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A Little Bit of Turkey in My Seoul

Doesn’t this look like a shop in Turkey?  It’s right in the middle of Seoul, across the street from a couple of Turkish restaurants.

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For those new to the blog, I used to live in Turkey, and I spent a lot of time in shops just like this, to the point that our home is usually filled with all kinds of Turkish delights.  On our way home from dinner the other night, we walked by a window full of lamps and beautiful colorful pottery, Istanblue.

When we walked in, Todd said Merhaba, and the shop owner replied Merhaba with an uncertain questioning tone.  We exchanged all of the normal pleasantries in Turkish, and then our new friend Kenan set about making us some tea.  But he quickly decided to make Turkish coffee instead, since the tea he had on hand was actually from Montana (small world).  We felt at home and trasnported, happy to be welcomed by a warm-hearted Turk.

As we sat and shared coffee and stories, I kept looking at all of the lamps on display.  Since we’re now living in mostly empty quarters while we wait for our stuff to arrive, the house seems drab and very, very white.  Wouldn’t a big bright colorful lamp be just the thing?

We quickly found one we liked and went through the standard haggle.  Our choice was slightly cracked on the inside, leading Kenan to offer us a price much lower than I thought was the bottom line – SCORE!  The shop took a few days to repair it and we just picked it up last night, after more tea and a whammy conversation about politics in both of our home countries.

Since this shop is on our walk from the subway to our front door, I know we’ll be drinking lots of tea with Kenan and keeping my Turkish skills in good shape.

 

A Day at the Lilliput Children’s Cafe

Imagine a really nice, gentrified Chucky Cheese, where each play area has a minder, all of the games are free, there’s no weird animatronic show, the food is good, and they serve beer – that’s Lilliput Children’s Cafe. 


We visited this weekend with some friends from my new job and their littles. Because it was a snowy cold Sunday we actually had to wait about 15 minutes to get into the cafe, and it was crowded the whole time we were there. They had lockers for coats and shoes and a few small kids chairs in the lobby for us. You can only stay for 2 hours so the wait usually isn’t too long. 

I was worried that Baby Jo was going to lose it because she was a bit behind on napping for the day, but she rallied as she always does for her 2 straight hours of play. 


Todd and I traded off adult conversation and beers with following Jo around the play areas. She started in the bounce room/ball pit, which also had an interactive screen so you could throw the balls at moving targets and get fruit to explode, aliens to melt, or whatever the little game was at the time. I think that was more for parents’ enjoyment, and I definitely threw more than my share of the balls. I also appreciated the very loose tolerances required for hits. 

From the ballpit Jo crawled through a small padded play gym up and down ladders and slides and eventually found the upstairs doll loft. 


There were tons of dolls, doll houses, and all of the accessories for play. And below it was a kitchen and grocery store, with carts or strollers to push around. 


Meanwhile, kids are running all over the place, back and forth between activities. A few are also lapping the room on small cars. It’s a happy chaos reasonably controlled by the parents and staff. 

Eventually we realized that Jo was just fine on her own. Due to her standout coloring (to Koreans) the staff were all excited to play with her and of course, our social butterfly just loved it! 


I have a feeling we’re going to be asking this a lot: Why don’t we have places like this in the U.S.? Or do we, and i just don’t know about them? 

Korean Bathroom Fun

 There are curiosities at every turn in Seoul. Today I went to a children’s cafe and was amazed at the simplest of things – the toilet!

    The bathroom attendant kept pointing at my slippers, and then at the floor. What could she mean? There were some wacky looking Union Jack slippers inside the bathroom – so I slipped my cafe slippers off and slipped my feet in those. Relief – she let me in. 
    And then she directed me to the male head. “Lady too long.” Fine, I thought, any toilet was fine. 

    I was so happy when I sat down and felt the heated seat – whew, I love modern Asian toilets!   But then I couldn’t find the handle to flush, because it’s not there. Instead there’s a panel on the wall with several options. 

    What button would you push? I went with the colored one, and it did the job! Stand by – I’ll try each button one day in a less busy setting and report on all of the options. 

    On my way out I saw the boy’s urinal – isn’t it cute? I almost threw some water down to see if it lit up or played a message, but I could hear people waiting outside. 

    Driving Arizona

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    Our plan to make a Canyon loop of Grand, Bryce and Zion for our road trip was defeated by an impending “Storm of a Decade.”  Even after suffering the cold icy rain and a white-out day at the Grand Canyon, Todd and I still kept checking the weather as we fled the storm to see if we could somehow loop back and make it to one of the canyon national parks after the storm passed.  Eventually we realized that just driving through Arizona made for a great road trip, and dropped the idea of chasing winter by heading back north.  Instead, we fully embraced that we’d make the worst storm chasers ever.

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    So, Arizona.  Wow! I have a newfound appreciation for the beauty of the state.  I spent the last several years driving across Arizona on my way to or from California, with the only notable stop in Yuma, a city few would describe as picturesque.  Even after hearing all about Arizona from my best friend, who grew up and attended college there, I just never really got it.  Now, after spending a week and a half on its state roads, in its national parks, and around its historic towns, I am duly impressed!

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    Heading south from the Grand Canyon we got off the main road and looped back behind the San Francisco mountains through a ponderosa pine forest and valleys covered with snow.  We mostly had the road to ourselves to pull over and take pictures whenever, although the wind and cold mostly kept us bundled inside of the RV.

    We drove through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Parks to take in more of Arizona’s natural beauty.  I was shocked to see a tropical illustration with alligators and other riparian species on front of the park brochure, but millions of years ago, northern Arizona was a lush jungle.  Now the petrified trees remain to give us hints of the story.  It was difficult to imagine that the current arid landscape was once hot and balmy, and even more challenging to accept that the petrified trees lived 2.15 million years ago!  The signs remarked on the theme of the constant presence of change – what a lesson.

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    As we headed south towards the Mexican border, we passed through the Salt River Canyon, a beautiful drive where the agave was sprouting on the hillsides and the setting sun highlighted the golden cliffs along the river.

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    Further south, we saw saguaro everywhere!  What an amazing plant.  It only grows about an inch a year, so many of them of are hundreds of years old.  Although there were many in the classic two arms outstretched towards the heavens shape, there were also plenty to get the imagination rolling – it’s like watching clouds in the skies.  Long tall skinny ones, short little chubby ones, arms ready to punch, arms swaying in the sun, one growing a head, one lopsided, some many breasted Artemis types and some with so much outgrowth their silhouettes resemble regular trees.

    In Bisbee, we toured the Copper Queen Mining Museum and sampled the local beer and baked goods then managed to hold onto our wallets as we walked through some of the town’s galleries.    Because we had a kid in the stroller we couldn’t explore all of the hills and staircases, but we’ll definitely be back again.

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    On our way out of Arizona, we drove by a double rainbow – surely a blessing for our trip.

    Surrendering to the Weather at the Grand Canyon

    We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park on a cold rainy night and immediately went to our campsite.  So the next morning, we woke up and trudged with great enthusiasm through even more cold rain to the Visitor’s Center.  The posted weather report said that it would rain all day, so we spent quite a bit of time checking out all of the informative exhibits while we were inside and dry, despite the flickering lights from the Center’s malfunctioning solar panels.

    I was determined not to waste the day, despite the weather!  So we got back in the RV and started driving the Canyon’s Rim.  At first, we saw absolutely nothing.  Just a whole bunch of white fog, or gray rain.  Occasionally a rock wall would poke through the fog, but nothing that took your breath away, which is the generally expected reaction to seeing the Grand Canyon.

    I finally gave up on trying to see anything, so we spent hours doing laundry, taking showers, lunching at the lodge, and trying to pass the time.

    Around 5 pm, Todd looked out of the front window and reported some blue in the sky! I ran to the front and found a few patches of bright light in the sky – sun!  So we got back on the road to try and catch one of the famous Grand Canyon sunsets.  We were so excited to actually see any part of the canyon that we kept pulling over at random spots to catch a glimpse of the beautiful golden peaks atop the pink and red walls.  We eventually arrived at Mojave Point, where I took my favorite shot:

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    And here are some other, less glorious sunset images, including us messing around. It was so cold and windy that we could only take a few minutes at a time on the edge with the baby.  She was a trooper and just smiled as she snuggled into us to get away from the cold and wind.

    Before we left the park, we tried to spend a morning hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon.  Once again, we were defeated by weather.  Even though sweet Josephine was all bundled up, our SoCal baby was not at all happy with cold wind and occasional rain drop on the 0.7 mile walk from the Visitor’s Center to the Geology Museum.

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    One bundled up SoCal baby

    Her constant whimpering made it difficult for me to really soak in the views as I was distracted by trying to make her more comfortable.

    Still, it was amazing!  The size alone is a lot to take in – 18 miles long and a mile deep.  You can’t see all of it from any one point on the rim, although I think next time I’m at the park I’ll look into helicopter tours for a new perspective.   There is very little vegetation in the canyon so you just see one formation then another, and your eyes scan up and down the rock faces.  I felt like I was an overused zoom lens, looking out to see it all then focusing on a tiny point, over and over again.

    Here are a few views:

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    Despite the weather it was truly awe-inspiring to see the Grand Canyon, and I think it joined the ranks of Yosemite – a park that I will visit again and again.

    Boarding the Seoul Train

    After two years of living it up back in the United States, we’re about to start our next adventure – living in the heart of Seoul, Korea!

    Todd and I flew back from Turkey in December 2014 and immediately hit the road.  In the last two years, we crossed the country a few times, bought a house, got married, started the family, and went up and down the West Coast collecting wine and memories.  It’s been a blast!

    We say goodbye to San Diego this week and start on our RV road trip of the big canyons of the southwest.

    In a few weeks, we’ll be Seoul-bound.

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    Stay tuned for reports on our adventures!!!

    Completing the BENELUX Loop in Luxembourg

    We completed the BENELUX segment of our trip with a short stay in Luxembourg City. Like Belgium, Luxembourg restaurants follow very strict schedules, and in pursuit of lunch past the standard 2 pm closing time, we practically drove all over the tiny pocket country looking for an open restaurant until we finally got sandwiches at a gas station.
    The highlight of our stay was an amazing meal at an Italian restaurant, Mosconi’s, in the Old City. Besides the fact that it was super luxe, I’m not sure how much of the actual Luxembourg culture we absorbed here. I have to mention it, though, because it was the first great meal of our monthlong trip. It was the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever enjoyed. We actually had to ring the doorbell to get in, then we were escorted to an elevator while the host ran up the spiral staircase around us to meet us at the top. Our mouths were quite happy with all of the amuse-bouches that were offered. Instead of just one snack to start the meal, we had several at the beginning of the appetizers, the mains, and dessert. Our first tastes were smoked mackerel with citron and a pumpkin soup. Then we had a seven course pasta tasting menu.  Every course was both surprising and tasty and by the time we got to the end, we didn’t feel like we couldn’t make it through dessert, which we were committed to as we had to order it at the beginning of our meal. Mine was just okay, so I’ll write about Todd’s, which was called Chocolate Emotion. It was everything chocolate arranged like a sculpture of a forest scene on his plate, complete with tiny merengue mushrooms that I took care of for him.  Each bite was amazing for him, to the point that when the waiter asked him how it was, he said it went right to the sole. The waiter replied “tutto solo” which I guess means the same thing in Italian, then told all the other staff about Todd’s comment.  The rest of the staff kept pointing to us with bemusement – I think they’re going to change the name!

    We spent the next day exploring around Luxembourg City.  We started with breakfast across from the Palace, where the royal family still lives.  We had prime seats to watch the occasional marches of the guard and even saw it changed a few times.  Our table in the sun was perfect, since we chose the Luxembourg Country Breakfast and definitely needed a comfortable place to get through all of the offerings.

    We got lost on self-guided walking tour of the town that we got from the Tourist Office, so we decided to just wander and see what we could.

    I feel like wherever I go abroad, there’s always a random bride on the streets.  This one was getting her picture taken in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

    Most impressive were the churches, especially the light hitting through the stained glass windows at St. Michael’s Chapel:

    And the Notre Dame Cathedral:

     

    We also liked the market, which was in full-swing when we first arrived on this square, and then completely taken down and cleaned up the early afternoon.

     

    If you want to experience the amazing Mosconi’s Restaurant, check it out here: http://www.mosconi.lu/

    It alone is worth a trip to Luxembourg.

    Magic through the Mist in Amsterdam

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    our arrival – not magic

    Amsterdam greeted us with heavy rain that turned to hail, right at the moment of uncertainty when we were trying to figure out how to reach our apartment using public transportation.  As the raindrops got harder and heavier, we groupthunk our way to the taxi stand and hopped in.  Luckily the place was close and the cab cheap.

    Then we (mostly Todd) had to lug our heavy bags up the steep narrow stairways to our apartment.  Classic Amsterdam homes were mostly built by shipwrights and include some features that you might recognize from ships, like stairways that seem like ladders leaning against the wall, with very narrow steps.  Our place also had a hook installed outside of the top floor front window, which was used to load large items into the home when they wouldn’t make it around the stairway corners.  Homes were also built very narrow, as they were taxed based on their width on the street, like shotgun houses in New Orleans.

    Here are a few pictures of our place and others:

    We had a very laid-back relaxing week in the city, which was partly due the rain but mostly because our apartment was so comfortable.  When we did get out, we did lots of walking, eating and shopping, but not so much straight-up tourism.  With the leaves changing colors for fall and the canals as backdrops, we walked almost everywhere.  Because we stopped so often and took lots of pictures, occasionally we had to hail a cab or call an uber in order to show up to our reservations kind of on time.

    We did manage a walking beer tour.  We met our guide at the biggest beer store in Amsterdam, where they had an impressive array of bottles from most of Europe and even a shelf of American craftbrews.  We were happy to see that some of our favorites from San Diego were well represented.  Heineken ran the beer industry in Holland for a long, long time.  People took loans from Heineken in order to open bars, but then committed their bars to serving only Heineken beers for the lease period.  Nowadays there are some small Belgian breweries popping up with their own brews, and a general excitement about the American and Belgian craftbeers.  My favorite was a scotch ale, which apparently was the standard Holland beer before Heineken took over and started popularizing whatever you all their stuff.

    Our beer tour guide also bought us a ginevre (Dutch liqueur) on our way from one brewery to the next, which is what most of the pictures in the gallery below show.  This is one of the oldest bars in the city, and was really small with people drinking from their tiny glasses spilling out onto the street.

     

    Our attempts at tourism also included a visit to the Rijksmusuem, where we saw many works of the Dutch Masters, including the Night Watch, which is featured as the central work at the museum, kind of like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  The Night Watch, in my humble opinion (and I’m no art critic) is way more interesting than the Mona Lisa from just about any perspective.  They’ve done a lot of research into the painting, and in 2008 even identified the actual people who stood for the painting.  My heart quickened its beat when I entered the Hall of Masters at the Rijksmuseum, and I remained blown away for hours after we left.  These guys really knew how to work the brush.

     

    After the museum closed, we took a close-to-sunset canal ride, where we took even more pictures of the canals from the water.  Because we were among the last people to board the boat, we ended up in the back, outside, with no audio narration.  It was a beautiful ride through a beautiful city, but all of the history was lost to us.

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    We had lots of amazing food, including a tasting menu at De Kas, which is Dutch for greenhouse.  The restaurant is inside an old park greenhouse in a residential area of the city.  Now they use the greenhouse to grow veggies for the restaurant, and source the rest of the food from in and around Amsterdam.  We had the three course lunch, which included lots of veggies, a salad with fish and beet syrup, and a fish main.  The dessert was one of the best spins on yogurt that I’ve ever had, especially since I’m no yogurt fan.  Since we were some of the last diners, they also brought us the extra wine to finish – score!

    Since we loved it so much, if you’ve made it this far, I reward you with ANOTHER gallery of Amsterdam street pics.

    First, the bikes.  It’s a huge bike culture, with bike lanes everywhere.  Instead of looking out for cars, you have to look both ways twice for bikes.  I had more than a few run-ins with them and never quite learned my lesson.

     

    And some other random shots:

    Beer and Other Indulgences in Belgium

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    Brussels, Belgium was the first stop of our big fall trip, which takes us on a big loop through Europe.  Originally we were going to spend four days or so there, but then I found a beerfest in the Ardennes, and everything changed to accommodate that.  We had a local friend, so our first meal in Belgium was actually pulled-pork sandwiches at an Irish Bar, which is also the last meal she ate before returning to Brussels from living in San Francisco.  We still managed start the tour of Belgian beers at the Irish bar.  One of the fun things about Belgium is that every beer is served in its own glass – which leads to some crazy displays and glassware shelves at bars.  I tried to take pictures of them, but I was also enjoying the beer, so you can probably guess how that turned out…

    We also managed to do a mini-walking tour in Brussels, which focussed mainly on the Grand Place and Le Mannequin Pis but was really all about the amazing chocolate shops in the downtown area.  They actually have costumes for the pissing boy, and change his outfit weekly.  Unfortunately when we saw him he was only wearing the birthday suit.  Here are some scenes from around Brussels:

     

    I even got to eat my mussels in Brussels!  The best meal, however, was fries from a street vendor.  As we were walking toward the Grand Place for a free walking tour, I saw the stand and knew that was the best possible lunch that we could have!  And it was.  I got the classic fries with mayo, Todd got a gyro, and our friend Janelle got fries with curry ketchup and Bernaise sauce.  They had maybe 20 options for sauces, and the paper cones have a little compartment to put your dip of choice.

    Although I’d happily go back to Brussels to buy chocolate and other specialities, my favorite part of the Belgium segment of our trip was actually our drive to the Ardennes.  We went for the beerfest, Brassigaume, which is for small-craft breweries in Europe.  But since most of the hotels nearby were full, we ended up at a little country inn in Arlon, which was at the end of a road where villagers constantly set off for hikes in the fields.  When we arrived, there were hot air balloons in the skies at sunset.  When we left the next morning, Todd captured beautiful pictures of the low mist on the fields and surrounds.

    Although I liked the beers we sampled at the beerfest, what I really remember was the fork-tender perfectly braised roasted pig leg that Todd got for dinner.  It was cooked in a beer/cabbage braise, and somehow turned out to be the most amazing beerfood I’d ever eaten.  I had a braised wild boar served with a tart berry jam which was definitely tasty but had nothing on the pig.  The rest of the evening was spent meeting the other English-speakers in the crowd: a beer importer from Michigan, an American beerlover from Berlin, and a chatty British couple from whose conversational chase we barely escaped in order to get our last beers before the taps were shut off.

    Along with the fun of drinking beer with hundreds of other beer-lovers, we also learned quite a bit about the Belgian craft beer market, which helped us greatly when we returned to Brussels and went to bars with thousands of beers on offer: Delirium and Sudden Death.  If you make it to Brussels and enjoy the beer, check these places out!

    Happy Bayram!

    This weekend is Kurban Bayram, or Eid Al-Adha, or the Great Sacrifice Holiday, in the Muslim world.  This is based on the biblical and Koran accounts of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son.  In the tradition of Abraham, each head of household sacrifices an animal.  One third of the meat is for eating during the holiday, one third is given to friends and family, and the last third is given to charity.  This ratio and what to do with the meat varies by tradition, but rest assured that the meat is generally eaten and not just killed. I guess it’s not much different than every American family eating a turkey or two for Thanksgiving, and there the meaning is a little more obscure.

    Before the holiday, we saw a lot of signs advertising animal shares, where a bunch of brothers or friends go in together to get a bigger, fancier animal, like a cow.  As you can tell by the cartoons below, all of which basically say Happy Sacrifice Holiday, the common animals are either sheep or goat.

     

     

    Ankara’s authorized killing fields are outside of the city.  Last night on the news I learned that the fee for killing an animal yourself, outside of the approved sanitary facilities, is 169 TL, which is about $73.  So, depending on your financial situation, it might be worthwhile to take the risk and just DIY.  A friend on facebook reported seeing lots of roadside sacrifices as she was touring the outskirts of the city today.  Thankfully I haven’t seen anything in my pleasant corner of Ankara.  I still remember the nauseating smell of the sheep being brought into Antalya, a resort town, days before the holiday two years ago.

    Since the main purpose of the holiday has become charity, a lot of people choose to donate money instead of sacrificing an animal.

    The other tradition of the holiday is to visit friends and family.  Today, this means take a vacation back to your hometown, or just take a vacation if you’re not so religious.  Like major holidays back in the States,  roads are busy and public transportation is both booked and more expensive over the holiday period.  From the news reporting on the country’s road situation, I also learned that police doing standard traffic stops are first offering chocolate, then getting to the business of discussing the fines.  It’s festive, right?

    Bayram vacations

    Bayram vacations

    Since I have very few religious friends, I don’t have any personal experience with the holiday.  Last year I almost went to one of the sacrifice facilities with a friend’s dad, but decided on a vacation to a beach in the south instead.  Somehow I think I’ll always make the choice for sun over sacrifice.

    Ironically, this year’s Kurban Bayram falls on the same day as World Animal Day.

     

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