Thursday, March 31, 2016

So Long Seoul

We spent our last day in Seoul walking to bottom of the hill where the Seoul Tower is located, taking a tram to the top of the hill, and going to the top of the tower for 360° views of Seoul. This city is about 100 times larger than I thought. It's divided by the Han River.

While we were visiting the tower and a National Art Museum (an amazing exhibit of Rubens, van Dyck, Brueghel the Younger, Brueghel the Elder, and others), Elizabeth took a tour to the DMZ, the zone that separates South Korea and North Korea. No photos allowed. Darn it.

Walking towards the Seoul Tower.

A tram took us from the bottom of the hill to the Seoul Tower park at the top of the hill.

These chimneys are at the top of the hill, Beacon Hill. 450 years ago they, and others on other hills, were used to communicate warnings of invading armies, just like in the Hobbit movies. This probably where the Hobbits got the idea.

Jimmy stands next to one of many places on Tower Hill where lovers have placed padlocks to symbolize their love. Robin knew about this custom from some of the Korean TV series she has watched at home. Hmm, that looks like an International Shakespeare Center T-shirt.

Jimmy found a love lock for golf. Awwww.

This photo doesn't show it, but, according to a quick count I made, there are at least a billion locks hanging all over the place up here. Hey, where did he get that International Shakespeare Center shirt? It's strange, but I've seen shirts like that everywhere I've gone in Japan and Korea. I guess they really are international.

USA is over that way. We head that way tomorrow afternoon.

The Han River and the rest of Seoul is over there.

A typical Korean couple doing a traditional heart pose in front of stacks of love locks. You'd never catch me doing that.

More locks. After putting a lock up here, it's traditional to throw away the key. I wonder how often an ex-lover comes up here with bolt cutters.

After the Seoul Tower (shown in the background) visit, we took a taxi to the National Museum of Korea.

Relaxing at the Rubens and Other Masters exhibit. This guy insisted on posing with me.

Thai Tea for two. Unfortunately, we didn't know it was for two and in a bucket. That, along with the spicy shrimp, fried chicken and curry, made for some blog material we won't go into at this time.

Signage on a door alerts you that there are no babies, smoking, kissing, dogs, ballet, or guns allowed inside. Just obey the signage and you shouldn't have any problems.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Yesterday in Seoul

We did a lot of walking yesterday. Almost 15 kilometers according to Jimmy's app. And, as usual, we did a lot more and took more photos than I've had time to include in this blog. But that's a good thing. I've shown a lot more food photos than I ever thought I would. Sorry about that.

A giant calligraphy brush bronze sculpture reminds me that I haven't had time to sketch.

After visiting the palace mentioned in a previous blog this morning, we found a market that a friend of Jimmy's told us about. It's a long alley of food shops. You go to an upstairs dining area in the middle of the market and buy a handful of tokens (5,000 won for 10 tokens: approximately $5). You're given a plastic plate and then you stroll through the market picking out food from stands that have a special sign saying they are part of the food deal. Most items cost 2 tokens. Then you take your plate of food back to the upstairs dining area and try to find a place to sit. Or you can eat as you go. 

The dining area was crowded, but we squeezed in.

Items, left to right: don't know, don't know, don't know, WTF, fried chicken, don't know. Very Yummy. 

An hour or two later we found ourselves far from the big city stuff and stopped at a small, very cool looking coffee shop. There was a cool looking guy sitting out front. I almost asked him for a photo, but decided against it. After we relaxed and paid for our coffee, the woman owner gave us a bag of fresh ground coffee and said the guy outside had given it to us. Turns out he's the coffee grinder, an artist, and musician.

Robin asked him to autograph our bag of coffee. I used my Google Translate app to tell him thank you for the coffee.

When in Korea, I like to hang out with cool guys. Jimmy noted that not just anyone can pull off the Lennon-glasses look, but this guy owns it.

The coffee-grinding station in the coffee shop.

Last night we checked out a lot of menu signage as we walked past endless food shops. This is one of the options we passed on. 

We ended up at this small-but-great place located in a small alley across the street from our hotel. Lots of different kinds of fried chicken.

Soul Food in Seoul

After landing at the airport we took a cab to our hotel in the older downtown area of Seoul (the newest downtown area is the Gangham area on the other side of the river from where we are). The Korean lady at the front desk, whose English is better than mine, told us we could find restaurants and bars just several blocks away. After walking through an interesting alley of small cafes we came upon a modern, big-city street, crossed the street, turned down a side street and found the Seoul that  Hollywood location scouts look for. We've realized that in both Japan and Korea, there's at least one restaurant per person. 

We picked a restaurant that featured grilled meat, mostly pork. I didn't get the camera out in time to get an actual photo of meat. The green bottle is soju. We had several of those. Several too many. Very tasty though. Our favorite alcoholic drink.

This building is near our hotel and makes a nice landmark as we roam around the city, day or night. I think it's either an office building or maybe the galactic headquarters of an evil genius.

A Korean Palace

Our first full day in Seoul started with a walk through the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds, an massive place with massive empty courtyard areas and massive amounts of Koreans since it was a National Cultural Holiday. Fortunately the crowds seemed sparse due to the massive-ness of everything else.

The palace wall separates the ancient stuff from the modern stuff.

We continue on to other parts of the city.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Oh Yonago

Just got in (1 am) from drinks at Jimmy's favorite bar, the Red Lion, a ten minute walk from his apartment. The owner is a master mixologist, the kind that makes his own ice cubes with an ice pick from a block of ice. 

When we arrived at the bar there was one other patron, kinda what you might expect on a Monday night. After a short while several English/Japanese language teachers that Jimmy knows came in. Soon the place was full, about 15 or so people. The owner got his assistant to take group photos of him and all of us. Then everyone in the bar joined in taking group photos with us.

But first . . .

The day started with Jimmy dropping Elizabeth off at a ocean-side spa for a massage, then he and I went to driving range to hit golf balls. At this place a tee drops below the artificial turf mat and comes back up with a golf ball. I hit over 300 balls without ever bending over to put a ball on a tee.

Back to the bar story:

Cross over a small canal on a small side street to get to the Red Lion bar. Bars here open around 9 pm and stay open until the last customer leaves, usually around 3 am or later.

Jimmy and his friend, Kenji, the bar owner. Super friendly. Great mixologist.

Lots of new friends at the Red Lion, Jimmy's (and our) favorite bar. This guy happened to recognize Jimmy from Facebook because he knows the girl Jimmy was dating until recently. When Jimmy told him they had broken up he leaned back in amazement, saying "Oh my Ga, oh my Ga, oh my Ga!" He was flirting with Robin and, being a hair stylist, was in love with her hair-do. He liked my hair too, he said, but that's what they always say when they're flirting with Robin.

Jimmy with three other English teachers, sort of an impromptu teacher conference at the Red Lion. Tim, on the left, is Chinese and from San Francisco.

Robin and Elizabeth, working the room. Eventually, everyone in the bar got into the spirit of things and joined us in big group photos. I'll try to get some of them from Jimmy.

Complimentary bar snacks.

When the drinking devolves into arm wrestling (Jimmy, on the right, vs Ohara-sensei, another English teacher), it's just about time to start walking back to the hotel. But first, a few more hugs,  hellos, goodbyes, and group photos. An amazing night. Oh Yonago!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Yonago Yummy

We've been having a good and delicious time here in Yonago, Jimmy's hometown. Several of the meals we've had here are the yummiest we've had in Japan. This small cafe, Ships, is a short walk from Jimmy's apartment. 

Dessert just came to the table. Gotta go. More later. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nara and Fushimi

On Monday Jimmy guided 5 of to Nara and Fushima, both towns being accessible by train. Robin didn't go along because she wasn't feeling well and wanted to spend the day resting in the room instead of climbing temple stairs and shrine steps, so she could join Jimmy, Elizabeth, and me for dinner before Jimmy caught a train back to his home town on Yonago in the Totorri prefecture.

But first, a couple of random photos that got left out of the last posting (apologies for the haze effect — I didn't realize there was a smudge on the camera lens):

Another photo of the small side street bar that has a seating capacity of four.

As Jimmy walked us from the subway stop to our hotel, he pointed out a "love hotel." This was the only signage to identify it. The sign was next to a car entrance. When you pull in and park a curtain drops to hide your car and license plate. You get a room and pay for it by pushing buttons on a vending machine. You never have face-to-face contact with another person. Two convenient rates available: "Stay" for 6,200 yen, or "Rest" for 3,200 yen. If someone is expecting you home in time for dinner, or if you need to get back to the office, you should choose the "Rest" option.

Before Jimmy caught his bus back to Yonago, he went us to the Kyoto station and helped us buy the bus tickets to Yonago that we'll need tomorrow (Thursday here). He also made sure we knew where to catch our bus. In the station (above), if you don't want to use the escalator you have the option of using the stairs. Robin took the stairs. You can see how popular they are, especially going up. The escalator was crowded, but not as tiring.


The Nara temple complex is huge, and it's about a 30 minute uphill walk from the Nara train station. Once you get there you're greeted by deer who expect cookie treats that vendors sell (150 yen for a pack of 5 or 6 cookies). Elizabeth was popular here.

Jimmy and Nara deer. At one point Jimmy bowed to a deer, Japanese style, and the deer bowed back.

Elizabeth offers cookies to deer who seem bored with the same old cookie thing.

Yeah, deer. If you have cookies in your pocket or bag, they'll try to snatch it from you.

This is a street of food vendors that stretches from the Nara temple park to downtown Nara. It didn't seem crowed in the park itself because it's so large, but when the crowd narrows down to one small street it got a lot cozier.

This temple is the largest wooden building in Japan, which is saying a lot. It houses the largest wooden Buddha in Japan. It's 850 years old or something like that. It is awesome. You can tell it's a Buddhist temple instead of a Shinto shrine because it's not orange.

After washing his hands in a special trough, Jimmy finishes cleansing himself with incense before he enters the temple.

A view of the wooden Buddha inside.


In Yashimi, the main attraction is a path going up the mountain made of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Shinto gates. Shinto gates and Shinto shrines are always orange. There's probably a Shinto branding manual that specifies the exact PMS (Pantone Matching System) orange color, but I don't know what it is. 

Jimmy, our guide for the day, gives the universal tourist guide hand signal for "you have two minutes to go to the toilet before we leave to catch the train."

Following kimonos through the seemingly endless Shinto gates.