Category Archives: Food is Awesome

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part III

Unsurprisingly, I slept well Saturday evening. Really well. Apparently, not stopping between 6 am and midnight means not having any trouble sleeping despite the time difference. That did not mean forgoing coffee, however.

Coffee #9: We stopped in the subway station for a quick coffee before heading to our first spot of the morning. FYI, this would have been coffee #10, but we couldn’t get the coffee machine to work where we were staying. I also feel that this post needs some real-life, genuine, travel-is-not-all-fun-and-games context. Sure, the pictures make it look like I’m having the best.time.ever. And I sort of was. But I was also rocking the worst.headache.ever. The kind that comes about from fatigue and jet lag and using coffee as a means of staying upright. As you read through this post, know that I felt terrible for the entire day. Behind every smile is an unremitting headache. Behind every exciting picture is a healthy dose of exhaustion. Behind every amazing place I went were two aching and blistered feet. And yet, I would do it all over again.

IMG_8279

I look tired
I look tired
Congratulating ourselves on our perfect timing and flawless negotiation of the Seoul subway system. I think stopping for coffee made the difference.
Congratulating ourselves on our perfect timing and flawless negotiation of the Seoul subway system. I think stopping for coffee made the difference.

Our first stop of the day was Bukchon Hanok Village. This is a traditional Korean village comprised of shops, restaurants, and cultural displays, but is also a place where people still live. Casually walking around the village was a low-key way to start the day. Although it did mean, you know, more walking.

DSC01991

DSC01993

IMG_8302

DSC02000

DSC02050

DSC02049

DSC02044

DSC02038

DSC02037

DSC02035

DSC02033

DSC02032

DSC02020

DSC02018

DSC02017

DSC02009

DSC02008

DSC02006

DSC02001

On the way to our next stop, Changdeokgung Palace, we did some shopping and found a spot for lunch. Our strategy? Keep walking until something smelled really good. It worked!

DSC02058

DSC02061

DSC02066

DSC02073

DSC02071

DSC02070

DSC02068

We could easily walk from the Hanok village to the palace, but apparently Koreans thought it was too far for Americans to walk. Because each time we asked for directions, we were either directed to the closest subway station or told it was far. Spoiler, it was not. We easily walked it.

Changdeokgung is one of the major palaces in Seoul. I would recommend purchasing the combination ticket, which gets you into four palaces and one shrine. DSC02186Shannon and I walked around the palace grounds, but were especially excited for the Secret Garden tour.

DSC02078

DSC02121

DSC02115

DSC02113

DSC02109

DSC02106

DSC02096

DSC02091

DSC02090

DSC02085

DSC02084

The Secret Garden is a part of the grounds that was developed for the king and royal family to relax in. It is not open to the public except on a tour.

DSC02123

Perhaps it was that we were tired, or maybe because it was winter and not the best time of year to see a garden, or maybe the tour was actually not all that great. In fact, it was rather a letdown. After getting a few pictures and hanging in there as long as we could, we snuck away. Like walking quickly and hiding behind buildings snuck away.

DSC02124

DSC02156

DSC02147

DSC02146

DSC02128

Coffee #10: And what does one do after illegally breaking away from a tour? Buy a coffee, of course.

DSC02166

Shannon and I shared a coffee and possibly said our goodbyes. She was heading to the airport to pick up her husband. They would be getting custody of their son the following day. Amid all of that, I wasn’t sure if I would get a chance to see her again. There are some moments that, as you’re living them, you can’t quite believe are actually happening. Sitting in a park in South Korea sharing a canned coffee with my best friend talking about how she was going to be a mother the next day is one of them. I am so thankful that I get to live moments like that one.

After Shannon left, I explored more of Changdeokgung on my own.

DSC02168

DSC02183

DSC02176

I then walked to the nearby Channggyeonggung Palace. It is a smaller palace that was built by the young king Seongjong for the dowager queens.

DSC02196

DSC02215

DSC02209

DSC02199

IMG_8306

And then a practical miracle happened. After all of this, I had to find my own way back to where I was staying. Alone. I can’t even do that when I do speak the language. And sometimes not even when I am traveling between places to which I have actually been before. And yet, I was successful.

To celebrate my accomplishment, I bought myself…

Coffee #11: Bought in a subway station, coffees like this are readily available.

IMG_8324

Coffee #12: This was soon followed by another cup of coffee. Because why not. And because Shannon and her husband Daniel came back to where we had been staying!

IMG_8330

We ended the day with a delicious dinner of Korean BBQ (also called galbi gui. I think…). Served with the traditional Korean sides, this was non-stop deliciousness. The small bites of perfectly cooked beef could be eaten alone, dipped in the accompanying sauce (a type of bean paste I think), or wrapped in a lettuce leaf with onion. All were good options. So, unexpectedly, was the grilled garlic. I ate so much food and regretted nothing.

DSC02218

DSC02220
Happy to be reunited after weeks apart!

DSC02219

DSC02222

DSC02230

DSC02225

DSC02228

DSC02233

Yes, I was eating meat. And yes, I was enjoying it. The sweet, soy sauce marinated meat was yummy.
Yes, I was eating meat. And yes, I was enjoying it. What can I say? The sweet, soy sauce marinated meat was yummy.

It was another packed day as I worked on seeing and eating all the things in Seoul in a mere 72 hours.

 

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

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!

Sleeping in Seattle Day 3

Of the things I love in this world, time alone to recharge and to think is surprisingly high on the list. I say surprising, because I absolutely love the people in my life. I have said before that they are simply the best, most wonderful, and amazing people that could possibly exist. But sometimes, I just want to be by myself. More recently, I’ve discovered that I also enjoy the luxury of alone time while traveling. Of course I love exploring with others, but exploring alone is an entirely different and utterly enjoyable experience. My last morning in Seattle, I took the opportunity to do just that. Without the pressure of conversation or the need to be aware of another person, I could fully notice.

Notice the delicious tastes and textures and sounds as I treated myself to breakfast at Shaker + Spear, the Palladian’s onsite restaurant.

IMG_6179

IMG_6183

IMG_6182

Notice the smells and the noise and the color of Pike Place Market on a Saturday morning. Notice the lives that were being lived all around me and yet were separate from my own.

DSC01512

DSC01559

DSC01550

DSC01523

DSC01522

DSC01521

DSC01520

DSC01519

DSC01516

DSC01515

DSC01513

Notice that what I really wanted to eat for lunch was the taste of authentic Chinese food, which I had been craving for months (thanks, Natalie, for the perfect recommendation!).

IMG_6204

IMG_6199

IMG_6203

IMG_6195

And notice how so very grateful I am for the people and places, the sights and sounds, the tastes and travels that make up my life. What have you noticed today?

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 2

After a pretty amazing night’s sleep thanks to the awesomeness of my bed and the room in which it was located, I awoke to a cloudy but nonetheless lovely morning. I reconnected with my friends for a low-key breakfast at Hitchcock Deli followed by more I-can’t-possibly-afford-anything-in-this-shop browsing. And another visit to the bookstore. Just because it’s awesome.

IMG_6131

IMG_6134

The day was becoming increasingly cloudy, but we decided to all head over to Seattle together on the ferry because I was going that way anyway. I love the ferry between Bainbridge and Seattle – even on a cloudy day, the views are hard to beat.

DSC01414

DSC01422

DSC01416

IMG_6139

It was sooo windy. And cold.
It was sooo windy. And cold. And did I mention windy? We had crazy hair.

DSC01453

Just about the time we arrived in Seattle, it began to rain. And by rain, I mean the sky opened up and started pouring and did not stop for hours. Basically, I spent the rest of the day cold and wet. But not even the rain could keep me from having a good time. I ended my visit with Sara and Ryan over a delicious lunch at Cafe Campagne, a spot we chose almost entirely because it had a roof and chairs and the possibility of food. We were not feeling too picky at that point. Fortunately, the french onion soup I ordered was the perfect way to warm up while momentarily drying out.

DSC01509

IMG_6155

I had a great time catching up with my friend Sara. I was sad to say goodbye as we parted ways, but I still had some fun plans in store.

But first, my hotel. My hotel of choice was the Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle. I chose to stay here based upon two things: it was a Kimpton hotel and it was within walking distance of the tour I would do that afternoon. Which was important because it was entitled the Booze n’ Bites tour. Emphasis on the word booze. Just sayin’.

This hotel was seriously cool. It was quirky and stylish and completely unique.

IMG_6173

DSC01466

DSC01459

DSC01465
I got to sleep with Leo. Every woman’s dream, right?!

DSC01461

DSC01467

DSC01468

I had just enough time to dry off before heading back into the rain. For a walking tour.

IMG_6160A few years ago, I had taken my first Savor Seattle tour. I had completely enjoyed it and knew that another trip to Seattle was the perfect opportunity to go on another one of their tours. This time, I chose the Booze n’ Bites tour, a tour focused on the food (and alcohol) culture of Seattle.

The tour began at Rachel’s Ginger Beer.

IMG_6170

It might be raining just a little bit less at this point. Maybe.
It might be raining just a little bit less at this point. Maybe.
DSC01472
Meeting up with my tour group. I was the only weirdo who decided to do the tour by myself. 
The first cocktail of the day was the Montana Mule, made with RGB's handcrafted ginger beer and whiskey.
The first cocktail of the day was the Montana Mule, made with RGB’s handcrafted ginger beer and whiskey.
Our second stop was Cantina de San Patricio
Our second stop was Cantina de San Patricio

DSC01476

Taco, guacamole, and some type of really spicy drink made with green chile and jalapeño vodkas. This former Texan could not have been happier.
Taco, guacamole, and some type of really spicy drink made with green chile and jalapeño vodkas. This former Texan could not have been happier.
Stop #3 was Long Provincial Vietnamese, where we tried salad rolls with peanut sauce and a lemongrass martini. I was really enjoying the tour by this point.
Stop #3 was Long Provincial Vietnamese, where we tried salad rolls with peanut sauce and a lemongrass martini. I was really enjoying the tour by this point.

DSC01481

Not even the persistent rain could dampen my spirits by this point.
Not even the persistent rain could dampen my spirits.

DSC01496

Up next was The Diller Room. It was an original Seattle speakeasy and is now a popular happy/any hour spot. I cannot remember what the drink was (something made with whisky...?), but the mushroom muffuletta is impossible to forget. I could eat that All. Day. Long.
Up next was The Diller Room. It was an original Seattle speakeasy and is now a popular happy/any hour spot. I cannot remember what the drink was (something made with whisky…?), but the mushroom muffuletta is impossible to forget. I could eat that All. Day. Long.

DSC01497

Our fifth and final stop was Von's 1000Spirits GustroBistro. This place is rumored to have Seattle's largest collection of spirits, a claim that I definitely believe.
Our fifth and final stop was Von’s 1000Spirits GustroBistro. This place is rumored to have Seattle’s largest collection of spirits, a claim that I definitely believe.
A cosmopolitan made with spun sugar. I will admit this was probably my favorite drink of the tour. And lest you think I drank 5 cocktails in the course of a couple of hours (they were mostly half size, by the way), I assure you I only drank the ones that I liked...
A cosmopolitan made with spun sugar. I will admit this was probably my favorite drink of the tour.
DSC01504
And lest you think I drank 5 cocktails in the course of a couple of hours (they were mostly half-size, by the way), I assure you I only drank the ones that I liked…

DSC01503

And then there was pizza. Wood-fired, cheesy, yummy pizza.
And then there was pizza. Wood-fired, cheesy, yummy pizza.

My second Savor Seattle tour did not disappoint. I would not hesitate to take another one of their tours in the future. I highly recommend checking them out if you are in Seattle.

After a cold and rainy day, all I really wanted to do was curl up in bed, order room service, and be my introverted self. However, I had made plans with another friend of mine, who I originally met while we were on internship in Houston and who had recently moved back to Seattle (apparently getting a PhD = knowing people everywhere). That meant drying myself off and taking an Uber (side note: how does one specify the verb form of using Uber? To Uber? Ubering? Someone please enlighten me) to a house party with a bunch of people I’ve never met. You read that correctly, I went to a house party. A party at which I only knew one person. And I almost utterly failed to document such a rare occurrence, although I did manage to snap exactly one picture.

IMG_6177

I actually had a fun time and it was a chance to catch up with another friend. Plus, travel presents the perfect opportunity for me to push myself just a bit out of my comfort zone, which is good to do now and then. But, I will admit that by the end of the night, I was ready to return to my hotel, talk to no one, and sleep with Leonardo DiCaprio, the pillow.

 

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 1

One of my rules for life: When a friend says “Do you want to go to (insert pretty much any place in the world here)?” the answer is always “Yes!” A resounding, unhesitating, absolutely I-will-make-this-happen, yes. Thus, when my friend Sara mentioned that she was going to be in the Seattle area and asked if I wanted to meet her, there was really only one way to respond. For weeks, I looked forward to spending time with one of my “Dallas friends.” Getting to spend a weekend in one of my favorite cities was just an added bonus.

The adventure began with an early morning road trip fueled by Dutch Bros coffee.

IMG_6109

A six-hour drive later, I was just in time to meet Sara for lunch on Bainbridge Island, where I would be staying for the first night. After considering our options, we decided that lunch at Doc’s Marina Grill was just about perfect.

DSC01354

DSC01362

DSC01361

DSC01360
Smoked salmon mac-n-cheese. Ummm, yes!

DSC01355

We spent the afternoon browsing the many lovely and oh-so-expensive shops of downtown Bainbridge. There was this little tiny candle that I wanted to buy because it smelled like bliss. I wanted to buy it until I saw the $55 price tag. No thank you. I can do without the smell of actual bliss in my life.

My favorite stop had to be Eagle Harbor Book Co. There is nothing quite like stepping into a book store and taking a deep breath laden with the smell of real books, feeling the hint of excitement as my fingertips longingly touch the covers of as yet unread novels, my mind full of curiosity about the stories within.

IMG_6135

This was also the scene of my first-ever celebrity sighting. I was in the process of trying to stop myself from buying one of everything when suddenly Sara appeared next to me and began excitedly whispering that Elizabeth Mitchell was nearby. We pretended to be highly interested in calendars and self-help books as we subtly (I promise!) followed her around the store. My only chance to get a picture occurred a few minutes later as we left the bookstore. In case you can’t tell, she’s the tall one in the brown shirt gracefully running down the sidewalk.

IMG_6113

After a warm afternoon of shopping and enjoying the scenery, it only made sense to eat ice cream. And if you’re going to eat ice cream on Bainbridge Island, you’re going to eat ice cream at Mora Iced Creamery. Calories do not count when you’re on vacation, right?

DSC01377

IMG_6115

After all of the driving, shopping, walking, and eating, I needed a nap. I decided it was the perfect time to check into my hotel. Which was a mistake. Because once I did, I never wanted to leave. Ever again. I wanted to move in and live there forever. My hotel of choice was not really a hotel, but rather a small inn. The Inn at Pleasant Beach was everything I love in a place to stay: beautiful, unique, and comfortable with an amazing view and incredible attention to detail. Seriously, never go there because your life will never be the same. You will be utterly dissatisfied with every other place you sleep.

DSC01378

DSC01391
I never wanted to leave this spot.

DSC01387

DSC01385

DSC01382

DSC01381

DSC01380

IMG_6130

IMG_6127

IMG_6126

IMG_6125

Literally, the only problem with the room is that it felt like a bit of a waste to stay in such a romantic place all alone. But I did my best to hold up under the disappointment. In fact, it would take some seriously awesome plans for me to be willing to leave my cozy room. Thankfully, I had just that – dinner reservations at Restaurant Marche with Sara, her husband, and her in-laws. There is just about nothing that makes me happier than great food and interesting conversation with wonderful people. This evening did not disappoint.

DSC01393

DSC01396
Cheers to friendship and the French 75, which is now perhaps a new favorite cocktail of mine.
DSC01395
Picture with the chef. I know people.

DSC01399

DSC01401
Vichyssoise
DSC01403
The vegetable plate was beyond delicious – corn flan, sautéed collard greens (maybe my favorite), gingered green beans, roasted cauliflower, and wood-fired zucchini. Not pictured, but also one of the best things ever – the frites with house-made ketchup and aioli.

And of course, it’s not a complete meal without dessert. We needed to make sure all the food groups were covered and I am fairly confident that “dessert” is one of them. Or should be.

DSC01406

DSC01405

Meals like that, full of delicious food, laughter, and free flowing conversation including an impromptu book club – life does not get better than that.

After returning to the inn, I could think of no better way to end my day than by taking a relaxing, hot bath (in that incredible bath tub – I could practically swim in it) followed by drinking hot tea while reading a great book curled up next to the fire.

DSC01410

It had been a long and wonderful day; it took me approximately 3.8 minutes to fall asleep after crawling into the super comfy bed. Sometimes, life is perfect.

The Art of the Showcation

You’ve heard of a vacation. You’ve heard of a staycation. But now that I live in Oregon, I get to enjoy what I have termed a showcation. This is when I have the opportunity to take a mini vacation and show off my home to friends and family who are visiting. My first experience with the Oregon showcation was when my brother visited in March. My entire motivation at that time was to convince him that Oregon was so amazing that he needed to move here. I’m still holding out hope that I will be successful. When my parents recently visited, I was motivated to convince them that I am, in fact, content and happy and doing wonderfully well living in Oregon. In other words, I needed to show them that I am doing okay, even if I was crazy enough to move thousands of miles away from them.

So I highlighted three aspects of my life that make me incredibly happy: amazing friends, beautiful places, and delicious food. Really, what more could any girl want?

Amazing friends: One reason I chose to move to Oregon was that one of my best friends moved here. One evening while my parents were here we hung out with her and her family. This proves to my parents that I am not all alone in Oregon. For example, I imagine that as my parents, they worry that I will get sick or in a car accident or stub my toe and that there will be no one there to help. Or something like that. Spending time with friends proves to them that they have (a little bit) less to worry about.

DSC01203

DSC01205

Beautiful places: Pretty much anywhere you look in Oregon is scenic, so it would not have been hard to show my parents that I am surrounded by beauty. However, just to be safe, I made sure to show them the breathtaking, the awe-inspiring, the beyond beautiful. Beginning with Crater Lake.

DSC01135

DSC01145

DSC01180

DSC01175

DSC01168

DSC01163

DSC01160

DSC01159

If a place like this doesn’t convince them that I live in an amazing place, nothing will. But that’s not all. There are also rivers and oceans and mountains and flowers. As an added bonus, they were able to enjoy all of this without breaking a sweat. Literally, it was like in the nineties and humid back in Arkansas, making the relatively cool Oregon weather seem even more wonderful by contrast.

DSC01129

DSC01130

DSC01161

DSC01196

DSC01220

DSC01226

DSC01231
Shore Acres State Park was initially a private residence. The house is no longer there, but the gardens remain, gardens set against the dramatic backdrop of the rocky Oregon coastline.

DSC01234

DSC01245

DSC01240
The only original building still standing is the gardener’s cottage.

DSC01236

DSC01261

DSC01258
This particular rose had a citrusy smell.

DSC01254

DSC01252

Delicious food: Last but not least, I took my parents to some of my favorite restaurants, as well as trying some new ones. I cooked them Oregon favorites like salmon and made homemade dishes that were good enough to convince them that my mostly vegetarian diet is not short on flavor.

While at Crater Lake, we tried the restaurant in the lodge. It was lovely and the food was quite good. 

DSC01132

DSC01137

DSC01136

DSC01139

DSC01138
A salad made with Oregon ingredients such as hazelnuts and marionberry vinaigrette, and Oregonzola. It was especially yummy accompanied by the beer cheese soup.

Perhaps my favorite restaurant in the Roseburg area is the Lighthouse Bakery. An all vegetarian restaurant, my parents were somewhat skeptical that they would enjoy it. However, between the view and the incredible food, my parents were quickly convinced that a restaurant that did not serve meat was worth the drive.

DSC01187

DSC01194

DSC01188

We also tried a new-to-me place in Grants Pass. River’s Edge, located as the name suggests next to the Rogue River, did not disappoint. We sat outside on the expansive deck and enjoyed our meal accompanied by live music. The scallops I ordered were beyond amazing and my mom got to eat one of her favorites – crab legs. It is a restaurant I will certainly go to again.

DSC01218
Everything about this makes me happy.

DSC01217

DSC01215

DSC01211

DSC01208

I am certain that my parents continue to wish that I lived a bit closer to home. However, I think that after their first visit to Oregon, they understand why I love living here. The people, the places, the cuisine, each of these did their part to reassure them that I’m happy and living a life that I love, even in far-way Oregon.

Couchsurfing in China: The Epilogue

How does one end an amazing, once in a lifetime, trip to China? I don’t know how most people do  it, but I chose to fit in a 24 hours stopover in Dallas. Just enough time to see friends, eat Torchy’s queso, and oh yeah, take a shower after a long day in the city and an even longer flight. But not really enough time to sleep much…

But before we get to all that, this is really important to say: You know how there is this romantic idea of sitting next to the cute stranger on the flight and falling madly in love? Well, the whole sitting next to a cute stranger thing is totally overrated. Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the dinner conversation with the very attractive world traveling engineer who I was fortunate enough to sit next to on the Shanghai to Dallas flight. However, one never sees the scene wherein the female protagonist (that would be me…) tries to both get some sleep, not exactly the easiest task on a plane in the first place, while not ugly sleeping. Which means no drooling, no awkward head bobbing, no crazy hair, and definitely no accidentally leaning over on your seat mate while sleeping. Have you ever tried looking attractive while sleeping on a plane? Not easy! Especially while wearing compression socks to prevent my feet from swelling. Sexy. Despite all of that, I quite enjoyed the flight…

And then I arrived in Dallas, almost 8 months since I had moved. My lovely friends were kind enough to want to hang out with me despite the fact that I had not showered in an unmentionable amount of time and had been sitting on a plane for 13 hours. We ate Torchy’s (and I may or may not have brought an order of queso back in my luggage), told stories, laughed, and just generally had a wonderful time. And as if all that were not amazing enough, I got to take a legit shower. Sorry Kelsey if I used all the hot water.

IMG_5602
What happens when a bunch of 30-somethings try to use a selfie stick. There was a table of not-so-30 -somethings not-so-silently mocking us.
IMG_5599
This. This is happiness.

IMG_5601

Saturday morning, another sweet friend picked me up for lunch at one of my favorite spots that I miss terribly – Patina Green. After savoring every bite of my cauliflower sandwich and every minute of the conversation, I was dropped off at the airport to finally go home for real.

IMG_5604

IMG_5610

IMG_5607
I have the best friends, hands down.

The amazing part was, as I took in the view while flying into the Portland airport, that I realized I really was coming home.

DSC01115

DSC01118

In the 8 months I had lived in Oregon, this place had begun to be my home despite the distance from every place I’ve ever lived and the total lack of knowing people in the town I had moved to less than a year before. It took traveling far away for me to appreciate for the first time the home that this new place had slowly become. As my flight landed in Oregon, I came home.

I always wish I had adequate words to capture the moments I spend in the places I go. I hope despite my shortcomings as a writer, you found something to enjoy or entice or ponder in the time you spent reading about my trip. It was a week of (mostly) ordinary life in a city in China that reminded me what an extraordinary life I live. Thanks for being a part of it!

Couchsurfing in China: I Travel for the Food

If you have read my blog, like, ever, then you are likely aware that I like food. Like really like food. And taking a trip to China was the perfect opportunity to try some new and, ummm, interesting foods. There were also many delicious foods. Many, many delicious foods.

Let’s start by talking about the street food. Across from campus was a myriad collection of food vendors and small restaurants where I most often ate during my stay. At any time of the day, various forms of inexpensive food, both identifiable and otherwise, were available for purchase. One of Jobie and Junie’s favorites is these sweet corn (or corn-like? I’m not really sure what was in them) cakes. Baked fresh and placed into a bag while still giving off steam, these were small bites of puffy goodness.

DSC00245

DSC00246

DSC00249
Sweet corn(?)cake comas

Also available were things like dumplings (jiaozi), fried rice, cold drinks, and mystery meat parts.

Thankfully, Candi was able to order for me.
Thankfully, Candi was able to order for me.
This is a strangely delicious drink called coffee milk tea. Which is exactly what it sounds like.
This is a strangely delicious drink called coffee milk tea. Which is exactly what it sounds like.
Lemon something? It was quite refreshing after returning from a hike up a mountain.
Lemon something? It was quite refreshing after returning from a hike up a mountain.

DSC00336

DSC00335

DSC00348

DSC00337

DSC00338

DSC00343

DSC00342

DSC00340
I do not believe I want to know what any of this is…
DSC00347
However, this I want to eat. Now.

In the same area as the street food vendors were several small restaurants. During my stay, we ate at two of Candi and Justin’s favorites – one specializing in Sichuan cuisine and another in cuisine from northern China. I honestly cannot remember all of the dishes, but I do remember that the vegetables – cauliflower, small eggplants, potatoes, squash – were all especially delicious. Although I thoroughly enjoyed each of these meals, I will be honest. One must put aside any and all food hygiene issues in order to consume food in China.

First, because food is prepared in places that look like this:

DSC00251

I’m guessing there is not much regulation of food safety standards.

Second, meals are served family style. Various dishes are ordered (by someone who actually speaks Chinese) and brought to the table along with a big bowl of rice. Each person dips their own small bowl of rice, but from that point, chopsticks are used to grab individuals bites. Those same chopsticks are then used to place those bites (after adding an appropriate amount of rice) into each person’s mouth. And then back into the plates of yummy food shared by all.

I really found it best to not think about it. That way, I could thoroughly enjoy eating all of these amazing dishes.

DSC00254

DSC00256

DSC00259

DSC00258

DSC00257

DSC00733

DSC00743

DSC00742

DSC00740

DSC00738

DSC00737

DSC00555
In case it’s not obvious, this is the entrance to a dumpling restaurant
DSC00550
Where the magic happens

DSC00549

DSC00548

DSC00544
This was as spicy as it looks and perfect to add to a bowl of dumplings along with some dark vinegar.

DSC00543

DSC00540

DSC00539

DSC00536
I have been craving this for a solid 2 weeks. And I cannot have it. Never go to China because you will eat things like this and your life will never be the same and you will be sad that you cannot eat it every day. Just some friendly advice.

We went out for a nice dinner one night to a place called 70’s Restaurant, although it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Despite the inexplicable name, the food was incredible.

DSC00494

DSC00521

DSC00520
These were little tiny eggplants. As a side note, instead of saying “cheese” when taking a picture, people will say “qiezi,” the Chinese word for eggplant, which sounds more like ches-duh. Obviously.
DSC00518
Mushrooms

DSC00517

DSC00516

DSC00515

DSC00514
This was translated as bread with ice cream. It was a sweet bread with a sugary outside topped with a sweet butter-like substance that got all melty and good tasting.

DSC00513

DSC00511
This cabbage was incredible, especially as it continued to cook and got a little crispy on the edges.
DSC00502
Enjoying some barley tea.

DSC00501

 

Another delicious meal was in Hangzhou. We enjoyed some of the regional specialities, such as chicken in tea leaves and a fatty pork dish.

DSC00882

DSC00884

DSC00891

DSC00895

DSC00894

DSC00893

DSC00892

One of my favorite things to eat was the readily available fresh and delightful fruit, even when I was not entirely sure what it was that I was eating.

DSC00362

DSC00364

DSC00363

DSC00351

 

DSC00353

Dragonfruit smoothies. In a Razorback cup, of course. WPS!!
Dragonfruit smoothies. In a Razorback cup, of course. WPS!!

DSC00266

DSC00268

DSC00267

 

Even the places that should have been familiar had their own unique Chinese twist. Take for instance, Dairy Queen. Forget a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard. I ordered mango ice cream complete with a macaroon.

DSC00896

DSC00899

DSC00898And then there were the chips. Trying to find a familiar flavor was next to impossible. Because they were mostly flavored like meat. Even the Cheetos were meat flavored. As in, regular Cheetos were not to be found.

DSC00404

DSC00409

DSC00408

DSC00407

DSC00406

 

 

DSC00405
Not meat flavored, but also not particularly good. Trust me.

Even the bakeries were different. Although the pictures may appear to be any bakery in any city, the available pastries tended to be less sweet than what one would typically find. Oh, and the egg custard? Amazing.

DSC01016

DSC01020

DSC01017
And yes, I ate both this and the egg custard. Don’t judge me. I needed lots of energy for a day in Shanghai and a long plane ride home.

Although I ate many wonderful, potentially life changing foods while in China, I also took the opportunity to try a couple of new, potentially not palatable foods. And because I like you, I am sharing the carefully documented series of pictures of me trying gross things. You’re welcome.

First up, stinky tofu. As the name suggests, it is tofu that is intentionally soaked in something that smells like sewage before being fried. The name could not be more appropriate.

DSC00307
This is one of the moments when blogging is an inadequate medium. There are no words to capture the burning trash smell permeating the air as the tofu was fried.

IMG_5505

DSC00312

DSC00314

 

The most memorable food experience was certainly trying chicken feet. I literally ate the foot of a chicken. I think the pictures say it all.

DSC00885

 

DSC00886

DSC00888

DSC00889

One of my favorite ways to get to know any place, both near home and in a far away place like China, is to try new dishes. Whether what I ate was especially tasty or something I would never voluntarily eat again, China did not disappoint.