Seoul’s autumn foliage 

We all need to take breaks. And this usually involves travel, for most people, Singaporeans in particular. Somehow, perhaps due to the fact that Singapore is really small and there are limited things that we can do domestically, most of us count wanderlust as one of our traits. It also helps that we are quite well-situated to travel to many places, Singapore is generally well-connected by flights, budget or otherwise, to many cities in the world, and our passport offers general easy visa-free access to many countries.

I have progressed to taking several holidays within a year. I do not belong to the demographic group that can survive on one long trip each year, so I break my annual leave entitlement into several smaller trips. I would love to take many long trips, but that just isn’t possible for office folks with limited annual leave, and also finances-wise.

Recently, I just went to Seoul for a short 5-day vacation, because my friend couldn’t afford more days of leave, and our main objective of heading there was the autumn foliage. It was good timing, because when we went, leaves were mostly turning a brilliant shade of red, especially on Nami Island where most headed for such views. This photo had a filter from the built-in filter of my phone, but it just enhances the beauty of the view, as there was insufficient sunlight to give the photo a natural brightness it would need to look good.

October seemed so long ago, even it’s less than 2 months since the trip. I feel so tired and drained these days, while I busy myself with tying up loose ends of the renovation, which is one of the most difficult things to handle, shop for furniture and schedule for deliveries while juggling with the remnants of renovation. These, in addition to visualising and deciding on how I want certain things to be, where I want to have certain items, and what I would need, so on and so forth. Owning a place is a lot of work and considerations, and it has left me utterly exhausted, not to mention frustrated and spent.

On top of all this, balancing my usual routine and life has also proven tumultuous. I don’t know if I suck at multi-tasking, but aside from what renovating and furnishing the place needs of my time and energy, it is a challenge keeping to work, yoga and my usual attempts to meet up with friends, even if there are many occasions where they aren’t able to make it because their lives are just busier. So someone told me, if they do not appreciate my effort, then just don’t try anymore. Yes, I should try to practice that, and keep to it.

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Pampering thyself (part 2)

Part 2 would invariable be talking about the return trip from Seoul. Obviously on the flight from Seoul to Singapore, there wasn’t the Book-the-Chef service available but I was still looking forward to the food being served because I’ve had the opportunity to try the premium class food a few times when I was working at the airline, and I really do think the quality is pretty decent. I still don’t get why people complain about airplane food all the time like they are eating it everyday for every meal. C’mon people, be a little thankful! And since it’s already paid for, why let the food go to waste right? By saying this, I am not even talking about the premium class food, even in cattle class, whether it is Singapore Airlines or not, I do think that food is fairly decent. At least it is edible.

So for starters, they are still serving the same thing, i.e. satay! I do really quite enjoy the satay, which I have had only one other time I think.

IMG_9971.JPGI had the chance to check out the in-flight catering facility before, the place that prepares all these food and so I guess that led to me appreciating what is being put out in front of us.

Unfortunately, the return flight was quite full. So besides the fact that I had someone sitting next to me as compared to the trip to Seoul, being seated at the last row of the cabin means that I am the last to be asked what I would like to have for the meal, and everyone else seemed to want the same thing as me. So despite that there were 4 choices available, there was no more “stock” of that one option I wanted.

At least the appetiser was quite good though. The satay and the salad made up a little for it. And of course, that huge bun you see on the left. I really like these soft buns that they serve on the plane, sometimes it is the highlight of my meal, not that the rest of the food is that bad, but because I really really had an unfathomable love of bread.

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Ah… I really miss this. Where you get the food being served course by course on a tray table complete with table cloth and salt and pepper shakers! In economy where common folks like me usually travel in, we can only be contented with all our food arranged compactly and neatly (usually anyway) in small rectangular trays, much like a tetris game. That is if we are not travelling in those fuss-free flights with meal service where they just dump a burger and some snacks on your table along with a plastic cup of a beverage.

So this was the other main that I could think of eating. I had wanted the fish but it was not available anymore, and I didn’t want sweet and sour pork (which is to me like zi-char and I would rather have that at a zi-char stall) nor the beef.

IMG_9973.JPGThe chicken wasn’t all that bad, particularly since it was served up with a dollop of mashed potato and some grilled vegetables but I wasn’t in the mood for chicken, so I had to do the unthinkable act of wasting it.

IMG_9974.JPGAnd to finish off the meal, I asked for a cappucino! I think I also took some desserts, i.e. chocolates but I can’t recall now already if I took the ice-cream. It really is a lot of food for one sitting but since I have already used my miles to redeem for this flight, might as well enjoy to the fullest right? Call me a cheapo if you want, but hey I don’t get to fly business class otherwise.

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Pampering thyself

It is no secret that I enjoy pampering myself, especially when it comes to travelling. I don’t indulge that much, or at all, in beauty pamperings although many feel that I should. Yet I am not a fan of spas, facials and massages, for whatever or no particular reason at all. Maybe I will change my mind one day, but as of now, pampering defined for me typically goes in terms of material things, like shopping, though it doesn’t seem to factor as highly these days, and enjoyment, such as good food and living it up.

Still on that trip to Seoul, yes, my life is all but about looking back. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to talk about, but my blog is called “Beautiful days”, or as it is translated from belle journees, and I want to keep things here as what the blog is meant to record. Besides, dwelling on the depressive and unhappy things doesn’t serve much purpose other than this becoming a platform to air and articulate my demons within.

Ok, back to the Seoul trip. I wanted to redeem for an air ticket to Seoul, but as usual, due to my spontaneity (read: indecisiveness), by the time I had wanted to make the redemption, all the available economy class tickets were already gone. So I thought of giving myself a treat, also as a means of pre-celebrating my birthday, giving myself all sorts of excuses to make this a real pampering trip. I put in a redemption request for business class tickets, which were eventually confirmed despite that at the onset, one leg of it was being waitlisted. Yay! How long has it been since I last flown in the business class… Sigh. So for a noob like me without many, if any, opportunities these days to fly business, I decided to pop by the lounge and was pleasantly surprised that the lounge was a different one from the Krisflyer Gold lounge. Being the glutton that I am, even if I had a good homecooked dinner before heading to the airport, I still went ahead and grabbed myself some food as supper. Hardly supper fare it would appear.  IMG_9960.JPG

I ought to remind myself that if I were to ever consider redeeming business class tickets again in future, I shouldn’t choose a red-eye flight. Initially, I wanted to make use of the “book the cook” service, but because I’d chosen the red-eye flight it wasn’t possible since I did not want to have the meal service before sleeping (i.e. after take off). For this flight, perhaps because it was not exactly a long one, there was only one meal service, either after take off or before landing. I opted for the latter.

A view that I had missed, because I always preferred aisle seats. I was lucky this time round where the seat next to mine was empty! So I could be seated by the window and not face any difficulties getting in and out. Just as dawn broke, I love how the first beams of the rising sun slices through the darkness of the night sky, seemingly bringing forth a strong ray of hope to the world. IMG_9961.JPG

And so breakfast was served! It came one by one, so pardon the half-eaten bun and fruits.IMG_9958.JPG

The main, which I picked the egg frittata. I can’t remember what the other options were, but there was quite a few to select from. It has also been a long time since I had such a full breakfast that consisted of hot food. Mostly, it would just be a big mixture of breads, yogurts, fruits and cheese. Plus coffee of course. The food wasn’t too bad, and I’m not saying this just because this is business class food. Even in economy, I seldom find the food bad and inedible. I know of many friends who complain about airplane food and how they would never eat anything onboard, choosing instead to have their meals before the flight. Since the food is already included in the ticket price, why not just sit back and enjoy it? Furthermore, I don’t suppose they travel that often to get sick of the food? Probably I just have lower expectations and yardstick of comparison where food is concerned.IMG_9959.JPG

View when the sun had fully risen, the beautiful image of a milky sea of white clouds. To live in this moment is to take in the wonderful picturesque display before my eyes and not think about anything that would cause my brows to furrow. After all, all things will work out as planned, won’t they? 

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exploring Anguk, Seoul

On one of those days in Seoul, I went to look for the area recommended by a colleague, Anguk. This is actually a neighbourhood nearby the palace, and is walkable from the Anguk subway station on the Orange line (Line 3), although it is quite a walk from the station to the right exit, and then again from the station it takes a bit of time to walk as well. So try to do it when the weather is fine, but I did it when it was a fairly warm day, despite that there was the occasional breeze.

Based on what I’d read online, this is quite a well-known area for interesting cafes, where I had seen many nice pictures posted of the cafes as well as their offerings. However, I didn’t get to try any of them since I already had my breakfast and coffee before I went, as the shops there don’t open till after 10am, the earliest. It was still quite a good walk though, and the next time, I can make it a point to pop by and stop by one of the cafes!

This is the “entrance” to the area, based on the way that I walked from the palace. You can already spot bakeries and cafes on this main street but they are of course the larger and more commercialised ones perhaps.IMG_9917.JPG

As you delve deeper into the area and branch out to the side alleys, you will discover more shops and cafes, some of which look rather promising on the outside with their decor. But I wouldn’t know how their coffee and food would be like until the time when I finally get to try some of them.IMG_9919.JPG

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There is really a great variety in terms of the kinds of design they have, whether the cafe is decorated in a country style, modern style or like this one below, retaining the traditional look of the building they occupy. IMG_9920.JPG

And this Homestead Coffee with its giant cup atop its entrance is a common picture I see online on blogs that review this area.IMG_9922.JPG

Another shop, not a cafe, but a clothing shop, that actually bothered decorating its exterior too. I think they also have an art gallery of sorts within, which probably explains why. And near this place, there are also various museums and galleries so that’s another possible reason.IMG_9921.JPG

The area is quite popular with locals as well as tourists I gather, but the crowds were manageable when I was there, possibly due to the timing that was late morning to noon (and that was why it was so hot) and also as it was a weekday. As I was exploring the area, I caught a whiff of extraordinarily nice aroma that led me to very rustic-looking, small cafe, where they were in the midst of roasting coffee beans. It was just indescribable, the amazing scent that permeated the atmosphere of the surroundings that brought me to it and I totally understood why people can love coffee so much. Ok, it is just the smell here and not even the taste that I am getting into, but I am only usually more familiar with the nice aroma of coffee being brewed, but this coffee roasting smell… it’s wonderful.

I walked around for an hour or so, and when it got to warm to bear I decided to leave and head elsewhere. On the walk back to the station, where I will pass by the Insadong area, I spotted this! IMG_9923.JPG

I used to play Cookie Run on my iPhone when I purchased my very first iPhone years ago, and that’s why I recognised this character, and in the flesh! Haha. It didn’t look as cute as the character in the game but it was still quite a funny idea to see a human-sized gingerbread man cookie walking about on the streets of Seoul, though I really empathise with the person inside who is wearing that thick heavy gear!

snacking my way through a vacation

Far from being a champion of healthy-living and healthy-eating, I do indulge in snacks pretty often. On the whole, I think I am fairly well-balanced in terms of good and bad foods that I consume, although there could certainly be improved to skew it more towards the good than bad. But vacations are usually the times for people to let go, let loose, enjoy and indulge, in various senses of the word. And so, this of course includes gastronomic indulgences, and for me, someone who relishes in cheap food (someone I think my palate is just not geared for expensive food, unfortunately), would mainly be snacks. If I could and would, disregarding health concerns, I could just survive solely on snacks the entire day!

This was a stash I got on the very first day that I arrived in Seoul.20140807-093839-34719832.jpg

And what I stuffed the mini bar fridge with. It’s comforting to return from a day’s walking to the hotel room, open up the fridge and be greeted by such stuff waiting. Typically by the time I get back during the mid-afternoon breaks, my stomach will be craving for some snacks and as usual, I will be feeling peckish. These are great to pop a few in the mouth before stuffing them back again into the fridge.20140807-093856-34736713.jpg

Apparently, the banana milk is something quite well-known in Korea, or it’s supposed to be a famous Korean beverage yet I have never tried it before. I picked it up at the supermarket as I have seen it in the Korean marts in Singapore, but opted for the light version, which proved to be a good idea. My friend told me thereafter that the original, which carries a green packaging instead of blue, is much sweeter than this, and as I drank my first sip, I already found this to be too sweet for my liking. But to be fair, it has a strong banana flavour scent/taste to it. Not for the non-fans of bananas definitely. 20140807-093914-34754371.jpg

And everywhere I go, I always try to get my prebiotic fix in the form of yogurts. I love yogurts, not for any of their supposed health benefits if they are really as claimed, but just for its tinge of sourness and the creamy or fluid texture, depending on which type of yogurt, is something that I really enjoy. 20140807-093914-34754273.jpg

And biscuits! They are one of my loves alongside breads, cakes and pastries. I have morphed into a flour monster of sorts over these years, oddly, when in the past, I think I didn’t even enjoy eating bread and cakes that much. This little pack was picked up at a subway station and it provided a great snack for me on the move, when I’m experiencing hunger pangs on those long rides or just tired from walking. 🙂20140807-093914-34754318.jpg

Chocolates! Also something that I just can’t live without these days, whether they serve their purpose as a purported stress-buster, or just for the sugar rush when I need a boost of energy during the day. I am always fascinated by the variety of snacks and what-nots that convenience stores or supermarkets overseas carry, but then again I think it’s more a factor of me being too familiar with what we stock on our stores’ shelves in Singapore to truly see the variety. As the time passes, there is a greater array of products being brought into Singapore, so there really isn’t a lack for us so to speak, whether we are talking about snacks or other kinds of food, Western or Asian. It’s just that familiarity just makes me glaze over the assortment, I guess.20140807-093914-34754231.jpg

Another cup of juice and a pack of crispy, crunchy Korean spicy chicken-flavoured snack! It isn’t spicy at all, but more sweet, so I didn’t like it as much as if it had a spicy taste. Maybe I was imagining it to be something like Twisties, the curry-flavoured type that I really used to love until I resolved to cut down on snacks and Twisties fell from grace. Haha.20140807-093914-34754434.jpg

The Grand Hotel Myeongdong, Seoul

I shall continue with the Seoul trip! Now that I am done with the food proper, I will move on to the hotel. When it comes to hotels, I don’t necessarily need to stay in luxury 5-star hotels but I still like to pamper myself, even if it means having to pay a little bit more. To some, it’s extravagant because hotel is purely a place of rest for them for a short period of time at the end of a long shopping day. But for me, I want to have a nice, comfortable place of rest too! So on this trip, I decided to book a stay with the Grand Hotel Myeongdong, after reading through some good reviews online and also because of its good location. There were other similar options at lower costs, but because my trip was relatively last minute, I was left with few choices. So perhaps it is a reminder for me to confirm my travel plans earlier so that I don’t have to pay exhorbitant prices for hotels! Having said that, except for feeling the pain in parting with the money, I don’t regret staying with them, because this is really quite a good place to stay at.

The Grand Hotel Myeongdong is a very new hotel, completed only in the last couple of years so everything about it is still new and well-maintained. Let’s hope they upkeep the maintenance of the place, or in future, look out for newer hotels? It is located on the fringe of Myeongdong, so you get the benefit of being at Myeongdong but not caught within the bustle of the place. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk away from Exit 9/10 of the Myeongdong subway station, so when it comes to transport, there is little problem as well. It isn’t as well-situated as Hotel Sejong where subway or the airport limousine bus is concerned, but it is really just a 2 minute walk from Sejong, and it is much newer, unless you are able to get Sejong at much lower rates, then go for it!20140806-074053-27653369.jpgI booked a room with Expedia, and requested for an early check-in since my flight was due to arrive in Seoul really early. By the time I got to the hotel, it was perhaps only about 10+ in the morning, and most hotels have a check-in policy that they could adhere pretty strictly to, especially when they are fully-booked, or those that are booked on restrictive rates. I seldom had that problem on my past business trips, perhaps due to the hotels not being located in popular tourist areas or the city centres, but when I travel on holidays, I frequently have to make do with depositing my luggage at the hotel, freshen up at the hotel’s common restrooms, and then head out looking a little dishevelled. However, I was able to check-in upon arrival at the hotel, which I was really thankful for, so that I could get a quick freshen up and change of clothes before I headed out to explore the place!20140806-074053-27653223.jpgMy room is comfortable, nice and clean, and I liked that the room decor was accompanied with ambient lighting that further accentuated its comfort level. Dim lighting in hotel rooms somehow makes for a higher level of comfort somehow, to me at least, and in this case, it didn’t give it an uncomfortable eerie feel. Perhaps in some hotels, dim lighting exudes a slight creepy feeling, when the room is too big with dark corners that lend themselves to shadows from dim lighting, so there is probably a benefit to having rooms that economise on space. Not that I don’t enjoy larger hotel rooms, but I suppose you get the drift.

And the bathroom! One of my common gripes about some hotels that I stayed at previously, where luxury hotels have luxurious rooms without a matching luxury-level bathroom. I don’t expect too much from hotels that I book on a slightly lower budget (i.e. not your 5-stars) but I think in general, I am pretty ok, and in fact, quite like, the Japanese hotel-type of bathrooms. The ones in the Grand Hotel are similar in a way, though not as completely ‘plastic-mould’ as the Japanese ones. It was not too crammed where space is concerned, so I don’t have any complains about it.20140806-074053-27653282.jpg

One of the things I wanted to rave about the bathroom is the complimentary toiletries provided. Typically, we only see brand-name toiletries offered in expensive hotels. In this case, the Grand Hotel has managed to outdo many other hotels by stocking their bathroom with Innisfree items! This is a Korean brand that hails from Jeju, and although I have heard of them and seen them around, even in Singapore, I have never tried them. This range of bath products had a refreshing, green tea scent to it that I really liked. I only used the shampoo and conditioner a couple of times so I can’t know if they are good, but at least they didn’t make my hair feel dry and stringy after use, like how some other hotel-provided shampoos and conditioners do. Only gripe was that the bottles used should have been softer, because the conditioner wasn’t exactly fluid like the other three items, and with a hard plastic bottle, it made it virtually impossible to get the conditioner out.  

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So there is my review of the room. The hotel staff were all very friendly, helpful and could speak decent, good English. I didn’t check out the roof-top where supposedly there is a pretty good night view, neither did I try the hotel’s buffet breakfast (because it was quite costly at 18,000 KRW per head and also because I was more keen to check out the various cafes around for breakfast options), so I can’t really comment on those. But I will definitely put this hotel on my list of recommended places to stay in Seoul!

Starbucks, Seoul

Just one last one that I missed out. This was the breakfast that I had on my final day in Seoul. And yes it is Starbucks, no surprise but I really wanted to try out something from them. Almost ordered a Carrot Cake, which they had in stores there but sadly the cake selection in our Starbucks stores are quite pathetic. As my eyes roamed gleefully over the food display case, I was having a hard time trying to decide on what to order. Finally, I settled on a cranberry brown rice scone. I really loved that their cafes stock such interesting things; maybe it’s nothing unusual for them, just me being a frog at the bottom of the well, or that our cafes are just not that big on food items? Maybe even if they are well-stocked, which I think they aren’t, we might have gotten used to the array over time and find nothing special. In any case, I really wish for more, particularly since I spend more time visiting cafes than restaurants. 20140801-105856-39536358.jpg

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As with most pastry products, and scones in particular, it was fairly crumbly, as you can see from this picture below. I would like to comfort myself from its name that it should be at least a slightly healthier option as compared to typical scones, and it doesn’t have a strong buttery texture and taste to it, which probably also explains its crumbly-ness? Ok, scones are hardly healthy things to eat, even if they feature pretty regularly on breakfast menus. But the good ones can taste really good even on their own, and of course, they go extremely well with butter, jam and yes, definitely clotted cream. Perhaps that is what ups the unhealthy index, but let’s just put it aside and enjoy it for what it is.20140801-105856-39536532.jpg