South Korea (1) – Rainy Days in Daegu

It’s the third day since we’ve been in Daegu and it’s been raining almost constantly, making it impossible to do any activities.

Not that Daegu has much to offer anyway. Apart from some hikes in the mountains that are close by but unreachable under the pouring rain, Daegu is the the city where nothing really happens. There are a couple of temples (but out of the city), some small museums whose explanations are only in Korean, some parks and a lot of restaurants, pubs and cafes. There’s even a street that’s called “Cafe Street” where coffee shops and Western-style restaurants line up.

But I did discover a fascinating place for spending these rainy days: the markets.

Seomun Market is one of them. One of Korea’s three largest markets, Seomun has been famous for its textile and sewn items (Daegu being known as the ‘Textile City” , though in the past years the textile industry shrank). But actually I’ve been more fascinated with the food you can find here.

The food stalls crammed in the narrow alleys display anything from seeds and colorful fruit and vegetables , delicious mochi sweets to more heavy things such as pork intestines or cooked silk worms (Beondegil).IMG_20140806_142112IMG_20140806_150418IMG_20140806_150509IMG_20140806_144929

The mochi sweets have various color in Korea, unlike Japan where they are usually white, brown or green. While also filled with red bean pasta, they are sweeter than in Japan and less soft.

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The cooked silk worms are a really popular snack in Korea (they are high in protein and low in fat :)). You can find them even at convenience stores or buy them live and prepare them yourself. I consider myself quite adventurous when it comes to trying new food but I admit that worms or other insects are a really big barrier. So far.

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But a delicious and safe thing is the ‘hotteok’ – a very popular street food. It is a deep-fried pancake filled with brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and nuts. It just tastes divine!

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We still have two more (and looong) days to spend in Daegu….with the rain and no attractions around I might be reconsidering trying the silk worms. At least it’s something exciting :).

A Second Trip to Tokyo

Last week we went to Tokyo for a second time.

The first time we were a bit in a rush to get the most out of the city, in three days.  The second time, however we had time to discover a  city where I’d love to live for a couple of years, full of happenings and events that I overlooked the first time I visited.   A city whose vibrant atmosphere, funky people, eclectic neighboorhoods and huge neon-lights make you want to come back again and again and again.

There are a couple of things that I loved this time in Tokyo:

1. Relaxing at Cafe Ki

I found out about Ki Cafe from an article in Bored Panda where the place was featured among the 20 of the world’s best restaurant and bar interior designs. Ki means ‘tree’ in Japanese and the design of the place is built around the idea of a forest. But a very abstract, minimalist one.

The table legs go up to look like tree trunks and branches. The whole space is painted in white, which makes a beautiful contrast against the blackness of the branches. Their coffee is really good, I had a hazelnut latte. So are the cakes….but I’ll let the pictures talk.

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2. Shimokitazawa neighbourhood

It is nicknamed ‘the younger cousin of Harajuku’ because of its equally funky atmosphere and small eclectic streets that you’d usually find in Harajuku. But if Harajuku has the popularity, Shimokita has the cool kids and the indie vibe. You can spend an entire afternoon here, wandering through the music shops that line the street, the popular eateries and vintage clothing stores.

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3. Walking on Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge which spans Tokyo Bay offers a  great view of the city, especially at night, with the dozens of lighted sky-scrapers. The walk is not long, around 1km and there are two routes: the South and the North route. We took the North route, with views on Tokyo harbour and Tokyo Tower. The South side offers views of Tokyo Bay and, if you’re lucky and it’s daytime, Mount Fuji.

To get on the bridge the easiest and nicest way is to take the Yurikamome line, a driverless elevated train that has some great views on Tokyo bay.

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(Oh, and it seems that the rainbow colour lights are only during the Christmas period, and the bridge looks like that):

Rainbow bridge Tokyo

Photo credits: Wikipedia

 4. A stop at the Toilet Exhibition in Miraikan Museum

It’s been everywhere in the news lately, and words like looney and weird would often describe it. So, I had to go and see for myself.

The exhibition is clearly targeted to kids , trying to teach them about the human waste and its impact on the environment. I found it creative and funny, mostly the part where you get flushed down a huge porcelain toilet, wearing …a poop hat :).

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In case you forgot the different shapes the human feces can have, here’s a reminder:):

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The exhibition features also different toilets around the globe and from the Japanese Edo period, as well as some innovative systems, like the pants that collect the urine:

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If you had enough of the scatological atmosphere, go on the 5th floor of the museum and have a chat with the lifelike robot Otonaroid or listen to the news read by Kodomoroid. It’s a bit spooky, but amazing in the same time!

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5. The Art Aquarium Exhibition by the artist Hidetomo Kimura

The Art Aquarium exhibition is a stunning form of art, combining about 5,000 goldfish in aquariums with colourful lightning, music, futuristic designs and traditional Japanese motifs (lanterns, folding screens, kimonos).

It’s really one of the most fantastic things I’ve seen so far, so anyone who’s in Tokyo shouldn’t miss it. The exhibition is open to public until 23 September 2014.

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The Philippines (2). Street Fiesta, the Joy of Local Food and the Mighty Pinatubo

After our adventure in Sagada, we headed to Mount Pinatubo, the active volcano that erupted in 1991 leaving behind a moon-like landscape.

We decided to stop on our way in Baguio, nicknamed “the summer capital of the Philippines”, at a halfway distance between Sagada and Santa Juliana, the last big village before the trek to the volcano.

Despite its promising nickname and being surrounded by mountains, Baguio is not what I‘d call a beautiful city. It’s busy and crowded, a sort of smaller Manila. I disliked it at the beginning, but then we discovered a nice place called the Garden in the Sky, in the Tam-awan Village. It is a small village of the original natives of Baguio, preserving a few of the Ifugao traditional houses. The huts are functional and can be rented out for the overnight stay.

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In the evening we took a walk through the city and we found by chance a street festival, a sort of popular fiesta with lots of people swarming by the narrow streets. We ate some delicious local dish at a food stall and had the loveliest dessert ever: puto bumbong, a purple-colored sticky rice cake shaped in banana leaf and flavored with sugar, fresh grated coconuts and butter. Mmm, so yummy!

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The next morning, we continued our way and after changing one bus and a crowded jeepney we arrived in Santa Juliana.  The village is the kick-off of the trek to the volcano’s crater. We spent the night at BS Farmhouse, a nice and cozy farm ran by a lovely family. It’s a bit difficult to find, you need to notice a faded board on the left side of the road, just at the entrance of Santa Juliana. We wouldn’t have spotted it ever if not for the people in the Tourism Office who were nice enough to show us the way.

The next day we got up at 5 a.m. and after a simple but delicious breakfast (mango’s, rice and eggs) we headed to the local Tourism Office to meet the jeep that would take us closer to Pinatubo’s crater.

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We skipped the local tours as we thought their offer was kind of expensive (about 3,400 php/person for a group of 2) and instead we booked the 4X4 jeep with the local Tourism Office.  We were lucky to find 3 more tourists willing to make the same trip and share the costs. We ended up paying about 1,500 php/person.

The trek to Pinatubo looks like a war zone. Driving through the Crow Valley, with its bumpy roads, ash fields, dead trees and rocky rivers is quite an experience. Everywhere you look, you can see the traces of the lava that came down to the valley and destroyed pretty everything on its way. Actually right after the eruption, the area was hit by a typhoon, which generated an enormous amount of a mudflow (water mixed with ash deposits and dust) that flooded through the valleys of the mountain. As a result, the mountains had some dramatic patterns, made by the merciless burning lava biting through the rock. Just like a pair of scissors cuts through the paper.

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The jeep takes you up to a certain point. From there, you need to walk up to the crater, under the scorching heat. On the way we stopped at an Aeta Village, inhabited by one of the oldest indigenous tribes in the Philippines. The Aetas had lived for hundreds of years in this area, but the eruption was devastating to them.

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The trek to the crater lake takes about 20 minutes and it’s pretty easy. Once you are there you get to enjoy a serene landscape, dominated by the blue waters of the lake. The complete silence and relaxing in the warm, clear waters make this experience unforgettable.

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Ode to Magical Iceland

About one year ago, we spent our honeymoon in Iceland, traveling around with a tent, a car and two very dear friends. We left directly from the city hall, after some rounds of photos and quick bites of colorful macarons. I remember I kept finding rice grains in my hair, during the flight and even the next day, scattered all around the hotel room.

It was June and everybody was ready for the summer, the sea, the breeze, the lazy afternoons in the sun…except for us. We packed the warmest clothes we could find, as highest temperatures in Iceland at the beginning of summer were about 14°C. And during the night, the undaunted presence of a cool air made it really hard to believe it was summer time.

But I completely fell in love with Iceland. It’s truly a land of wonder, with dramatic scenery. No matter where you look, there is a form of pure beauty.

I loved the isolation you sometimes felt when driving through endless lava fields.

I loved the greatness of nature. The otherwordly light that was sometimes scattered on the ground. The whimsical contrasts of brightness and shadows made by the sunlight. The mighty waterfalls, the glaciers, the streams and rainbows, the black beaches and milky skies.

I loved the adventure. From hiking, caving, whale watching, glacier tours, getting wet under the waterfalls, crossing rivers with no other bridge than a timber, I enjoyed everything like a kid who discovered something for the first time.

I loved camping. Iceland is one of the safest country for camping. It’s very organized and when you don’t find a camp nearby, you can basically place your tent anywhere, as long as you don’t harm the vegetation. While we were heading nort-west, to the fjords we stopped at some point because we were tired and we camped on some unbuilt land. In the morning we woke up surrounded by cute, fluffy sheep, curious to see us there.

I loved feeling magical. Because everything is so serene out there. Because of the absence of people. And simply because Iceland is a magic place.

Thank you, Iceland, for these beautiful dream-like memories. We wish to come back soon. Magic IcelandMagic Iceland Magic Iceland Magic IcelandMagic Iceland Magic IcelandMagic Iceland Magic Iceland Magic IcelandMagic IcelandMagic Iceland Magic Iceland Magic IcelandMagic Iceland Magic Iceland Magic IcelandMagic IcelandMagic IcelandMagical Iceland

Cuteness Overload at Owl Cafe

As the cat cafes are aready passé in Japan :)) there’s this new thing in town : the owl cafe. Actually, it’s not even that new as the owl trend has started to pick up last year.

It sounds a bit unsane, I know. So today I went to Owl Family cafe in Osaka, and it was unbelievably cute. People don’t usually hang out with owls, so that makes the whole experience so unique, I guess.

It was pretty simple: I stopped by the cafe and registered on a list (I had to wait for one and a half hour, as places were already booked). There’s a maximum of 12-15 people entering every hour (from 11-22:00). Too many people would scare the owls.

At the scheduled time, I entered the cafe and sat down together with the other customers. I had to order something (there’s a minimum order: soda for 1,000 yen or alcohol for 1,200 yen). While we sipped our drinks, a worker explained some things about the owls and how to behave with them. It was  in Japanese, so I didn’t understand much, but there was also an English leaflet telling you the basics: you musn’t touch the owls on the belly, legs, neck. You can pat them on the head with the back of your fingers, and put them on your arm, head and shoulders. Oh, and if they fall from your arm and turn with their head upside down, don’t freak out, call the staff :).

Once the explanations finished, you have 50 minutes of great time with the cute owls.

Below, the unusual meeting, in pictures:

This fluffy one was the first one I got to put on my arm and pat. Sooooo flufffy!

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These ladies were kind of sleepy:

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And she was one of my favorites (that’s quite a personality you got there!)

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The white one, when not asleep turned out to be quite a performer.

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And more playing and patting, please :).

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It was fun, it was strange and lovely and really OSSUM! :). Would do it again, for sure.

PS: I know there might be some concerns regarding the animals, of how well treated are they, etc. I’m not an expert, I know, but the owls seemed pretty well taken care of, and tamed and happy.