I’m Just So Tired of This

For the most part, I plan to keep this blog focused on travels, fun things to do and see and watch and eat.

However, in the wake of what’s going on in my country right this moment, I need to use this platform to air my thoughts.

A man opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers a few nights ago. This post isn’t about him. This post is about all the times we, as American citizens, say, “Thoughts and prayers” and then go right back into the same system. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. It’s not. I’m 33. The first mass shooting I remember was Columbine. I was in middle school at the time. Since then, I’ve seen coverage of countless mass shootings. Countless deaths. Countless thoughts and prayers.

Thoughts and prayers.

And then we do nothing. We don’t take a look at our laws and figure out a better way. We don’t look at our health care  system and find a way to get people better access not only to mental health care, but health care in general. We don’t look at toxic masculinity and address the role that guns play in our society. We don’t look at how racism plays into the idea that a person of color or a specific religion is either a terrorist or a thug or a criminal or an “illegal,” while a white man is a “lone wolf.”

We don’t even look into the fact that calling someone a “lone wolf” romanticizes the image of a mass murderer. Wolves are strong and powerful. A man, hiding in a hotel room, so many floors up and shooting into an unsuspecting crowd of innocent people that can’t even see where the bullets are coming from, is not strong and powerful. He’s weak. He’s a coward. And he is not alone. There have been many before him. And there will be many after him.

I live in a country where men carrying Nazi flags are referred to as “good people on all sides” while a black athlete protesting racial injustice is a “son of a bitch.”

I live in a country where one person’s right to own guns trumps a child’s right to go to kindergarten without being murdered. Where the right to own a gun is more important than the right to cancer treatment, a living wage, an education. I live in a country where it’s easier for a man with bad intentions to buy a gun than it is for a rape victim to get an abortion. I live in a country where a woman fleeing domestic violence is blamed for her death because “why didn’t she just leave?” While her husband was able to legally buy the gun he used to kill her.

I live in a country where it is illegal to sell Kinder Eggs, because we are not smart enough to see the plastic toy inside and not choke to death on it. But we are apparently smart enough to be trusted with a weapon designed to murder 58 people and injure 500+ more in a matter minutes. Because, self-defense and overthrowing a tyrannical government! Makes sense, right?

I live in a country that is collapsing from the inside. You ever notice that there are a lot more terrorist attacks from ISIS in Europe than there are in the U.S.? Want to know why? Because Americans, as a collective, do more damage to our fellow citizens than ISIS could ever dream to. They don’t need to destroy our people. We do a much better job of it on our own.

Many will say that now is not the time to bring politics into it. Or to argue. Or to state the obvious. It’s a time to mourn. A time to pretend to reflect on the tragedy of innocent lives lost. You can pray and mourn all you want. But it means absolutely nothing if we don’t have the hard conversations. The first step to getting help is admitting there is a problem.

Well, here I am. An average, American citizen admitting that my country has a problem. Several, actually. Now, what are we going to do to help fix the problem?

Thoughts and prayers.

Just like always. Nothing more. Nothing less.

 

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My Favorite Places to Shop in Seoul: Seoul Series Pt. 4

There are so many great places to shop in Seoul. We spent more time shopping in Hongdae since that was where our apartment was. Each day, we would venture out for tours or tattoos or amusement parks. But we also went out and walked around Hongdae at least once a day either before we went on adventures or oftentimes, in the evening after we had rested a bit. So, the majority of these shops are in Hongdae, though almost all of them have shops all over Seoul.

First on the list is Etude House.

Etude House

Etude House is a cosmetics company based in South Korea. Not only do they have cosmetics, they have amazing skin care masks! They are also pretty inexpensive. They were running a sale when my sister and I went. So, we each walked out with probably 40 or more face masks for around $20 American.

Not only do I love their products, I was impressed that the employees were more than happy to help us find the correct CC cream for our skin even though there was a slight language barrier!

The decor of the shop is very dainty and pink and feminine. However, as with many shops in South Korea, there isn’t a lot of space to move around.

Next Up?

TonyMoly

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TonyMoly is another cosmetics brand in South Korea. My favorite thing about TonyMoly? The packaging is super cute. Want banana-scented hand lotion that comes in a container shaped like a banana? TonyMoly has it! Want a lip scrub that’s in the shape of lips? TonyMoly!

Be warned though, TonyMoly products are heavily scented. If you have an allergy to fragrances or have respiratory issues, use TonyMoly with caution. I have mild asthma and the fragrances don’t bother me. However, one of my friends has skin that is sensitive to strong fragrances. So, many TonyMoly products irritate her skin.

Artbox

artbox

Artbox was by far, our favorite shop. We literally went there at least once a day. This shop is a great place to get souvenirs as well as little odds and ends you might need in South Korea. We got everything from slippers to wear in the apartment to luggage straps to hold our suitcases together on the trip back to the airport. We also got external batteries for our electronic devices, hats, tablet holders, sleep masks and bandannas.

Artbox may be a small shop, but they have a wide variety of items to choose from. Not only that, Artbox is a duty-free seller. If you are a foreigner, they will automatically hand you the paperwork to fill out as well as your receipt. Also, Artbox does charge you for a bag if you need one. If I remember correctly, it was around $1 American, so nothing too crazy. That being said, if you have a bag on you (from another store or a purse or backpack) you can use that instead of paying for a bag. I paid for the bag just because it was cute and it was a sturdy paper bag. So, I kept it as a souvenir for myself.

The next shop on the list is located in Myeongdong. (There may be more locations. But we went to the one in Myeongdong.)

If you are looking for Kpop cds and dvds, check out Music Korea!

Music Korea CDs

Check out my haul from our first trip to Music Korea!

There are several small kpop stores in certain subway stations. (Myeongdong station has a couple) But they are TINY! And cramped. And hot.

Shopping for Kpop in Myeongdong Station

The outside of one of the shops in the subway station.

Music Korea, however, is right outside exit 6 in Myeongdong and it’s got a lot more room to look around at your leisure.

The first thing to know about Music Korea is that it’s on the third floor of the Nature Republic building. The directions I’ve found online say to take Line 4 to Myeongdong station. Look for exit 6. Once you exit the station, turn left and walk to the street. Nature Republic is right there. (When we went, the building was covered in bright green vines and leaves. It was actually really pretty!) Now, you can go in the front door or the side door. If you go in the front door, walk straight back to the stairs. Go up the stairs until you find the music store. If you go in the side door, the stairs are right night to the door.

Music Korea has pretty good prices for most cds and dvds. And the staff was super helpful. Not only did they keep taking our stacks of cds back up to the register so we didn’t have to hold them, they were really helpful when my sister asked about cds from specific groups that she was looking for. When we finally made our purchases, they made sure to give us several posters and a ton of photo-cards from different groups of our choosing. We went back a few days later and to get more cds and walked out with even more posters and photo-cards.

By the time we were done shopping the first time, we had enough cds that we each had to buy another carry-on suitcase just to get them back to the States!

So, a few paragraphs up, I mentioned shops in the subway stations. I want to touch a little bit more on that for a second. Most of the subway stations in Seoul have tiny shops underground that you should at least take a minute to browse through.

One of my favorite things about the shops in the subway? You can get socks for around $1 American per pair! This was a total lifesaver for me. We went during the summer. So, naturally, I brought a couple of pairs of sandals and some Toms-type shoes and a pair of Vans slip ons. Now, I have been unable to find socks in the States that will actually fit in those shoes, stay up when you walk and not show. So, I usually don’t wear socks with them. (Gross, I know.)

Normally, I switch my shoes out enough that they don’t get super gross and my feet don’t stink. But I was not expecting to be as hot in South Korea as I was. Needless to say, after a couple of days spent walking, non-stop, in the heat, my feet were not holding up so well. I had blisters. My feet were swollen and tired. I needed to make a change.

Seeing as how the socks in the subway stations only cost $1, I could afford to grab a couple pair to get me through my vacation. Even if they only lasted until we got back to the States, it would be worth it. I was pleasantly surprised.

Not only did the socks help prevent more blisters, they helped my feet/shoes to not be super smelly and the no-show socks actually stayed up! I was amazed. On top of this, most of the socks I bought had cute designs or pretty colors. And, even better, they lasted through my trip and I’m still wearing them 4 months later! If you ever need socks while visiting South Korea, take my advice! Cheap socks from the subway station are the way to go!

Kakao Friends

kakaotalk friends

In one of my earlier Seoul posts, I mentioned the app Kakaotalk. If you use Kakaotalk, you might be familiar with the official characters used in the emojis. If you are a fan of the characters (or have a Kpop bias that collects them) you might be interested in visiting the Kakao Friends store in Hongdae. The store itself is massive, covering multiple floors. They sell everything from keychains to pajamas. We saw luggage and water bottles. Socks and stuffed animals. Everything has the characters on it. This store was seriously cute! It can get a little pricey, depending on what you’re buying. But even if you don’t buy anything, it’s worth it to stop in and see all the cute items.

Kakao Friends Shopping

I ended up with some Ryan gear!

Lastly, I couldn’t talk about shopping in Korea without mentioning the street-shopping!

We spent a lot of time just walking around Hongdae, checking out the street vendors. Cell phone cases, clothes, shoes, fidget spinners, accessories. We saw it all! We each bought shoes from a street vendor for around $10 American. (Pro-Tip: Before you go, find a conversion chart for Korean shoe sizes and screen-shot it! This makes it super easy to get the right size, even if there is a language barrier!)

I bought a super cute shirt from a street vendor and let me tell you! It was white and black striped with a bow in the back. The fabric was thick enough that the white wasn’t transparent at all.  Which as anyone who has ever bought a white shirt only to find out it was totally see-through can tell you, is basically a miracle to find one that isn’t transparent!

One of my favorite things about the street shopping in South Korea is that they had a lot of clothing styles that aren’t very common in the States. I loved seeing the fashion, not only on for sale by the street vendors, but also on the people walking around. There is definitely a different vibe to fashion in Seoul than we have in Kansas City. I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve gotten on my “street purchases” since I’ve gotten home!

Here’s my haul from one of our first days in Seoul:

Seoul Trip Shopping Haul

Seriously, this was just ONE of our shopping trips. Now you know why we each had to purchase more luggage!

So, there you have it!

There are so many great places to shop in South Korea. What are your favorites?

 

Things To Know Before You Visit South Korea: Korea Series Pt 3

Visiting a foreign country is an exciting and worthwhile experience. I can not explain how life changing going abroad can be. Seeing a different culture first hand, trying new foods, meeting new people. There’s much to be said for getting out of your comfort zone. Going into it with an open mind and a sense of adventure is key to having a great time.

That being said, there are a few things to know before you visit South Korea. Knowing this ahead of time will help your trip go just a little smoother.

First thing’s first.

Bathrooms.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Bathrooms? Really?”

Yes. Really.

If you’ve grown up in the States and have never been to Asia, the bathroom situation can be a bit intimidating. Squat toilets, hand washing, “no flush” rules. What is all of this?

So, what is a squat toilet, you ask? A squat toilet is a toilet that you squat over to do your business. Ha.Ha. No. Really.

It looks similar to a urinal, but instead of being mounted to the wall, it’s laid out on the floor. I have never personally used a squat toilet, however, it’s my understanding that if you “hover” as you would over a “western” toilet, it’s going to end unpleasantly. But, if you squat straight down, you’ll be fine.

If you are nervous or uncomfortable using a squat toilet, no worries. Most public bathrooms have both squat toilets and western toilets. Oftentimes, there is a sign on the door to each stall that depicts one or the other to let you know what you’re walking into.

Speaking of stalls! Do you ever go into a public restroom and accidentally make awkward eye contact through the cracks around the stall doors? Well, not in South Korea! Want to know why?

BECAUSE THE STALLS ARE FULLY ENCLOSED!

I kid you not. You go in and close the door and bam! Actual privacy! My mind has been blown! I did not know you could have an fully enclosed bathroom stall. But apparently, this is a thing! And I miss it every time I use a public bathroom in America!

Now, here’s a couple of things I do not miss.

  1. In South Korea, in public bathrooms, you can not flush the toilet paper. The pipes and sewage systems are too old. Ladies, this means no flushing tampons either! There is a trashcan next to every toilet for you to throw away your used toilet paper. In your first few days, this will be hard to remember and get used to. After a couple of days though, it’ll be second nature to you and you won’t even think about it.
  2. Hand-washing. In America, we’re taught to wash our hands after using the bathroom. We’re all about using hand sanitizer and not touching doorknobs or toilet handles if at all possible. So, it comes as quite a shock to see people not washing their hands after using a public bathroom. Now, it becomes immediately apparent why they aren’t washing their hands in most cases. There is usually only an air dryer, no paper towels. At first thought, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. However, once you wash your hands and go to dry them, you’re lucky if the hand dryer actually works. When this is the case, you’re left with no choice than to come out flinging water everywhere after washing your hands. (Pro-tip: Buy a handkerchief or bandanna! They work great for drying your hands as well as wiping sweat if you visit during the summer!)

Now that we’re done with the bathroom discussion, let’s move on!

Recycling! Seoul is huge on recycling! This is awesome! There is one draw back that we found while in Seoul to so much recycling. It’s almost impossible to find a trashcan on the streets of Seoul. You will occasionally find recycling bins, but each one is only for specific items. Cans and bottles? Covered! Paper? Got it! Food or random trash items that can’t be recycled? Good luck! You’ll probably be carrying that item until you get back to your hotel or place of residence.

This will change how you go about your day. Stop in to the neighborhood convenience store to get a drink? Grab the bottle, not the can. The bottle can be closed and thrown into a purse or bag if you don’t finish it all at once. If you stop in to a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, take your time and eat your food and drink your drink before you leave. Not only will this allow you to throw away any leftovers without searching for a trashcan or recycling bin, it will also give you time to just relax. Take a break for a few minutes. Enjoy watching the people pass on the streets! There’s so much to see, if you just take a minute to look around. Enjoy the time this gives you. And remember, recycling is good for everyone! Do your part to help out!

So, what’s next?

Mopeds! Food deliver services are widely used in Korea. This means there are mopeds everywhere. And they are in a hurry. They do not limit themselves to just using the streets to get where they are going. They will frequently pop up onto the sidewalk and barrel through throngs of people to get to their destination.

In my first few days in Seoul, I felt as though I was constantly dodging mopeds. After a couple of days, you get used to it, and suddenly, it’s just normal and not a big deal. Don’t stress too much. It seems that delivery drivers are extremely used to weaving between groups of people in a hurry. As with anything, be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be fine!

Speaking of narrow pathways, one of my biggest issues with Korea was the lack of personal space. In America, we are used to everyone having their own personal “bubble.” This means, don’t get too close to me. You stay in your bubble, I’ll stay in mine.

This does not exist in Korea. I can not tell you how many times I was at the cash register paying for something and someone came up behind me, oftentimes close enough to be touching me. I was never uncomfortable because I thought they were going to rob me or anything like that. I felt completely safe the entire time I was in Korea. No, this was more that, as an American, I’m 100% not used to strangers casually inviting themselves into my personal space. But here I was. Paying for 30 face masks while a random person leaned over my shoulder to look at lipstick.

In relation to this, you need to be aware of escalator etiquette. In America, we stagger ourselves on the escalator. Meaning, if I get on the escalator with a friend, they take the first stair, and I take the next stair, but on the opposite side. This is partially so that we can look at each other and talk. But also because this allows us to give one another a bit of personal space.

This is not the case in Korea. For whatever reason, people will get on the escalator and walk it like regular stairs. I kid you not. Even though there is almost always a set of stairs right next to the escalator. So, when getting on the escalator, the proper procedure is to stand directly behind the person in front of you. If you forget to do this, you are almost guaranteed to have someone walk up behind you and then either release an annoyed sigh or start tapping their foot to let you know they want passed you.

Do not question this. Just roll with it. Yes, it can be incredibly annoying and frustrating. But remember, you are a guest in this country. Things will not be done exactly the way you are used to. This is all part of the experience!

Speaking of being a guest in South Korea: If you are not of Asian decent, everyone will stare at you. Don’t be alarmed or offended. South Korea is still a homogeneous society. This means that if you are of non-Asian ethnicity, you will stand out like a sore thumb. For the most part, everywhere you go, you will be the only Westerner. In my time in South Korea, the only time I saw more than two other Westerners in the same place as us, was when we were on a group tour.

Since foreigners are hard to come by, people will stare at you as you pass. Once again, don’t be offended and don’t freak out. You probably don’t have anything on your face. You just look different than what Koreans are used to. And if you’re like me, you were already staring at them because they have awesome style and you’re trying to figure out if you could get a shirt like that back home or if you’d have to buy it in Korea.

If it makes you uncomfortable, my advice is to “catch them” staring at you. Make eye contact and they will almost always look away, embarrassed at being caught staring. But mostly, remember that your personal style of clothing or hair or tattoos or piercings isn’t what they are used to. Maybe they’re trying to figure out if they could pull of the same hair cut as you or where they can buy a similar dress.

Now, one of my absolute favorite things about Korea is special seats on the subway. Now, we don’t have a subway system in Kansas City. So, this may be normal in cities that have subways. But I’ve never seen anything like it. In South Korea, there are specific seats in every subway car for the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women and people with small children.

Unless you fall into one or more of these categories, these seats are not for you. Do not sit down. You can get away with sitting in the seat for pregnant women, but you are expected to get up if a pregnant woman gets on the train. However, if the entire train is full and the only seats left are in the section for elderly and disabled people, you are not allowed to sit there unless you fall into those categories. And even if you do fall into those categories, it’s all relative. If you see someone get on the train that needs that seat more than you, it is expected that you get up so that person can sit down.

So, how do you know what seats are special seats? Easy! They have a sign. The seat for pregnant women has a picture of a cartoon pregnant woman behind it and a pink square on the floor in front of it. Sometimes, the seat may even be pink.

The other section will be the back section of the train car. There will be a line of seats on each side, and they will have a sign behind or next to them depicting someone with a cane, a pregnant woman, someone with a crutch and someone carrying a small child.

Now, understand this. The subway will almost always been full. There will be times when you have been walking for hours and your exhausted and your feet hurt and all you want to do is sit down. And when you get on the train, every seat will be taken and there will be hoards of people standing. And as you pan the train car, hoping for a seat, you’ll see a couple of seats in the back that are empty. The temptation is there. But remember, this seat isn’t for you. It’s just not. That’s why everyone else is standing. Don’t be that rude foreigner that takes the seat that’s meant for someone else. Just don’t.

So, that’s my list of things to know be aware of before going to South Korea. Is there anything I forgot? Is there anything that you wish you had known before going to a foreign country?

Greek Festival: Kansas City Series

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As a native to Kansas City, I’m baffled at how often my city is overlooked as a “cowtown” or “flyover city.” If you aren’t familiar with these terms, they basically mean that a place is so boring, there’s nothing to see but cows. So you might as well fly right over them to get to a better place.

Now, granted, Kansas City might be on the smaller scale when it comes to cities. We’re not a huge place full of people in the way that New York City or L.A. are. We’re not even as big as Chicago. But that doesn’t mean we have nothing to offer.

So, in honor of the place I call home, I’ll be doing an ongoing series of posts dedicated to my beloved city of fountains and all we have to offer.

If there’s one thing you need to know about Kansas City, it’s this: We love good food. If you want a Kansas Citian to show up to something, tell them the food is good. We will show up in droves!

Earlier this month, I decided to check out the local Greek Festival. An ad for it popped up on my FB page and I thought, “Greek food? Yep. Sign me up!” I am pleased to say, I was not disappointed!

The annual Greek festival is put on by Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. The festival offers live performances, shopping and food. You can even take a tour of the church.

So, how was it?

Fantastic!

20170910_131108

Total “yum.”

I went with my older sister and my mom. We always make a plan that everyone gets different foods, that way we can each try a few bites of everything! You can see from the picture above, that this plan works out really well! (This wasn’t all the food we had, but my plate couldn’t hold everything!)

I ordered the Lemon Chicken and a Greek salad. The chicken came with rice on the side. My mom ordered stuffed grape leaves, spanakopita, and a feta cheese-filled pastry. My sister ordered kebabs and a Greek salad.

As we made our way through the line, the volunteers were kind and helpful. Not only did they explain to us what the items had in them, but they also talked to us about everyday things. They made us feel truly welcome, as if we were old friends catching up.

As we each tried the different items, we all agreed that the stuffed grape leaves just weren’t for us. However, everything else that we had was to die for!

While we ate, we were entertained by live dance performances. The costumes were beautiful and the dances were fun to watch.

After we ate, we spent some time shopping. This was mostly jewelry, clothing, scarves and purses, but there were a few other items here and there. I ended up with a dress and my sister bought a sleeveless summer jacket.

Once we had our fill of music and shopping, we decided to grab a dessert to go. We each bought a few cookies to take home and then popped over to the line for our actual dessert.

Brace yourself. This isn’t for the faint of heart. I present to you, the BAKLAVA SUNDAE!

 

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Baklava is one of my favorite Greek foods. It’s a dessert pastry with nuts and either syrup or honey. Now, that’s delicious on it’s own. But when you crush that up and put it in ice cream?

Pure, un-adulterated Heaven.

I can not rave enough about how much I love a good Baklava Sundae.

So, what are my overall thoughts? Recommendations?

The parking was a bit tight. They had parking in a grass field next to the church. Smaller cars had no issue, but if you have an SUV or truck, I would recommend parking elsewhere.

Most of the festival was outside under a giant tent. It was hot, but not unbearable. This comes with the territory of holding a festival in the summer or early fall in KC. The church was air conditioned and open, so if you get hot, you can pop inside for a bit and explore the church bookstore or take a tour. Since the church was open, there was easy access to public restrooms.

The performances were wonderful to watch and the performers did a great job. (Especially the little kids! They were so adorable!)

There wasn’t as much shopping as I would have liked, but I think most people go for the food anyways. I would have liked to see more hand-made or authentic items. Though, I did see some beautiful jewelry.

I can’t speak enough of how good the food was. Everything seemed reasonably priced and enjoyable.

Would I recommend paying a visit to the annual Greek festival if you are ever in KC in time to visit?

Absolutely! I will definitely be adding this to my yearly calendar of “can’t miss” events!

Are there any annual festivals like this where you live?

My Top 6 Used Apps in Korea: Seoul Series Pt. 2

Exploring a new city in a foreign country can be daunting. Between jet lag, the language barrier and just trying to find something to eat at 6 am, it’s easy to get lost and confused. So, in the spirit of helping my fellow travelers out, I present: My top 6 apps that I used most on my vacation in Seoul.

  1. Kakaotalk.

KakaoTalk-logo-normal

I’m going to start with Kakaotalk for a few reasons.

First off, depending on your cell phone plan, you may or may not have access to a cell network in Korea. My sister uses Boost Mobile, which is a small carrier. Her phone was basically useless unless she was connected to wifi. I have T-Mobile. International data and calling is included in my plan. That being said, I was able to send pictures via my regular messaging app, but not straight texts. Kakaotalk uses wifi for free messaging and calls. For whatever reason, I was able to use Kakaotalk to text no matter if I was connected to wifi or the regular network, even though my regular messaging app didn’t work. My sister was able to make video calls to her kids via Kakaotalk whenever we were sitting around our apartment resting.

The second reason I mention this app is because if you book a tour, or if you make friends while in Korea, chances are they will keep in contact with you via Kakaotalk. Kakaotalk doesn’t need someone else’s phone number to connect. Which helps when you are from America, your tour guide is from France and your new friends are from Austria. No need figuring out country codes for dialing or texting. Just connect through Kakaotalk.

The last reason I mention Kakaotalk is because the next few apps are sister apps to Kakaotalk. I don’t know if you need a Kakaotalk account in order to use the other apps. But it probably doesn’t hurt.

2. KakaoMetro

KakaoMetro

KakaoMetro was invaluable to us in Korea. I would say this was my most used app.

Not only is this app a subway map, it will also tell you how to get from where you are to where you’re going, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Now, I recommend having an actual paper subway map as well. (It helps in the beginning to know which way you need to go on the subway since each station has 2 trains going opposite directions.) You can input where you are (ex: Hongik Exit 9) and where you need to go. (Ex: Dolgoji Exit 1) It will tell you what line to get on, when to transfer and what line to transfer to, and what stop you need to get off at. Not only this, it uses real-time, not just a general time frame. It will also tell you how much it will cost per person for this ride.

Something else that was super helpful about this app is that it has a “street-view” feature for when you exit the subway station. This was helpful for us before we even left the U.S. We were given basic directions of how to get to our apartment from our Airbnb host. I was able to get on KakaoMetro and pull up the street-view of our subway exit, then follow her directions to see where our apartment was actually located. I took screen-caps of the walk from the subway to the apartment and used that to follow along when we actually arrived in Seoul.

3. KakaoMap

kakaomap

I need to be upfront about this. If you can not read Hangul, KakaoMap will not be super helpful to you, but it will come in handy on occasion. If you CAN read Hangul, I’m sure this app would be as easy as using Google Maps in the States. (In my experience, and from what I’ve read from other people online, Google Maps is basically useless in Korea. Naver Maps and Maps Me seem to be a couple of other favorites, but I didn’t have much luck with either of those apps.)

I’m going to explain this for those of you who can not read Hangul, since I can’t either. KakaoMap is a navigation app, so you have the little dot to follow to your destination. (If you are able to input a destination, it will have a big dot on the map.) We didn’t have much use for this since every time we tried to search for places in English, it came up with nothing. The only time I was able to find anything in English was when I searched for “Burp” knowing that a raccoon cafe was in the same building as a place called Burp. (There will be a future post on the raccoon cafe, because, seriously. You need to know about this.) Other than that, whenever I searched for something in English, it came up with nothing.

There was a huge benefit to having this app, even though we couldn’t read anything in the app. By seeing yourself on the map, and following your dot, you will be able to tell which direction you are heading and you can follow that to the nearest subway station. This feature came in handy one day when my sister and I got lost in Hongdae. We wandered for about 2 hours but were able to find our way back to our apartment by knowing what subway station we were closest to. We followed our dot in the direction of the subway and were able to finally make it home. Later in the trip, I was able to save our apartment in my favorites as “home” as you would in Google Maps. We used this a few times when we went out wandering in Hongdae. Whenever we got tired and wanted to head home, I would just pull up home and follow our dot to our ending location until we got to a spot where we didn’t need a map anymore.

Aside from not having an English feature, there was one other drawback of this app for me. My sister didn’t have much issue with it, but I had the worst time following the dot. I’m used to Google Maps where the map will turn as you do or will have an arrow pointing the correct way. I’m used to it showing which direction you are going or which way you need to be going. KakaoMap has a dot that shows you where you are. But if you turn the corner, the map will not turn with you. This doesn’t sound like a big deal. But for someone like me, who has a terrible sense of direction, it’s incredibly frustrating. If the map is pointing one way and I’m walking forward, it’s really confusing to see my dot moving backwards or sideways. My sister didn’t seem to have an issue following this. But whenever I was in charge of reading it, we ended up turning around several times because it took me a block or so to realize I was heading in the wrong direction.

4. Airbnb

Airbnb

The next on the list is Airbnb. The first reason is pretty obvious. We booked an apartment to stay in instead of a hotel through Airbnb. Our apartment was a studio with 1 full sized bed and 1 queen. It was a lot cheaper to book through Airbnb than through a hotel and it made our stay feel a lot more like home. We could cook, do laundry and visit the 24 hr convenience store in the building anytime we wanted.

The second reason I recommend this app is because they now have “experiences” that you can book. If you are staying in Seoul, there is a lot of things you can book to do through Airbnb. We booked a food tour and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Since it’s through Airbnb, everything is verified and you can read reviews and communicate directly with your tour guide or host in the app. We were able to communicate with the other people that went on the tour with us through the app as well.

The final two apps were used in connection to one another.

5.  Visit Korea

Image result for visit korea logo

Visit Korea is the official app of the Korea Tourism Organization. This app has info about food and attractions as well as directions to get where you’re going. You can also find other helpful information such as Korea phrase to use in cases of emergency or at a restaurant. There is even a tourist assistance number you can call. The assistance number is offered in multiple languages such as Korean, English and Japanese.

I think we probably should have used this app a lot more than we did. Mainly, we used it to find ideas of what to do each day. But with all the info contained in this app, it is definitely worth a download.

6. Sygic Travel

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After we looked for ideas on the Visit Korea app, we hopped over to the Sygic Travel app to book tours. In general, the tours we booked were awesome and informative.

We booked a tour around Hongdae for our first day in Seoul. Our tour guide was a young woman from France who lives and goes to university in Seoul. She walked us around Hongdae, giving us the scoop on her favorite stores as well as laws on smoking in Korea and she even told us about the Korean equivalent to “Netflix and chill.” (“Do you want to get ramyun?”)

We also had a DMZ tour that was a bit rushed, but really interesting and informative. Our tour guide was not only knowledgeable, but also candid on the inner workings of the North Korean-South Korea relationship.

We also booked a Kpop tour that happened to be done by a young woman who actually works for one of the major Kpop companies. Not only did she know where all the company buildings were located, she had more knowledge of how the Kpop industry functions as a whole. She took us around to a few of the different company buildings as well as several places to shop for cds, and other Kpop merchandise.

There you have it. My top 6 apps to use in Korea. If you live in Korea or have visited, what apps do you recommend? Have you tried any on the list?

Falling In Love: Seoul Series Pt. 1

I recently took a trip to South Korea. And I was instantly in love.

So, how does one fall in love with a country or city? It’s easy, really. When the country is as amazing as South Korea.

There were several things that made me fall in love with South Korea, and Seoul in particular.

The first was the people. My older sister and I went to Korea knowing only how to say, “Hello” and “Thank you” in Korean. We didn’t know the language. The money. The subway system. We could barely pronounce the names of neighborhoods. We landed in Korea with only a basic idea of how to make our way to our Airbnb apartment in Hongdae.

It would have been easy for us to get lost and overwhelmed and frustrated. However, the people of Seoul were kind and welcoming. It seemed that the people of South Korea wanted us to feel welcome and at home.

If we looked lost, they would stop and ask us where we were going. Even if they didn’t speak more than a few words of English. We were helped by strangers in the subway when our luggage was too heavy to lift off the train. A tour guide helped us order food at a restaurant. A group of grandmas in Busan offered me a seat on the train next to them and then gave me the thumbs up and big smiles when I sat down. The security guard at our apartment building asked us if we had eaten yet and if we were enjoying our time in Seoul. A group of passing school children waved at us as we sat in a cafe drinking smoothies.

The more time we spent taking in the sites and shopping and eating, the more Seoul started to feel like home in a way that no other city aside from Kansas City has before.

The second thing that really made me love Seoul was the combination of ancient and modern. Visiting the City Hall area, there are several ancient palaces. They are beautiful and breathtaking and stunning. And what made them stand out even more was that they were surrounded by modern skyscrappers.

New and Old

There’s a huge, very old Buddhist temple right across the street from a giant, modern shopping mall.

The left side of the street:

Temple in Seoul

The right side of the street:

Coex Mall

When walking down this street in Gangnam, you hear the noise of the traffic. The movement of people from one place to another. But as you pass through the entryway to the temple, you hear nothing but a peaceful calm. The day we visited, they still had paper lanterns from a recent holiday. As the breeze worked it’s way through, we could hear the gentle flapping of tiny banners hung from each lantern. It was easily one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever visited.

Lanterns in the Wind

The third thing that made me fall in love with Seoul was that there is so much to do and see and explore. From palaces, to street shopping. The trick-eye museums and animal cafes. The DMZ and amusement parks. South Korea is a world of it’s own and we were never bored.

I’ll do another post of some of my favorite places that we visited. (Including my absolute favorite stores to shop.) Suffice it to say, after two weeks, there was still so much that we didn’t have time to see and do. South Korea truly has wonderful things to offer for just about anyone, you just have to know where to look!

Between the wonderful and kind people, the combination of modern and ancient, and the abundance of things to do, I have fallen in love with South Korea. My heart has felt homesick ever since I landed back in the states. But I know that someday soon, I will make my way back to my second home and find more reasons to love it.

Have you visited a place that instantly felt like a second home? Where do you want to visit someday?

Starting Over…Once again.

It’s been awhile since I posted last. Seriously. It’s been 8 months. How does time fly that fast?

So, what have I been up to these last 8 months? Well, I started a new job. It was a temp job that was supposed to last 2 weeks at most. 2 weeks turned into a month. A month turned into 2 and before I knew it, they were begging me to take a permanent position.

I’ve been at the company since February and in those short 8 months, my anxiety has hit levels I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. The job is just not for me. Too much stress, almost no training and no support from management. My last day is in a few weeks and I can’t say I will miss the job at all. I will miss my co-workers, though it seems many of them are jumping ship as well. I have no idea what my next move is. But I can only hold onto hope that I won’t continue feeling the crippling anxiety that I feel right now.

So, has there been any other big news since February? Hmm…Let me think…Oh yeah!

I SPENT 2 WEEKS IN SOUTH KOREA!

I can not stress enough how life changing that trip was. I’ll be posting a series on my time in Korea, because it was just so amazing. I can not, can not, can not wait to go back.

The food, the people, the shopping! It was easily the best vacation I’ve ever been on. There were difficult times, no doubt. Visiting a country where you don’t speak the language and only have a basic understanding of customs and culture can be trying at times. But it was so worth it.

As things in my life are up in the air and uncertain, I keep thinking back on my time in Korea. I have no idea where my life will lead me from this moment on. But I know that somehow, someway, I will make Seoul my home away from home. Korea burrowed deep down into my bones. I carry it with me everywhere I go.

I can’t wait to follow my longing back home.