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.
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.
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!
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. Shannon and I walked around the palace grounds, but were especially excited for the Secret Garden tour.
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.
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.
Coffee #10: And what does one do after illegally breaking away from a tour? Buy a coffee, of course.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It was another packed day as I worked on seeing and eating all the things in Seoul in a mere 72 hours.
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.
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.
But 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.
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.
Now we are prepared to tour the DMZ.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a very full day, we arrived back in Seoul just as the Christmas lights were coming on in the city.
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.
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.
We found the stream without incident, but ended up wandering a bit trying to get to Insa-dong.
We eventually found the right area of town and walked around until we found the perfect spot for an extra hearty Korean dinner.
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!
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.
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:
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!
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.
Coffee #2: While in San Francisco, I had enough time to eat breakfast, drink more coffee, and walk around the sunny terminal.
After a not-too-long layover, I settled into what would be my very tiny home for the next 12.5 hours.
The flight was probably the least comfortable international flight I’ve experienced, but the time passed, as it always does.
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.
Coffee #4: So I drank another cup of coffee and continued to enjoy the scenery and Harry Potter movies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had just enough time to dry off before heading back into the rain. For a walking tour.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The amazing part was, as I took in the view while flying into the Portland airport, that I realized I really was coming home.
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!
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.
Also available were things like dumplings (jiaozi), fried rice, cold drinks, and mystery meat parts.
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:
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.
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.
Another delicious meal was in Hangzhou. We enjoyed some of the regional specialities, such as chicken in tea leaves and a fatty pork dish.
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.
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.
And 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.