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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 available in clubbing districts at nighttime. After 3 a.m. it’s really not easy to get out of there. Such Russian thing as all cab drivers gathering around crowded places tripling fares you won’t see. So we had to walk few times.
  • People are gonna look at you. Especially if you differ gradually from their appearance. Just accept it, they are all very kind and friendly, but they express interest a lot.
  • No heels in clubs outside Gangnam. It would just look weird. Korean girls wear very simple comfy shoes.
  • Try transportation apps. It’s very complicated since everything is in Korean only, but if you somehow manage – you are gonna love the ideal effective transportation system around Seoul!
  • Walk slowly in temples. It’s considered disrespectful to rush there. You can also rent traditional Korean costumes and then be admitted for free into any temple.
  • Don’t sit on seats designed for older people or individuals with limited abilities. Even if the train is empty, nobody does that unless they belong to the group for which that seat is designed.

Be respectful to everyone and you will get enormous respect and hospitality back. It is an incredible country that takes you on a trip to the past and to the future at the same time.


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Bayern

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetRoadtrip is always a good idea! I love it so much when me and Jamila jump in the car, get 100500 sandwiches and the biggest jar of hummus for the way (we should better think of getting the biggest canister of diesel, considering our experience of walking on a highway to the gas station), turn the music up and wooohooo!

We have been both super busy recently with work, studies. celebrating my birthday and making it through spring break without failing everything in life, so I was double excited that we managed to spare couple days and go somewhere. And this time we had an extra reason, even though there is no reason needed for a roadtrip – Spirko was in Switzerland, so we decided to use our chance and meet up in the middle. We hesitated between Innsbruck and Munich, but since neither of the girls had been to the beer capital before, we decided to hit Bavaria up!

The drive there was super easy and fun, we are still hoping Germany had no vignettes and speed limits on highways. In less than 5 hours we made it to Munich. The spring in Europe is extremely hot, so it was a total pleasure to drink cold beers in the sun. As those who have been there know, historical center is tiny and 2 hour walk is more than enough to see all the main things. It’s just as cute as it has always been! I visited Munich few times with my family and then came to Octoberfest, but I must admit I love it without crowds of wasted singing tourists even more. What always surprises me is the shopping opportunities scale. Why the tiny Munich has it all, and huge Vienna hasn’t even heard of &other stories, Topshop, Abercrombie&Fitch or even Sephora?! I remember I even took a train to Munich to buy my first iPhone! So, if you like to shop – you will be surprised there!

We stayed at Bar Hostel and it was awesome: cheap, in the very city center close to a huge parking lot; large light clean rooms – and a 24/7 bar! There are a lot of cute cafes in that area, too. We had a random breakfast at Kochspielhaus and enjoyed it. I’d buy bakery there every day, if it was in my neighborhood!

Don’t have much must-do advice to give, besides the obvious one when in the city – Hofbräuhaus München. I am usually not a fan of touristy places, but this one is a proper one to experience real Bavarian spirit, Octoberfest culture, original German beer and sausages. And two worlds of my friends finally overlapped!

The next day we had a plan to see more of the real Bavaria while driving to Neuschwanstein castle. A famous prototype of Sleeping Beauty’s castle is a real Disney fairy-tale. It’s stunning! So is the way to it, which we had no idea about. One has to drive quite a while (about 2 hours, depends on which direction you are coming from) after exiting highway, and the route goes through tiny villages that look like Milka chocolates commercials. Extra green grass, extra pretty cows and extra traditional Bavarian sites.

The castle itself is seen from far away. It’s quite easy to get there with a car, and it seemed to be accessible with public transportation, too. Buses even go up the hill to its walls, but we decided to take a picturesque walk. Different routes go through the magical forest, but the coolest view is found from Marienbrücke! We had to find this out ourselves after checking few decks out, no idea why nobody mentions it, but I hope my hint will be useful for someone! We went inside, too. You can’t take pictures, but the tour is worth it! Very beautiful interiors, much more modern and unique than we expected. Do you know, that Newschwanstein was the first castle with central heating and sewerage system?

And then of course the time of breathtaking pics came!

My next trip in 2 days will be via airplane, so awesome playlist will unfortunately be rocking only in my headphones, but I am still excited, as I always am for any travels 😉


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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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BCN’17: 7D

IMG_0462Whenever I travel somewhere for long enough time to have my camera on me, I usually come up with a major photopost that includes every pretty corner I spotted. However, Barcelona has always been such a place of interest for me, that I already have several galleries from the magical place. So, I will just leave some random shots and portraits of myself and my travel companions. I am sure, many more beautiful pictures from Barcelona are to come in my life!IMG_0541IMG_0515IMG_0436IMG_0614IMG_0624IMG_0661IMG_0693IMG_0694IMG_0704IMG_0734IMG_0797IMG_0820Miss you already, stunning place!


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Croatia

I got the coolest present ever from my girls – a trip to Croatia all together! It’s not even about traveling anywhere anytime being my biggest passion in life; it was also about all four of us doing something together again, which we so rarely get time for! Thank you ❤

We went at the end of May, and the weather was already simply perfect. Just to mention, I am a big fan of heat, and the hotter – the better for me. We got lucky, that weekend was very hot.

Driving down there was quite easy. No traffic on highways, and Slovenia and Croatia have roads of surprisingly good quality. We found them not very cheap, but, nevertheless, a comfortable journey is worth it, especially once we remembered horrors of Czech roads!

We couldn’t go on a single roadtrip with no adventures, though. I don’t know how many times we had already ran out of gas and made it to the tank station stopping right in front it. Well, this time our magic of having a car running with no gas faded. We stopped on a highway with an empty tank. Just stopped. Now I know exactly how it feels, when the engine not just sucks the last drops, but when there is nothing left, and the car slowly shuts itself down, dropping the speed gradually, to keep you safe. I wouldn’t wish to feel that again, though. Well, that was a moment when one hell of hysterics could have bursted out. Getting evacuated in Austria is very expensive, not to even mention how much it would cost if the car doesn’t start because of the air in the engine. As we found out later, our walk on the highway to the nearest gas station wasn’t legal either, not was leaving a car standing in the middle of the highway. God damn these regulations, what else we were supposed to do (tanking in advance is not an option)?! We are 4 girls, two out of which were already drunk on the back seat by that time, and we actually walked ourselves to get a can of gas, brought it back and managed to start a dead car. Problem solved, right? With no help from the outside, just by our cold thinking minds. I am really glad in such situations I get myself together and don’t freak out. So I was super pissed, when someone called ÖAMTC anonymously on us. Mind your own business, man! The service car arrived right at the moment when we started a car and removed it from the still position on the highway, so no fine could officially be put on us anymore. Got super lucky, again! Well, the fact that the car started saved the whole journey in general. Audis for life! Our adventures could already be the best marketing campaign of extreme situations.

Anyways, back to the trip! We arrived to Zagreb, checked in and went to the city center for late dinner and drinks. I had already been there before but remembered nothing, so we all relied on the knowledge of Isabella, who knew her way around quite well.

After having had several meals in Zagreb, I would suggest 3 places:

Boban – a Michelin guide restaurant, absolutely beautiful, especially its inner yard terrace that was just perfect temperature even on a super hot day. The food was outstanding, and the choice is very creative. Definitely worth a visit!

Agava – a cute place on the party street, perfect for a good filling snack in between drinks. The seafood was just incredible, and I tried from all plates, of course! Go for octopus, tuna steak salad, and get some garlic focaccia to it – you will

for sure order another portion 😉 We asked for some dry local wine everywhere, not being familiar with Croatian grapes. The selection was very satisfying, and the staff seemed professional, which is a good asset for places where people get seasonal jobs in catering very often.

Kava Tava – the fanciest breakfast ever! No kidding, and I have seen breakfasts! Very cheesy rich juicy sandwiches, good selection of breakfast sets, and their pancakes! Heaven! Super glad the girls found the place, please stop by at Zagreb just for a brunch there if you ever get a chance!

Next morning we had some good bakery (omg everything in Croatia is so delicious!), jumped on the car again and headed to the seaside. The driving was very smooth again, even through the mountains area. Amazing constructions of roads and spectacular views from every hairpin turn were indeed a pleasure. Kraljevica was our first stop. Me and Jamila rested there a bit and took some pics, our alcoholics from the back seat replenished the reserves in their blood vessels (this we never forget! unlike replenishing reserves of gas in the tank…), we had very chilled time in port there, and further crossed the bridge to go to the island where a place with a funny name Krk is. That is a small and absolutely adorable town with narrow streets, stone pavements, authentic shops and a lot of ice cream. Initially, our plan was to find the most famous restaurant there, but we ended up staying literally at the first place we saw when left the parking lot and walked down to the marina – and the seafood there was indescribable! I would just eat 24/ in Croatia!

After the day on the seaside, chilling in the sun and having food drinks and again loads of food in the evening, we spent the next day in Zagreb again. Just 3 days, but that felt like such a getaway! Thanks, Croatia! And to the girls, of course! Here started the real summer!

IMG_9995IMG_0021IMG_0032IMG_0036IMG_0060IMG_0132IMG_0142IMG_0190IMG_0236IMG_0252IMG_0267IMG_0285IMG_0293IMG_0301IMG_0333IMG_0346IMG_0365IMG_0370IMG_0386IMG_0402IMG_0416On our drive back, we stopped in Graz for dinner. Promenade – the place to visit there, definitely! It was Sunday, and they had a dancing club having the 40s party there. So cool! Would love to fins something like that in Vienna! I remember that Leopold in MQ was having similar events on Tuesdays, but now I don’t even know. If someone has an idea – let me know!