out of this trip. So, here we go with what we managed to eat in 48 hours Paris:

  • Hardware Soiété: opened by Australians, there is another one in Melbourne. Literally the best brunch I’ve ever had! Lobster eggs Benedict blew my mind! The entire menu is very creative and goes far beyond avocado and poached eggs, but not too far, where you get a leaf on a burnt crumb for breakfast, the time when you are the hungriest. I’d love to try everything in the menu! The staff is super nice, I guess mostly Australians, so here you are not afraid of not being understood – a common fear in Paris. The drinks are also flawless, Anfisa had her best cold brew there. The area of Sacré-Cœur is also pleasant to start your day there. Definitely a brunch-must-visit! The place was full, we came with no reservation (early, before 10) and immediately got a nice table, but when we were done with the food there was already a decent queue outside.
  • For our next breakfast, we decided to have it traditional French way: get a croque monsieur sandwich, cheese omelette, baguette and croissants with coffee in a random Parisian bistro. We found one near the Opera house, but all the ones we checked around seemed to have a similar menu. And I must say, despite being extremely touristy, it was great! Paris is a place where you shouldn’t be scared of something aimed on tourists only, foodwise at least. There are more places we discovered and I marked for brunch for the next visit, so maybe someone will try them out before me: Peonies, Season, Marcelle, Dersou.
  • Breakfast follows with lunch/dinner must-eats. The famous truffle pasta at Pink Mamma! I have eaten tens of truffle pastas in life, but that one was definitely the best! This gourmet group is in general always a good choice. La Felicità is another cool location with great ambient that many Paris experts advised me already. And not just the food is delicious at their restaurants, also the buildings and the rooms themselves are a treasure. 100% instagrammable 😉
  • Finding an absolutely perfect place for dinner was a challenge for me. A lot of recognised restaurants don’t have websites, don’t reserve and just don’t want to communicate, don’t have menus in English. Google research and platforms like tripadvisor don’t help much there either, so I went through some blogs and came across Chez la Vieille. It’s a place you never enter seeing from the outside: tiny door, no light on the ground floor, no spectacular signboards. Even the name is written with chalk, no kidding. And this was exactly a place I was looking for. The best foie gras way of serving I’ve tried, fine wines, intimate atmosphere (for some maybe even too intimate, the tables are no more than 10cm away from each other). Was the finest kick-off into Parisian food experience!
  • Another hidden treasure you are not likely to come across, that was recommended to me is Le Mary Celeste. Compromise prices on something I consider haute cuisine. We tried their tartar and pulled duck on brioche, and I think my stomach cried from pleasure. The bar itself is charming, too, but downstairs is one of those hidden places that might become your favourite if you live in the neighbourhood.
  • When in France, my main desires are snails, foie gras, beef tartar and their sandwiches of any kind. It’s not easy to find a fancy place that has all of this on the menu, because usually fancy places have only 5-7 things on the menu in general. So sometimes a proper classy French bistro is the easiest choice, especially for a larger group of people. We had our finest snails and sandwiches at Cafe Charlot, but I remember having visited a lot of restaurants of this kind during my previous visits to Paris, and I was always satisfied. Depends on what one is searching for, but if you are fine with very crowded, loud, smelly with food places and don’t care how fancy the ambient is – you may have one of the best dining experiences at one of those, so I’d say: don’t just follow the planned route of gourmet trouvailles, be spontaneous and enter any bistro that has a table available! We enjoyed sitting outside enjoying some wine on Montorgueil street: a loud, popular among tourists and younger locals, crowded area with a lot of places to chose from. Here we slowly shift from dinner to bars.
  • Experimental Cocktail Club: around the corner from the above mentioned street. A fun bar, like one of those I go to in Vienna. Young charming barkeepers, delicious nicely garnished experimental cocktails, cute couples squeezed around large groups of party people. There you easily find some adventure!
  • Again hidden, in fact, completely hidden: Candelaria. You have to go through the fast-food place that sells tacos and margaritas and confidently push a tiny disguised white door where the kitchen is. And you find yourself in an amazing bar! I have been in a lot of hidden bars, the concept of exclusivity has become a big deal in the past years. But those places are usually posh, people visiting them want to feel way too exclusive and sometimes it gets ridiculous. It’s not about Candelaria. Here you just feel like you have come to a friend’s house party. If we didn’t have so little time in Paris and weren’t therefore on a bar tour, I’d easily spend all night in that cozy bar full of tacos and people who all seemed to know each other.
  • Clown bar is found right in the circus and has one of the coolest old-school designs.  The food looked delicious, but we were already waiting for our table at le Mary Celeste, so this one remains a goal for the next visit 😉
  • Street crepes. Call it cheesy (they ARE cheesy! and I don’t know what cheese they put inside, but I wanna drown on it), call it tourists attraction, but those things are damn good! A perfect ending for a night out.

Other than eating non-stop (even though I am not even sure if anything other than that is needed in Paris), January is a great time for shopping: sales but less tourists. I discovered the area around Rue Vieille du Temple this time. Haven’t been much around the 3rd district before because most of the time my routes were built around some tourist sights. This district is a very nice place for walking, shopping and chilling in some cafe with a terrace. Won’t even start with Parisian shopping, you probably know it all. If you don’t, you will.

Most of attractions like museums, cathedrals, palaces, castles, viewing points, gardens and whatever else there is in Paris I had already visited before, so we took it easy with the cultural side. We went to Musee de l’Orangerie though, and it is spectacular! We expected a small room with 2-3 Monet paintings, but there is an entire palace of Monet! I’ve seen so much that though nothing new can be there, and it was a new Monet level. Other paintings it contains are also Paris-museum-level valuable and a pleasure to the eye, so I highly recommend the museum. A free entrance everywhere in Paris for European students is also quite motivating, thank you, Paris!

Hoping to be back sooner than it took me since my last visit! Paris, je t’aime! 

 


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2019 go!

Happy New Year 2019!

This is not a post of resolutions, I stopped making those when was 15 because, sorry, it’s stupid. If you need change in life – you don’t necessarily wait for nasty weather of January to start making it happen. This is more of an appreciation post. Thanking 2018 for being over, too.

There were a lot of changes for me in 2018 (most happened in summer btw, so nice weather is indeed alright to make things different). I graduated, and Uni Wien is soaking less soul out of me now (MA program still does its best, though); started an awesome job, first time working full-time in life, which was not as much of a shocking change as I anticipated and was warned by everyone; I traveled: visited my beloved Italy 5 times and came back to my favorite place on Earth, Hong Kong, and the only thing I promise to do in 2019 is to write posts about it which I’ve been postponing since 2016, as well as explored new places like mind-blowing Korea, hidden castles of Germany, new places in awesome Portugal together with re-discovering the well-known ones; rode tens of km’s of new slopes combined with the old good resorts. I went to Russia few times, saw Sochi where I spent so much time as a child looking all brand new now; even visited Nizhnii Novgorod! Felt young and crazy again on Malta with the girls. Together with my parents, we found a new home-to-be. I am happy that before starting to work a lot, I devoted enough time to seeing my family, spent good deal of time with Dani’s family and managed to have more reunions with friends than usually and even to come to St P where a big part of my heart still is; I cried at the first wedding of a close friend, hugged my mom and dad on their Birthdays, was by Dani’s side during his glorious moments like creating the World’s biggest negroni and, in general, didn’t miss out on any fun.

Despite all that greatness, 2018 was one of the hardest years ever for me and for my close ones. So, happy it’s over and looking forward to a more easygoing 2019, please!

 

Happy New Year and may the Force be with y’all!


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Winter is Coming from St. P.

Being unable to come up with any decent title for this post because I already used up all possible ones for my countless posts under the tag, let it be a reminder for me that this winter Vienna got the first snow exactly when I landed from Saint Petersburg. And then I was 4 hours late for work after the train stopped. Because Austria just can’t deal with 3 snowflakes. Indeed, why would a country with Alps know what snow is?

Yup, surprise! I suddenly booked the next ticket available for Saint Petersburg, where I didn’t go since the summer 2016. Why that? Oh, there are a few reasons which are quite personal and are not all mine. Let’s just say I urgently needed to see my friends. Processed with VSCO with a6 presetLast time we all caught up was at Dasha’s wedding, and back then I was wondering when we will have a chance to reunite all together. My guess was that it can only happen at the funeral of one of us, since there are no more weddings on the horizon. Well well, I was almost about to be right.

Anyways, its good to see my beloved city again, after 2,5 years. Honestly, I was waiting to go there together with Dani and open up this chapter of my life for him. But with our completely different working schedules and Russian visa application procedure, it is impossible to go for 2 days together. May all visa centrums of this world burn in hell. So, for now it was just me, hi.

It was more about being with friends rather than partying this time. Also, partying is not very easy if the wind is so cold that your stomach gets frozen. Nevertheless, few times we warmed it up with some strong shots at iconic bars of St P, one of a kind which don’t compare to anything in Moscow or even somewhere in Zagreb. Special thanks to Elisabeth for creating a program for us on such a short notice. She is the real soul of Saint Petersburg for me since the day I met her, on the first week of studies at SPBSU, when she was snoring during class where everyone was shivering in horror from the professor.

В Питере – пить!

I can hardly express how much I love Saint Petersburg. Its vibe is impossible to explain, you can only feel it. And I feel it in all my buddies who live there, in every building, weird hipster exhibition/bar/popup store. All the bars where I used to go closed down or completely changed (as it happens every time I come to the city), so I trusted bar soul Elisabeth, and the choice was awesome! Just one night out and so many emotions, songs and hugs! Угрюмочная was super cool, with verysad barkeepers coming up with a customized drink for you based on how sad you claim you are. So simple and nevertheless so cool as a concept! There is even a vest to cry into hanging on the wall.

Orthodox didn’t impress me that much. Had to wait 40 minutes for a gin tonic after I needed to explain to the bar chef how to make one. And gosh, what is this name? Bar 8, which didn’t even bother to get a website, thats how spb-classy it is, was the best! I never really partied in that part of the city in a conscious condition, so that was something completely new for me, and the spirit on Petrogradskaya side of the city indeed differs from the center I was used to. But the best part if shawarma at 2 a.m.! Ah, that Saint Petersburg shawarma! But I admit, this time it crossed all borders of shawarma amazingness I have ever reached before: I ate the BEST one in my entire life. No kidding! Will share this pearl with the world: Shawarma on Kronverkskiy prospect 45.

Apart from shawarma, which remains the best part of my nutrition during those 43 hours in Saint P, we were eating only Asian fusions. I really lack those in Europe! Russian market of Asian food is something incredible, even though in reality it’s not proper authentic Asian, but some crazy hipster ideas a-la grilled cheese maki on a foie gras paste. Made in China was the coziest place, the best for companies on a weekend evening, when you still wanna hear each other and are not ready to dive into darkness, yet. Subzero is maybe too minimalistic, bit the short menu was great. Tiger Lily is a cool concept of a hidden-not-hidden-but-still-hidden place; music was exactly a playlist of  the Viennese X club, the entire concept was something of a kind, too. New York inhabitants must get a lot of that, but for Russia it’s still relatively new and therefore cool. The food was delicious and the prices were surprisingly low for such a hype place. I’d recommend to go in the evening and feel their club atmosphere, somehow it seemed cooler than just during the cafe-hours.

Saint Petersburg. Who would think that I’d come so spontaneously just for 43 hours! Let’s see what the next time we see each other is gonna be…

 


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#Lignano

Снимок экрана 2018-11-13 в 22.14.26Italy! I get so many emotions when think about this country. I’ve been there definitely more than 50 times and it simply doesn’t stop being exciting. My favorite city in Italy where I lived the longest is Florence. I also have a hashtag for Milan, where I lived during my Bocconi program. Now I think it’s the time to create a new hashtag for the place that is becoming our usual summer destination, and will remain one for the years to come – Lignano.

I went to Lignano already 4 times this summer, whereas wrote only about the first trip. Catching up a bit, now after my last visit last week I can claim I love it during every season! May-June is already warm but the official season isn’t open until the end of June, so the town is waking up, beaches are being set up, restaurants wake up after winter break (which 99% of them have); there are almost no visitors yet, just some Austians who also want to get the first warm sunrays of the year.

The summer is quite crazy there. Crowds of people. parties every night and long queues to get into restaurants last until the end of September. On the last weekend of September restaurants close down and the town changes so much that it’s hard to recognize. Completely empty streets, one-two cars passing by during the day, yet everything neat and clean but quiet and empty – that’s quite an utopistic view. Some can feel a bit freaky walking the streets where you might not meet one person, but we loved it. The town is all yours! You can shamelessly look into the gardens. No idea how the municipality fights marauders because I didn’t see any police patrols, but it seemed very safe and we never heard of any incidents during winter time from the locals. The only problem can be finding a place to go to dinner, since there are just a few functioning. But we solved it by cooking ourselves: seafood is still the freshest! Out of the season it’s better to stay in Sabbiadoro though; Pineta is indeed abandoned. In November you can still sit outside and sip your Aperol watching the real locals walking the main pedestrian street – a luxury not to be found anywhere in Italy during summer!

I wrote a lot about food in Lignano and around; you can find some recommendations under the newly created hashtag. The most delicious place for me is still Sandrocchia; and Agosti has an awesome location and great seafood. Lobster pasta remains my dish-to-eat-as-many-times-as-possible-when-in-Lignano, and those two places make the best one!

Another awesome thing about Lignano is that you can travel to so many places from there, from Slovenia, Croatia and Austria 1 hour away by car, to traditional Italian jewels like Verona, Trieste and of course – Venice.

I never thought I would fall in love with Venice when visited it as a child and then came back few times as a tourist level “buy a carnival mask” with friends during our Italian holidays. We were always in such a rush because it takes quite long to reach San Marco from the train station or car parking lot. And I had a feeling showing people San Marco is an absolute must, so we never really had the time to explore Venice out of that Santa Lucia – San Marco route that is marked on the houses with arrows. Now Venice is a place where I drive from Lignano for lunch, where I walk slow, where I know how to take Vaporetto and how to use those confusing parking garages. I take a direction opposite from the marked route, find myself at amazing hidden inner yards with dead ends into water. And I simply love going there.

I really want to go to Burano island, but last week Venice was flooded and direct transportation line there was closed. A goal for the next visit – lunch on Burano!

Small towns of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Guilia are really undervalued. Cervignano and Pordenone taught us more about everyday life of Italians from non-touristic cities, and it’s so different from those in Rome or Milan! This is how long it takes to really know the country – years traveling between all kinds of daily routines.

I am glad this chapter of Italian days in my life has started. Lignano, see you soon!


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Korea, part II: Seoul Neighborhoods

Yongsan DistrictThis is the second part of my story about Korea. In the first post, I talked about the feelings and emotions this incredible country charged me with. I expect this post to come out more down to Earth (I never draft and brainstorm a post from 0 right away, so at the beginning I have no idea what it’s gonna end like), with concrete routes and things to see. I decided to try to divide locations by districts and places of interest found closest to each other, rather than by usual themes, i.e. “shopping”, “food”, etc., because Seoul is huge and that wold just be a mess.

Let’s begin with the tourist sightseeing. I am not a fan of guided tours, books, hop-on-hop-off buses and all that stuff, preferring to feel and understand the city through my own eyes by walking it on foot, touching it and tasting it everywhere I can, not just on its “best and most interesting” route. But I admit that coming somewhere and completely neglecting popular tourist locations is narrow minded, especially in such ancient country with a rich uneasy historical path as Korea, one has to know where it all started. And maybe even take an audioguide once.

Gyeongbokgung palace is the largest and the best known traditional Korean palace constructed in 1395. It provides the best understanding of what Korean Imperors must have lived like, how traditional architecture is implemented in nature (the palace is surrounded by a huge beautiful park) and how Koreans respect their traditions and take care of historical inheritance. There is a lifehack how to get into any palace for free: come in traditional Korean costume. You can rent those around palaces for a very low rate. It’s the most touristy thing I have done since my pictures holding the Great Sphinx of Giza in 2003, but when else would I get a chance to feel what wearing this is like! Koreans still wear traditional clothes for many occasions, and you even see people dressed traditionally walking on the streets, so it’s like a dirndl in Austria, and wearing it is not like putting a Halloween costume on. Of course it’s absurd with my physical appearance, but it was still cool!

There is a rich infrastructure around the Palace, but also a lot of tourists. If you walk up the hill to Bukchon Village, you will see a different Seoul. The village is built up from tiny houses in traditional Korean style that bunch up roof to roof as if they were leaning on each other (but nothing in Korean just leans on anything unless it’s supposed to, believe me); there are signs everywhere asking visitors ti be quiet as there are native people of Seoul living in those houses. The doors are often open, so you can have a sneak peek on their everyday life. It’s a unique window to a regular Korean household routine that brings more than any guided tour.

The best view you can find is from Gahoe-dong Alley, it uncovers a large part of Seoul from the hill and faces the Seoul Tower – an amazing contrast to see skyscrapers in between those traditional upturned rooftops. If you leave the inhabitants to quietly live their hasteless but organized lives and go back to the bigger prospects: there are a lot of amazing cafes and shops along Samcheong-ro, up to Bukchon-gil streets. Traditional Korean desserts mixed with western style steakhouses; jewelry shops next to shoes markets. While walking back down back to the city, you will come across a market on Yulgok-ro 3-gil (open May-October, I think). Sogno jewelry was a shop that stayed in my mind with its flawless style. There is an entire district – Jongno Jewelry Town, devoted to bijouterie.

As you approach city center, visit an art street Insa-dong, where you also fins yourself in a creative unique world of Korean innovative minds. The time to try amazing Korean street food has come, too! But later about that, now we stick to sightseeing!

Deoksugung is another palace, a bit smaller, but with some spectacular views of modern buildings behind ancient traditional constructions. It’s crazy to realize that they stand next to each other despite 600 years difference. Usually, to get to a historical site this old, you have to leave the city center. Rarely have I seen such a harmony stretched throughout centuries. All the decorations are in such good state that I started questioning if they get renovated. It would be such a taboo to paint over something this ancient in Europe, where most of artifacts remain untouched and covered up in museums. Maybe restoring a place to its unique appearance and maintaining the spirit of the times is not that much of a crime.

Changdeokgung Palace is said to be the most beautiful out of Five Palaces of Seoul. I liked it the most because there were the least people and it was very welcoming, with traditional music being performed live, all doors being open for tourists – you can literally have a look inside each room. Korean people are very proud of their history and traditions, they all seem to know a lot about their heritage, and will with pleasure share with you (if you find any common language that you both speak, of course). We were just so lucky to be guided by our Korean friend, Hyunhee. With a local, Korea is another level of cultural experience. And she knows how to use buses. 

A break from sightseeing? We actually split the program above into 2 days, mixing it with some shopping, art, cafes and interrupting it with crazy Seoul nightlife on the way (that’s why there are no pictures from Changdeokgung Palace, you can guess it was in the morning of the day 2 and we were more craving for water than pics), because three huge palaces with parks around is too much for one day. Be prepared to walk a lot!

Another very cultural Korean thing that can definitely be accounted for sightseeing as well: food markets. There are a lot of them in Seoul. I don’t know if there is a huge difference, wouldn’t suppose so. Cooking on open fire and serving it right there on low benches and barrels is such a common thing, you see it everywhere from an actual market to the busiest shopping streets of Myeongdong. We went to Gwangjang Market. There are both food and clothes markets, don’t get confused. You find food pavilions in front of Jongno 5 Ga bus stop.

It smells like food there. A lot. So if you don’t happen to enjoy fish and fried fats smells, it might not be an entertainment for you. For us, it was extremely interesting to not only try the foods ourselves, but to observe regular Korean people socializing, having soju at lunch time, playing table games and just being natural (because they tend to get shy in front of foreigners). Keep in mind that it’s not a place designed for tourist. You don’t fins English menus anywhere, but there you are not likely to get any depictions of food choices. Either pregoogle what you would like to try or point fingers at the alien thing that appears the most to you. Luckily, we have Hyunhee! She ordered few variations of raw beef with spices, sesame oil, vegetables and whatever else for us to try. And rice wine! It’s quite weird for me, nothing like wine. I like soju more,  but since everyone else falls under the table after 2 shots of it, I felt like 1 pm would be too early for having a bottle by myself and went for rice wine, too. Markets are the place where you can try famous still-alive octopus and many other cool things, but mostly it’s another way to get closer with the locals. 

From Gwangjang Market, it’s not far to walk to another must-see – Dongaemun Design Plaza. That’s a completely different Seoul, the one you see in futuristic movies shot there. It was design by Zaha Hadid, this already tells everything. The best time to go is at dusk, when it gets lit up. I am a big fan of futuristic architecture, asymmetrical figures and a game of lights, so every building in that area excited me.

As it gets later and closer to dinner time, time to go to Myeongdong – a foodie district that comes to life in the evening. It reminded me of Hong Kong: neon signs, rushing people, everything open all night long, smells of food everywhere, skyscrapers coming together above your head so that you barely see the sky. There are a lot of amazing food spots in Myeongdong, but a typical Korean problem: names and addresses only in Korean. I was searching on Instagram and have them marked, but can’t really share here. Ask me on Instagram and I’ll send you awesome locations! Street food is always an option, too!

In Myeongdong, you can go shopping even after late dinner. That’s a cosmetics heaven with mask shops on each corner, as well as some cool fashion brands are found there. Foreigners tend to rush for every funny package they see, you can go crazy and pay a fortune for overweight like that. Better read some beauty blogs before you shop cosmetics in Korea, one needs a trial there. My personal favourites are Missha, It’s skin store and an unknown brand named Real Barrier that Hyunhee discovered. I have been using it since 2 months and absolutely love the result!

Stylenanda is a big deal not only in Korea, but all over the world. Don’t miss the chance to check her pink hotel out! I bought her lipstick being quite skeptical because the brand is overly advertised and famous, but guys, this lipstick just stays forever and doesn’t leave any trace even on wine glasses!

There is another Stylenanda flagship store at Hongdae – the district we found the best for shopping. Shifting away from mass market to narrower niches and tiny private boutiques that share some unique ideas while walking chaotic streets of Hongdae. Grab store, Crystal Ship and many more hidden in Wausan-ro streets with names only in Korean are a source of standout fashion. I mentioned in my first post about Korea that I love how they sell. If you visit Hongdae shopping streets, you’ll know what I mean.

The district is attractive for a foodie, too. Especially if you gad enough of Korean food experience for now and want something international. Hongdae is full of restaurants and pubs of cuisines and styles from all over the world. Korean food is so delicious that I didn’t even want to go for anything else, but the thing is the products: they are so fresh and flavorful, that anything cooked out of them comes out tasty and rich. As brunch freaks, me and Anfisa needed to try a Korean-made western-style brunch. We found such at Grain.

Finally coming to my favorite topic, brunching, we have to leave for Itaewon. The loudest and craziest district of Seoul by nighttime, next morning after a party it offers those who are still around and alive few quite cool brunch opportunities. Bimbom served us brunch that blew our spoiled with poached eggs and fluffy french toasts minds. It was three-storied tray of foodNo idea how Anfisa found it though, because, as most of places I found on Insta, it doesn’t show up on maps. If you find Bimbom, mind that the entire street is a European-style brunching area. I’d literally go into every place there if had more time in Seoul.

If you are struggling finding locations but craving for breakfast with eggs and toasts instead of kimchi and gimbap that the locals start their day with, there are chains around Seoul like Twosome place and Paris Baguette that serve sandwiches and pastries prepared in a usual for us way. However, the Korean way of interpreting desserts is outstanding. Pastel de nata Korean-style that I ate at Reverb beats classical Portuguese one 100%, just as well as Korean macarons give odds to Ladurée. I would name Avec El, Sobok and Remicone among the coolest I came across. This article also names some more cute cafes I didn’t reach; you need years in Seoul to properly explore it. Processed with VSCO with m5 preset If you want more cuteness overload, check out Line Friends Store (Itaewon or Gangnam): it features famous in Korea characters, Kakao friends, and makes all kinds of goods with them. A fun heaven not only for kids, but for adults as well! Across the Itaewon-ro street from it is a ramen place that only a local can show you: manya sandaime. It is a japanese original ramen that differs from Korean, where they use instant noodles. I am not a huge soup fan and found so many more delicious things in Korean cuisine than their ramen, so I’d go for a classical Japanese one – and this is the best one I’ve tried in my life (in which I, however, haven’t been to Japan yet).

Itaewon is an expat district, so it’s no surprise you see a lot of diversity in the streets, sometimes maybe even menus in English. There are some designer studios and department stores there, too; check out D&Department. If I could transport dishes and furniture in my suitcase, I’d have an entire house of Korean deco, it’s so amazing! Walking up that international street brings us to the next palace of design and art  – Leeum Museum. A perfect balance between classical and contemporary art, Leeum fascinates with its absence of angles and a perfect way to exhibit one nation’s history as well as an individual’s talent. I learnt a lot about Korean traditional paintings, manuscripts and perception of the Japanese invasion, as well as got acquainted to some modern Asian arts. The luxury neighborhood is worth walking around, too,

As the sun goes away, Itaewon lights go on. I already mentioned before that I have never seen anyone partying with so much enthusiasm as Koreans do. It’s impossible to describe, one has to experience that once in a lifetime. The music is quite commercial, Koreans love that 2008 MTV playlist a lot! But for us it’s a chance to go back in time and have real fun dancing to the old Rihanna after many years of going to techno parties. The coolest clubs for me were Fountain (very commercial but very spacious; there you can see how wealthy locals party, and they’ll invite you to join) Owl, Fug (both more trendy-teenage with some twist of hip hop from time to time; both had djs with amazing sets), Prost (the only club where they play amazing techno and electro).

…Expats, designer studios, brunch locations, bars and clubs all around – that’s Itaewon.

Having visited Seoul classics like the Five Palaces, old village, locals’ neighborhoods, experienced shopping and nightlife; enjoyed Korean traditional food as well as interpretations of western cuisines, it’s time to see the newest and the most famous in the world district of Seoul – Gangnam.

A business district with the wealthiest inhabitants, the highest shiniest skyscrapers, the widest prospects, the most luxurious shopping the the finest dining, Gangnam attracts people from all over the world. Many live there for work, many just seek the most comfortable neighborhood in Korea. Anyways, the streets are always crowded, restaurants and shops doors open, people are dressed up.

I had been craving for Shake Shack since 9 years and I ran there as soon as I learnt there is one in Korea, so I didn’t eat anywhere else in Gangnam, but I my friends tried Dosan Bunsik and loved it; it also exploded Instagram. I don’t want to give any specific recommendations in Gangnam simply because 1) it must be changing on a weekly basis 2) it’s huge 3) I didn’t have the time to properly explore it. So just walk those miles long straigh streets and seek for your own secret spot 😉

Shopping in Gangnam is amazing, too. It’s luxury, but there are also boutiques with affordable fashion of amazing quality and style. I was in such a rush to see everything I could that didn’t write down any names, and you will understand me once you step on those streets of Gangnam. An absolute must-see is tamburins store. This is what I call marketing that everyone must reach by 2050. It’s worth visiting just to see HOW things can be sold, but also to try their amazing concepts. I bought myself a perfume and am in love with it. Another cool concept store is Queenmama Market, there you find just anything you want, but in a unique Korean way. And, again, I LOVE how unobtrusively they sell! So, if you want to know, Gangnam-style from K-pop songs is a real story 😉

After a few very intense days around the most crowded central districts of Seoul, I could use some rest and chill. Therefore, it was perfect to move to Maksin’s who lives in Songdo business district. It’s a different kind of Korea, with career-oriented and mostly foreign people living there. Most of international organizations and companies headquarters operating in Korea are found in Songdo, a district created in an empty field just few years ago to host expats. It is still being constructed, so you can observe a wonderof skyscrapers growing up from a ground level from your window every day. Songdo is empty during working hours, I was literally the only person outside. I moved around with a bicycle and those routes through the Central Park and deers chilling on the grass there observing skyscrapers felt very utopistic. Processed with VSCO with m5 preset Songdo is very clean, empty and quiet, but there are a lot of restaurants. No surprise, with all those working people with little time to cook and probably a high desire to socialize being alone on a contract in an alien country. Most of the district inhabitants don’t speak Korean, but staff at supermarkets and cafes still didn’t bother much to learn English basics, so the fun game of gestures goes on here, too. I had more time to walk around and go through groceries (like if I understood what was laying on the shelves), visit flower shops, coffee places, kids’ playgrounds and parks and other places that make you a tiny bit more local. There are a lot of expats’ kids in Songdo, must be one hell of an experience to grow up like this, with its bright and dark sides. I personally would have loved to spend childhood in some alien to my culture country, pick up a tough language and just be a citizen of the world in the future.

Songdo actually belongs to another town (yet a part of Seoul agglomeration, you can get to both with one subway net) – Incheon. I went to the town, too. It’s a huge port and quite an industrial district, but it is still full of parks, hiking possibilities and shows how connected Koreans are to nature wherever and whenever. China Town of Incheon is the main attraction of the area. I went there on my last day in Korea, right before leaving for China, so getting loaded with some spirit from numerous Chinese shops, restaurants and tourist crowds (why do the Chinese go to China towns when they are abroad?!) was cool.

I learnt more about Korean cuisine while in Songdo, thanks to the Green Climate guys, colleagues of Maksin, who invited me to a real Korean barbecue. I would like to wrap this already enormously long post with the Must-Eats when in Korea:

  • Bibimbap: a traditional Korean dish prepared in many different ways, but always made out of rice with sauteed vegetables, beans, many greens and spices, beef and an egg (can be sunny side up, omelette or even raw). I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it really fits to any meal!
  • Gimbap: prepared same as maki or onigiri (but NEVER say that in Korea, never compare any Korean thing to a Japanese, that’s a taboo!) but can also be made with ham, kimchi, radish, etc. Usually served as a long roll cut in round pieces. Samgak-gimbap is a triangular rice cake with the filling that is wrapped in seaweed. You can buy them in 24/7 supermarkets, it’s wrapped in such smart way that stays fresh for days, and it’s the most delicious snack ever! We had midnight cravings for those every night, luckily we lived close to a train station.
  • Korean BBQ. It’s a crazy feast. Tables are equipped with gas hobs and exhaust hoods, you chose the part you are going to fry yourself on them and it is brought raw to you together with dozens of sides: vegetables, greens in oils, rices, kimchi, beans, leaves, even soups and whatever else. People get together in big groups for Korean BBQs, so it’s a social event, often held on weekends, with drinks and long talks.
  • Jumdak: it’s a way to cook chicken. Comes out tender, with s sweet-spicy flavor; served with noodles or rice cakes. There are a lot of ways to cook chicken in Korea, I often went for chicken dishes since I don’t eat pork and Koreans love pork. But beef of the best quality is to be found everywhere, too. It’s just that chicken dishes seemed much more creative. Chi-maek, spicy crunchy sweet chicken fingers, usually served with beer, was my favourite.
  • Desserts. I already mentioned above which places serve amazing sweets. Desserts are very different in Korea, there is mostly no chocolate base we are so used to, mostly milk-, rice- or soy base. I am not a big fan of things like mochi (remember not to throw Japanese words around), so I was quite skeptical. Patbingsu, a traditional dessert made out of shaved milk ice with red bean sauce, was interesting, but it’s a thing I try once for me. Still a must-do, though! The portions are enormous compared to what you get if order ice-cream in a European restaurant, so better share one with a buddy. Korean pastry is mindblowing, though! Anything that is out of dough is delicious! Especially cream cheese fillings are unbelievable.
  • Sannakji: that’s that famous baby octopus still alive. I eat raw things with love, but this was a bit heartbreaking for me. It’s served everywhere though, especially on food markets, so you will for sure have a chance to have a look and decide if you wanna give it a try.
  • Yukhoe: raw beef with sesame oil, spices and raw egg. That was my favorite alongside with Korean BBQ and drunk midnight gimpabs. I am a huge tartar fan, and I really liked this Asian variation.
  • Pajeon: a Korean “pancake” which is nothing like a pancake. It’s baked with seafood/meat/vegetables and greens already inside it. Since there is no bread served on tables in Korea, and I can’t eat anything without bread, that was my perfect solution, goes especially well with soups.

I fell in love with Korean food. Have heard so many weird things about it, that there is a smell of fermented fish sauce in each dish, that it’s too spicy, that it’s unhealthy with their instant noodles. Nothing like that nowadays. You can find anything you craving for made out of the best quality products and with a lot of love and care, since Koreans are foodies, too 😉 And they drink a lot! Drinking culture is complex, so don’t f*ck up. For example, if a person next to you has an empty glass, you can’t drink until you pour them some. Everyone eats a lot while drinking, too. If you come to a bar, you must order food. And it’s not a tiny snack of chips and nuts, it’s a complete 4-courses meal, and then you will get some more from the kitchen. It’s quite weird for us, we are used to separate going for dinner and just sharing a bottle of wine there and going for hardcore drinking to a cocktail bar, where I personally wouldn’t want to have an entire fried fish with my Old Cuban. Nevertheless, we tried to follow all local canons of eating and drinking culture, and had an unforgettable experience!

Korea, what an experience! I am sure I will go back one day and see, how much more to the future and to the past this country can take me.