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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.

 


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UPD: Viennese summer

unnamedAnd 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!


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Malta

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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! Processed with VSCO with m5 presetI 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!


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UPD: summer rocket launch

Summer! How many good emotions are in that word! Especially for people like me who fiercely hate the cold and are strongly affected by dull days. MondseeMy summer has been going well, can’t believe the first month is already over! Even though the holidays started earlier this year for me since I passed my last exam at the beginning on may. Yes! Shit got real!!! I graduated and am now a Bachelor of Sciences in International Business Administration with my alma mater at the University of Vienna. Moreover, I have already been accepted to Masters which I hope to be able to combine with work, but let’s see where life will turn next! Anyways, it’s over! I drove to Vienna from Lignano together with my parents to make it official together with one more thing – introducing Daniel to my family. What a day.

The period of uncertainty I am having now is quite confusing, but at least I am happy I had taken the decision to stay in Vienna for few more years and don’t have to bother with moving to another city/country, which I had done 4 times in my life already, and which was always one hell of a fuss. Some of my classmates graduated together with me and some are leaving Vienna forever, so June has been a bittersweet month of partying at last, helping around with packing 5 years of life in 2 suitcases… and goodbyes. I think I learnt to say goodbye. There have been a lot of very painful ones for me. But thanks to them, I am capable of appreciating everyone my life introduced me to and letting it go on. A new chapter is about to begin for many of us, isn’t that wonderful and exciting?

Alongside with personal reasons to be emotional now, Vienna always gives out a lot of emotions to its inhabitants and guests in June – namely Life Ball and Pioneers festival. Together with all the terrace openings and streets becoming crazily busy and festive, those 2 events won’t let one be bored in this heat! I again worked with the Pioneers crew this year as a part of social media team, doing backstage support and assisting photographers and interviewers, and it was awesome! Always happy to see familiar faces among festival volunteers, too! So many this year! So if you can make it to Vienna in June and become a volunteer (you don’t have to be from Vienna, we will host you for the time of the festival!) – come join next year and have a blast! Very thankful for Pioneers for making this all happen!

Life Ball is another event that attracts people from all over the globe. The entire city waits for it every year losing breath. The most spectacular event in Austria and one of the brightest nights in the world! This year I was a cinderella who had not got a Life Ball ticket because was awaiting friends to come that day and thought I couldn’t go. But 2 hours before the Ball started, as I was sitting at Dani’s terrace, out of a sudden he says I should run to the Ball and he got me a VIP ticket! What a fairy! So you see, the impossible things become possible sometimes 😉

Yup, Dani has a terrace now! A super cozy beautiful summer oasis in the heart of Vienna, check it out at Graben 26!

Besides balls and festivals and summer starting, June is completely full of Birthdays. Also, before going to Lignano I had Ksusha over in Vienna, so another reason to celebrate!

I love this month, you can tell! We made another roadtrip and took the girls to Hallstatt. I have been there in winter and now finally visited it in summer. It’s breathtaking! The only downside is a lot of tourists, so if you go there for a view, I’d recommend to also drive to other lakes around it. We loved Traunsee: crystal clear water and no tourists at all! Last week we also made another roadtrip and went for a picnic to Mondsee. I never realized lakes can be so awesome! I swim either in seas or in pools because I can’t take cold water, so even oceans are not really my thing if it’s not the Carribean (even though I once went swimming in Portugal in April). But Mondsee was so warm! We drove up to a random Badeplatz («beach»), unwrapped our cheeses, hams and baguettes there, popped tiny retro bottles of Aperol and enjoyed ourselves so much! If you are in Austria and have no time to drive to the sea – Mondsee (and I suppose other lakes in the area) can really make your day! 2.5 hr drive from Vienna and it doesn’t compare to any crowded public swimming place.

This week Vienna is hosting another amazing event – a Liquid Market, which is gonna be grandiose this year with a bar-scene superstar aka my boyfriend making a big surprise, so make sure to follow your favorite Viennese bars 😉 Specifically for that event, I am staying in Vienna until the end of this week, to again take off to my beloved Italy right after.

Stay tanned and tuned!


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UPD: fine 2018 kick-off

 

 

I decided to try to go back the hashtag #UPD from time to time. This blog has become solely a travel diary during past year, and I like it that way. But remembering that it started as a more personal thing where I was sharing emotions and events of my life alongside with pieces of traveler’s advice makes me wanna write down sometimes what’s happening around, too.

Writing this, I am on my flight from Moscow back to Vienna. I am now employed (*triple wohoooo from my mom here*) and had an unexpected short trip to Russia this weekend. Besides doing some serious adult stuff, I got to fly home and spend some time with my family again, as well as with my closest friend in hometown. Surprise trips are always great, but I couldn’t remember the last time I was in Russian in March, so the picture of spring in my head has shifted a bit: the forecast showed me sun, stable relatively warm for the region temperatures and no precipitation, so I came as my most classy elegant self, in a white suit. Well, don’t. Not in March. Hardly could I imagine this much of unidentified dark liquids flowing down the streets. One would hardly recognize that the car I was driving was once white as well. Thinking positively, I wanted no more snow this year – I didn’t see much snow since it was covered with mud. But I finally felt the spring!

Besides giving myself champagne showers for starting a job, I have been giving them to the others a lot recently. March is a big month of never-ending Birthdays. My closest ones in Vienna, Daniel and Jamila, have theirs one after another, accompanied by few more celebrations, so I had a good deal of rushing around town with presents, surprises and flowers, testing my baking skills and hiding in hallways watching youtube tutorials of how to pop a bottle once I break in at midnight, and other good stuff. I love Birthdays. I probably enjoy others’ even more than my own, which is coming up in two weeks. I find it super cool to be born in spring: everyone is happy and emotional after long winter; good vibes are in the air and people really enjoy the celebrations.

On top of pleasant weather changes and multiple reasons to celebrate (as all good stuff seems to happen in spring: everyone gets jobs, boyfriends, divorces and first tan), spring is a ball season in Vienna. I am not Austrian enough yet to annually attend classical events like the Opera Ball, which I actually would love to start doing in the next years. But I enjoy going to the great parties like Life Ball or Techno Ball – it was indeed grandiose!

As it turned out to be a very positive blog entry, so let me accompany it with few new and fresh must-visit spots in Vienna!
  • I already shared earlier that Daniel’s unique talent of a bar-chef brought Clandestino to this world. Now the bar has become popular and even more cozy and absolutely awesome with all the Star Wars gifts he receives, my fruit bowl and finest snacks menu by Mercado Nikkei, so let me invite you once again for a fantastic drink on Wed-Sat from 7 p.m. on. If you are in Vienna during this spring break – check out the upcoming event!
  • My favorite bar in Vienna since long before, Roberto’s, proudly introduced its new creation – another bar in the very heart of Vienna. Starting from 10 a.m. now at Jasomirgottstraße, 7.
  • There are some more new-openings that I found really great, including Birdyard and Bar3. Both are also offering delicious dinner opportunity.
  • And, of course, Kleinod. Not new, but always there for us!
May everyone’s spring be as smooth and nice as mine, and let the warm weather finally come to us!


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2o¡8

IMG_1428Happy 2018! Now all the celebrations are almost over (there is an “Old New Year” on the 13th of January for the Russians, too) and I am currently on vacation in Lech, Austrian Alps. So, I have some time to put a tick for the first post of this year. Some might have noticed that I was trying to catch up with my missing posts while traveling in the train and wrote about my trips to Azerbaijan and Georgia.

A new year on the calendar doesn’t mean any gradual changes for me. I make no resolutions and expect no miracles, bottomless inspiration and motivation or extreme weight loss, definitely mot after the holidays I am having this year! This is just a nice-memories-post of how I spent the holidays this year. I decided to stay in Vienna for the first time and didn’t really have any idea what to expect. Traditionally, we started giving presents and sharing food at our pre-Christmas dinner with the girls. which we host few days before Christmas. Last year it was at my place, this time Isabella invited us and our Olivier-bowls over.

For Christmas, me and Dani went to his family. We all stayed in an amazing house in the woods of the Austrian-Slovenian Alps, isolated from any means of civilization. We could see the whole milky way from our balcony! It was just awesome. For me it was always the first time I was staying with somebody’s closest family since my Christmas in the USA. I felt as a kid when we all searched for our presents under the tree and passed plates full of home-made food across a huge dinner table during 3 days. Many thanks to the Schobers! ❤

For New Year’s Eve, we came back to Vienna. I didn’t make any huge plans since I knew that it is not as much of a big deal here as it is in Russia. We started with proper daytime barhopping across our favorite bars, meeting acquaintances, collecting champagne glasses and delicious snacks followed by hugs and empty bills. Motto am Fluss held a nice brunch (which I had smartly reserved in October) and, well, Roberto’s and Kleinod are my daily New Year’s Eve, and judging by the crowd outside, I am not alone there. I was sure that bars would be the most fun. They were indeed awesome, but I was surprised later at night, too. I was spending several New Years in recent years in hotels so I was used to people going out on the streets after midnight – it’s quite natural to do when you are not at your own home with your family and friends. But I was sure such a scene could be seen only on resorts and never expected such celebration scale outside in Vienna! Hundreds of people, concerts and drinks on every corner, so loud and so fun! I am super thankful that my closest Austrian friend Anna dragged us outside together with her family to join the city celebrations before going to our final destination – Dani’s newborn baby, Clandestino bar @Mercado. I knew I wanted to kiss him for the midnight, but staying there partying until sunrise was a pleasant bonus. The staff knows how to do it right, so a proper party was guaranteed in advance. Needless to say that I left Horst club wearing my long evening gown and completely unbothered jumped into a morning tram to go home.

First three days of this year I got up from the couch maximum 10 times I think. Cuddling with boyfriend, eating non-stop and drinking beer – what else to start a perfect year? Those three lazy days were just as good emotionally as all the celebrations!

I had to leave my comfy couch once to pack suitcases and head off to Lech. So seldom I got to spend Christmas with the family, and this year I had two! I was with my family for the Orthodox Christmas, which never happens because of my studies usually starting earlier. This year we got all together with my parents, beloved cousin and her husband to have wonderful joyful time in the mountains. I love our tradition which is turning 15 years this season for me and the parents, but I am also happy that we could go not as early as we always do and I got to spend Christian Christmas with Dani’s family and New Year celebrations (there were a few) with my friends who all also stayed in Vienna this year. It’s a magic!

 

 


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Georgia

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetThrowback to hot sunny Georgia!

We made a trip with my best friend in September, which was my heaven since I love the heat, but a hell for pale Polina. So, if you choose to go during the hot season, be ready for it to be very hot, at least in Tbilisi.

I will spread this post in three parts, starting with the capital.

1. Tbilisi Processed with VSCO with m3 presetWant to mention from the very beginning, it will be more about looking at the pics than about my poor narrative, since it’s been a while and I just have a mixture of very bright, tasty and windy memories on my mind.

The city is a large mirror of the places that were really nice during the Soviet Union times. It still looks very Soviet, with the way people are dressed, “plombir” ice cream cones, plastic tables outside, flea markets with very strange things. I can’t really call Tbilisi beautiful. It’s different, it has something hidden beyond all those huge concrete walls. But it’s still very dusty, and when the weather is windy those dust storms actually hurt the skin. White shoes which I of course had on are no option either. And just in general, there is that slight feeling of still being in the Soviet 80s everywhere. But everything is quite cheap, even compared to rubles, not even mentioning EUR/USD. The time we went to a super expensive restaurant on top of Biltmore Hotel and had a proper dinner with wine, it was a price of a regular simple meal I am used to – that was, of course, an awesome surprise. Especially considering how delicious the food is! I have been a big admirer of Georgian cuisine since years, but no fancy Georgian restaurant compares to grandma’s khinkali freshly made in the middle of Caucus mountains away from civilization.

Tbilisi opened up some awesome places for us, too. But I had to ask my Georgian friends for recommendations, there is not much you can find on the web. So, sharing the knowledge:

  • Biltmore Hotel rooftop restaurant: for the view. The food is typical European which you can eat anywhere, pasta is far not as good as the original. Some local meats were good, though, as well as the wine list. But the view!!! It’s very empty, I guess it’s just too expensive compared to everything else in the region. The first date there could be a bit awkward in that silence with irrationally high number of staff watching you. But the view!
  • Prospero’s Books: a very cute hidden garden in the city center. Not much of food choice and self service, but it’s very cozy and quiet.
  • Erekle II street in the Old town has a lot of cafes with local food as well as international, nice breakfast choices, cocktails, life music, wine tasting.
  • Linville, not far away from the pedestrian area mentioned above and also close to few cool boutiques with Georgian designer items, is also very hidden but offers super delicious food! The best khachapuri I had there! And you feel like you are sitting in your grandma’s living room, so authentic is the design.
  • Davit Aghmashenebeli street is very nice in the evening. Lights, music, dressed up people. It’s quite touristy and a bit overpriced, there were also tricky situations when we were told a restaurant doesn’t have a menu or that there are some homemade specialities offered tonight, but you can’t know all prices in advance. Nothing ever ended with a disaster and a check impossible to pay, but still be careful and don’t let charming hospitality of the Georgian people trick you, they are doing business, at the end of the day.
  • Funicular in the old town brings one to the top with a picturesque view, and a cafe there had awesome bakery! Try the donuts and black coffee 😉
  • Carpe diem and Lolita were also very nice cafes. We didn’t hit Moulin and Amodi, they were a bit tricky to find and we gave up, but I heard they are worth searching for! And we got more rooftops and hotel lounges recommendations: Radisson, Ghumeli inside Iota hotel, Rooms hotel, 142 steps cafe for another view. They love the views there! I have noticed that when the city is not necessarily beautiful, it always has a lot of rooftops accessible. Makes sense to me! Especially when it is surrounded by beautiful landscapes. 

2. Fabrika Processed with VSCO with m3 presetThis place is so awesome, that it deserves its own chapter. When Polina told me that we are going to Tbilisi, my reaction immediately was that we MUST book our stay in Fabrika. I had heard about the place before from pretty much everyone who had been to Tbilisi. “Fabrika” stands for “factory” in Russian, because this is indeed an old factory that was rebuilt in hotel, creative area with shops, popups, cafes and bars. At night it turns into a party place which hosts many DJs and events like Boiler Room. Just everything about it is cool: expats and the coolest local people, the music, we were brought to an after party from there by some guys we started a conversation with when I was staring at their sandwich and they gave me a bite. And the sandwiches! Try the wine steak one! I can’t describe the atmosphere very well there since I am just bad at writing, bit it’s somewhat a mixture of meeting your friends at your secret place to sit on the corner couch and talk about things nobody besides you understands and coming to a fancy bar dressed up to take a whole bottle of wine there, for it to be followed by another bottle. The working spaces there seemed very cool, too. I wish we had something like that there, I’d host all ACUNS meetings, birthdays, first dates and drinking nights there!

 

In general, I liked the city; any city which has awesome food can’t be a disappointment to me. But I’d definitely advise to travel around the country and go to the mountains!

3. KazbegiIMG_7099When deciding how to get to the mountains, we went old-school and booked a bus-trip. You can drive there, too, but to get to the last destinations there is a jeep needed anyways, a proper hardcore jeep and such driving skills that made me fasten my seatbelt, but when the driver said I didn’t need to, I explained that otherwise I am gonna fall out of the window. A bus trip from Tbilisi shall be something around 50-60 lari with jeeps included, be careful when booking. They stop at many beautiful destinations that a regular driver might not know and pass by, so it’s actually one of few times when I don’t mind taking a guided tour. But with headphones on, not to listen to the guide and to properly read it all up myself, of course. I was also a bit surprised by how bad people speak Russian there. After Azerbaijan I was sure more people would address me in Russian, but the young generation speaks English only, with very few exceptions.

The mountains are just gorgeous. I have been to the Alps so many times that it’s hard to impress me, but seeing such nature in summer is also very impressive. Especially the mountain rivers and lakes took my breath away.

 

As Polina said, our life is currently a “wine tasting with 10 years experience”. Georgia WAs definitely a perfect destination for us!