Glimpse

  • Scenes from the Knights tour with Gil.Scenes from the Knights tour with Gil.Scenes from the Knights tour with Gil.Scenes from the Knights tour with Gil.Got to enjoy some cookies and conversation with Dorothy Kitchen, my first violin teacher, at her house where I took lessons over 30 years ago!Got to enjoy some cookies and conversation with Dorothy Kitchen, my first violin teacher, at her house where I took lessons over 30 years ago!We weren’t quite ready during sound check in Chicago for Gil’s piece, so he joined our stand for a little Eroica!Only the best soloists come to the dressing room especially to meet the Knights’ mvp, Agnes’ daughter. Reason 473736272 that I love Gil Shaham.My friend, Sunyoung, came to our concert in Baltimore- I haven’t seen her since we played Beethoven op. 59 #2 in 1997 at Tanglewood!Concert at the National Gallery in DC!Mario is working on a new cello, and the back is made from the same piece of wood as my fiddle!Getting my fiddle checked out and Mario, the maker, is showing us his works in progress.Beautiful Chandler Music Hall in Randolph, VT!Rehearsing for the New England Bach Festival at Marlboro College in VT!Rehearsing for the New England Bach Festival at Marlboro College in VT!Rehearsing for the New England Bach Festival at Marlboro College in VT!My friend, Steve, took this pic while I blissfully played on the Lady Jeanne Strad at the NYC exhibition by J&A Beare!Our beautiful, but changed skyline, on Sept. 11, from Arthur Ashe at the U.S. Open.Country boys
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    • - A whirlwind few last days in Seoul
      Since Alex was working and with me the first part of the trip, I wanted to maximize his chances to see Korea, so tried to limit my social engagements for after he left.  I can't believe how many people I saw and how much I ate in basically two and a half days, so I'm just going to speed through it all in one big post.

      First, after I left JW Marriott, I met my friend and host, Wayne, with another friend, Dawn, at the Sejong PAC and he drove us to his place to meet his kids and his wife, Jihye, and hang out.  Leon, his son, was not into meeting strangers, but did end up loving his NYC A train and Tegu blocks I brought. =)

      Wayne with Chloe and Leon

      their cutie dog, Bo!

      They didn't end up having plans, so we all went to dinner!  They decided to take us to Keun Giwa Jip specifically because their specialty is ganjang gejang, a local specialty of raw crab in a soy sauce dressing:


      It was super delicious - you eat the crab by sucking it out of the shell, then mix rice in with the body part.  We also had kalbijjim and sea bass, but the crab was definitely the best.

      all our food

      Dawn, me, Wayne, Jihye, and Leon

      At the end of the meal, I was served a ruby red drink, and Dawn told me it was omijacha.  It was really interesting - a mix of a lot of different flavors, with a pine nut in my cup as well.  I had never had it before.  I know Alex would love it, but I didn't end up having time to buy any for him.

      The next morning, I took the train out to meet my former student, Hyunmin.  He was from Rocky Hill and studied with me as a little kid in New Haven, but then the family moved back to Korea.  Out of the blue, he contacted me through facebook, because he just finished his mandatory army service and was coming to the US!  But first, I was able to meet him at his house so I could see his mom.

      Their house has a view of Bugaksan!


      Look at the amazing meal she prepared for me!!!  We were meeting at 10 a.m., so I didn't think we'd be eating, but this was so lovely.


      Hyunmin and his mom

      Believe it or not, I was going directly from there to the flagship Hyundai department store in Apkujeong to meet some other friends.  I had been told that the jjajjangmyun there was outstanding, so I planned to eat that, but once there, I decided to just have Korean food.  We just ate at one of the places on the top floor, but the quality was really first rate.  They have some set menus, and I didn't recognize a boiled pork dish, so Cecilia and I shared that.  You wrap the pieces of pork in lettuce and top with that tasty mix of spicy vegetables pictured on the same plate, add some doenjjang and other stuff and eat.  It was really yummy, but I was pretty full already from my brunch.  I hardly ate my rice and Cecilia accused me of being on a diet.  If only she knew how much rice I normally eat!

      boiled pork and spicy vegetable condiment, with gyeranjjim and doenjjang jigae

      side dishes - the zucchini was especially good

      I don't think I've had this salted shrimp condiment before

      Our mutual friend, Sun Young, then joined us after picking up her daughter from school.  Cecilia and I both went to Yale, but didn't overlap by much if at all, but then we played together at Stony Brook.  Sun Young and I played together in Tanglewood back in 1996, and she saw that I was playing a concert in MD on Facebook this past year and came, so we reconnected that way.  She recently moved back to Seoul.  Little did I know that they were close family friends from living for a time in Toronto!!!


      The patbingsu on the top floor of Hyundai is really famous, so they decided I should try it.  I thought the three of us were going to share one, but they ordered two and I basically ate a whole one!


      Sun Young, her daughter Hana, Cecilia, and me

      Afterwards, we wandered around the mall (which is insanely high end and expensive), and then Sun Young said she had to shop for her son on the first floor.  The first floor was full of food stalls of all kinds (bread, chocolate, even a produce store), but my favorite thing was this stall selling fried stuff.

      tiny fried crabs!

      lots of fried things including those crabs with different sauces, shrimp, squid, etc.

      Hana loved the tiny crabs as much as I did!

      I wished I wasn't so full so I could eat more of those tiny crabs - next time I'm going to go and eat a whole bucket of them!  

      Both Sun Young and Cecilia were surprised I hadn't bought anything here, and Sun Young was adamant that I should buy glasses in Namdaemun and experience the Dongdaemun night market.  I didn't realize the Dongdaemun market STARTS at 10 p.m. - we made a date to go that night after meeting my cousins (I was so sleep deprived I wasn't sure if I would survive, but I'm never going to turn down seeing something cool with a local!).

      Then I went home and regrouped for about an hour before going to meet my cousins.  I thought I knew where the building was (to meet them at), and once I was in the area, I kept showing different people the Korean address they had sent me vs. Kakaotalk, but every person sent me to a different place.  I basically walked around the same block for 20 minutes, trying to find them.  Finally, Hye-jung found me, and they whisked me off by car.  I'm not sure where the restaurant was, exactly, but it was called Yongusan.  We had a very elegant, private room, and my cousins ordered bulgogi and kalbi for the table, and then each of us were supposed to order naengmyun or bibimbap or something.  I ordered naengmyun.


      Hye-jung, Geon (Hye-won's daughter), Hye-young, Jun-hee (Hye-young's eldest son), me, and Hye-won (the names might be wrong bc I kept confusing all the cousins)

      We were served that omijacha drink again, and then the best part - these little Korean honey cookies my mom used to make!  My cousins were surprised when I said my mom used to make them, bc they said they are very difficult.


      After dinner, I received a text from Sun Young that she had to pick up her son from a hagwon at midnight, so she had to cancel our night shopping date, which was fine with me.  Instead, I met up with Yoon-Kyung again, who was in my area to see a concert, and we walked around.  There were some nice inner parks in the apartment buildings in the area, so it was nice to talk and walk!

      One of my good friends from Stony Brook, James, left town very suddenly and I heard that he went back to Korea.  He disappeared from Facebook, so I didn't keep track of what he was up to, and had emailed him in April about coming to Korea.  I never heard from him, but mentioned to Wayne that I never heard from him and wondered if he was mad at me.  It turned out he never got my email!  Wayne hooked us up on kakaotalk and we agreed to meet for breakfast.  James picked me up and everything!

      He decided that Dongdaemun Market was one thing, but that I HAD to get glasses.  First, he took me to Cafe Pera, since they had a fantastic view of the front gate of Ewha.


      we had cake for breakfast, haha

      Then he took me to a local eyeglasses place.  The optician there thinks my prescription is too strong, actually.  After the eye exam, he had me put on these "glasses" and walk around to make sure the prescription was right - I thought this was a great way to test out the new lens strength and wonder why we don't do that here!  It seems like in Korea, they like frames that frame your eyes with more space, bc both the guy and James thought my current glasses were WAY too small, and they both agreed on a new set of frames.


      They were shocked by how bad my prescription is, and that does drive up the price, but the frames I picked were super lightweight (only 5 grams!), and even with my crazy high prescription, the glasses were 200 dollars!  My current pair are really old bc they cost almost 700!

      While the glasses were being made (only an hour), we walked around the corner to the place James wanted to take me to.  I explained that except for a few exceptions, I wasn't having food that was radically different from what I could finding Queens.  Since James lived in Bayside (and introduced me to a lot of the Korean food there) while he was at Stony Brook, he knew exactly what I was talking about and wanted me to try Sak, near Ewha.  Their specialty is James' favorite tteokbokki in all of Seoul and these fried things:

      fried things and tteokbokki

      The tteokbokki was the perfect texture and the sauce was not too sweet, which was perfect.  The fried things were lightly battered and perfectly fried, and included imitation crab, shrimp, these amazing squid cakes:


      And this thing I've never seen before - it's like a kimbap stuffed with noodles and kgenip and then fried!  Everything was amazing!


      me and James

      I was supposed to meet Jeewon at the front gate of Ewha, so James and I waited for her in a cafe right by there.  James and Jeewon are also old friends from Stony Brook (and they overlapped at Juilliard too), so James sat and we all talked for hours.


      Jeewon had had some kimbap at her noontime concert, and my "appetizer" of tteokbokki and fried stuff was big, so we didn't get lunch.  Instead, about mid-afternoon, we went to a kalbitang place she likes and took it to where she is staying.

      I like how in Asia they can wrap stuff with this plastic film!



      The flavor of the soup was awesome, and interestingly, the included a wasabi soy sauce to dip the meat part in.

      It was also fun to hang out a bit with Lily, Jeewon's daughter.




      I stayed so long in Insadong with Jeewon that I was actually kind of rushed to go back to the apartment, change (my dressy outfit didn't fit anymore so I had to improvise!!!), and grab my ticket.  Seoul Arts Center is pretty far, so I allowed 90 minutes and was there in plenty of time.

      Seoul Arts Center is HUGE - there are several different concert halls in the same space, and who knows how many other spaces.  In the courtyard, I really cracked up at this acoustically timed, lighted fountain:


      It was really nice to see Wayne leading the orchestra (the cm is on maternity leave, I guess), and he played all his solos beautifully.



      Afterwards, Wayne and Jihye gave me a ride back to the apartment.  Since I had sort of skipped dinner, I was, of course, now starving.  I changed at the apartment and then walked around until I found a place that was full of ajushis.  The waitress spoke no English, and I couldn't tell what the different kinds of chicken were, but she picked this one for me.


      I was surprised that there was no sauce, as Korean fried chicken in the US comes with sauce, but my friend Steve said this is the classic style.  It was insanely crispy, and served with salt on the side.  It was yummy!

      Finally, the next day, I headed to the airport.  I was supposed to catch the KAL bus from the Korean hotel, but somehow, I ended up at the Four Seasons (Alex thought that was funny bc even when I'm lost in another country, I have a talent for finding expensive places and things), and caught the regular city bus to Incheon.  It is definitely not as nice as the KAL bus - the seats are more like a regular bus and there are more people and more stops.  But I had allowed so much time and the Four Seasons stop was a later one, so it still only took a little over an hour.  At the airport, I had no trouble figuring out where to go - everything is clearly marked.  I know it's weird to post pictures of the bathroom, but I thought it was cool that they have child sized sinks:


      and child sized toilets!


      At the airport, I found a place that had set menus of noodles and kimbap, so I got momilguksu and some kimbap to eat on the flight (the kimbap was actually pretty good!).

    • - Our last day - Mt. Bugaksan, back to City Noodles, and a quick stroll through Gwangjang Market
      Today was our last day, and we wanted to try to get some good stuff in.  First stop, climbing Mt. Bugaksan!  Because it is close to the Blue House, the president's house, and is a border with Seoul, there are no photos allowed until you get to the top, and only in one direction, and there are military people stationed throughout the climb, dressed in "friendly" hiking gear (although they all carry guns).  It was really nice, although it was so smoggy, you really couldn't see much of a view...



      On the way down, we went a different way, and it was much more meandering, through woods.


      At one point, we found a fun park full of exercise equipment.  We weren't sure how to do everything, but we tried it all.  There was even a benchpress station with a barbell!!!



      (Please be advised that the video doesn't appear to play in Safari)






      Alex consulted with some people and figured out that we could walk to Bukchon from one exit of the park.  We ended up going back to that City Noodles place we liked so much, and were both so hot we both got momilguksu again, but this time ordered buchujeon, which I like a lot better than pajeon!





      As we walked, I noticed this sign and it made me sort of laugh - I guess gambling really is a big problem here!


      We still hadn't seen the street food market, Gwangjang, so we went there for a quick spin and saw lots of cool stuff:

      bindaettuk making

      kimchee buffet

      tiny kimchee-ified crabs

      dduk

      interesting vegetables

      tiny kimbap! This was vegetarian, with kgenip, and it was very good!

      tteokbokki

      we tried some bindaettoek - not that good

      more kimchees

      dduk

      My dad had told me to eat this, but I sadly never had it.  I was glad to see it though!

      more jeon

      One last stop - Alex wanted to see the beginning of Cheongyecheon, at City Hall.  It was gorgeous!




      After this, we went back to the hotel to swim in the amazing pool one last time, and then I went to Wayne's and Alex went to the airport!
    • - Our wonderful stay at JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square
      I have stayed at a few fancy hotels, and this one wasn't the absolute fanciest, but I do have to say it was one of my very favorites.  My friends told me that hotel breakfasts in Seoul are legendarily good, and this was no exception.  All of this food was just out for the taking:


      cereal-y stuff

      fridge with juices and milks

      my plate of stuff

      fruit and condiment bar

      bread and pastries

      sodas, beers, and waters (you could come up here during the daytime and sit and relax with a drink

      my toast with fancy jam

      my miyukguk

      Western breakfast bar (I never ate this stuff)

      banchan and condiments

      hot food bar with stuff like mandu, soups, bokkeumbap, salmon, etc.

      Additionally, you could order stuff like eggs, oatmeal, kimchee jigae,  and ddukmanduguk and a spicy noodle soup:




      Our room was very nice, and everything was super modern. Everything, the lights, the curtains, everything, was motorized and remote controlled.







      This was the closet, but it was as big as a room and I sat in there with my computer with the door closed sometimes when Alex was sleeping and I couldn't sleep from jet lag
       I think the absolute best thing about the place is the pool, though.  I think this is the nicest pool I've been to:

      snack and reading area



      kids' pool

      It's hard to tell, but the water would run over the sides and then drain.  So it was always full and constantly in motion.








      hot tub
      There were also extremely nice concierge at the hotel.  They knew our names, they were super nice, and they were all weirdly handsome.  The one drawback is that they never wanted to help me get around by public transportation and always wanted us to take taxis, but I can understand.  My favorite 3 were Max, Michael, and Jun.  Michael and Jun definitely thought it was a little strange (I could tell) when I asked if I could take a picture with them, but of course they said yes.  They were definitely a huge plus in our stay!

      with Michael and Jun

    • - Dinner at Mapo Naru and a flurry of dduk with Emo and my cousins
      We were supposed to meet my Emo so we could see my cousin, Suyeon, and her family, in Mapo.  It didn't look like it would take very long, but the transfer was INSANELY LONG.  So we were late. =(

      We finally got there, though, and Emo told me this was a very popular place with young professionals:


      Everyone asked repeatedly if we were ok with spicy and with seafood, and we are.  I'm not sure they believed us.  But they ordered this dish, although I can't remember the name of it:


      It has naengmyun noodles, and is sort of like a salad.  The snails are in the front (I'm not sure if they were raw or not, actually), with fresh vegetables like slivered cucumbers and peppers with microgreens in a wasabi type dressing.  My mom used to make something like that but I also forgot the name of the dish she used to make.

      My 2nd cousin, Susie, explained that this restaurant was famous for ddakbokeumtang, a chicken stew:


      I thought it was very tasty, but Alex told me afterward that he actually thought it was better at the jungsik dinner in Gyeongju.

      Finally, we also had nakjibokkeum, which was very tasty:


      We also tried the makgeolli, which is good here too, but Alex and I are not really makgeolli people.  During dinner, we talked a lot about our trip to Gyeongju.  We mentioned that Alex loves shikhae, and my cousin's husband suddenly sprang up to his feet (we were at a table where you sit on the floor) and ran out of the restaurant.  He returned later with a can of shikhae for Alex, haha.  They also remembered that we like dduk, so we went to a nearby ddukjip.  Suyeon's husband loves mochi, as does Alex, so they talked about how the younger people in Korea don't like mochi as much as the older ones, as mochi was more prevalent before as a result of the Japanese occupation.  We also talked a bit about the politics of the new president and the differing views of young vs. older people on the threat of North Korea.  At the shop, they had all kinds of dduk and mochi, so we looked around while Emo picked up packages for us to eat together.





      We soon discovered, however, that they just bought a giant bag of dduk for us to take home!  Everyone sat and had coffee and Alex and I had fruit juice (I had a very excellent watermelon juice and Alex had a less excellent but still good kiwi juice), and it was a nice ending to the evening.

      Emo, Suyeon, Susie, Suyeon's husband (I actually don't know his name bc I'm supposed to call him Hyungboo), and us

      To see all the photos from today, please click here.
    • - Seongbuk-dong neighborhood: naengmyun, Gilsangsa Temple, and patbingsu at an amazing ddukjip
      I discovered on the KTX back to Seoul that there is free wifi on the train!  And that it is more powerful than the wifi at a lot of hotels I've stayed in!  AMAZING!

      When we arrived back at the hotel, everyone greeted us so warmly!  I even took a picture with 2 of my favorite concierge, haha.

      Alex had discovered a cool looking neighborhood in our book, Seongbuk-dong, where we wanted to see the Seongnagwon Garden.  First, we had to have lunch - we asked the concierge for a recommendation, and knowing we love naengmyun, he found a place with good reviews.  He did try to tell us not to go to Seongbuk-dong, saying that they don't recommend it because it's largely residential and has not much for tourists.  He also cited the difficulty of finding our way around and the length of the walk.  We decided to go for it, though.

      The walk *was* pretty unpleasant.  We went the wrong way at first, then walked uphill on a pretty busy road, I'd say for about 45 minutes.  We finally reached a suddenly leafy area, though, and found the restaurant, which was PACKED.  Alex was curious about the hwebibimnaengmyun, since he's never seen that before, and I ordered regular mulnaengmyun.  The menu also had the option for extra noodles for just 4 dollars, and we are both noodle pigs, so we both ordered extra noodles.  


      mulnaengmyun

      hwebibimnaengmyun
      We did not realize the extra noodles portion would be so large, and basically like another dish!  So Alex was able to have some mulnaengmyun of his own, and I had some bibimnaengmyun.

      "extra noodles" portion of naengmyun


      closeup of my mulnaengmyun
      This mulnaengmyun was definitely the best one I've had so far - the broth was really good, the noodles were the perfect chewiness and taste, and all the added elements were fresh and tasty.  It was perfect after that insanely long and hot walk.  I don't know the name of the place, but I took a card and it says this:






      Gilsangsa Temple was very close to the restaurant, and a very leafy and pleasant walk where we started to see the nice houses mentioned in the book.  We noticed that a lot of ambassadors seem to live in this neighborhood, as there were a lot of very high walls with TONS of security cameras everywhere.  When we arrived, it seemed like Gilsangsa is like a little Buddhist campus, rather than just one temple.  I walked around and looked at the beautiful scenery and the buildings...




      And suddenly, right here, an old woman came up to me and started YELLING at me about my arms.  I was wearing a high necked, floor length sundress, but it was sleeveless (BECAUSE IT IS HOT AND SMOGGY AND HUMID HERE).  At Jongmyo Shrine and Bulguksa Temple, I had brought something to cover my shoulders in case it was like Europe, but nobody cared and I saw plenty of Koreans in short shorts even!  So I didn't bring something here.  My immediate reaction was that I apologized and we said we would leave.  But she didn't wait, abruptly spun around in a huff, then ran to meet all her other stupid friends and POINT AT ME.  They all unabashedly looked, pointed, sucked in their breaths, and started clucking about me.  This completely enraged me - I completely understand if my arms are too scandalous for her to pray properly and respect that, but I was trying to rectify the situation - there was no reason to be so freaking rude.  On top of that, I was OUTSIDE, not in a building, and this place only became a temple 50 years ago, as it was a geisha restaurant before that!!!  I really wanted to run up to her and scream in her face and point my finger right between her eyes, or shove her, or even better, run up to her and REALLY shock her by showing her my bare boob or something, but Alex made me go another way and said that one stupid lady was not worth ruining our vacation.  


      Since then I've talked about this with my Korean friends who live here, and they said that (a) this is known to be a super conservative and wealthy area (this is why the houses are very nice) and (b) this lady is crazy.  One friend thought that in Korea, it's ok to wear super short stuff but not show your arms, and I noticed that none of the ladies on the subway showed their arms, but my friend, Yoonkyung, said that's not true.  She said that it just isn't that hot right now for Koreans, especially compared to the summer, so that's why they aren't baring their shoulders.  She said she sees shorts that are so short that butt cheeks are hanging out, belly shirts, and plenty of tank tops in the summer.  I just seem to attract crazy weirdos.

      Anyways, we stopped at a cute little store that was way too expensive right by Gilsangsa, and caught the bus down.  Again, it was kind of stressful to pay for the bus - it costed 2000 won, I only had one 1000 won bill and many 10,000 won bills, and the bus driver couldn't break it.  He just let us get on for 1000.  Alex somehow knew where to get off, and we tried to find Seongnagwon Garden.  We walked around and couldn't find it, so we hailed a taxi.  He was confused and had to read our book and put it into his navigation, and then it was only like three blocks away!

      We got out, and the gate was locked.  The ticket window had cobwebs and structures in front of it and looked like it hasn't been open in a long time.  We even rang the bell of the gate next to it, hoping that it was a secret gatekeeper, but we just got a lady who didn't know what we were talking about.

      Sad.  Anyways, we walked back to the main drag and were able to go to a cute ddukjip we noticed on the way up.  They had patbingsu, so we ordered it!  This one came covered in coconut, or so we thought, but actually, they make the ice snow from a very light ice cream, or ice milk.  The pat was really good and I really loved the quality of the mochi on top!  I think I prefer the old style ice snow, though, rather than ice milk.  My Korean friends explained that everyone likes the milk version bc it's smoother, which I understand...





      I like this "fork" that comes with the dduk- it worked really well!

      We really wanted to buy some of the dduk bc it looked really good, but Alex wasn't leaving until the next day, and we knew it wouldn't stay fresh.  So we just enjoyed the one that came with our patbingsu and went back.


      At our hotel, it was fun to see Cheongyecheon during the day - it really is such a beautiful entity!


    • - Yangdong Village
      Before we came to Gyeongju, we hadn't even decided on where we should go during those two and a half days that Alex wasn't working.  Should we stay in Seoul?  Should we go to Jeju?  Busan? I also was really interested in Andong Hahoe.  But we decided on Gyeongju (basically two days before we left).  Then we couldn't figure out where to stay.  As I mentioned before, I read about a beautiful estate, which the concierge tried to book for me, but it was very remote and nobody spoke any English.  They urged me to stay at the Hilton, which was on Bomun Lake.  When I said that we were interested in staying in a hanok, they urged me to stay in this fancy hanok hotel owned by Shilla, also near Bomun Lake.  The Hilton was 300 a night, and the Shilla hanok hotel was close to 200, and from what I could tell, neither was worth it.  On our way back to Gyeongju from Bulguksa, we caught the 700 bus, which took us on a tour of sides of Gyeongju we hadn't seen.  Bomun Lake looked like a tourist compound, where there were tacky hotels built side by side and none of the real town there.  I think it would work well for someone who was completely unversed in Korean language, or someone who needed a place with lots of amenities.  But we were very glad upon seeing it not to have stayed there.  We also passed the Gyeongju expo center, which had been recommended to us, and it also didn't really look like our scene.

      We decided we had to go back to our favorite Youngdong Milmyun, and had two very satisfying bowls of cold broth milmyun.  Amazing.  During lunch, I couldn't decide if we should go to Yandong Village or to Mt. Namsan.  I. just. couldn't. DECIDE.  So we asked our friend, the waiter, to decide for us, haha.  He didn't hesitate at all when suggesting Yangdong Village.  We also struck up a conversation with him and found out that he went to NYU, and is the son of a diplomat who still lives in NYC!  He said he came back to help with the family business, and also runs a guest house in Gyeongju.


      We walked in the broiling hot sun (it was over 95 degrees that day) to the bus stop, making sure we were there on time and even stopped at the tourist window to be certain of the times, the location of the bus stop, and the times for return buses.  Since it was so hot, we stood behind the bus stop in the shade.  As we saw the bus approaching, Alex got up, the bus barely slowed, THEN DROVE OFF.  We thought, surely that wasn't our bus, right?  So we waited 10 more minutes, and then realized in despair that that was it.  We were NOT having good luck with buses in Gyeongju - they seem not to actually stop - you have to kind of wave them down.  On top of that, they get really mad at you if you take a moment to count out your money, and they won't break a 10000 won.  It's really irritating.  I wish someone had told us to buy some sort of bus pass - it was super stressful every time we had to get on the bus (the few times we actually made it onto one).  The next bus wasn't for another HOUR, so we decided to just splurge on a taxi.

      It was actually kind of a relief to sit in the taxi in the cool AC, and it was actually much cheaper than I had read online (closer to 30 dollars rather than the 50+ I read about online).  Our taxi driver was really funny too, once we arrived - we had read that from the bus stop, we had to walk 2 km to get to the village, but he convinced the gate to let him drive in, then got the ticket people to take our money so that he could try to actually drive us into the town.  He also offered to wait for us to take us back to Gyeongju, but we declined and said thank you.  As we walked in, we saw Yangdong Village!


      I had read online that some people thought Yangdong Village was boring, or overrated, but we loved it.  This is a real, living village that is UNESCO protected - a perfect example of Josun Dynasty architecture and rural hillside life.

      marshy gardens



      entrance to a house

      main living area to a house

      gate, mountain, and tree


      thatched roof and fence

      the beautiful houses and walls against the mountains

      rice fields

      my favorite building, a school

      detail on the school

      main classroom of the school

      the poor houses and the rich houses, next to each other

      cute Jindo!

      There were gardens EVERYWHERE:


      And of course, we stopped at a cafe for Alex to have another glass of shikhae:

      marshy river along gardens

      Alex with some halmonis on a bridge

      more extensive gardens - possibly farms?

      And then we stopped so I could get some ddalgi juice (strawberry) at a cafe, and met this cute dog!


      The whole day, we saw a few tourists, but mostly people going about their days, working on their gardens, running errands.  It was pretty awesome.  And it's not coming through in this recording transfer from my phone, unfortunately, but there was this amazing cuckoo bird who kept serenading us throughout our walk.  Listen here!

      We made SURE we wouldn't miss the last bus by getting there 15 minutes ahead of time (oh, and btw, the village is NOT 2 km away from the bus stop - it is much closer), and the bus this time was 5 minutes late, but we caught it!!!
    • - Ahreum's Sollang Hanok in Gyeongju
      It seems like a lot of people in Gyeongju realize that they can rent their hanok style rooms out, because you can find a lot of places on Airbnb and other booking sites, or hotels that are outfitted like hanok.  I was drawn to this listing, mostly because the peoples' reviews were so universally enthusiastic.  Alex and I had painted ourselves into a corner with lodging, as we didn't have a place to go until the day before we left for Gyeongju, so I finally just booked it.  Ahreum was super helpful throughout the whole process, detailing which buses to take from the KTX station, and even sent me a little map drawing of where to walk when we arrived in Gyeongju.  Her house is at the end of a small side street, and although the room is very small, it was immaculate and really well done:








      The bathroom is a traditional type where the shower has no separate stall or tub.  But she provided shower shoes, and I've stayed in places with bathrooms like this in Europe, and this was way better.  For one thing, it was super clean, but also the shower stream stays concentrated in one area of the bathroom, so not everything gets totally soaked.  She also provided all toiletries, towels, a hairdryer, brushes, and even an extra lamp in the closet!


      Alex does yoga in the room

      I thought the bed on the floor was going to be more like a futon, but it really was more like a thick blanket.  So it was definitely on the hard floor.  As I mentioned before, we slept REALLY well, and I actually thought that somehow the floor in the hanok was not as hard as our floor in Brooklyn, but Alex said it was the same.  So maybe we were just extra tired from the intense heat (Alex started developing prickly heat rash!) and sightseeing.

      The absolute best part of staying here, though, was the host family.  Ahreum is tiny and has a high voice and a cute giggle, and she looked everything up for us and was extremely knowledgeable.  I thought she was just darling.  Her mom cooked us this amazing breakfast the first day:



      this was my favorite thing!

      And there was another American couple from DC also having breakfast.  They asked some questions about all the different gayageum in the room, and then Ahreum said that her sister, a professional gayageum player, would play for us that morning!


      Ahreum, explaining the gayageum and showing us the back

      Then her sister (who I suspect Ahreum had woken up just for everyone) came out and played for us.




      And gave lessons to each of us!



      If you would like to watch videos, I have uploaded them!

      Ahreum's sister playing Arirang, a traditional Korean folk song, here.

      Then she showed us a piece that had more difficult technique here and here.






      You can see Alex learning the basics here, and then he learns how to play Arirang here.  Both Ahreum and her sister laughed because Alex immediately tried to vibrate without learning the "proper" way to do it.  Then she had him try all the techniques here:


      The next day, we had an early train, and Ahreum offered to pack us some eggs and rice to go, but we LOVED the breakfast so much we said that we would be packed and ready right at 8 a.m. so we could eat breakfast and leave at 8:15.  Ahreum's mom came by at 7:45 - she made the breakfast early for us!


      Alex liked these egg rollups, which I've MADE FOR HIM, but he doesn't remember

      this was an amazing vegetable, which she described as ssahn - my dad said that just refers to any wild plant from the mountain.

      Ahreum wasn't there today, bc she was getting ready to go to work (I think at a school?), but somehow, I was able to communicate with Ahreum's mom.

      Ahreum's mom showing Alex how to properly eat gkim

      She was delighted that we liked everything so much, and gave us more of many of the dishes.  When she found out that Alex likes shikhae, she pulled some out of her fridge for him.


      I asked her how she made the salads, on Alex's request, and her answer was way above my understanding of Korean.  I caught that the soy sauce was made by HER mom, and that the doenjang was made by someone local, and that many of the greens had been foraged or harvested by her husband.  I did tape her, though, and sent it to my dad, and he explained that her husband had picked a certain plant in the mountain, they made vinegar from it, and then aged it for over ten years.  Incredible!!!
    • - Dinner at Dosol Maeul in Gyeongju with my cousins!
      Because of Alex's work and flight schedule, we just didn't quite have time to go to Busan.  I felt badly, as my dad's side of the family is from there and a lot of them still live there.  But Busan, while beautiful and on the sea, is still a big city, and I wanted Alex and me to see something different from Seoul, which is why we chose Gyeongju.  To my amazement, my cousin, Young-Chan, and his cousin (also my cousin), Hye-sil, were going to come meet us in Gyeongju!  I was at a loss as to where to go...  Ahreum, our host, had emailed me a list of places, but all seemed very snacks and super casual except the last one, Dosol Maeul, which was also recommended in our book.  So we met there.  To my surprise, Young-chan's daughter was also there, and when she said her name, Lupy, I realized she had emailed me just this past spring to see if I would take an English quiz for her degree at Ewha.  So nice to put faces to names and put them in my family tree!  They did all the ordering, and I think this is a set ssambap meal.  


      There was: trio of namul, pickled kgenip, mackerel, doenjangjigae, seaweed soup, curried chicken, pajeon, various kimchees, kgim (which was unseasoned and then you dip in the sauce, which I've never seen), and two others I thought were interesting:

      cabbage stuffed with chicken

      crispy rice with a kind of sweet sauce

      Alex liked the curried chicken the best.  They also served a kind of rice water instead of water, which I didn't love, but Alex really liked.  I think I kind of had heat stroke, bc I hardly ate (I didn't even finish my rice, which NEVER happens, if you know me!), and mostly talked.  YC first asked if we had already checked into our lodging, asking why weren't coming to Busan - I think he was ready to whisk us straight there after dinner!

      L-R:  Lupy, Hye-sil, Young-chan, and us

      Afterwards, we went next door for coffee (Alex had patbingsu [although this one was pretty bad, with chunky bits of ice] and a mango smoothie), so that we could hang out some more..  I learned that Lupy is getting married in the fall- how cool!

      To see more pics from our first day in Gyeongju, please click here.
    • - Our last evening in Gyeongju - dinner at Suhkyung Sikdang and Gyeongju bread at Hwangnampang
      The day before, we had run into a very friendly older man who spoke really good English (he told us he had worked for the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn), who just approached us out of the blue and asked us where we were from, etc.  He told us to see a bunch of things (some of which we didn't get to), but told us that in the big park with the ancient tombs, one of them was opened up so you could see inside.  We had somehow missed that, so after we returned to Gyeongju, we went back to the main park.  Here you can see Alex about to enter.  Inside, there is a recreation of where the artifacts are found, along with museum style cases with relics.  It was cool!


      I had read, before my trip, that google maps doesn't work in Korea, and that Daum or Naver were the map apps to use.  However, those mapping apps are in Korean, so they were little help to me.  I don't know why I didn't try harder in Seoul, but it turns out that you can use Google maps, just not in a normal way.  If you open it, it will tell you where you are on a map.  If you spell the Korean place in the right way in English, it sometimes finds it for you.  It just doesn't give you any directions.  But if you can see where you are, where your destination is, and have the map open, it's enormously helpful!  So we walked around Gyeongju a bit and found that some of it is actually very modern!

      We decided to try a booribibimbap place that Ahreum had recommended called Suhkyung Sikdang, and set off.  Look at this enormous and cute dog we saw on the way!


      The place is very casual, with linoleum lined tables that you sit on the floor for.  But everyone was really friendly.  We ordered two booribibimbaps, and a pajeon.  

      The pajeon was REALLY big:


      Boribap is rice mixed with barley, which both Alex and I loved.  It was served with the rice separately, and the bibimbap ingredients arrayed like so:




      There was no meat in this bibimbap!  I realized we ordered too much food when all the banchan arrived, but we did manage to eat most of it!!


      We were leaving the next day for Seoul, and we still hadn't tried to Gyeongju bread!  We decided to get some for my aunt and cousin, so we went to find Hwangnampang.  Ahreum said this was one of the best places, as it was run by the son of the person who invented Gyeongju bread.  We couldn't find it at first, but then realized we had walked right by it bc it is so big and fancy - much bigger than the little stalls selling it all over the town.


      We bought a few boxes and then noticed that this place DOES sell it by the piece!  We were able to try it!  It was still warm - so good!




      To see all the photos from our second full day in the Gyeongju area, please click here.
    • - Gyeongju Day 2 - Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto
      I don't know if we were super tired bc of the heat, but I fell asleep immediately after dinner, which meant that I woke up around 5:30 a.m.  But I really was surprised that I slept on that hard floor.  The mat on the floor isn't even as thick as a futon - it's more like a comforter on the floor, with another comforter on top.  I wondered if somehow the floor was less hard than our floor in Brooklyn, which I've slept on, but Alex said, "Uh, no, they are both really hard."  Hahaha.

      After a fantastic breakfast (in a later post), we set off for Bulguksa Temple.  We caught the bus (the buses are so close to Ahreum's house, which is really convenient!) and ended up in this beautiful paradise:



      The entrance to the temple grounds is pretty amazing - I actually think this stone work is my favorite part of the whole thing:



      Inside, more beautiful buildings and decorations:



      an actual service happening

      I enjoyed seeing this boy resting

      Buddhist towers stacked everywhere

      even on the fencing

      another look at the fantastic stone work

      Afterwards, we went back down to catch the bus to Seokguram Grotto.  I was pretty hungry (I was used to the giant hotel breakfast), so I tried to run around to see if I could find like a kimbap store or something, but everything was either a convenience store with prepackaged food or a real restaurant.  I didn't want to miss the bus, so we settled into the bus to catch the bus, when a taxi pulled up.  He said that the bus wasn't coming for an hour.  I waved him off and said, "No it's coming now."  But then we realized that we read the bus schedule wrong!  So we took a taxi to Seokguram, which was not far.  

      What was super nice is that you walk up a mountain, and it's full of trees and nature.  In the distance, you can see Seokguram:


      the walk


      the view from the top

      As you can see, it's in a pretty amazing spot.  Basically, inside this little building, a giant Buddha is carved right into the mountain, with all kinds of decorations and other figures.  It's all protected behind glass now, and you aren't allowed to take photos inside, but you can imagine - it's all inside this building, which is embedded into the side of a mountain:


      After that, we caught the bus back to Bulguksa, then caught the 700 bus back to town.
    • - We're off to Gyeongju!After one last, glorious swim, we packed up and checked out.  What is so convenient about coming back is that we just packed Alex's little suitcase with what we needed and left the big one at the hotel!  

      We took the subway the short ride to Seoul Station, where we saw this weird sculpture made of shoes:


      And caught the KTX.  Somehow, I don't know if this is bc I was using the Korail website in English, but I couldn't choose our seats and we were sitting separately, and I was sitting next to a very annoying girl who was eating McDonald's, which was super stinky in a gross way, and chewing with this irritating and constant smacking sound.  Ugh.  As we got ready to disembark, I noticed this guy just HANGING OUT in the toilet.


      From Singyeongju, we caught a bus to Gyeongju.  Luckily, our airbnb was in walking distance from the bus drop-off.  As we walked, we were both struck by how small and dumpy the town seemed after Seoul!  We talked for a while with Ahreum, our host, and dropped our stuff off at her hanok (I'll post about it later), and went off in search of the milmyun place she recommended.

      I was super curious about milmyun - Ahreum said it was similar to naengmyun, which Alex loves, but particular to this region.  It was also seriously like 95 degrees, I was starving, and melting.  We first scoped out where we would catch our bus to the underwater tomb of King Munmu, and then walked up and down a shadeless stretch of street, trying to find the place.  Of course, everything was in Korean and since it takes me about ten minutes to read one Korean word, I was no help.  I finally pointed to the name Ahreum had written down and asked a young girl at a bus stop, and she spent a good five minutes trying to help me and we found it!  Hallelujah!!!

      Inside, we were greeted by a waiter who surprisingly broke out into English!  He explained that they had milmyun with no soup, spicy, or milmyun in cold broth.  I was the color of a fire engine in my face and dripping wet with sweat, so we both got the cold soup version.



      The soup is a little lighter than that of naengmyun, and there's some spicy gochujang in there.  Also, those thing brown sticks are shreds of thinly fried, pressed pork (they were chewy).  The biggest difference is that the noodles are made with wheat, but they were very pleasingly chewy, with a delicious taste in and of themselves.

      a closer look
      I ended up asking our waiter if he had lived in America and he had attended NYU!  Alex and I wondered why someone would spend all the dough to go to NYU and then come back to a noodle shop in a small town, but we were glad he did if that means the shop stayed in business!

      After lunch, we finally felt cooled off and went out into the broiling sun.  We waited at the bus stop, where I tried to figure out the electronic display, to little avail.  And then we saw our bus.  Pass by.  On the other side of the street.  @#$@)#$&*)@#*($@)#$

      Ahreum had initially told us to just stay in the historic area of Gyeongju and explore the sights by bicycle or foot, but I just really wanted to see that cliff, which is why we tried to catch that bus.  Which only comes once an hour and takes an hour to get there.  So we decided to follow Ahreum's original advice, and we were glad of it.  You have to pay small (like 2 dollars per person) entrance fees to see each part, but basically it feels like you are just in a city full of history.

      These are ancient royal burial mounds.  They are sprinkled throughout Gyeongju.


      some are HUGE!

      beautiful wooded areas

      Gyeongju is apparently famous for Gyeongju bread, a sweet bun filled with red bean paste, and a barley sweet cake.  We stopped in several bakeries (that all look the same), and all informed us that we could not just buy one - it was necessary to buy a whole box.  Um, no.  We didn't know if we'd like it and we didn't want to carry that around, not to mention the smallest box was 14 dollars.  So we kept moving on.

      If you haven't noticed, it was SUPER HOT.  Throughout the area, there are little cafes, and I learned on this trip that Alex hadn't ever had patbingsu (although he's had ABC).  We stopped in one cafe that was serving patbingsu and did sell those barley sweet cakes individually:


      This version was ok, but very refreshing in the moment!  The barley sweet cake tasted like Hawaiian bread stuffed with red bean.

      We walked on and saw more sights:

      Cheomseongdae Observatory

      Hwangnyongsa Temple Site

      ALL OVER, we noticed couples dressed in hanboks walking around, taking photos of themselves.  Most had tripods set up.  I don't know what that is about...


      Cheomseongdae Observatory with mountains in the distance

      Many people were getting around on bicycles, motorized bikes made for three people, motorized scooters, Segways, and this bizarro tour bus that looked like a cartoon beetle and played funny music:


      There were gorgeous flowers EVERYWHERE.


      I couldn't resist capturing this bee!

      Alex and I didn't see a single dog in Seoul.  I later learned from my cousin, Lupy, that Seoul residents are so worried about the yellow micro dust that they don't let their dogs spend much time outdoors.  Apparently, according the the Seoul-ites, there is a fine dust that pollutes the air as the result of factories in China.  The micro dust has only increased as China, in effort to lessen pollution in their own country, MOVED their factories to the coastline, closer to Korea!!!  This is why many people outside wear masks, and my friend, YK, told me that many people are now investing in home air filtration systems.  Lupy said that Koreans are quite angry about it, and that doctors predict that there will be a huge uptick in cancer in 5-10 years because of this micro dust.

      Anyways, I finally found a cute dog!  Although it unfortunately has a dyed tail and ears, haha:


      Donggung Palace

      Wolji Pond

      Wolji Pond

      We really wanted to see Woljeonggyo Bridge, which was apparently under construction, but we hiked up there (nobody was around) to try to see it anyways.  Alas, we were blocked:


      Alex with more hanbok girls

      I've never seen a tea-length hanbok before!!!

      A beautiful private home and garden we enjoyed from the outside

      There were tons of these trees, which my dad said are persimmon!


    • - Scrambling for dinner and a beautiful walk on Cheonggyecheon
      Alex ended up getting home from work around 6, but was exhausted.  He has been sick and super jet lagged and working, so has only been getting about 3 hours of sleep a night.  My dad had suggested we have bindaettuk in Dongdaemun, so the concierge told me where we could go to get that at a street market.  I told Alex we should just take a little nap for 30 minutes or an hour so he could feel better and then explore the market.

      We woke up 3 hours later!!!!

      We were totally groggy and had trouble getting up, and decided to try to find the street market.  Unfortunately, most of the stands were closed.  There were some stands selling stews, some fried stuff (that I suspected and later confirmed was not chicken, but gopjang - YUCK!), and even flounder sashimi.  But nothing looked that compelling and all of it looked pretty dirty, frankly.  So we headed back to the hotel and asked one of the sweetest guys at the concierge, Jun, for help.  He kept suggesting places, but then realizing that they were about to close.  It seems that restaurants in Seoul close surprisingly early!!!  Finally, he hit upon Korean-Chinese, so he printed out a map and wrote out the characters we should look for (Hong Kong something or other).  It was pretty close by - past the Doota Mall.  

      As we walked there, there were street vendors out in force, and TONS of people shopping in the malls.  It was kind of crazy!

      We first walked into one place, but I remembered Jun telling me it was downstairs, so we knew we were in the wrong place.  The right place was just a few doors down.

      We sat down, ordered 2 jjajjangmyeon and 1 tangsuyook, and I have to say, it was awesome.  



      Alex looks like a typical Seoul-ite here, doesn't he?


      This pic is blurry, but I thought it was funny first that a Shake Shack exists in Seoul, and secondly that a worker from there was eating here:


      After dinner, we walked a bit on this famous revitalized stream, Cheonggyecheon, which is RIGHT next to the hotel.  Somehow we just never made time to walk along it.  It's beautiful, isn't it?



      Hard to see, but these are little bubbling fountains


      Finally, we got back to the hotel and I asked my guy, Jun, about good patbingsu places, since Alex has never had it.  Sadly, he said that the season hadn't started yet!  Oh well...

    • - A relaxed day and a visit to Myeongdong Kyoja
      In the morning, Alex and I finally tried the amazing pool at the hotel!  I'll post more about that later, but it was the perfect start to the day.  Then we went to breakfast, and Alex had a VERY long day planned at work.  We were actually going to go to see the orchestra (my friend, Wayne, had arranged tickets), but Alex was afraid he might not get out of work in time, so I canceled.  

      After breakfast I did some work, and then I went to a massage!  Wayne's friend, the principal 2nd violin, had arranged it with a place she likes.  I was a little worried that I wouldn't find it, so I took a taxi, and I STILL got lost, haha!  I went to what I thought was the right building, got into the elevator, then realized there were no buttons inside.  I got off, then realized I couldn't call the elevator to the floor I was on without an ID badge.  Uh...  Then I finally got out of the building and couldn't find the number, so went into the 7-11, where the store owner helped me. 

      The place is modest, and called Foot Body, but I got a very good massage.  It's Asian style, so you change into some sweatpants and a sweatshirt that they provide, and there is a lot of stretching where the masseuse grabs you and stretches you for you.  As soon as she touched my right shoulder blade, she exclaimed, poked it several times, and said, "No. GOOD."  I laughed.

      After my massage, I met Emo at the hotel and we decided to try Myeongdong Kyoja, the famous kalguksu place.  I was curious, because I love kalguksu, but also despite its fame, one of my friends doesn't think it's that good.  I also hadn't been to Myeongdong yet, a neighborhood that elicits both praise and disgust, depending on who you ask.  Emo said she hadn't been there in over 20 years!

      The space is casual:




      And here are the dumplings:


      And the kalguksu comes with some wonton style dumplings as well.


      Emo said the kimchee is well loved, but too spicy for some people.  I tried it.  Still don't like kimchee.  Anyways, I wasn't a fan.  First of all the neighborhood is rife with shops and giant signage, and people out front entreating you to come in to shop.  Everyone there seems to be a Chinese tourist with tons of shopping bags.  So I didn't really like the neighborhood.  And the food, well...  The filling of the mandu was tasty, but the quality of the meat didn't seem that high - I definitely chewed on some suspect gristle-y bits.  And the kalguksu itself - I didn't think the soup was that tasty, and the noodles were sort of flaccid and had no taste of their own.  I remember my mom's kalguksu is way better and I thought even the kalguksu at the ddakhanmari places was better.  But now I've tried it!


    • - Gyeongbuk Palace and hanging out with YK
      My good friend from Stony Brook, Yoonkyung, is a professor here in Seoul!  Consequently, she is insanely busy between her teaching, advising, general university stuff, and extensive performing schedule, but I was excited to meet her while Alex was at work.

      We met at the Sejong PAC in Gwanghamun and had a nice long chat at a cafe first, but then she took me to Gyeongbok Palace, which is very nearby.  

      the beautiful palace gate against the backdrop of the mountain


      There was a very cute group of school girls touring the palace (along with many other kids), and we asked them to take our photo.  The first was a little far, but they wanted to get us in with the building, I supposed:


      a better shot

      We were there at the end of the day, which was really nice because it was not as hot, the light was beautiful, and it seemed like there were less people.  I love these faded wooden ceilings and beams:






      YK pointed out that the doors are raised like this, for ventilation.  I always thought they opened out or slid:


      Isn't Yoon-Kyung so cute?

      I saw these little stone things at Changdeokgung also, and both Eun-hye and YK explained that they delineate the different levels or rankings for the people who lived there, so the markers signified where they lined up for events:


      So one funny and cool (in my opinion) thing in Seoul is that you can go inside the palaces for free if you are wearing a hanbok.  There are a lot of rental shops, and a LOT of tourists go rent hanboks and go to sights wearing the hanboks!  I think it's kind of fun.


      The downside is that the hanboks are INCREDIBLY UGLY.  But still, it's colorful and fun:


      I forgot the name of this street, but I loved it - YK and I strolled down, and then we happened to end up back in Bukchon!  We just browsed, and then I had to go back to meet Alex.


      Alex and I had planned to go to an amazing BBQ place outside of Seoul that my friend, Steve, raved about that night.  But they had had a very long and tiring meeting, and the colleagues wanted to go somewhere nearby.  The hotel recommended Jeju Pork, nearby, which is a typical samgyupsal place.  It was pretty good, but I'm not sure I would recommend it.  Still, it was fun!


      To see the rest of the photos from my 2nd day in Korea, please click here.
    • - An amazing afternoon with my cousin Eun-hye: lunch in Insadong and the Changdeokgung Palace with Secret Garden tour
      Interesting note!  My friend read my last blog post and then sent me a message explaining that the candy making was related to chaos in dynamical systems.  I'm not sure I get it, but isn't that cool?

      When we walked around Insadong, we were both so surprised at how HOT it was.  I was in light summer pants and a short sleeve top, and I was still hot.  After we got back and refreshed (I changed into my warmest weather clothes), we met my cousin, Eun-hye, in the lobby of the hotel.  I only met Eun-hye once before, when I was in junior high, but I met all the Busan cousins at once, so I couldn't remember everyone.  She lives in a small town outside Daejon, I believe (or is it Daegu?), and had come the night before to Seoul and stayed overnight, just to meet me for the day!!!  Isn't that nice?

      She wanted to take us to a traditional Korean restaurant, and I found out we were going back to Insadong!  How funny!  As we walked around, I noticed a family mostly bc of a cute little girl.  I thought, "That's such a cute kid!  She's mixed, Asian and not.  Oh, her mom is so pretty.  But that girl is so cute with her dress."  As I was thinking all these things, the family stopped, and I noticed the mom staring at me.  Then I looked more closely and realized that I knew them from New York!!!  Jeewon was my classmate during my doctorate, and I know her husband from even before then!  Isn't that insane???


      We then went to the restaurant, which was in a traditional building where you take your shoes off and wear slippers inside.  We also sat at a low table.  When I've sat at low tables in the past, but always on cushions.  I have to say, these floor cushions with backs were super comfy - I want some now!


      We had a whole array of dishes, but two were new for me.  The first was a deep-fried twigim, but included small blossoms, like lily of the valley!  I tried to take a photo but I'm not sure you can distinguish the flowers:



      And the other was a clam, chopped and mixed with rice and other goodies and then stuffed and baked.


      But look at all the other stuff!!!

      Left to right, top:  bulgogi, mackerel, kimchee, a sort of stew of mussels, tofu, and veggies;  middle:  doenjangjigae with greens, rice, quartet of namul including a favorite of Alex's and mine, gosaree (fern), salad; bottom: pear and plum juice for dessert, eggplant, chapchae, and a trio of spicy seafoods: dried melchi, dried tiny fish, raw octopus

      It was all extremely yummy, and Alex and Eun-hye even had a tiny bit of conversation in Italian!

      I just found out from Eun-hye via Kakaotalk that the name of the restaurant is Durae (두레).  

      After that amazingly generous lunch, Eun-hye took us to see Changdeokgung Palace.  We really wanted to see the Secret Garden, but it's only available by tour, and the tour wasn't available for an hour and a half.  So we bought tickets and then explored the main part of the palace first.  It was amazing!  I think this is the only palace in Seoul that is original, as many of them were burned down by the Japanese.








      One thing Alex noticed was that it was surprisingly quiet inside the castle grounds, considering we were right in the middle of Seoul!

      It was SUPER HOT, bc it was midday, it was hot, there were not many trees, and there were vast open spaces around the buildings of the palace, so we relaxed a bit at a little refreshment stand (where I noticed a small band of army guys in fatigues hanging out, and they seriously looked like they were about 13 years old, although I just think they looked young - Eun-hye said men serve in the army in their early 20s) until our tour started.

      It was kind of a relief to start the Secret Garden tour, mostly bc there was actual vegetation! 


      It turns out that the Secret Garden isn't a secret, it's just called that bc it was the private area for royalty.  Our tour guide was really funny - this woman had an almost Southern accent to her English, with almost no Korean accent, so I thought at first that she was Korean-American, but then she used English in a slightly broken way like a native Korean would.  She also had a very dry sense of humor, which seems uncommon for Koreans, especially women (at least in my experience).  I was dying to ask her where/how she learned English to explain the accent, but I thought she might be offended.



      I've already forgotten, but this is a theme in Korea, of a circular island inside a square pond.

      This pond is intentionally shaped like the unified country of Korea!  The pagoda was one of many thinking/resting places for the king


      These flowers were everywhere - what are they??  I love them!

      Me and Eunhye!

      Oh, a funny thing I just remembered and am adding a few days later - a school group of boys ran up to Alex and motioned to him to join them for a photo.  He thought they wanted him to take their photo.  But it turned out that they wanted to be IN a photo with him.  Eunhye asked them why they asked Alex, and they said that they needed a photo with a foreigner for school.  Uh...  Eunhye surmised that they were probably supposed to TALK to a foreigner for the school project, with a photo as proof, but they went straight for the photo.
    • - Jongmyo Shrine and walking around Bukchon in SeoulLuckily, Alex's work meeting wasn't scheduled until the afternoon, so we had a little time to visit something!  We picked the Bukchon and the Jongmyo Shrine, which, in retrospect, we should have done the day before with Changdeokgung Palace, as it's right next to it.  Oh well!

      According to the website and our book, the English tour was at a certain time, so we hustled and got here, passing a beautiful outdoor park on the way.



      I don't know what this flowering tree is, but it smells AMAZING.   At first I thought it was honeysuckle vine growing on a tree, but it appears to be the actual tree.  It's all over Seoul and I love it!


      Unfortunately, we were wrong about the time of the tour, and there was only one in English, so we bought tickets, sort of walked around and killed time, and came back.  The discrepancy between published and actual tour times is one thing that inhibits our ability to see as much stuff as we want, unfortunately.  Anyways, we finally went inside and it was just beautiful!

      another circular island inside a square pond

      I think this tree is amazing

      ancient screens with text

      beautiful open spaces with gorgeous buildings

      the paths were divided into three - the spirits go on the center path

      the most massive building and space

      the musicians' pavilion!
      Because of the delay in starting our tour, we didn't really have much time to walk around Bukchon.  It was so cute!  I think Seoul is unusual in that it is a major, metropolitan, urban center, and there are plenty of signs in English, but it doesn't seem that tourist friendly, honestly.  Alex, who is a seasoned traveler and very independent, is a little overwhelmed here.  On these tours, there are pamphlets in English and tours in English, but I've noticed that the tours are not as packed as they have been on my travels to other countries.  It is sort of puzzling to me.  Anyways, Bukchon felt a little more touristy, with cute shops and more signs in English.  It somehow didn't cross the line (for me) into tacky touristville, though.  Sort of felt like a historic, Korean version of Soho (to me).  Anyways, it's known for the historic houses, so we just wandered around.

      view of all the roofs




      We had to get some lunch quickly and go back to the hotel for Alex to get ready for work, and there was a kalguksu place listed in the book that we wanted to try to find, along with a hotteok place on the map I spied (I love hotteok!).  On the way, Alex noticed this noodle shop that was full of customers, and a dish that he thought was his beloved naengmyeon:


      When we sat down, I ordered 2 naengmyeon, but they said, "No naengmyeon, GUKSU."  Uh - I guess it was a different cold noodle dish (my mom said later that it's a wheat noodle dish in a kimchi like cold broth).  Alex ordered momil guksu, but I couldn't resist ordering the sujebi with perilla seed.

      utensils are stored in drawers inside the tables


      Alex is very happy with his momil guksu

      closeup of the momil guksu
      sujebi

      dumplings in the sujebi

      I thought the sujebi was really interesting:  the sujebi and the soup tasted very vegetal, almost like stinging nettles taste.  The broth had almost a soybean texture and taste, as if there was some kind of doenjang in it, but not as funky.  I've always had sujebi in like a chicken soup.  And those round things were actually dumplings where the filling was like mandu (beef), but the wrapper was mochi!

      Lunch was SO GOOD, and like 7 bucks each!  When we got to the hotteok place, the lady was washing dishes and said that it wasn't time for hotteok.  But she sold shikhae also, which Alex loves, so he had some and enjoyed it immensely.  We started hoofing it back to the hotel, when we noticed this cute shop with beautiful flowers:



      And all kinds of mochi stuffed with fresh fruit!


      We tried them back at the hotel.  The fruit is encased in pat (red bean), and then enclosed in mochi dough.  The strawberry was really good and way better than the Jeju orange:



      We passed this cafe both yesterday and today, and I find it hilarious, for some reason.


    • - A late dinner of grilled fish and ddakhanmari (again) in DongdaemunAfter the palace, we got back to the hotel and I collapsed for a nap - this was, after all, my first day in Korea, really, and I had been powering through.  Alex finally woke me up around 8:30 or something, but it was really hard, I was like a dead person.  We went downstairs to talk to the concierge, but they feared that there were not that many options for street food eating, which was what we had planned.  After hemming and hawing, we decided to go back to the little alley where Emo (my aunt) and I went the day before, since Alex had never tried the ddakhanmari.  I was also curious to try one of the grilled fish places I saw lining the opposite side of the alley.

      When we got there, a lot of the places were already closed!  We passed by a few that were open, and we chose one simply because the guy grilling the fish was very friendly.


      I have to confess, the inside of the place looked pretty wretched, but it was no worse than some of the more tiny and old places I've eaten in Chinatown, so we went with it.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't that clean, though.  The banchan was not that good or fresh, and as you can see, the kgim came out of a package.


      First, I tried to order one fish for the two of us, and the waitress said we couldn't do that, so I just ordered another one.  Alex wanted mackerel and I ordered jogi (I can never resist).  But then she brought us a free fish (service) in the middle!  I don't remember what she called it, but on the menu the English equivalent was "saury."  It tasted like mackerel.  The mackerel on the right, though, was by far the best, and the fish overall was way better than the sides.  Phew!


      The meal also came with rice and doenjangjigae.  The whole point of my trying to order just one fish for the two of us, though, was so we would have room for the chicken!!  Alex LOVES mackerel, and this was really good, so he ate the whole thing in approximately 3 and a half minutes.


      There was a different concierge at the hotel that night, and he recommended a specific ddakhanmari place.  It was very crowded, and had two floors, so I thought it boded well.



      However, the service wasn't as helpful, there was no dduk, and worst of all, the sauce didn't have any buchu, or chinese chives, which seriously detracted from the flavor, in my opinion.  I was very upset that it wasn't as good, but it figures that the place my Emo picked would be better.  I will say that the kalguksu at this place was better, though, and Alex really loved that part.



      I just found the sheet that the Marriott printed out to recommend this place.  It's Jinokwha halmae won darkhanmari, at 265-55 Jonno 5th St., Jonno-gu.  I did NOT like this place.  If you walk down that alley way from the stream, the place I liked that I went to with my aunt was sooner, on the right, with lots of signage on the side of tv and radio accolades.

      To see all the other photos from the entire day of exploring Insadong, Changdeokgung, and our meals, please click here.
    • - Walking around InsadongI woke up at 3:30 a.m., not bad!  I'll do a separate post about our hotel later, but our room has a dressing room/closet that is like a little room, with a bench, so I sat in there so that I wouldn't bother Alex, haha!  Then he took me to the amazing hotel breakfast that he was so excited about, which I'll also write about later.

      At breakfast we saw his coworkers, so lingered a while, and then we only had two hours before we had to meet Eunhye.  Our concierge told us to go to Insadong.  One funny thing - the hotel REALLY pushes you to take taxis everywhere (they had wanted me to take a taxi from Incheon), but we told him we really wanted to experience the subway, so we did that.  Btw, everyone knows this, but the Seoul subway is amazing.

      Insadong is filled with shops that sell traditional items.  We aren't really in a shopping kind of mood this trip, so I found the neighborhood kind of disappointing - I wanted to see cool buildings and stuff rather than a bunch of tchotchkes, but I can see the appeal.  I did stop and watch these guys make some sort of candy.  So they make a loop out of honey and rice flour:


      Stretch it, and keep doubling it to make thinner and more numerous strands:


      All while making funny faces and singing a weird song:






      And then you can choose a filling (I chose nuts).  I bought a box and haven't tried it yet bc I've been eating too much!


    • - Arriving in Korea!After a crazy 48 hours of flying, concert in VA, then driving in the middle of the night to get back to NYC, cleaning my apartment and getting organized, and catching a very painful and early uber to Newark, I was finally on my way.  For my EWR-SFO leg, I unfortunately had a guy who kept poking at his screen (my seat and my back) VERY HARD throughout the entire flight, but I didn't say anything since he was old and had a Vietnam vet hat on.  In SFO, I settled in, and realized 45 minutes before my takeoff that NOBODY else was in my gate, realized the gate had been changed, and ran to my new gate (memories of Frankfurt, oh no!).

      My flight to Korea had no individual screens!  The idea was that you log onto the United Airlines system with your own device and stream their library.  Only the network NEVER WORKED.  Thank goodness I decided to bring my iPad at the last minute.

      Before I arrived, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to figure out the bus, but it was really easy!  There are ticket machines AND windows every few feet outside, and they direct you to the best one to get to your location.  I had checked with my hotel and there were three bus options, but they told me to take the KAL bus (not required to be on KAL to take the KAL bus).  Score, since Brian told me the KAL bus was way better.  The fare was only 16 bucks!

      Look how nice the bus is!  The seats are comfy and roomy!



      Once I disembarked the bus (it ended up taking about 90 minutes bc my stop was one of the later ones), I found the hotel easily, and was smiling to myself on the way to see a huge Shake Shack.  Just like home!

      The hotel is crazy nice!  In the lobby, a man rushed over to me, apologizing that he wasn't at the door to carry my bag, which was hilarious. I got my key and got to the room and basically just dropped everything so I could shower and meet my Emo!

      Downstairs, the same hotel guy said, "Wow, you look so different, 20 years younger!"  Ha!

      I was so excited to see Emo that I facetimed my parents.  I didn't realize it was like 4 a.m.  Oops.

      Emo told me she had actually never been to Dongdaemun, my neighborhood, because it used to be an area of rural markets.  So she didn't know where to go, and suggested a Hyundai mall with a buffet.  I said, "let's ask the hotel!"  So we went back inside and the friendly guy from before explained that the Hyundai place was one good option, with lots of options and very quiet and elegant.

      However, he said that if I wanted to try something that was very local to this area, there was a chicken dish that was boiled.  I asked if it was samgyetang, and he said it was different, but better, and special to Dongdaemun.  He showed us on a map, and explained that a small street would have the chicken places on the right, and grilled fish places on the left.  We could go to any of the chicken places on the right.

      As we walked, the street became dark and smelly, and I could see the horror on Emo's face.  I asked her if it was ok to eat in a place like this, and she kept insisting that she was worried about ME.  I told her I eat street food all the time, but if she didn't like it, we could leave.  We picked a chicken place with lots of signage that Emo explained was boasting about its fame, being showcased on lots of shows.  It was pretty crowded, which was also a good sign.  We sat down and were immediately served - they only have one dish.

      It's very casual, and they set these bowls of broth out, replete with seaweed and some green onions.  The waitress also cut up the chicken:


      the room

      kimchee on the side

      We also got some fun aprons to protect our clothes:


      some dduk rice cakes added to the broth
      At some point, the waitress made a little sauce for me of chinese chives, some hot paste that was on the table, minced garlic, mustard, vinegar, and soy sauce.  All of these ingredients were on the table so you can make more.


      And then you dip the chicken, potato and rice cakes into your sauce!  IT WAS AMAZING!


      Then, they put kalguksu in the broth!!! SO GOOD!!!




       Emo said she had never had this dish, and I don't know if she was just being nice, but she said she liked it!!  I loved it - I want to go back and bring Alex.


    • - One last meal in Milan at Pastamadre before returning home
      The train to Milan was great - we had a little picnic of various things Alex had picked up in Siena.  We checked into our same airbnb from the start of our trip, and we learned from Vasco that we could catch a train to Malpensa from Cadorna, a station MUCH closer to Navigli than Milano Centrale!!!  We have stayed in Navigli a few times when we fly in and out of MXP, but always went through the main train station - we were excited to go somewhere much closer and less crazy!

      Alex really wanted to go back to Pastamadre, as he was pretty crestfallen last time to find they had run out of biancomangiare.  Plus, it turns out that it's right in Viviana's neighborhood and they seem pretty gluten free savvy!

      cute pup on the tram

      I had to get that same octopus dish that I had last time, because it really is incredible.  We also tried a burrata, served cold in a cold sauce of tomato, capers, olives, dried tomatoes, and herbs, which was delicious!  I know burrata isn't from Milan, but still - it's a lot closer in Milan than NYC!

      polpo croccante su vellutata di cosaruciaro di Scicli

      Burrata su gazpacho di gialletta
      I was curious what the "timpa" was in chitarre al pesto di Timpa e cozze, and the waitress explained that it was a mix of herbs - I guess they make pesto out of whatever is in season since basil is a ways away.  I ordered that, and Alex ordered chitarre con crema di puntarelle, bottarga di muggine, e pane nero tostato (chitarra with a puntarelle sauce with bottarga, which is a dried fish roe, and toasted black bread crumbs).  He had noticed last time that everyone was eating that dish, and was rueful that he didn't choose it also.  We didn't share, as I don't like bottarga, but he said he actually liked my pasta better.



      And in a rare move for us, we split a third course:  polpette di baccala con insalata di arance e finocchi (balls of salted codfish with a salad of fennel and oranges).  This was kind of unbelievably good as well!  They were able to make it gluten-free for Viviana, and she also loved it.  The fennel was sliced so thinly, the fish balls were well seasoned and the perfect consistency, and the oranges were the perfect foil.


      Then, of course, the whole reason we came - the biancomangiare!


      Doesn't Alex look pleased?

      Our waitress, a very nice Japanese lady we had  been served by last time, remembered that Alex wanted biancomangiare, haha!  By the way, all the desserts on the menu were already gluten free, so that's great for Viviana!  We were told that the biancomangiare was just made with almonds and soy milk, and Alex pronounced it magnificent!  I ordered the apple crumble with rosemary and caramel, which was really quite good.  The apples were crisp and not in much sauce or juice, and the crumble was sandier in texture than American type - it was almost like barely held together shortbread!



      with Viviana and Massimo

      We went back, packed a bit, and then slept, setting an alarm for very early so we could go to Davide Longoni when they opened at 7 a.m. to pick some stuff up for the plane, haha!  They had this fantastic focaccia (sorry it's distorted by glass - we were carrying so much stuff to the airport I never got a proper photo) that was airy, flavorful, yet hefty all at the same time.


      We also picked up a loaf of rustic bread and the fig/nut loaf Alex liked so much last time, as well as a piece of almond cake we thought was the same as the one we got last time.  It turned out to be different, although super yummy - more of an almond, liquer, pine nut cake!