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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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Korea, part I: Impressions

Снимок экрана 2018-10-25 в 11.41.28Korea. 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 at 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.


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Porto

Снимок экрана 2018-04-10 в 11.26.47Happy spring, everyone! It’s been long since the last time most of us enjoyed the proper sunshine. And quite long since I enjoyed ocean views. Usually I take some time in winter to decide where I want to spend upcoming spring break, but this time it came naturally to me. Despite my long-term practice of never going to the same place two times in a row, which I don’t follow only if we talk about Italy, I was sure I wanted to go to Portugal again. First visited for Easter last year – and I fell in love from the first sight! Few people told me that if I loved Lisbon THAT much, Porto should be my next destination. Booked!

We were not as lucky with the weather as last time, but it was quite expected after the coldest winter in many years in Europe, so we were ready for few times raining. Surprisingly, considering how much I despise bad weather and anything below 25 degrees, it didn’t ruin my impressions of the town at all. But Porto in general seemed more rainy, because Lisbon was showing better weather every day. It’s a proper on-the-oceanside place with what I call «surf weather» – I remember those short crazy intense showers when it’s sunny 30 seconds after in Hawaii very well!
Porto is gorgeous. It combines everything I loved so much about Portugal with more of a “still tourist virgin” attitude. I had a good talk about this wit Cantina32 staff – a place I will tell about in just a minute 😉 Gastronomy is always the most important for me, but I never start posts with it not to get too carried away.
Hills. those portuguese hills! Even more incline than in Lisbon. Beautiful and slippery after rains tiles, so take comfy shoes with you. The tiles are also a separate chapter for me. I fell for them already couple years ago in Morocco, but this became a lifelong feeling last year in Lisbon. Somehow those grandiose marble tiles I see around in everyday life simply don’t catch my eye as much as smaller square ones with various patterns so different, that I run out of imagination. Thanks to trips to Portugal, now I am sure I want to have some beautiful tile-work when I will be decorating my own house once. It just seems so important for any beautiful design now. But how beautiful are they on the streets, house facades and even in cathedrals! One thing is when a designer plans a pattern and you proudly integrate it into some plain wall or on your bathroom floor; completely another – when the whole city is a never ending pattern! I think tiles are my new obsession alongside with gastronomy and pandas now. I am so happy that Instagram’s «Saved» is private sometimes, I’d look like a total freak.
We had a week in Portugal, 2 days out of which were devoted to Lisbon since Liza had not seen it yet. Best idea ever, I discovered the city once again and will add some bullet points to my last year’s recommendations some time soon! In general, I think one week for Portugal is enough if you plan to visit 2-3 main cities (Braga is worth seeing, too, I heard) and catch some gorgeous views over the ocean from the cliffs. Last year we rented a car and drove through few oceanside villages and got to Cabo da Roca. This time we took a train between Porto and Lisbon, which is also a fast and cheap option. One-way was 19 euros for us (caught my last days of under 25 discount, hehe), very fair compared to DB or OeBB trains I am used to paying hundreds for! So, I find five days enough to explore Porto well. If you are going to surf or spend time on beaches, you need more. I personally enjoy such places during out of season times, when they are not overcrowded with tourists. And the ocean water, with exception of the Caribbean, of course, has always been too cold for me to swim, so I am aimed more for sightseeing and FOOD experiences.IMG_6452
What I’d recommend:
  • Ribeira district. At any time, even during rain, it’s charming. Little restaurants, but not too many, so that you can still enjoy views with no tables in some directions. Order some porto to warm up if it’s windy, but when the sun is shining one can get some tan on sun-beds there already at the beginning of April. We ended up going to Café do Cais 3 or 4 times. even though I usually look for new places, that one is simply the coziest there. But some restaurants up along the pavement share a wonderful view as well, if you are lucky to grab a table that faces the river. Regarding sightseeing, there are Porto Cathedral with Terreiro de Sé and Palácio da Bolsa in that area, but I honestly didn’t find them to be anything super special; there are prettier places with more TILES in Porto.
  • Once you are in that area, check out Prova: wine bar, great selection; Belos Aires – the best food I ever ate in Portugal! just try everything there, the starters blew my mind but then my ossobuco came and I died; Cantina 32 is i think the best looking cafe I have seen: smooth light, deep grey color, simple and very stylish design, nicest staff and flawless food, their banana cheesecake seems to be the most famous dessert in Porto based on my instagram research.

     

  • Eat francesinha. It is a typical traditional food of porto that is a sandwich with ham, crunchy sausage, steak or few other meat types inside, covered by melted cheese, often topped with an egg and baked with a very special beer and tomato sauce in which they throw extra french fries. It’s crazy how tasty this simple thing can get! They call it a hangover sandwich, and I really wouldn’t mind having one every tough morning of life. It’s served pretty much everywhere, my first I ate just in some street cafe next to Hard Rock Cafe, then at that place by the river. The most famous ones are served in Cafe Santiago, Cervejaria Brasão, Bufete Fase and Offline (another place for taking pics). But honestly they seemed to be delicious everywhere. IMG_6703
  • Go to Foz do Douro. Its a wealthy quiet neat district where the river flows into the ocean. One of the best ocean views you can get not having to leave the city. The famous lighthouse that is often on postcards from Porto is found there. I was sure that such a place will be full of tourists and have a crowded promenade with shops and cafes – not at all. We actually struggled with finding a place to eat there. It’s an untouched natural beach with an old castle and spectacular views on high waves breaking against rocks. If you want more civilization and a regular beach – go up to Matosinhos district. I randomly went there with a subway once not knowing how to get out of there. but the magical bus 200 that brings you literally anywhere you need to be in Porto from the very center to the furtherest ocean coast was found there, too.Transportation is in general very convenient and straightforward, and the people are extremely helpful.
  • Take a walk from Dom Luís I Bridge in the direction to the ocean during dusk. It’s very beautiful to look behind at the city hills as the lights start to go on. The walk also opens up daily routine of the inhabitants as you get away from the center: the houses are right in front of the sidewalk and are a bit lower so you can even look in the windows (sorry, people of Porto, I didn’t mean to be creepy!). I spotted a cool gin bar on the way, too – inside Gull restaurant.
  • Talking about that famous bridge, crossing it on the highest level is a must-do as well! If you are not scared of heights! Because that really IS high. The view is fantastic! Those who don’t feel comfortable walking higher than birds fly, you can also cross it on a lower level. The other bank is no less cool than Ribeira! There are a lot of restaurants, bars and pop-up terraces, we couldn’t chose where to sit, so inviting they all looked! On that side you can also find The Yeatman hotel which has a Michelin stars gourmet restaurant with a view-deck.
  • Livraria Lello – an old bookshop that will take you to Hogwarts library. Just check out the pics from there to understand why one must visit it! There is always a line to enter and a line to buy tickets, but don’t let this scare you away, they move very fast, altogether it took us no more than 10 minutes to get in. And it’s worth it! The cool thing is that a ticket is actually a voucher that you can use when purchasing a book, so you don’t really pay for the entrance, because you for sure will want to buy something inside! The selection of books in various languages (besides Portuguese, mostly English and Spanish) is very impressive, and the prices are more than decent. There are quite a lot of tourists inside, that can get annoying, so try to choose some less popular times to really enjoy it.
  • Bolhão market. People write a lot about it being a must-see, but honestly if you have ever been to any nice big market with fresh fruits and handmade crafts – it’s not gonna impress you much more. The food people were eating looked delicious, but besides that I am only mentioning it here because of the street next to it – Rua de Santa Catarina. There you find all the mass-market shopping as well as some local brands, and Portugal is very good for shopping! On top of great clothes brands presence, you can bring beautiful dishes and house design items, nice handmade jewelry, soaps and famous sardines from there. And of course pastel de nata! Last year we explored all pastel de natas one can possibly eat in Portugal, and I particularly like the one at Fábrica de Nata. You can find it on that street and bring few packs home. Some more unique shopping can be found at Bombarda commercial center and and places like workshop pop up. Just look inside the smallest stores!
  • Museums: I don’t attempt to visit all museums of the city when travel somewhere. I mean, Picasso in Barcelona and Van Gogh in Amsterdam are must-do’s, of course, but I am more of a walk-all-streets-possible kind of tourist. For whatever the reason, I had Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis pinned on my map, so we went there. The description of an interesting collection in a beautiful palace is ehmm.. quite overrated. It’s a very old-school soviet-like museum like those local lore ones where they force you to go in middle school. We were quite disappointed, only a beautiful garden inside made it a but more worthy.  Another day I needed to hide from rain and went inside Igreja da Misericórdia not having any idea what it is. Turned out to be very beautiful inside, with an informative collection on Porto’s history and development of medicine and human care services. Really enjoyed it! And the 2.50 euros entrance fee for students in any museum is very fair I think! Especially after Vienna, where you can easily pay 13 euros to see one small exhibition.

    To wrap it up, some more gastronomy advice is always good! A sandeira was a place with awesome huge and delicious sandwiches for 4 euros. Flor dos Congregados is a very cozy romantic place. DOP can be added to the list of fancy gourmet restaurants. Ostras&Coisas will make happy any seafood lover! Frankie serves the biggest and coolest hotdogs I’ve ever seen, and it’s also very cheap and cool there. Vício do Café serves delicious coffee and also cheaper snacks, but toasts I ate there were soooo full of cheese! We couldn’t visit all the places I marked because a lot were closed due to Easter holidays, the same story as last year. My list also included Pedro Lemos, Terraplana, Museu d’avo, Aduela and Touriga (last three a more of bars). The Royal Cocktail Club showed a different approach to cocktails: controversial but interesting; Era uma Vez em Paris is a 50s bar which is said to have cool music, but when we stopped by it was still empty; espresso martini was perfect, though!

    Porto definitely got its special place in my heart, so does whole Portugal already have. People there are very nice, everything functions, sorry, much better than in neighboring Spain and France, I am not even mentioning English proficiency. Those amazing views, tasty food, sunshine and TILES! Hope to be back soon!


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IST Layovers

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetIstanbul.

A town that hit me with so many emotions when I saw it for the first time. “Eastern charm with western mind”, “New Rome” and whatever else people call it, it deserves it all. One of the most unusual destinations, as I wrote in my early note. The city soul is so hard for me to understand, but the place itself is so easy to visit if you leave in Russia or in Europe that it is a shame not to do it. This summer I stopped there for a whole day twice. Long but comfortable daytime layovers must be a usual thing for the Ataturk Airport – a hub between Europe and Asia. I had one when I was flying from Tbilisi to Togliatti, and we also had time to go to the city with the parents when we were flying from Russia to Venice.

I don’t have many pictures to post, since I already have a complete gallery from my trip couple years ago. Neither do I have my usual food recommendations, since EVERYTHING there is worth a try. Must-eats for me are always iskender, original börek, rice pudding and künefe, but wherever I eat them, they are always a mouthorgasm. Therefore, this post is just a tribute to comfortable layovers, airports being close enough to city centers, cheap cabs of Istanbul and always-pretty city of cultural fusion.

First visit was hot and sunny. I walked so much and got so exhausted at some point, that I just fell asleep on the grass between the main mosques. I am not sure how acceptable that is, but there were other girls sitting there, so I didn’t hesitate a moment. I noticed, however, that every woman was wearing a long skirt. Not sure if it is my imagination after recent political changes and regime shifts in the country or locals’ appearance really had changed, but 2,5 years ago the crowd seemed to look a bit more “western” to me. Anyways, I always wear a long skirt when I know there is a chance I am gonna be sleeping on the ground between two main mosques, so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable.

I finally got up to the Galata tower. too! No queue at all, even though I was there during high season this time. Last time, we traveled in November, but the line was unbearable and we didn’t make it. Early morning is the answer, I arrived there 1 minute before the opening.

It was raining during my second day spent in Istanbul, but that visit was actually more unusual. Thanks to my dad, who persuaded us to take a ride to the center and walk under the rain. It was early in the morning, too, and we had extreme luck of being the only people inside the entire Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was a fairy-tale coming to life, when I pushed the doors to get to the inner yard always full of tourists groups…and it was empty. No lines to enter, no sounds, just us and one of the most impressive constructions of this world. I would highly recommend to chose bad weather and the least popular times to visit the sight. Taking parents to one of my favorite places with sweets, Hafiz Mustafa, to warm p a bit while having künefe with turkish coffee felt great, too! I love coming to the city which I already know well with someone new there and showing them around, makes me feel special and pay more attention to details, not to disappoint my guided group.

After having visited Istanbul in any kind of weather, I can tell that it is definitely a place to be during any season and with any company or even alone. A beautiful palace-like city with smells of sweets and coffee, people friendly in a typical Turkish hospitality way, but also very educated and up-to-date, which makes everyone a good conversation partner, it is a great destination choice.


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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!


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Baku

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetI hate writing about summer travels. There is always just so sooo much I wanna share ad hoc, but since the next trip is always to come super shortly, I never manage to catch up. Ending up with a disaster of countless pictures and chaotic memories, I postpone again, usually finally trying to recover at least something already around Christmas holidays. So much gets lost and never shared that way 😦

Time to try my best. It’s easy to start with this post about Baku, because I spent only one day there. When I was planning my trip to Georgia, not even knowing where my starting point would be, but willing to visit Togliatti after, it was clear I’d have multiple connections throughout my route. Ahh I don’t even wanna recall how many troubles I as usual had with those, after one flight of my endless chain got cancelled. When I was checking for alternatives and saw a long layover in Baku, I didn’t hesitate a moment.
      As I was approaching the capital, I had a feeling that I had already been there, because I have so many acquaintances from Baku that all seem to love their city and often tell something about it. However, the desert around surprised me a bit; I didn’t realize how much south I already was.
     The airport is already gorgeous. I haven’t seen many of those «miracle rich oasis cities in the middle of a desert» in my life, so it was indeed wonderful. I was aware that taxi drivers are tricky and knew in advance the price to agree on. They started with 70 manat but I bargained down to 25, which was the absolute maximum, according to my local friends. On the way back from the city center I myself offered 15, which was obviously much more, than the driver parked in front of a luxury hotel expected. So, be creative. The ride itself was a lot of fun, too. If you are familiar with the culture and music a bit, you know what I mean. Driving across a desert suburb with extremely entertaining video clips and a fun driver was a good start to my cultural experience. The guy cared so much about me getting where I need to and being safe and finding my way around, that was adorable. I must be honest, being a blonde drags attention to you. But nothing extreme. Everyone is just interested, wants to be helpful and nice. I never felt uncomfortable, but you just have to understand local men’s way of approaching women and not get offended, but smile and accept compliments. I tried to dress appropriately, too, unlike the tame when I landed in Morocco alone in the middle of the might wearing shorts. I put on a long skirt and had a silk cloak, but tried to keep it pretty, since I knew the locals are always very nicely dressed when they leave houses. My expectations were correct, people were quite overdressed for a hot midday, but there were also women in more open clothes, so I’d say don’t freak out with your outfit, chill, but if you are a very European type and don’t wanna drag too much attention, avoid extreme minis.
     Drawing conclusions about the cultural side, I must not skip the main part of any culture for me – the food. Ah, that food! I knew very well that Azeri people have feasts 24/7 and looove food and large get-together dinners, I had also tried the original dolma and qutabs from my friend Jamila, so I was very excited to get a meal. Oh my god, even some flat breads they were baking on the street as a fast food smelled better than my whole luxury dinner in Moscow the night before! I didn’t have much time and wanted to see the city, so I didn’t devote time to going to a restaurant. Therefore, no special recommendations this time. But a 2-weeks gastro-trip to Baku and eating everything I can see at Jamila’s wedding are definitely on my bucket list! This was just the intro to Baku for me, so I stopped at a small cozy cafe in the old town area and ordered eggplants stuffed with cheese and chestnuts and some local but dry wine (it exists; for instance, in neighboring Georgia I was really missing dry wines). No doubt, Azerbaijan has the best eggplants in the world!
     My tour across the city was very rich in emotions, too. I loved the weather, it was very hot but windy. I can see it getting quite nasty in winter, though. But my day there was just perfect. I understand why the locals enjoy long walks along the promenade. It’s something I always miss in Russia – nobody really goes on a walk together. Everyone is always in a rush, running like dung-beetles, and well, it’s too dirty and dusty everywhere to enjoy walking. How a city in the middle of a desert is clean, but all Russian towns are covered in mud, is still a big question for me. Baku is really neat. Marble tiles, wrought iron gratings with roses, old light stone houses and hilly narrow streets building up a labyrinth of the old town are endless perfect settings for photo-shootings. The markets are interesting, too. It’s not just souvenirs or something like stone replicas of monuments like the ones they cell in Egypt or Mexico (well, everywhere), there is really cool beautiful stuff to be found there. I wish I could have brought a carpet or a lamp! People are very friendly and not really annoying, unlike all the markets I remember. But I must remind you, that I am a Russian-speaker, so are most of Azeris, in Baku at least. So I might have a totally different side of the story from tourists who don’t speak Russian. One man had a conversation with me in good English (probably the only one who couldn’t smell from 200m that a Russian is approaching), but I am not sure how well the rest of the population speaks English.
     Just about three hours of walking was quite enough for me to see everything I wanted. My route was quite random, but I knew that the Old City and the promenade are where I have to go. I started from the President Park with the view on skyscrapers, then entered the Old Town where I wandered for very long exploring every corner, then a beautiful walk along the promenade with astonishing sea views and just very nice atmosphere of by-passers holding hands and smiling at me brought me to Hilton Baku and the House of Government – two interesting pieces of architecture. I assume there is much more to see in the city, but I was very satisfied with what I managed to cover on such short time. The Old Town is tiny, about the size of the first district of Vienna, but it’s so beautiful that I could spend a week just there. Eating!
     Baku is definitely a must-see, so are their egg-plants a must-eat!


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UPD: Life Ball & PIONEERS Festival

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Happy Summer, guys!

I am super excited for the upcoming season, despite currently struggling through finals and writing my thesis. It’s gonna be amazing, yes! As always, summers are always amazung, aren’t they?

I actually have been receiving a lot of positive surprises recently, and my life twisted around gradually 😉

But now – it’s just a short update to share that all is super cool, and I am just being too busy with uni stuff. Will soon write about our trip to Croatia; I got it as a present from my girls, it happened, and it was greater than great!

 

 

Another awesome event that recently took place and got us involved – Life Ball! Anyone who lives in Vienna knows its scale; it’s been getting more and more international attention, as well. More accurate info can be found on their web page, and I just want to share that it was absolutely great! It is so much more than just dressing up to go out and party all night long in one of the most beautiful sceneries ever. Spectacular way to raise aids awareness.

The coolest thing is not only the Ball itself, but the afterparty, which everyone in the city names the biggest party of the year. Yay!

 

And one more thing I wanna tell you about now – Pioneers Festival.

So, from the beginning, Pioneers is, as we were saying all the time, where tech startups meet investors. They do a lot of cool stuff in different cities, but as Vienna is trying to become a startup hub now, the huge event is held here annually. I feel honored that I got to work there, and my tasks were just a dream: I was part of backstage crew, helping out the main photographer and managing speakers before and after they go on stage to make sure that all media procedures are followed, and we get pictures and interviews with everyone we needed. One hell of stress it is, won’t deny! But the scale of the event was just breathtaking! And all of numerous afterparties that the organizers held were super cool, with a possibility to talk with the most creative and innovative people in a very chilled atmosphere. I even got to meet the president of Slovakia😱

Three days of excitement, responsibility pressure and fun fusion! Thank you, Pioneers, and I honestly hope to get a chance to join it again next year!