5 Things I Did in Korea

Mike and I made our first trip together to South Korea in early November – me to see my grandma, and Mike to work! It was a short one-week trip, but I managed to see a lot during the day either solo or with my mom (she also went for a few weeks) and had a great time spending time with my grandma and getting to know her a little better. There’s so much we can learn from the older generation, and many of them lived in interesting times. Here’s a few things I did on the trip:
1. Toured the palaces
Korea has some beautiful palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910); I visited Gyeonbokgung with my mom one day and Changdeokgung with Mike another day.  Both palaces require a small admission fee and offers tours for no additional fee in multiple languages every day.

2. Ran…indoors!
I had intended to run outside, but the pollution is pretty bad in Seoul.  Lots of people wear masks to deal with the air quality.  Thankfully, I was able to stay with Mike at the Sheraton, which had a great gym.

3. Shopping in Insadong and Myeongdong
Korea is known for its shopping scene – from high-end clothing and bags to unique cultural items to makeup/ skincare (have you heard of K-beauty?).  I spent a morning browsing in Insadong, which is known for cultural items (I bought a pair of wedding ducks) and Myeongdong, known for K-beauty and tiny cute things. I’ll post some of my favorite skincare/ makeup products on a Friday Faves.

4. Hiked Bukhansan
Korea has some beautiful mountains nearby, which are absolutely stunning in the fall.  My mom and I took a bus out to Bukhansan, which is one of the mountains in Seoul.  We thought we could do a hike to the top, but apparently it’s a six hour round-trip, and we weren’t prepared for how steep it was! We hiked up about an hour and then came back down.  I’d love to finish the hike on a future trip!

5. Explored the street food scene…and ate lots of other food
Another thing Korea is known for is its interesting street food scene, which pops up in several areas around the city around late afternoon.  One of the BEST things I ate this trip was bung-geo-bbang, which is a fish-shaped red-bean filled pastry and costs about $1 for 2.  I ate them almost every night for dessert :)IMG_20171108_183714.jpgSome other top eats:

  • Korean BBQ at Cha Iyagi (the meat was just okay, but the rice and side dishes were really good)
  • Viennese coffee at Hakrim Dabang, one of the oldest coffee shops in Korea
  • Snowbowl (Korean shaved ice)
  • Fresh sashimi at Noryangjin (korean fish market)
  • Samgyetang (korean ginseng chicken soup) at Tosokchun
  • mung bean pancakes at Kwangjang outdoor market
  • Soft serve ice cream from Baekmidang

Some travel notes:

  • It’s really easy to get around Seoul – there’s a robust and easy-to-navigate subway system with English signs, and taxis are cheap
  • Not everyone speaks English, but many people in service industries (hotels, restaurants, shops) speak enough to communicate
  • Koreans wake up late and party at night – most shops/ restaurants/ attractions don’t open till 10 AM or later, and you’ll see plenty of people out and about at 9 PM or later even on weekdays
  • Wi-fi is widely available in most public places, but if you need to stay connected, you can rent a portable “wi-fi egg” at the airport or many other locations for less than $4/ day
  • The city is very safe! South Korea is ranked as one of safest cities in the world in terms of crime

I really enjoyed my time in Seoul and felt like a week was a good amount of time to get acquainted with the city once again (I’ve visited a few times in my life, most recently in 2009).  I’m planning to go back a little more frequently from now on to spend time with my grandma as she gets older, and am already looking forward to my trip next year :)


{Vacation} 5 Things We Did in Whistler

Mike and I got back a few weeks ago from an amazing trip to Vancouver/ Whistler and I finally found some time to write a short recap! I love writing trip recaps to re-live the fun memories and share our favorite activities/ restaurants with you all.  We flew into Vancouver and drove up to Whistler a few hours later.  These were some of the highlights from our four days up there:

1. Hiked Garibaldi Lake – there’s a ton of amazing hikes in Whistler, and I really wanted to try a long day hike.  Garibaldi Lake is a really popular one in the area, and takes about 4-5 hours to do.  The first couple miles or so are a steep incline through a forest, but you’re rewarded at the top with stunning views of the lake.  We went right after breakfast and brought along some pastries to eat along the way.

We went on several other hikes in the area too – we started the cedar trails hike, and also walked around Green Lake.  The water everywhere was this stunning turquoise or sage green/ blue cloudy color from melting glacial water.

2. Tried outdoor climbing – I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve done a lot of indoor rock-climbing over the last couple of months, and Mike thought it would be fun to try outdoor rock-climbing! We signed up for a half-day climb with Mountain Skills Academy and had an amazing time.  We learned how to crack climb (sticking feet and hands into long cracks in the rock) and slab climb (up what looked like a sheer wall of granite).  It was exhausting and hard and probably the highlight of our trip for me.

3. Axe throwing – This is apparently somewhat of a sport in Canada, and Mike found a place nearby to try it out! The axes are much smaller than the kind you use to chop wood and are pretty easy to handle.  We learned how to throw the axes overhead, underhand, backwards, and even double handed (two axes at once).  It’s surprisingly gratifying to hear the axe thunk deep into the wood and land a good throw.

4. ATVing – Okay, I lied – THIS was the highlight of the trip for me.  I’ve never gone ATVing before, but after a short learning curve, we were trekking up the side of a mountain! The views were incredible and the ATV was so much fun to drive.  We wore helmets and gear over our clothing to keep us warm and dry.IMG_20170930_123446 5. Ate some good ramen – We found the restaurants in Whistler to be of moderate quality, but the ramen at Fuji Market was really, really good.  So much so that we went back for it another night :) More on our favorite restaurants below.IMG_20170929_183413

Where we stayed: We got an AirBnB in Whistler Village and it was so cute and cozy! It came with a small fridge and a washing machine (we needed this after all the hiking/ climbing we did) and the location was perfect with lots of restaurants and the Olympic Plaza within walking distance.IMG_20170930_202316IMG_20170930_072806-EFFECTSIMG_20170930_072703

Good eats in Whistler:

  • Fuji Market – great ramen
  • Peaked Pies – Australian meat pies
  • Mount Currie Coffee Company – amazing lattes (we got one every day)
  • Bar Oso – warm and cozy space with great drinks and appetizers

I’ll post highlights from our time in Vancouver next week!

5 Things We Did in Boston

We just came back from a weekend trip to Boston to see Mike’s sister Elizabeth, Mike’s dad (also visiting), and Mike’s brother Daniel, who just started college! The weather was absolutely perfect (highs in the 70s) and it really started to feel a little like fall.  Here were some of the highlights from the weekend – mostly food, because that’s how we roll ;)

1. Waited 4 hrs for dinner at Neptune Oyster
Mike’s dad’s bday happened to fall within our trip dates, so we decided to try the hottest seafood restaurant in the North End – Neptune Oyster.  We arrived at 3 PM to put our names on the list, only to be informed that our wait time would be approximately 4.5 hours, lol.  So we wandered around the North End and ate a few “snacks”.

lobster rolls from a place a few doors down from Neptune Oyster and cannoli from Mike’s Pastries
Clam chowder from Faneuil Hall yessss

And just as we were about to leave, we received a call from the restaurant that our table was ready! We weren’t hungry after all the food we ate, but we decided to go anyway and just get a little something to eat…you know, like a seafood tower and more lobster rolls, lol.09031619390903161927
2. Tosci’s ice cream0904161912a_hdrBurnt caramel now and forever.  Still my favorite ice cream flavor! The server convinced me to try the hot fudge topping this time and I did not regret it.

3. Brunch at Coppa

Elizabeth took us to this highly rated brunch spot in Boston, and it did not disappoint.  I loved the roasted grapefruit and the shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato sauce).  The food scene in Boston is really thriving!

4. Played with our Airbnb cat Caleb

We opted to rent an Airbnb in Belmont, about 10-15 minutes away from Cambridge since Mike’s dad was renting a car.  The house was beautiful and comfortable (check out that master bath), and came with a resident cat named Caleb! Felt just like home…including the part where Caleb woke us up at 6:30 AM every morning to feed him breakfast, lol.  Good thing we love cats ;)

We spent one day resting at home and watching a few movies, and decided to order just a few sushi rolls for lunch ;)0905161226_hdr

5. Explored the new Boston Public Market

We did do our fair share of walking every day, as most people tend to do in Boston – one of my favorite activities was exploring the new indoor public market! There are a bunch of gourmet food and foodstuff stalls.  If you go, be sure to get one of the fresh mini cider donuts from Red Apple Farm and the fresh seafood at Red’s Best.  If we had another day here, we would have picked up some seafood or meats here and cooked dinner at our place.

We got to check out Elizabeth’s new place and helped her put some Ikea furniture together, which definitely counts as a workout, right? I also got in some decent mileage on the trail around Fresh Pond (fairly close to where we were staying) – 10 miles on Saturday and 12 miles on Sunday.  The only bad news – I took a bad spill on the trail on Sunday around mile 9 and completely scraped up my knees :( I’ll spare you the bloody pic – suffice it to say that my left knee was badly skinned and will take several days to scab over.  Thankfully, no structural damage.

We also got to eat dinner with sister J and Andrew at a Korean BBQ/soup restaurant in Allston. So great to see them again, even for just an hour or two.  I feel so lucky that we got to spend so much time with family this weekend and am already looking forward to them again over Thanksgiving and Christmas!

5 Things I Did in Boston

I came back from Boston yesterday morning, where I had spent the weekend to celebrate J’s bday! It was so great to see my sister and spend some time in the city I love, and we managed to pack a lot of fun into just a few days. Here’s some of the highlights:

1. Celebrated J’s bday!
Our celebration started at Takemura (sushi/Japanese/Korean restaurant) in Harvard Square, where I got to meet many of J’s awesome friends.  You know you have an interesting group of people together when the conversation includes everything from camping to philosophy to video games set in space to the unique qualities of ant communities ;) We followed up dinner with dessert and drinks at J’s place, with homemade desserts provided by J (more on that below) and an awesome bartending set-up by several of her friends.  I was a big fan of the grapefruit sage paloma!DSC04674 DSC04676 DSC04679

2. Ate at some new-to-me restaurants
Cambridge/Boston has has a thriving restaurant scene, and I love to try a few new places each time I visit.  Chicken cobb salad from Cafe Luna, Chinese BBQ pork banh mi sandwich and ginger lemonade from Bon Me, awesome pancakes with Greek yogurt and jam from Cafe Tatte, and (unpictured) mango chicken from Four Seasons Table – not a bad meal in the lot! I especially want to go back to try some of the other sandwiches and soba noodle salad from Bon Me – I’m a sucker for their sweet/spicy/salty flavor combinations.

I also cooked for J and her friends one night! Super easy Korean menu with cold buckwheat noodles, pre-marinated meat, a spicy/crunchy salad, and a few pre-made side dishes.DSC04682

3. Made homemade cream puffs
Okay, so J did the baking but I helped fill the shells (and provide moral support) :D After baking the cream puffs and letting them cool, we poked a hole in the bottom and filled them with homemade green tea whipped cream and diced strawberries.  And as if that wasn’t enough, J also made an AMAZING grapefruit custard pie.  Grapefruit theme for the evening!DSC04672 DSC04678
4. Spin classes at Turnstyle Cycle
Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was looking for fun cross-training activities in Boston and J mentioned that she had enjoyed a few classes at Turnstyle in Kendall Square (they have two other locations in Boston). At $16, the drop-in cost seemed reasonable so I signed up for a class on Saturday morning and loved it so much that I returned with J on Sunday! It’s basically SoulCycle at half the cost and none of the pretension. The studio is pretty bare bones, but the spin room has great bikes, lights, and instructors. I felt so revved up the entire 45 min and just focused on the awesome beat and motivation.

5. Boda Borg!

Boda Borg is a Swedish real-life questing environment, where you work with your team to beat physical and mental challenges within a puzzle.  At the Boston location out in Walden, there were about 16 puzzles, each comprised of  2-3 rooms (you progress from one to the next as you beat a room and unlock the next).  Once you enter a room, you aren’t given specific instructions, just maybe a hint or two, so you have to figure out what it takes to unlock a room and then accomplish the task with your team.  I went with J and her friend Andrew and we had a blast! I was a little nervous that it might be too easy or too hard, but they definitely weren’t too easy, and the more times we re-attempted a room, the more we got the hang of it.  But in the 4 hours we spent there, we still only unlocked 1 puzzle (but tried about 10 different puzzles multiple times) ;) It isn’t as frustrating as it might sound – we had a great time discussing various strategies we might employ and encouraging each other inside the rooms – such a great team-building activity!

Source: Boda Borg

That sums up the highlights from the weekend.  Happy, happy birthday to my incredibly talented, kind and beautiful sister J!


Weekend Trip to Pittsburgh

It’s never too late for a weekend recap, right? Even a week later? Lol.  We got out of town for the long Memorial Day weekend to see our good friends Alex and Lexi near Pittsburgh! After packing and working out Saturday morning, we got on the road and arrived in Pittsburgh 5 hours later, just in time for dinner. We met at Bar Marco, one of our favorites from our last visit to Pittsburgh – the bartenders here are fantastic. You tell them the base you’d like (vodka, gin, bourbon etc) and the flavor profile you’re looking for, and they come up with a custom drink for you!

Photo Credit: Alex/Lexi
Photo Credit: Alex/Lexi

(Yes, my eyes are closed lol)

After our long drive, we were eager to get to our hotel and rest. We picked the Fairmont Pittsburgh – Mike has a Fairmont card, which comes with a free night and upgrade, as well as meal credits every year, so we try to stay at one every year. The service at this one was great as always, and they had a huge gym (complete with spinning and yoga!). I completely forgot to take pics, but the ones below are similar to the suite we got, and the lobby was airy and gorgeous.

Photo Credit: https://www.kiwicollection.com/hotel-detail/fairmont-pittsburgh
Photo Credit: https://www.kiwicollection.com/hotel-detail/fairmont-pittsburgh
Photo Credit: https://www.kiwicollection.com/hotel-detail/fairmont-pittsburgh

They also had a fantastic breakfast buffet, complete with carbs (pancakes, baked goods, waffles, couple kinds of potatoes), protein (all sorts of eggs, bacon, sausage), roasted veggies, lots of fruit, a yogurt bar, and a bagel bar. We took full advantage using our food certificates ;)

The following day, we both got in a short workout in the morning before our trip down to our friends’ place in West Virginia to go shooting and eat korean BBQ.  Our friend’s dad has a bunch of guns, so we got to shoot everything from handguns to shotguns to even an automatic rifle. BTW, I personally believe we could all benefit from reducing gun ownership in the U.S. (we have a high incidence of gun-related deaths for a reason), but am not against the right to bear arms for self-protection and sport/hunting.  Getting off my soapbox.
After a few hours of shooting (my arms and hands were tired!), we headed back to our friends’ place for some korean BBQ. Mike and I brought marinated meat, side dishes, veggies, and drinks from DC in a cooler because our friends were really craving some korean food. Happy to oblige! Sorry for the blurry picture, but we had quite the feast.
We enjoyed eating and drinking with friends and exploring their amazing garden, and then headed back to our hotel in Pittsburgh.

Monday was our “explore the city” day, but much to my chagrin, nearly everything was closed! I knew it was Memorial Day, but I feel like most shops in DC stay open. It was awesome to see the city’s patriotic spirit though – it seems appropriate to close up shop to honor those who have given their lives to secure our freedom.

We did see a cool outdoor festival – I think this might have been Sunday. Pittsburgh closes certain sections of their streets on Sundays in the summertime to enable people to enjoy working out outside! There were bike rides, this yoga class, outdoor spin classes, and Zumba. Would love to see this in DC!
We made our way to Roland’s Seafood Grill in the Strip District for happy hour – they have 60 cent oysters, shrimp, clams and chicken wings. So of course we did two rounds of oysters and cocktail shrimp :)
And after dinner, we walked over to the Penguins Stadium to check out the tail-gate party.  We thought we might score some tickets from scalpers, but no such luck – there were plenty of people looking to buy tickets, but we couldn’t find any selling! Hockey fans aplenty in this town – especially with the Stanley Cup!
0530161713_HDRTuesday morning, we slowly packed up, ate breakfast in the room, and headed back home.  Pittsburgh remains one of our favorite nearby cities to relax, hang with friends, and eat – so I’m sure we’ll be back!

[Ireland 2015] 5 Things We Did in Cork

It’s the last of my Ireland vacation posts! If you missed them, here are the posts for Dublin and Belfast.

Our drive from Belfast (in Northern Ireland) down to Cork (all the way down south) was the longest drive of the trip – probably about 4-5 hours.  Luckily, I was asleep for most of it :) Here are some of the best things we did in and around Cork:

1. Flew falcons (and owls and hawks)
This was easily the most memorable activity we did the entire trip. Mike found a wildlife rescue center near Limerick (~ 1 hour away) that had nearly a hundred birds of prey on site. When we arrived at Animal Magic, we were surprised to find that the rescue center was actually run out of someone’s home! Rosie and Dennis were incredibly knowledgeable about and dedicated to their animals, and they spent 2-3 hours teaching us about the birds and letting us fly several species of owls, hawks, and falcons.12032661_10153730739906458_6646845770199269865_oWhile some of the birds will eventually be released into the wild once they are healthy, others are non-native species that cannot be released in Ireland. DSC04430We learned that all the birds have to be flown almost every day to ensure they don’t get too fat to fly, lol. By the end of our visit, we each had our own favorites and knew many of the birds by name.
DSC044962. Visited the Jameson Distillery
Being whiskey lovers, we knew that a stop to the Jameson Distillery had to be on our itinerary. There are two locations for tours – one in Dublin and one in County Cork (we picked the latter location). The tour is very well organized, and takes you through the old distillery site (which is only used for tours now – they have a brand new facility where the actual whiskey making occurs).
0927151536The highlight of our tour was the whiskey tasting at the end, of course! You get a free pour of Jameson, either neat or mixed with ginger ale and ice. Mike, E and I also got picked to be “official whiskey tasters”, which means that we got to take part in a tasting comparing American bourbon, Irish whiskey and Scotch.  The whiskeys had very distinct flavors, and I have to admit that my favorite was the Scotch – maybe a visit to Scotland is in the future…
12091182_10100689683156228_7879529920742136778_o3. Toured the Ring of Kerry
In all honesty, our Ring of Kerry tour with the Paddywagon Tour company was not my favorite activity – but I think it could have been, with a different tour group. We felt that our tour guide took too long at random stops (we were dropped off at a shopping mall for 45 min), and we ended up getting back much later than expected, which led to a huge scramble to ensure we retrieved our car from the parking lot before it closed. All the same, this is advertised as one of the most scenic drives in Ireland!
12091400_10153730741171458_7977465446755746194_o 12029659_10153730740611458_6722726282321276307_o DSC045424. Made homecooked meals
While in Cork, we stayed at a 3 bedroom cottage on the Fota Island Resort, which was comfortable and spacious – highly recommend! We took full advantage of the luxe kitchen (complete with heated floors) and cooked dinner most nights. These ended up being some of our most memorable dinners of the trip:

[roast chicken and vegetables]
12030242_10100689683266008_5902960804208411529_o [seafood stew with bread baked that day]12087130_10153730740491458_6973435381967909945_oWe picked up most of our groceries from the English Market, which had incredibly fresh seafood and meat at great prices.  We also grabbed breakfast at a cute cafe on the second floor while we were there, and I got to try Irish-style porridge – creamy and flavorful, I could eat this for breakfast every day.

DSC043835. Had high tea at Fota Island Resort
I also enjoyed my first high tea experience at the Fota Island hotel on our last day in Cork! Lots of teas to choose from, and two trays piled high with sandwiches, pastries, and sweets. Clotted cream with scones, where have you been all my life?DSC04572If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, here are a few of my tips:

  • Bring layers and a good pair of waterproof walking shoes (I loved these boots I bought for the trip!) – Ireland rains nearly every day, and temps can vary by 20 degrees from AM to noon.  We woke up one morning to ~50 degree drizzly weather, only to have the day clear up and hit 70 degrees by lunchtime.
  • Highly recommend checking out Airbnb for lodging options – this was great for our group because we needed several bedrooms. We just rented whole townhouses or condos wherever we stayed, and it was much cheaper (and nicer) than booking multiple hotel rooms.  They also came with kitchens and laundry machines – also great for saving money/ cutting down on packing!
  • Do not skip the Guinness.  Nuff said.

[Ireland 2015] 5 Things We Did in Belfast

This is a series of posts on our recent trip to Ireland.  If you missed part 1 (Dublin), you can find here.

After a few days in Dublin, we rented a car and drove north to Belfast.  Here’s a few things we did along the way and in Belfast!

1.) Went to Winterfell (aka Castle Ward)

12094915_10153730737151458_1953691334204345486_oYou guys, the above pic is probably my favorite from the trip!  Mike, E (Mike’s sister) and I are all big Game of Thrones fans, so we jumped at the chance to visit Castle Ward (about 2 hours north of Dublin), which is the filming site for Winterfell and several other locations in the TV series.  We got the chance to walk around the grounds, dress up in costumes (actual extras costumes left behind by HBO!), and take an archery lesson from one of the instructors on site.12034193_10100689680611328_1936530319643454001_o 0922151319aThe castle itself doesn’t look that large or high, and we learned that CGI is used to build upon the base of the actual castle to make it look larger and more imposing in the show.0922151346aBeyond the castle, there are several gorgeous hiking trails, and we hiked for a few hours before heading to a local town to grab something to eat and then heading up to Belfast.DSC04253 12045799_10100689680970608_4374026899533384558_o

2.) Giant’s Causeway

This is one of the many natural wonders in Ireland – hexagonal basalt columns by the sea, formed by a volcanic eruption long ago.  This was one of my favorite hikes and sights the whole trip – so beautiful and strange to behold!DSC04341 12091242_10153730738961458_1563477453839218298_o 12027077_10100689682073398_7633697922484305332_oAlso, I clearly mastered the selfie :) Sunglasses are key to this technique, in case I forget to look at the camera…09231513583.) Drank some Bushmills whiskey

We spent a few days in Belfast, and most days we ate breakfast, then drove out to see some of the sights.  One afternoon, we spotted the Bushmills distillery and decided to check out the whiskey tasting and give our feet a rest :)0923151538Just the thing to warm us up after a chilly day of walking! And this was vacation, after all..DSC04374

4.) Dark Hedges

This was another incredible natural sight (and also used as a set for GoT, I believe)- a tunnel formed by beech trees! It was a little misty the morning we visited, which really perfected the atmosphere.12087029_10153730738071458_3100208036296830576_oI think they’d be even more incredible in the evening twilight, don’t you think?12022450_10100689681439668_4596239264745640170_o

5.) Cooked breakfast

Because we were a family of five traveling together, airbnb was the way to go.  We rented houses with 3-4 bedrooms in each location we went to, and picked up some supplies from the market to make breakfasts like these:0923151004

Stewed tomatoes (I LOVED the tomatoes in Ireland, so flavorful), ham or white pudding, eggs and bread with butter.  I looked forward to breakfast every morning!

Where we stayed: 3 Bed House in Queens Quarter – loved Keith’s place; nice kitchen stocked with cutlery and cooking implements, comfortable bedrooms, and lots of space

Where we ate: Lee Garden – this is a weird one, I know, but by day 5-6 of our trip, several of us were craving Asian food…so we ended up at the Chinese restaurant with the Chinese tour buses parked out front. The food was decent and definitely satisfied our cravings ;)

Have you ever visited a place that was the film set of a movie or TV show?