South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part II

This series of posts is pretty much all about what not to do while traveling. It’s generally not a great idea to plan a 72-hour trip to Asia from the US, especially when considering the 30+ hours of travel time. It’s probably not the smartest approach to drink large amounts of coffee just to stay upright and functional. And, although staying active in a new time zone is an important part of counteracting jet lag, going non-stop from 6 am until after midnight the day after you arrive in a new country, definitely not recommended. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.

Coffee #5: My day started earlier than desired. I woke up around 1:30 am, again around 3:45 am, and couldn’t stay in bed a minute longer at 5 am.

What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can't go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.
What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can’t go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.

Shannon and I got an extra early start toward the Lotte Hotel where we were meeting for our all day DMZ tour. We had booked a tour through VIP travel. Tuesday through Friday, the tour offers hotel pickup, but on Saturdays the tour meets at a major Seoul hotel. Knowing we did not want to miss our 8 am tour time, we left extra early to allow ourselves plenty of time to navigate the subway system. Although what I discuss below will suggest otherwise, it is actually quite simple to get around Seoul. You can buy a reloadable T-card at a 7-11 or CU store and then add money to it at the readily available kiosks inside the stations. The card can be used in the subway, for taxis, buses, and other forms of transportation. Transportation is also affordable. The entire time I was there, I put 10,000 won (less than $10) on my T-card and spent another 5,000 won for the bus ride to the airport. Loading my T-card was one of the few times I needed cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM at the airport the night before.

DSC01770

DSC01772

DSC01779But back to the story. Good thing we left early, because we apparently lost all ability to successfully function. We could not figure out how to buy a reloadable T-card, so purchased a single ride card. Which then stopped working, leaving me unable to exit the subway station. Shannon stood on the other side of the barrier as I, only mildly panicked, figured out how to buy another card. Which also did not work (which I later realized was probably because I had not used that card to enter the subway system). Through some combination of desperation and magical thinking, I managed to get my single ride card functioning again, just in time for us to walk very quickly to our next subway…as it pulled away. Despite the series of debacles, we managed to make it to the hotel (and then, of course, take the incorrect elevator) before finally making it to the check-in desk for the tour. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult.

DSC01783

The hotel was gorgeous!
The hotel was gorgeous!

The trouble we had navigating what is actually a rather straightforward subway system could only mean one thing, time for

Coffee #6: After checking in for the tour and being directed to the bus, we had 30 minutes to find the nearby Starbucks.

DSC01785

This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign.
This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign. We both ordered venti toffee nut lattes.

DSC01789

 Now we are prepared to tour the DMZ.

IMG_8206

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a line running 155 miles east to west across Korea, dividing the peninsula in two. After a cease fire was signed in 1953 a line, referred to as the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), was literally drawn across the country in the form of regularly placed markers. The DMZ is the area on either side of the MDL – 2 kilometers to the north and 2 kilometers to the south. With a few exceptions, this area is primarily uninhabited and makes for one heck of an interesting day tour, even if one has to submit one’s passport in advance of the tour and undergo multiple security screenings. On the South Korean side, there is a highly militarized area just south of the DMZ, called the Civilian Control Area, that is also generally inaccessible to the public.

Our first stop was Dora Observatory. Located on a mountain, the observatory offers a great viewpoint of areas within the DMZ, as well as the southern part of North Korea. For about 500 won (less than 50 cents), you can use binoculars to get an even better view.

IMG_8211

DSC01803

DSC01807

DSC01806

DSC01805

DSC01804

DSC01818

After getting an overview of the area above ground, we headed underground at the 3rd Tunnel. Opportunities to take pictures were limited to prior to entering the tunnel. It is one of the four discovered tunnels that were reportedly built by North Korea in order to infiltrate South Korea.

The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery, floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnels.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnel.

IMG_8226

IMG_8236

IMG_8234

The next stop was Dorasan Station, the northernmost train stop in South Korea. For a brief period of time trains carried freight between the two sides of the peninsula. However, there have been no trains between the two countries since 2008. The station is eerily quiet and now serves almost exclusively as a tourist destination. To me, it also seemed to represent the conflicting and mutually held beliefs expressed throughout the tour: that North Korea is the enemy and yet that reunification is desired. It is certainly a complicated part of the world with no easy solutions.

DSC01824

DSC01839

DSC01838

DSC01832

DSC01829

DSC01825

Despite the smile on my face, by this point, I was dragging. I felt terrible. I was getting a headache and all I wanted was to take a nap. Thankfully, it was time for lunch. My vegetarian bibimbap was delicious, although rather hard to capture in a photo.

DSC01845

DSC01850

DSC01848

DSC01847

Shan's dish was some type of beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.
Shan’s dish was a beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.

Despite the venti coffee earlier, not even lunch was sufficient to perk me up. So…

Coffee #7: My post-lunch coffee is a type of coffee that is popular in Korea. It was powdered coffee, sugar, and creamer all in one. Not my favorite, but it got the job done. As in, I no longer felt like I was going to die within the hour. Maybe by the end of the day, but at least not within the hour.

DSC01860

DSC01862

After lunch, our first stop was Imjingak Park and the Freedom Bridge, a spot where prisoners were exchanged after the cease fire. It now serves as a place to commemorate, and mourn, the lifelong separation that has occurred between family and friends since the peninsula was divided.

DSC01864

DSC01885

DSC01877

DSC01873

DSC01870

And then we got to the highlight of the day, entry into the Joint Security Area. This was the most intense and controlled aspect of the tour. With multiple passport checks and detailed instructions about what to do and not do, the tension at this point was palpable. The dress code was regulated, pictures could only be taken in certain spots and for a limited amount of time, there was no bending over or using hand gestures (I’ve never felt so worried about unconsciously fixing my hair in my entire life). All of that was worth it for the opportunity to actually put a foot into North Korea. The JSA includes a series of conference rooms literally divided down the middle across the MDL where delegates from the North and South occasionally meet.

DSC01887
The small concrete line in the ground between the two buildings is the line between the North and the South.

DSC01897

DSC01893

DSC01899

DSC01888

A North Korean soldier
A North Korean soldier

DSC01905

DSC01901
Our feet are in North Korea!!!
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn't get out of the bus because THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn’t get out of the bus because (according to our tour guide) THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.

After a very full day, we arrived back in Seoul just as the Christmas lights were coming on in the city.

IMG_8244

Normal people would, at this point, perhaps grab a quick bite to eat and then get some rest. But us? That would just be too predictable, too boring. What do we do? We drink

Coffee #8: We regroup at a coffee shop in the nearby Lotte Department Store and plan how we are going to spend the rest of the evening, although perhaps getting back to a place where we can sleep after midnight was not exactly what we intended.

IMG_8249

The plan was walk along Cheonggyeceon, a scenic stream running through the city, until we got to the Insa-dong area for dinner and perhaps some shopping. We would end the night by taking the cable car to Seoul Tower for an overview of the city at night. Because we had not done enough for one day.

DSC01915

DSC01918

DSC01917

DSC01916

We found the stream without incident, but ended up wandering a bit trying to get to Insa-dong.
DSC01920

DSC01922

DSC01921

We eventually found the right area of town and walked around until we found the perfect spot for an extra hearty Korean dinner.

DSC01927

DSC01933

DSC01940
Enjoying the warm barley tea that was available at the table
DSC01941
Galbijjim – short ribs, rice cakes, quail eggs, and all kinds of veggies. There are no words to describe how good this was.
DSC01945
Haemul pajeon – a seafood pancake with large chunks of shrimp, crab, and octopus with strips of onion. This is what food should taste like.
We did some damage
We managed to do some damage to this food
More subway riding to get where we're going
More subway riding to get where we’re going
IMG_8254
Seoul lit up at night was magical

IMG_8265

IMG_8259

IMG_8257

IMG_8256

After dinner, a subway ride, a taxi ride, and waiting in a looooong line for the cable car to the Seoul Tower, it would be tempting to think that we were too tired to enjoy it. But that would be incorrect. The view from the top was breathtaking!

DSC01962

DSC01988

DSC01986

DSC01979

DSC01978

DSC01977

DSC01973

DSC01971

DSC01970

DSC01969

DSC01965

It was also rather romantic, which made me really miss the boyfriend.

By this point, it was about 10:30. We still had to again wait in line for the return cable car, take the cable car to the bottom, take a taxi to the closest subway station, take a series of subways back to our part of town, and then either walk back to where we were staying or wait for the bus. Incidentally, this seems like a good time to mention the Korea Subway app. It’s easy to use, especially if, like Shannon, you have a wifi egg to access the internet wherever you go. I can highly recommend both the app and the egg. When the Subway app was used in conjunction with the Visit Korea app, it was simple to figure out where I wanted to go and exactly how to get there.

We were tired.
We were tired.
One. More. Subway.
One. More. Subway.

When we got off at our station, we had a difficult decision to make. Take the 10 minute walk back on oh-so-tired feet that had already walked 8 plus miles that day or wait a few minutes in the cold for the bus. Fatigue won out and we decided to wait for the bus. And then we waited and waited and waited. We waited as multiple buses passed, none of them ours. It became a sick game where we would see a bus on the horizon, momentarily allowing our hopes to rise, only to have them dashed moments later when we discovered that it was not, in fact, our bus. After every other bus that stopped at that stop passed by, twice, and thirty minutes had passed, we decided our only option was to walk back. At this point it was midnight. We had been going since 6 am. I had arrived in the country after a 12.5 hour flight only a day before. To say I was tired was an understatement. Somehow, we managed to put one foot in front of the other to make it back. We may have taken turns groaning out loud (I can’t help but think that this would have been easier to handle 10 years ago…), spurring one another on with promises of beds and hot chocolate. In case you’re wondering, this is what I felt like at the end of the day:

Hot chocolate, not coffee!
Hot chocolate, not coffee!

It was a day I will never forget. Despite the fatigue and the sore and blistered feet, I would not change a bit of it. If I was only going to be in South Korea for 72 hours, I might as well make the most of it!

 

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part I

Some things I have realized about myself in the past couple of years: when I have the opportunity to travel with a friend, my answer is almost always going to be yes (as evidenced here, here, and here). And apparently I am willing to go halfway across the world to do so.

All that to say, I should have known better.

When my friend Shannon was doing her best to cover up her disappointment about being in South Korea alone longer than expected to finalize the adoption of her son, I should have known better than to make a joke about coming to see her. Within a matter of minutes, that “joke” turned into searching for plane tickets, which quickly escalated into purchasing said plane tickets and planning my trip to South Korea. A trip that would occur less than a month later. For a long weekend. You read that correctly. I went to South Korea for a grand total of 72 hours.

The only way to survive the madness? Drink lots of coffee and enjoy the amazingness that is longtime friendship.

Coffee #1: I began my journey early on a Thursday morning with the short flight from Medford to San Francisco.

I drank my first cup of coffee on the quick jaunt from OR to CA. That's the only reason I'm smiling at 5-something in the morning. Oh, and maybe because I am on my way to SOUTH KOREA to see one of my favorite people in the whole world!
I drank my first cup of coffee on the quick jaunt from OR to CA. Coffee is the reason I’m smiling at 5-something in the morning. Oh, and maybe because I am on my way to SOUTH KOREA to see one of my favorite people in the whole world!

Coffee #2: While in San Francisco, I had enough time to eat breakfast, drink more coffee, and walk around the sunny terminal.

Getting to go to the International Terminal? That always makes me happy!
Getting to go to the International Terminal? That always makes me happy!

IMG_8171

DSC01679

DSC01694

DSC01684

After a not-too-long layover, I settled into what would be my very tiny home for the next 12.5 hours.

IMG_8179

The flight was probably the least comfortable international flight I’ve experienced, but the time passed, as it always does.

Leaving the US!
Leaving the US!
As the beverage service began, I was mindful of my goal to actually sleep on the flight. Thus, the vodka instead of another coffee.
As the beverage service began, I was mindful of my goal to actually sleep on the flight. Thus, the vodka instead of another coffee.
A 12 plus hour flight is the perfect time for a Harry Potter marathon.
A 12 plus hour flight is the perfect time for a Harry Potter marathon.
The vegetarian option for lunch was surprisingly delicious Indian cuisine.
The vegetarian option for lunch was surprisingly delicious Indian cuisine.

After a few hours of fitful sleep, it was time to try to wake up again. I wanted to be able to sleep once I got to South Korea, after all. What’s the best way to wake up? Coffee and sunshine.

Coffee #3: I was looking a bit frazzled at this point.

IMG_8181

A peek out the window revealed this snowy view. No idea where this is - Russia, maybe?
A peek out the window revealed this snowy view. No idea where this is – Russia, maybe?
This was breakfast, I think. Unlike lunch, it was not very palatable. I could recognize this food neither by appearance nor taste.
This was breakfast, I think. Unlike lunch, it was not very palatable. I could recognize this food neither by appearance nor taste.

Coffee #4: So I drank another cup of coffee and continued to enjoy the scenery and Harry Potter movies.

DSC01720

As the flight came to an end, I marveled at the almost magical experience of flying. Despite its drawbacks, which are many, airplanes allow me to leave the US on a cloudy Thursday morning and arrive 17 hours into the future on another continent and to another country around sunset on a Friday evening.

I think this is South Korea!!
I think this is South Korea!!

DSC01737

IMG_8187

And best of all, the magic of flying gives me the opportunity to do this – eat dinner with Shannon on the other side of the world. Because why fly to Tennessee when I can fly to South Korea? Every single uncomfortable hour of restless sleep, the sometimes mediocre food, the vomiting child in the seat next to me, the compression socks I wear on international flights to prevent my feet from swelling. All of it, every bit of it, was worth it for that.

Shannon and her friend, Mr. Song, picked me up from the airport (which has free wifi, allowing you the opportunity to easily communicate with the person picking you up - take note, China) drove me into Seoul.
Shannon and her friend, Mr. Song, picked me up from the airport (which has free wifi, allowing you the opportunity to easily communicate with the person picking you up – take note, China) and drove me into Seoul.
The random restaurant Mr. Song took us to near where we were staying. He ordered for us, in Korean, so I don't actually know what we ate, but it was good!!
Mr. Song brought us to a restaurant near where I was staying with Shannon. He ordered for us, in Korean, so I don’t actually know what we ate, but it was good!!

DSC01747

DSC01762
In Korea, each meal is accompanied by a number of sides. I think these were some type of kimchi greens, fish cakes, soybean curd, and sprouts. Not knowing exactly what I was eating didn’t stop me from enjoying it!

DSC01759

DSC01755
Things I know about this – it was wonderfully spicy and had vegetables, tofu, and beef.

DSC01754

DSC01750

Some experiences can’t quite be put into words. Sometimes impulsive decisions are the best ones to make. And some friends are worth meeting for dinner on the other side of the world.

IMG_8196

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Get Stuck in the Snow

It sounded incredibly romantic – the boyfriend, a gorgeous and snowy Oregon day, hunting for the perfect Christmas tree. This year, I was not only going to have my first non-artificial Christmas tree ever, I was going to drive up into the mountains and cut one down. I mean, it sounds pretty much like a scene from a movie.

IMG_8020

And for much of the day it was.

I marveled at the initially frosty and then snowy trees (I’m still a Southern girl at heart and this never ceases to amaze me).

IMG_7992

IMG_8018

IMG_8020

IMG_8026

IMG_8023

I became ridiculously excited when we bought our $5 Christmas tree tag.

IMG_7990

We kissed in the middle of a frost covered bridge over a river surround by a white, wintry landscape.

IMG_8009

IMG_8016

We stopped to admire the scenery. And to kiss some more.

IMG_8034

IMG_8037

IMG_8035

We climbed higher and higher, Brandon expertly driving the increasingly snow-covered mountain roads, in search of my perfect tree.

IMG_8031

I spent the day with a gigantic smile on my face.

And then we got stuck in the snow.

Perhaps the boyfriend was trying to impress me. Perhaps we were distracted by the undeniable beauty of the day. Or perhaps we felt like the perfect tree was just around the next curve in the road.

Regardless, we suddenly realized that the car was no longer, you know, moving forward. The wheels were spinning to no avail. After allowing ourselves a moment to take in the reality of our situation, which included being stuck in the snow on a lonely mountain road with no traffic and no cell service, Brandon jumped into action.

IMG_8039

He began to dig us out of the snow while trusting me to drive the car forward or in reverse according to his careful instructions. Despite our best efforts (and by “our” I actually mean “his” – the guy was digging us out with his ungloved hands while I was sitting on the heated driver’s seat inside of a heated car), the situation became increasingly bleak. As in we were either going to freeze to death in the car or we were going to walk miles down the mountain. And still possibly freeze to death in the process. I’ll take option C, please. That would be the one where I don’t die from the cold.

IMG_8040

And yet I didn’t despair. We kept working together (quite well, I might add) and persisted with our attempts to become unstuck.  At this point we were almost literally between a rock and a hard place. Through a combination of desperate prayers, Brandon cutting down a tree to use for leverage, him bracing his entire body against the car to push away from the rocks, and my amazing driving skills (hahaha…) we managed to somehow, finally get free. It was a moment of sheer relief.

IMG_8041
Out of the snow but rather worse for the wear

Although our relationship managed to survive the Great Christmas Tree Hunting Debacle of 2015 entirely intact, his car was somewhat less fortunate. Somehow the guy still likes me even though my desire for a real Christmas tree, found in and cut down from an Oregon forest, kind of messed up his car.

And yes, we did find the perfect tree.

IMG_8042

IMG_8043

IMG_8067

IMG_8061

IMG_8074

Beautiful despite its imperfections. Beautiful because of its imperfections. Like a Christmas tree, and a relationship, should be.

IMG_8088

Conferences Can Be Fun

Okay, so the title might be a bit misleading. It suggests that the default assumption is that conferences are, in fact, not fun and one must work to make them so. However, we all know that conferences are fun because learning new stuff is fun. At least to a nerd like me. That being said, there are some ways to make the most of the time spent in a new city, even if you’re there to work.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore two amazing places while also getting to learn new stuff. My first out of town training was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and the second was in the nearby Portland, a city in which, despite its proximity, I had yet to spend much time. Here are a few things I did to make the most of my time in these two very different cities.

  1. Enjoy the journey. Whether it was marveling at the view out of my airplane and shuttle bus windows, taking a short road trip to Portland with the boyfriend, or finding a few minutes to ramble while orienting myself to a new place, I love, love, love, to see or experience a place to which I have never been. Even if I have to work the next day.IMG_6802 IMG_6813 IMG_6807
  2. Stay somewhere cool. While in Portland, I was fortunate that the conference was held at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront. Not only was the room super cool and oh-so-Portland (notice the bike art), but the view. Seriously. Plus, it was super convenient to take the elevator down to the conference instead of walking across half a city (usually in the cold and rain) to get to a conference because I was a poor, broke grad student and had to stay somewhere that was both less expensive and significantly less convenient than where the conference was being held. Oh the perks of having a real job. IMG_7144IMG_7155IMG_7147IMG_7170I wanted to extend my stay in Portland a bit longer and decided to stay at the even more cool Hotel Monaco Portland. The room was quirky and comfortable. The boyfriend and I enjoyed the well-attended complimentary wine hour before heading out to dinner. Sydney was not along for this trip, but if she had been, she would have been welcomed and spoiled at the Kimpton Hotels property.IMG_7222IMG_7207 IMG_7209 IMG_7208IMG_7217 IMG_7215 IMG_7214
  3. Eat good food. Perhaps this is more generally reflective of my approach to life, but traveling anywhere is the perfect excuse to find the best food that I can and eat it.
    IMG_6822
    The area around the Mayo Clinic had many excellent restaurants, including this one.
    IMG_6828
    Goat cheese flatbread with oven roasted tomatoes, garlic oil, spinach, and a whiskey balsamic glaze
    IMG_6825
    Br’er Rabbit’s Bramble made with gin, lemon, simple syrup, and Pimm’s Blackberry Elderflower
    IMG_6873
    Lobster mac n’ cheese at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar.
    IMG_6911
    Penne alla arrabiata from Victoria’s. Not only was it delicious, but thankfully I had a mini-fridge and microwave in my hotel room because I had plenty of leftovers.
    IMG_6913
    Raspberry creme brûlée – I couldn’t skip dessert!
    IMG_6991
    City Market was the perfect spot for a quick and yummy lunch.
    IMG_6990
    My veggie sandwich was made on multi-grain sourdough and topped with Boursin cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, sprouts, cucumber, roasted red peppers, and jack cheese.
    IMG_7008
    On Friday I treated myself to lunch at the seafood restaurant Pescara to celebrate wrapping up my training. The shrimp tacos and black bean soup were perfection.
    IMG_7031
    My last meal in Rochester was at Grand Rounds Brewpub.
    IMG_7032
    The chickpea and goat cheese burger with an avocado puree was a great veggie burger option.
    IMG_7165
    One night in Portland, the boyfriend and I treated ourselves to a fancy night out at the Portland Street Grill. The view, the food, and especially the company were impossible to beat.
    IMG_7164
    Salt and pepper seared scallops with caramelized cauliflower and roasted butternut squash – my idea of the perfect meal

    IMG_7162IMG_7206

    IMG_7167
    And because there had yet to be enough deliciousness, pumpkin donut holes
    IMG_7173
    The Bistro in the Marriott was an ideal spot to meet the boyfriend for a quick and very yummy lunch.
    IMG_7175
    Salmon salad with green beans, potatoes, egg, tomato, olives, and a honey mustard vinaigrette
    IMG_7174
    I was perfectly content with the curried cauliflower soup and a Caesar salad
    IMG_7178
    Friday evening, we met my colleagues for dinner at a fantastic Italian restaurant in the Pearl District. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name. Forgetting one restaurant name is not too bad, right?

    IMG_7179IMG_7180

    IMG_7251
    My favorite meal of the entire Portland trip was at a new restaurant named Lechon. The architecture and design were unique and fun and the food, which, let’s be honest, is what really matters, was beyond incredible. Inspired by South American cuisine, every.single.dish. was delicious. I will definitely be returning.
    IMG_7262
    Gaucho bread with chimichurri
    IMG_7261
    Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, smoked cashew puree, pink peppercorns – I could eat these everyday.
    IMG_7260
    Grilled octopus, which was really beyond description. Just know it was fantastic.
    IMG_7259
    Grilled corn and braised brisket empanadas – I could have eaten dozens of these. I’m sure they were calorie free, right?

    IMG_7257

    IMG_7256
    Mediterraneo – pisco, cardamom infusion, egg white, lemon

    IMG_7254IMG_7253

    IMG_7277
    Brunch at Red Star Tavern. It was excellent, but relatively overlooked. So in a city that is all about brunch, we were able to get a table right away.

    IMG_7279

  4. Explore. I was quite busy while at the Mayo Clinic, but I did get to spend some time walking around their amazing campus. In Portland, the boyfriend and I explored the nightlife, enjoyed a scenic walk along the river, and spent a very fun afternoon at the OMSI – the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. IMG_6820IMG_6829IMG_6869IMG_6919IMG_6955IMG_6954IMG_6923IMG_6922IMG_7009IMG_7015
    IMG_7264
    We skipped Voodoo Doughnut this time because the line was always ridiculously long. Plus, in case it is not abundantly apparent from the above pictures, it is not like we could have possibly been hungry.
    IMG_7267
    Ground Kontrol Arcade

    IMG_7199

    IMG_7235
    The walk to dinner Saturday evening was gorgeous.

    IMG_7236

    IMG_7248
    This guy makes me smile

    IMG_7240IMG_7238IMG_7237IMG_7280

    IMG_7288
    We totally figured this one out without any help from Google. At all. Promise!

    IMG_7287IMG_7286

    IMG_7285
    Looking good at the IMAX

    IMG_7283

  5. Relax. I took advantage of a free afternoon to check out the spa at the Mayo Clinic’s incredible health center. A little pampering was a perfect way to wrap up a week of long days of work. The services were affordable and the facilities were quite nice. Whether it is a couple hours at a spa, doing some yoga, or taking a walk outside, relaxation helps the brain work better, an important aspect of being able to absorb all the new information you learn at a conference.IMG_7018 IMG_7024 IMG_7023 IMG_7020 IMG_7019
  6. Bring along someone with whom you like spending time. If you have not yet deduced this, the boyfriend tagged along for the conference in Portland. Which meant I could do fun things like meet him for lunch, go out on city dates and do all kinds of non-small-town stuff, and be slightly pushed out of my comfort zone (Ground Kontrol, I’m looking at you…). He definitely made my time in Portland more fun.IMG_7154
  7. As a bonus, I’m going to share one thing NOT to do. Do not, under any conditions, oversleep your alarm the morning you’re going to the airport. Hypothetically, that could result in missing your shuttle to the airport by 5 minutes, which, in turn, could potentially result in a $230 taxi ride. I am not sure who would make such a rookie travel mistake, but just take the offered advice and set an alarm and request a wake up call. Your wallet will thank you.

I have so many exciting things coming up soon: more exploration of Oregon including a New Year’s Trip to Sun River, a last minute trip to South Korea, and a long-planned trip to Iceland early next year. I am looking forward to ending this year on a high note and beginning the next one in the best way possible – going somewhere new!