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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.

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