autumn sun still warming up a bit
This 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 a three-storied tray of food. No 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. 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. 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.
Korea. A land of obscure things in your plate, ironed cotton and upturned rooftops reflected in skyscrapers. It was the land that left me with complex impressions, few new things I comprehended and a lot to remember.
My acquaintance with Asia started in Hong Kong two years ago. I haven’t seen much of that part of Earth yet, but I feel like Korea brought me many steps closer to comprehending eastern cultural differences and their roots.
To make it clear from the beginning, my impressions of Korea will be based on what I saw in Seoul and Songdo. The country developed and changed so rapidly that I am sure there are parts of it that differ gradually. In this first part, I will try to focus on feelings the Koreans rather than landscapes gave me, not forgetting those concrete jungle of new Seoul that are important for understanding the nation, too. I decided to break the story into 2 parts, where this beginning will be more abstract and contain mostly my thoughts and observations, whereas the second part will be more about specifics places I recommend to visit and pictures.
So, let me start with what shocked me the most:
Cleanliness. It’s surgery room clean everywhere. What is shocking is not people taking care of their home (where I hope most of developed countries are already getting by now), but a total absence of trash bins. There are just none on the streets and in shops. I am not exactly sure why, since this is not a country with high terrorist threat which could be a reason for eliminating trash bins. Neither am I sure where all the trash goes. It wouldn’t ever come to any Korean mind to drop anything on the floor, but what they do when they have some trash in their hands and whether they simply carry it home – I didn’t find out. I had a clutch full of packages, bills and tickets all the time.
You can’t smoke on the streets either, there is a fine for that and you wouldn’t see anyone with a cigarette. Smokers go to smaller empty streets not to disturb by-passers with smoke and smell, even if there is no police on the horizon.
Fashion. Of course everyone nowadays knows that Korea is about to lead the world of fashion on Earth. It’s not only how good people are dressed in their simplicity what astonished me, but how natural it goes in Korea. No fancy boutiques with golden stairs, no “high class” brands (I mean of course there are luxury goods from the west, but Korean things are all quite within the same niche), no flashy shop windows and model-looking sells managers: all simple and minimalistic. I loved how they sell. Everything I ever learnt about marketing during my studies or in my girly life full of brands would be completely useless pieces of information in Korea. Some might say they don’t know how to sell and attract customers. I can’t tell, not knowing whether the shops that charmed me were considered successful or not. But I fell in love with their absence of marketing in our understanding. The well-known all over the world brands like Stylenanda, for example, adopted the western ways of advertising. But most of the best fabrics and finest styles are to be found in underground crossings (no kidding) or very humble tiny shops with empty walls and simple or no decorations. It’s relatively cheap for the quality. I bought cotton blouses of amazing quality for 5 Euros each. Either this accessibility makes the crowd looks good, or Koreans have a natural feeling for style. I loved watching people in subway and on the streets, how simple and elegant they are. Sometimes you look at a girl (or a guy as well!) wearing a white cotton robe and think: “Maaaan, in Vienna you would be a fashion icon!”
Another bit shocking thing: very often you can’t try things on. It’s a rule in really many shops. You can touch it, examine it, but you can’t try it on. I am not sure how to explain that, since when you buy something you always get a new packed and sealed piece from the stock, they never wrap you that thing you saw on the hanger. Maybe it’s some hygienic reasons, Koreans are quite determined with those.
Beauty. Well, this blew my mind even though it was extremely ready to be blown. It’s not just the most developed beauty and care products industry culture in the world, its a real cult. There is a wide range of any product for anything you can and can’t imagine. But be careful when beauty-shopping, our unspoiled mind tells us to grab every cute package, in fact half of them are not very useful. In the next post with recommendations, I’ll note a few shops and brands worth checking out 😉 Also, a lot of products have whitening effect. Koreans are crazier than 18th century aristocrats about not getting a slight sign of tan on their skin. Which is not that easy since the climate is quite sunny, so there are all variations of whitening napkins and creams in any tiny store.
What I found a bit weird is that most of products are for face skin. Ok, Korean girls have good strong hair and might not need much care for it, but why is there so little for the body? Europe is more crazy about body lotions, shower gels, mists and sprays. You also won’t find any Lush-like stuff like bath bombs, most likely because Koreans don’t have bathtubs. But they have toilets that maintain the seat warmed up for you.
What is also quite shocking for a western person is men wearing make-up. I mean, we accept it fine if its just a style of a certain guy or some event like Life Ball. But in Korea really a lot of guys wear quite visible makeup on a daily basis.
Beaches. To continue with the whitening topic. Koreans don’t go to beaches at all, I guessed for obvious from the paragraph above reasons – a desire to be white. Completely empty sea lines shock a European that had ever been to Barceloneta or on Italian coast in summer, where you can hardly see the sand. The most beautiful beaches of Jeju don’t attract the locals at all. Policemen wear uniforms with long sleeve under a short-sleeve shirt, not to get tanned I was told. So, my skin tone is not considered noble or fashionable in any way I guess.
Eating and drinking culture. Their complexity, to be more precise. From the technical side, i.e. metal chopsticks that even kids can cut kimchi with (guys, it’s impossible, I am telling you) to the dishes themselves. Korean cuisine is very interesting, unusual, rich in various flavors we can’t even imagine together! I will write a separate post on my favorite foodie topic, of course. But I’d just advise to be curious and brace and to try things, even though most of the time you will have no clue what you are eating. No English and no pictures on menus. Forget about consulting waiters as well. Just forget about English and life will become easier if you try other ways.
Streets never sleep. Seoul is so dynamic, with people in expensive suits walking Gangnam with serious faces; everything running, pizza being delivered even to parks at any time, that it comes as no surprise that there is a very intense nightlife. But, guys, I have never seen anything THIS intense, and I used to be quite a party animal. Going out is another cult. Teenagers are out all the time. I don’t know how they manage to combine that with Korean schooling which is one of the toughest in the world, this I didn’t put together yet. But clubs of Itaewon seem to never shut the music down. We were leaving at 6, 7 in the morning, and the party didn’t even start to calm down. You can drink pretty much anywhere, we enjoyed our soju from the bottle already at the supermarket. Walking with a bottle through party streets is fine, no paper bags and crap needed to cover up the obvious. And it’s just fun! People run from one club to another, socialize on the streets, everyone is super friendly, we as foreigners attracted A LOT of attention, but I didn’t see any typical drunk aggression once. Which is also a mystery to me since Koreans do get quite drunk and not everyone can take as much alcohol as a huge Scandinavian guy can, for example, but they still don’t give up. Drunk people are drunk people all across the globe I would think, but I didn’t see any fights, rudeness or harassment. A guy may try to get your attention, I got grabbed by my elbow few times, but if you look away and don’t express interest they leave you alone immediately.
I will write more about specific clubs and areas that I liked the most, but in general I wanna say that I was fascinated and shocked by Seoul nightlife. No Ibiza compares. It’s madness and it’s a must-experience in life!
No pin on credit cards. And the general highest level of social trust. Doesn’t matter what your bank is, you don’t insert pin, sign or show documents when you pay. If your card is lost it will be either returned to you or destroyed. You can leave your personal belongings anywhere and just leave. People occupy tables in restaurants leaving their cell phones, no kidding! I don’t know if they don’t steal at all and the crime rate is so low because of the regime, their values or cameras everywhere. But as a matter of fact, in Korea you don’t have to watch your purse.
Convenience. Putting stuff away in bars, clubs and restaurants – there is always somewhere to place it no matter how tiny the place is: puffs and seats which open up, boxes above your head, storage beneath tables. If you give something to garderobe in clubs, it’s gonna be wrapped in disposable bags.
Convenient packages for literally everything, from snacks (unwrapping a gimbap is a pure pleasure) and napkins at a supermarket to newly purchased accessories. Everything is thought out.
Social pressure. It’s very high. You have to meet the standards if you are Korean.
Schools are tough. Getting into universities is the highest pressure for Korean teenagers. If you don’t get in – your life is considered a failure. The suicide rate among school kids is high, so are the expectations of their performance.
You have to be skinny, so Korean girls starve themselves a lot. Have to look good in a certain universal way, that’s why makeup industry is so developed, and Korea is famous for its plastic surgeries on each corner. If a girl doesn’t fit into that standardized beauty image, she is not considered pretty. Fashion wise people try to stand out (still keeping up with the mass trends), but it didn’t seem to me as if being of extraordinary non-standard appearance will make you beautiful and unique in the eyes of the others. They admire Western appearance a lot.
Dating culture is quite weird, too. You have to have a partner. I heard stories how cab drivers were immediately trying to set guys up with their nieces when they heard guys were single, it was not normal for them and they felt like they have to help. A lot of dating clubs, apps, platforms and stuff. It seems like everyone dates just because it’s a must, I really hope the reality is different.
There are many more things that seemed obligatory in society to me, like you have to have that little white dog everyone has, etc. Koreans are constantly under high pressure, but they respect their traditions and values a lot, which makes them such a strong independent and solid society.
Some tough sides and a piece of advice for a foreigner:
- Forget English. Better learn a few phrases in Korean, they are going to respect you a lot for that.
- No cabs available in clubbing districts at nighttime. After 3 a.m. it’s really not easy to get out of there. Such Russian thing as all cab drivers gathering around crowded places tripling fares you won’t see. So we had to walk few times.
- People are gonna look at you. Especially if you differ gradually from their appearance. Just accept it, they are all very kind and friendly, but they express interest a lot.
- No heels in clubs outside Gangnam. It would just look weird. Korean girls wear very simple comfy shoes.
- Try transportation apps. It’s very complicated since everything is in Korean only, but if you somehow manage – you are gonna love the ideal effective transportation system around Seoul!
- Walk slowly in temples. It’s considered disrespectful to rush there. You can also rent traditional Korean costumes and then be admitted for free into any temple.
- Don’t sit on seats designed for older people or individuals with limited abilities. Even if the train is empty, nobody does that unless they belong to the group for which that seat is designed.
Be respectful to everyone and you will get enormous respect and hospitality back. It is an incredible country that takes you on a trip to the past and to the future at the same time.
And another summer is over!
I am not as sad as I could be, considering my hard feelings for cold weather. But maybe that’s because I am still in sunny Italy now.
This summer was a very productive one, which was happening in a harmony with my usual travel marathon, so it didn’t feel like that much of a change at once. I graduated, started Masters, moved, got a job and am changing my status in Austria. Also, I went to Italy four times to eat my truck of pasta; visited Malta for the first time on our ladies’ trip; experienced Korea and China and learnt a few things there; cried on a first wedding within our childhood friends gang.
a small sneak peek from Daria’s wedding since I had no time to post from my trip to Russia. May the Force be with them!
There is a lot more I am hoping to share, especially get all my impressions of Korea together and finally finish a story about Hong Kong that I started 2,5 years ago. But this post is not about that.
Before summer completely vanishes, I want to get together few things I like doing in Vienna in May-September. It’s not a secret that I never spent my summer in Vienna. Moreover, there were 3-4 years when I didn’t even come there at all. But things are changing, I have definitely become more local and tend to spend more days in Viennese summer heat since I started dating Dani. So, here are the few things I wouldn’t miss if in Vienna during summertime:
Life Ball. Usually first weekend of June, and this is the brightest, loudest and craziest night in Austria. Doesn’t matter if you want to freak out and have a time of your life erasing all the existing boundaries for one night or of you just enjoy beautiful balls culture – you will never forget this experience!
Liquid Market. This is a drinking festival that brings together all the best bars of Vienna. Usually happens in the middle of July. Cocktails. Cocktails. Cocktails! Not just the bar classics in the best interpretation and of the best quality, but also creative signature drinks each bar comes up with to surprise the guests. Marshmallow vodka sour, salty caramel cognac drink; agave and wasabi gin fizz – whatever you and the best barkeepers of Austria or also from abroad can imagine! And it’s just fun. I am fascinated by gastronomy and enjoy spending time with great minds who make it happen.
This year Dani together with all the guests made the world record biggest Negroni ever mixed as a part of Liquid Market 2018, so that was one hell of a party!
Film Festival. Starts in July and lasts until end of August. It is quite a banal advice that tourists get from any guide, but I’ll be honest, I go there not for art house movies and bunch of people who pretend they understand what’s happening on the screen, but for food. The level of amazing depends on a year, since it’s different restaurants being represented each festival. But you can be sure to come across the best ones there. My favorites are classical Austrian with something like truffle Leberkäse, Belgian waffles and crepes, On Market and some cool thai snacks. I’d recommend to go during times when there are no movies and when people are at work so that there is less crowd. And come hungry and better with a company, to try everything!
Prater amusement park in August. Everyone local escapes Vienna in August and the city is quite dead, even most of private shops are closed. It makes it quite boring and even creepy, but not for going to Prater! Usually the park is crowded, especially during weekends, but not in August! We went on a Sunday and I was amazed. Finally
after 6 years in Austria I tried the famous Viennese sightseeing karussell, der Praterturm; loved it! There are some new more “adult” roller coasters. You can enjoy a day there with views over green sunny city and some cold beers at the famous Schweizerhaus in between rides. By the way, at the moment and until mid October it is hosting a “branch” of Oktoberfest, Wiener Wiesn – another must-visit!
Kirtag. Just when you were wondering where you can wear a new dirndl to 😉 I am not a huge fan of Oktoberfest, for me it’s something I’ve done twice in life and I am good for the next 20 years. But Kirtag is just as crazy and fun but a bit less hassle. Wine is more elegant than beer for a drinking culture; I love that it’s still super hot and dirndls don’t need coats on top; pretty girls in bright dresses, young wine and flowers everywhere match the summertime perfectly!
There are a lot of open air events in Vienna in summer. Offer varies from one year to another, but the usual outside get-togethers during the week include Technocafe parties every Tuesday, Alber&Tina on Wednesdays, Le Jardin afterwork @Stadtpark on Thursdays. A lot of hotels host such events, too, so check the up-to-date calendars. Everyday attractions include Kleinod Sonnendeck and Pratersauna Strand Klub. Kleinod Rooftop gets party people of Vienna together on its summer location with refreshing cocktails, loud music until late and a fun crowd. Pratersauna pool is my favorite in Vienna. I tried Stadionbad, Schönbrunnerbad and a few more in the city and was never as happy with pricing, cleanness, vibe and crowd as at the Strand Klub, where DJs play from early afternoon on while you are enjoying your fresh coconut drink and tacos ready for a hot day to slowly turn into a chilled party evening.
Away from parties and summertime drinking hubs, my favorite places to just BE outside and eat fine, chill, socialize and enjoy the weather and landscape are: Salonplafond (best brunches and an awesome summer garden); Naschmarkt (old but not forgotten, it glows in summer); 1010 (come on, they even serve okroshka!); Tel Aviv Beach (commercial af but nevertheless good, especially with some hamshuka and beers for a warm evening by Donau) and Erich (cocktauls for 5 Euros during their absolutely delicious breakfast menu that is served until 16.00 – the best deal for a boozy morning!).
For those who wanna get away from the city center, tourists and overexcitement: I also came up with a top 5 here. Marcos (1030): the BEST kebab you can find in Vienna! Seating outside is really pleasant, and you can be sure no crowds shall bass by. El Gaucho (1030) is more popular, but nevertheless quiet and charming. The area of Rochusmarkt was in general my discovery of the summer. El Gaucho is the best in the morning, if you are seeking for some peace. Their brunches are delicious, too, and not many know about them! Augarten (1020) is probably the quietest park easily accessible from the city center. I love numerous parks of 1190, but even they always seem more crowded to me. Augarten is indeed an oasis with almost no people, a lot of hidden spots, lawn of a better quality than anywhere else due to few people walking and sitting on it; the cafes are also great, but I prefer to come there with my own picnic. Francesco (1190) is my paradise because it’s the best pizza you can eat in Vienna. But the location is also perfect: easy to get to with a tram or uber, mostly Viennese people and loyal customers who come there since 15 years guarantee great atmosphere in their cute romantic garden. I just discovered Donaumarina recently because I am not the biggest fan of rivers due to my allergy to mosquitos. However, taking a spray and going there is worth it! You can do all kinds of sports there, from tennis that we go for to wakeboarding; rent a boat or sit on the bank with an aperol and watch surfers catching waves from speedboats.
If you wanna get as far away from the city center as possible and, in fact, from the city itself, too, then I’d suggest taking a ride to lakes. The closest one is Neusiedler See which I already talked about in my Viennese notes 2 years ago; Mondsee, Irrsee and Traunsee are a bit further away from Vienna but easily accessible with a car; there you can swim like in the real see! Halstätter See is a major tourist attraction, but mostly for its views. I wrote about our trips there at the beginning of summer.
When the summer is over, but the mood is still there, people are returning to the city from their vacations all tanned and exciter – that means it’s art time in Vienna. Vienna Fashion Week (where I personally have never been myself because I heard it’s not good), Parallel and Vienna Contemporary attract all kinds of people devoted to arts from all over the world. The last two are happening NOW, so don’t miss your chance to get closer to mordern art and be a part of a great party at the same time! Until the end of this week only!
Hello from sunny and funny Malta!
The island is known as a popular destination for teenagers due to its various supply of English courses and even broader choice of nightclubs. Despite being in our mid-20s, we decided together with the girls to give it an ultimate try and hit it up for Diana’s Birthday celebration. Wooohooo! I admit, it feels completely different now to travel to such a teenager place, even though just a few years back I myself went to exactly the same packed clubs and drank exactly the same sugar bombs aka free welcome drinks in Llloret de Mar, Mallorca, Barcelona, Aya Napa and at many more destinations that I don’t even want to leave links for here, since some posts are quite embarrassing. I am not claiming such places don’t amuse me. But let’s face the reality, we have become old venerable ladies. Now we seek for something comfortable, fancy-ish and not as loud and sweaty.
Since I skipped this when was 16, here is The Old Ladies’ Guide Around Malta.
We stayed in St. Julian district. I don’t have much to compare to, but I liked it there: quiet (just perfect for old ladies) streets with neat houses; at the same time, a lot of cafes, pools and bars nearby. Hugo’s Infinity pool and Intercontinental are worth visiting. Nice people and staff, not overcrowded, stunning views and the feeling of being exclusive, especially looking down at other pools which look like aquariums. Entrance fee of 20 euros is fair for an entire day spent at such terraces, if you ask me. It also secures you from very young and very drunk schoolkids, no offence, I am just jealous! At nighttime those places turn into dance floors, where the old ladies danced like they were 16 again.
The best way to move around is using the ecabs service. It’s similar to Uber but frankly not as effective, once we had to await our car for more than an hour. Renting a car was no option because nobody was prepared to drive on the left side of the road with that maltese traffic. Anyways, moving around the island is quite easy and not very pricy.
Valletta is a capital and the most beautiful place in island, I heard. To be clear, we went to Malta mostly to celebrate a birthday, i.e. chill and drink non-stop, so sightseeing wasn’t our priority. I would love to have few more days for it, though, since Malta appeared very charming, diverse and definitely worth exploring!
Ta’xbeix Port was the area that looked the most beautiful among everything we had seen to me. We moored there on a yacht, which gave us a chance to enjoy the views of Valletta and the Bay from far away. I don’t have much pictures because at that point I was already half breathing due to my seasickness, but the seashore took the rest of my breath away.
Talking about the yacht – a must do! If you go as a big crew (we were 6 people) and can split the price – don’t hesitate and hire a private one! It’s an unforgettable experience, to sail from the early morning on, see as much of the island as you can never cover by car/bus, not even talking about the views and experience of swimming in the clearest high seas waters . Our awesome captain, who learnt the word “buchnyom!” suspiciously fast, took us on a long beautiful journey to Gozo, on another island; Comino, where we snorkeled in the famous Blue Lagoon and in the waters around; St. Paul’s Bay coastal waters and further to the open sea. Snorkeling equipment is a good thing to have on you, as well as waterproof iphone cases! Booking a yacht is easy online, there are multiple agencies with harmonized price ranges. Enjoy!
Where most of tourists spend their time are the so-called beach clubs. A beach club doesn’t have to be on the beach, sometimes there is only a pool, so better research a bit and chose what you desire. We went to Café Del Mar and 1926 Beach Club. Café del Mar is a bit posher (25 euros to get a sunbed), with pretty girls in pretty swimsuits, fancy drinks, sometimes way too cool music, but there are no little kids and the atmosphere was nice and fun. A large pool with view above the sea is a perfect spot for taking pics, but there is no sea access. 1926 Beach Club is smaller and simpler (10 euros for an entrance, 15 during weekends), there you most likely get a beer and go down to the rocks to chill if a small swimming pool gets too full. The stairs down to the sea are a big advantage! I liked it even more than the first club despite children in the pool and limited area. Watch out, their chef is quite lazy and 2 hours before the closing he already refused to make anything but pizzas and burgers for us, which was a little disappointment since the menu looked very promising.
My most important topic, the food. Well, it’s no Italy there. Typical “resort style” food, not bad nor good, with few negative feedbacks but mostly good enough to keep enjoying the holiday. Seafoods, good sandwiches, pizzas and stuff are edible in St. Julian and most of those fancy hotels and beach clubs, but I won’t expect anything outstanding. Lore and Fitch was the only restaurant I would like to point out – perfect steaks, high quality service, nice view, etc. Some other restaurants looked fine too, but then the eggs came overcooked, half of the menu was not available… I would recommend to give it a try and travel the island more for the food, go to fishermen village, eat away from the tourist areas. If only we had more time and less party to do there – I’d definitely do that!
Most of the bars are those Mallorca/Lloret de Mar/Antalya bars I mentioned at the beginning of this post. When I was 16, I loved it! I am sure it’s still a lot of fun if you are tipsy! I would easily make my old bones dance to that 2000s music and drink those cheap sugar bombs they serve, but since we went partying during the weekend, the clubs and bars were TOO crowded. By too crowded I mean you couldn’t even see the ceiling, and that was too much at some point. We did manage to find a different bar, though! The Thirsty Barber is a treasure if you search for higher quality leisure. Amazing drinks, big dancefloor there all the guests jumped when a band started performing life. It was proper fun of a kind that you find in a cool pub in London, if that helps to imagine the vibe. The staff was very attentive and brought us shots for Diana’s birthday at midnight, and the overall experience was a 5+.
I liked Malta. Easygoing fun, a lot of beautiful doors, tanned happy teenagers and boats. So if you don’t yet have a large family and wanna feel young and wild – Malta is a place to see. And hopefully see my girls on another trip soon!
Another chapter about Italy – the country I can talk about for days. My love for Italy is unconditional, so nothing can shake it foundation. But Terracina gave it a try!
I haven’t traveled much around the Italian South (which has nothing to do with the North). The southernmost I visited was Napoli. I had mixed feelings back then, but blamed it on the fact that we went in winter when a lot of places close for holidays, and services are in general different depending in a season in Italy. Some sightseeing, like the port and catacombs, however, were nice, so my overall impression was ok despite the smell, trash, no manners and culture whatsoever and shootings from windows.
I always imagined the south like something bright, loud, crazy, festive and pazzesco in a good sense. But Terracina honestly killed all that romantic vision for me. The touristic segment is a level of cheap Turkey, just not as cheap. The target audience of all restaurants and hotels are the Russians, so the personnel speaks Russian, the menus are translated – already a warning to be ready for the worst. But usually it’s scary simply because such adapted resorts attract the most unattractive tourist groups. This time that wasn’t exactly true and the visitors never bothered me, but the services did big deal. The 4-star hotel where we stayed demonstrated a 2-star level almost in everything, starting with very low quality products served for breakfast and at the bar, moving to a fee for clean towels. The cherry on a pie for me was that my personal belongings were taken by the cleaning personnel. Whatever, you can be unlucky with a hotel anywhere. But it’s like that everywhere in Terracina! I never even imagined that you can eat unsavory food in Italy. A parallel universe, if you ask me.
All restaurants do something wrong. ALL. Doesn’t matter if it’s a simple or a luxury one. I have never seen anything like this in Italy, it seemed like the town is cursed and no chefs are allowed to be born there. The most expensive were actually the worst: La Lanterna charges you crazy prices and all 7 dishes we ordered were inedible: tuna so overcooked that I wanted to cry seeing it; sour tomato pieces in a tartar (?!) most likely to make it look larger in volume… total disappointment; same goes for Borgo Pio that looked so attractive but turned out to be very average.
However, we managed to find few places that stand out in this gourmet horror! So, if you find yourself in Terracina, you might want to really be sure where you are going for dinner:
- Il Caminetto: we tried it at the very beginning and came back a week later, having made sure there is nowhere else in town to eat good. Very fresh seafood, all cooked in an innovative and delicious way; one of the best linguine all’astrice (lobster pasta) I have ever tried; antipasto crudo (raw seafood) is a bit overrated and too small for its price, but still good quality; the service is a little annoying with 7 waiters constantly standing behind your back watching. The location in its own yard is also nice. Definitely a life-saver for dinner!
- I Peccati di Giove: we went there for my mom’s Birthday and, as we realized later when the evenings could have been ruined by low food quality, it was a right choice. The place is pricy, but it’s fair for what they offer. Again, excellent raw seafood (which must be the case everywhere on the seashore, no?), good attentive service, possibilities of dish variations and special orders; good pasta all’astrice (it’s my benchmark with the number of those I have consumed) and romantic atmosphere. The only thing they missed was not having a spray agains mosquitos and having a lot of mosquitos which we all are allergic to, so we quickly had to run to the pharmacy and solve the problem ourselves. Such things should be thought of in good restaurants. But the evening was great!
- La focaccia: it’s nothing special if you compare it to proper Italian trattorias. But for Terracina it’s ok, especially if you want simple cheap food fast. I’d recommend it for lunch. Pizzas were good; spaghetti alle vongole – too plain with the lack of garlic; but that might be a local cuisine speciality, since we never got enough garlic anywhere.
- White Beach is a nice place for the beach line, where everything is usually low quality and overpriced. Go for red prawns tartar and frutti di mare fritti! And the fact that you can go there in a bathing suit is, of course, very comforting.
The town has an interesting phenomenon called cooperativa. There are few of those cooperatives of fishermen, where the freshest seafood is brought straight from fishing and cooked right there in large amounts. It looks like a canteen, there is self-service, trays and plastic plates. But it’s delicious! Cheaper than in restaurants, too, but due to a very various offer, you tend to take everything to try it out and paying the same. The atmosphere is far from a restaurant; it’s loud and smelly, I’d recommend to go early to avoid long lines. But even if you don’t feel like eating in such places every day, trying it once is a must simply out of cultural curiosity.
Whilst the touristic part of Terracina didn’t look very appealing to me, the old town is a treasure. Temples of the 1st-2nd century BC, the houses from thousand years old still standing inhabited and composing a unique picture of the city, impregnated with history, foreign influences brought by Appian Way from other regions of Italy at the dawn of our era. Don’t be lazy, do an early morning hiking to Tempio di Giove – incredible view over the Lazio landscape!
I also found cafes of the old town more attractive than the modern ones by the seaside. In the past, people lived up the hill and never too close to the sea line, so some unique authentic places are still to be found:
- Enoteca Saint Patrick has a wine cellar that is more than 400 years old. The owner proudly shows it to the visitors himself. And their choice of wines, together with a cheese platter, can replace any fancy dinner!
- Made in Italy is located in a very authentic ancient yard, where you can examine the oldest walls made out of temple stones covered with frescoes (my dad is sure they were stolen from Pantheon back then to construct this town) while having decent pasta with seafood.
- Green is only open in the evenings (like most of Italian restaurants that don’t open doors before 8 p.m.) and attracted me because of the outside seating area hidden below the tree crowns. Shade is a luxury in Terracina’s hot climate!
As you can see, I am very honest about my experiences in this blog. However, I try not to be overly negative even if something went wrong, because traveling is a blessing, and even mixed experiences are valuable. In case of unique in its craziness and lack of organization Italy, the good still always outweighs the bad for me. But I learnt that. I remember how outrageous it seemed to me that all train and taxi services went on a strike when I needed to get to Florence 4 years ago. I was SO mad. Now no trains ever came on time either, the transfer we ordered a night in advance also didn’t show up and didn’t pick up the phone. But having lived in Italy for quite some time, I am so ready for those events that they don’t freak me out anymore, I can laugh at that and join the locals who shrug shoulders when see a schedule board full of cancellato and go grab a coffee. Hardly could I ever imagined that Italians can serve bad food. Now I know it’s possible anywhere – which is also a traveler’s baggage of knowledge.
And Terracina has the best sea I’ve seen in Italy!
The second part of my post will be devoted to Rome. It’s a must go when you are in Terracina. There is no train station, so you first have to get to Monte San Biagio, and from there you take a train to Termini.
I went to Rome for the first time with Liza 4 years ago. And we had such an intense program there that covered pretty much everything from the banal tourist routes in 3 days. So, since then I only look for something special in the city, and Rome has a lot! The first day of this trip I was in Rome alone waiting for my travel companions to arrive, so I devoted the time to explore the neighborhood of Monti. It’s a charming district close to the Coliseum, full of hipster bars, tiny designer shops, open terraces and vintage markets. When the sightseeing of Rome is done, it’s definitely worth visiting! The coolest vintage shop is said to be Pifebo; I also loved Kingsize. Here are some more. Mercato di Monti itself is open on the weekends and it’s probably the coolest flea market ever! That’s where I wish I traveled with a car! There are a lot of designer shops in the area, too. I fell in love with Lol Roma.
Check out Via dei Giubbonari and Via dei Coronati for more local shopping! There is a place Cantina e Cucina nearby, where you can stop at almost any time for proper Italian food. In Monti, I liked Urbana 47 and La bacca m’briaca, but there are a lot of cozy places, so explore! No matter how much I appreciate Italian traditions, it’s nice than in Rome one doesn’t have to stick to the usual weird opening hours in order to get good food.
In a few days, we came back to Rome together with travel gang. We devoted half of the day to Vaticano. I am not posting pics since I already created entire galleries for Rome and for Vatican years ago. But now I looked at everything from a completely different angle and was convinced that you don’t go to Vatican just once – this is a place to come back every 5-10 years as you mature. I’ll definitely be back to Rome and Vatican soon, since their potential to amaze is infinite.