Stress Free in Samcheok

September was a month of stress.  I felt the exhaustion beginning the pile up.  Six months of 11 hour workdays had my head spinning.  Completely idiotic new policies at work and the refusal of my request for two days off to go home for my friend’s wedding had me scouring Kayak for a flight home.  For good.  I didn’t care about traveling.  About writing.  I just wanted to see familiar faces in familiar places.  I finally cooled down enough to see that quitting wasn’t the right option (I get a hefty sum of money for completing my contract, to be used for traveling and my next set of plans) and booked a trip to Samcheok, on the eastern coast of Korea in the Gangwon-do province as a pick me up.

The Gangwon-do area of Korea is known for its nice, sandy beaches and gorgeous mountains.  My friend sent me the link to an organized trip, and although I’m not always a fan of group trips, I was sold.  The promise of a weekend filled with beaches, hiking, waterfalls and penis parks (stay tuned) sounded like just what I needed.

We arrived at Mangsang Beach, a little north of Samcheok, on a chilly and overcast Saturday morning.  After settling into our pension we started to explore this quaint beach town.  It was slightly eerie as the place was almost entirely empty.  Koreans really only go to the beach during July and August which left us the place to ourselves.  Usually I am a fan of crowds, buildings, and something always happening (obviously, I chose to live in Seoul, didn’t I?) but by getting out of the chaotic energy of the world’s second largest city I finally realized that sometimes it is nice to leave that behind for a while.  We walked along the beach without having to jostle anyone, settled down for kimchi fried rice at a diner with a view of the sea, and then walked a mere 500 feet for a coffee.

After lunch we explored more and stumbled upon an abandoned carnival.  With faded colors and broken glass, it looked like something straight out a horror film.  Being Korea, where anything goes, there were no barricades and nothing stopping us from snooping around or severely injuring ourselves (which definitely happened later in the night).

We then settled on the beach and watched the waves roll in with the few Koreans brave enough to face the weather and wind.  The more time I sat there the more it felt like all of my stress was being blown away.

The sun began to set and the makkeoli (rice wine), soju, and beer quickly came out.  We joined some people we had met on the trip and sat around a picnic table outside our pension enjoying good conversation and, after a few (too many) drinks we partook in a Korean nighttime beach activity- lighting off fireworks.  Every convenience store in a beach town sells them and once the sun sets the beach is peppered with people shooting them off.  I’d never lit a firework and was very excited.  Luckily, no one was injured.  At least during this portion of the night.

This weekend helped me fall in love with Korea again.  It helped me find my center and calm down.  And get my blogging groove back.

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Taman Ujung Karangasem: A Palace in a Pond

Taman Ujung Karangasem, or Karangasem Water Palace, is a short drive from the villa near Amlapura.  This palace was built in 1919 by the king of Karangasem.  He and his family used this ornate palace as a place of relaxation.  Unfortunately for us, the majority of the palace was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1970s and today only a few buildings remain.  In spite of this, visitors are still able to enjoy the grounds and can wander through the ponds, ruins and buildings that are still standing today.

Although Lonely Planet didn’t have great things to say about the palace, I thoroughly enjoyed the morning I spent wandering around the ruins and restored buildings.  My friends and I began the day with some nasi goreng and Balinese coffee at a small restaurant overlooking the ponds of Taman Ujung Karangasem.  After finishing, we paid the small entrance fee (around 2USD), crossed a short bridge and began exploring the grounds.

In the middle of the water sits the main building, which was the primary housing for the royal family when they stayed at the palace.  It is connected to either side of of the pond by an ornate bridge.  Inside the building hang pictures of the king and his family.  While it’s not the most fascinating or beautiful interior it helps paint a better picture of the history of the palace.

The most impressive part of Taman Ujung, in my opinion, was not the buildings themselves but the actual grounds.  There are paths leading all around the ponds which are surrounded by well manicured lawns, colorful flowers, sculptures, and small gazebo like structures. In the distance it is possible to see both the sea and the mountains.  At times it felt as if I’d stepped into a Southeast Asian version of a European palace’s garden.

While we didn’t take advantage of this, you are also able to take a dip in the water.  For a small extra fee visitors can swim in water that has been blessed by a priest.  I am slightly disappointed I didn’t know about this at the time as I am sure this would have been a truly unique swimming experience!

Taman Ujung is the perfect place for a morning walk or run, before it gets too hot in the afternoon heat, and is definitely worth a look if you find yourself on Bali’s east coast.  Taman Ujung is located on the main road past Candidasa, about 6 km before Amlapura.  To get the most out of your visit, get there in the morning before both the crowds and heat arrive, and spend the extra 2,000Rp for a guide who can provide additional insight and history.

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Why I Quit My Job to Teach Abroad and Travel

One year ago today I quit my job in telesales with no real plan for the future. I spent the majority of the time in my cubicle wanting to cry, yelling at people on the phone, or browsing BootsnAll forums and looking at pictures of places I wanted to visit.  I was wildly unhappy.  After suffering through nine months I decided, with the support of my fabulous parents, to leave the corporate world.  A year later I’m halfway done with my teaching contract in Seoul and 161 days away from beginning my backpacking trip around Southeast Asia.

What are the biggest reasons I decided to take the plunge and live in a country I’d never been to (nor knew a word of the language) and for a job I was wildly unqualified for?

1.  I’m not going to do something just because society tells me I should.

I sent my resume in for my “real world job” while I was living in Rome as an au pair.  Things were falling apart with my job there and I was deciding between finding another family and taking a job back home.  This wasn’t a position I was interested in, but with a history major and little to no real world experience, I was in no place to be picky.  Plus, I’d been told, sales was totally great experience for anything else you’d possible want to do in the future (right…).  I ended up deciding to “do the responsible thing” and take the position.  I left my comfortable life of cappuccini and pastries at 10 am and living on 50 euro a week for corporate America because I thought this is what I had to do at 23.  Life after college is supposed to be cubicles and happy hours, isn’t it?

Maybe for some people it is, but not for me.  I soon realized that this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted.  I didn’t want to do sales.  I didn’t want to sit in front of Excel spreadsheets and corporate software for 9 hours a day.  And after nine months I realized that just because this is what my friends are doing, this doesn’t have to be what I do.

2.  I wanted to live outside the USA again.

The second the wheels of my plane touched the runway at O’Hare as I returned from Rome, I wanted to be gone again.  I don’t dislike the United States.  I like free refills, air conditioning, and being able to eavesdrop on conversations with ease.  But I also like figuring things out.  Not understanding what is going on around me at all times.  Wandering around a new city.  There is something satisfying about going to the grocery store and having to look at the pictures of everything to figure out what it is.  Maybe I’m a masochist.  Or maybe it just forces me to slow down.

Whatever it was, after months of driving to suburban shopping malls and eating Chipotle for dinner multiple times a week, I knew I needed a change.  Living in Europe again wasn’t in the cards (damn you, EU and your visa requirements!) and after some research I decided on Korea, a country completely foreign, and thus completely exciting, to me.

4.  The travel bug bit. Hard.

I’d spent the better portion of 2009 jetting off to a new European capital every weekend or taking the train around Italy on one of my many days off.  This made the 2 weeks of vacation I had when I started my job in early 2010 even more shocking.  I wanted the freedom of being able to get away when I wanted to.  And to be able to take a vacation day without worrying about what it would do to my numbers at work or how many emails would be waiting in my inbox when I returned.  This, coupled with the aforementioned incessant browsing of far off destinations, gave me a serious case of wanderlust.

I didn’t have the money at the time to immediately set out on my dream 18 month around the world expedition so I decided to teach English in South Korea.  The money is good enough that I’m able to easily save for an extended trip after my contract, I’m not sitting in a cubicle, and for the 12 months I’m here I am still experiencing a culture enormously different from the one I’m familiar with.

I’m not a wildly successful travel blogger (yet?), but I am a lot happier than I was toiling away at a desk and in a few months will be able to achieve something I’d always wanted but never thought possible, the goal of traveling long term.

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The Best Brunch in Seoul

In my opinion, a weekend isn’t truly great until you’ve sat down to recap the events of the last night over great food.  Enter brunch.  Brunch is the meal that allows for the perfect fusion of eating and socializing.  A great breakfast, or brunch, can be hard to find in a city where seafood stew is a traditional breakfast eat, but the Flying Pan in Itaewon manages to create a meal that will satisfy even the most critical of diners.

Located near the subway station in the popular foreigner district, this small restaurant does quite the business.  I’d recommend showing up early on the weekend, or get ready to wait (they will take your number, allow you to leave, and call you when your table is ready).  The dining room consists of a few mismatched tables and chairs, over sized vases filled with flowers, and cute knickknacks that give it a homey feeling.

More importantly, the food is delicious and memorable.  The breakfast menu is made up of a variety of sweet and savory options that are both creative and classic.  My favorite from the sweet side of things is the french toast stuffed with ham and goat cheese.  Topped with a generous helping of maple syrup, the sweet and savory compliment each other nicely.

The berry and ricotta french toast. Another great sweet option.

The savory menu is just as tasty, and for me, even more tempting.  There are the brunch classics of eggs benedict, omelettes, and scrambled eggs.  And then there are Flying Pan’s ingenious creations.  I always enjoy the beef and mushroom crepe, a rye pancake filled with beef, mushrooms, and a cream sauce, topped with a fried egg.  Another favorite is the Flying Pan breakfast which consists of a poached egg, leafy greens, potato salad, brie, and roasted tomatoes.

The beef and mushroom crepe.

It can be easy to overlook the lunch menu with all the tantalizing breakfast treats, but you won’t be disappointed if you decide to go the sandwich or salad route.  All the sandwiches are prepared on freshly baked bread and filled with fresh ingredients.  The chicken avocado sandwich is light and creamy with just a hint of sweetness and comes out as my favorite.  The salads aren’t your average salad and are made up of ingredients, like goat cheese and brie, that you often don’t find on menus in Korea.  They are large enough for a meal and the presentations are eye popping.

The Flying Pan serves brunch all day, everyday and, if you’re anything like me, you will be returning often in an attempt to eat your way through the entire menu.

Directions: Take Line 6 to Itaewon Station. Go out exit 2 and turn left into the first alley (when you see Homegrown Coffee).  The Flying Pan will be on your right, down a couple of stairs just past My Thai.

Contact: 02-793-7974

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Friends, Living Abroad, and Traveling

You may have noticed that the blog has been quiet the majority of the past two weeks and for this I apologize.  Going silent isn’t the best way to build an audience and while I don’t have any truly great excuse as to why I haven’t been writing, the honest answer is that I just haven’t felt compelled.  Two weeks ago was the end of the semester at my school and with that came changes, people coming and friends leaving.  I started to become extremely jaded with the whole idea of living abroad and traveling with no permanent home base.  And while 95 percent of the time I enjoy my lifestyle and would choose it over a cubicle job in the same city for the next 20 years, living abroad and long term travel comes with its downsides.  The one that causes me the most pain?  Friendships.

A college friend reunion. Saying goodbye to them has been hard.

By deciding to move to another continent or embarking on an adventure that takes you tens of thousands of miles away your are separating yourself from the people who have been your friends.  You have to sacrifice big things like weekend reunions in your college town and bachelorette parties, and you also have to learn to live without phone calls and quick text message updates.  It’s easy to feel disconnected from even your closest friends when you are living 13 hours ahead of them.

How to combat this problem?  Skype and e-mail are the obvious answers.  Technology has really changed the way we can keep in touch.  Video chatting is a spectacular way to show friends (and family) your new digs and allows you to have more of a real conversation.  The real challenge to this can be scheduling.  Make a date and keep it.  Even better, make a regular date (weekly, monthly, whatever) and stick to it.  I’ll admit that I am horrible at this (sorry friends!) and sometimes it has been far, far too long since I’ve talked to people.  With regular communication via the computer you’ll at least be able to hear about that crazy weekend everyone had, even if you weren’t there to experience it yourself.

My Roman au pair "family".

The real downer of making friends while abroad is the fact that you will probably be saying goodbye to them far sooner than you’d like.  For most people living abroad is a temporary thing and when you are traveling, someone is coming while someone else is going.  In my experience, the friendships forged while being in another country develop at a rapid pace.  After struggling to grasp differences in language and culture together, people that you’ve only known for a couple of months can grow to be your closest friends.  The friends I made during both stints in Rome, and those I’ve had the pleasure of knowing thus far in Korea, will always be dear to me, but unfortunately, not usually near.

With my good Seoul friend, Tobye, after conquering Baegundae Peak.

The solution?  Don’t make friends when abroad.  Kidding.  But honestly, there is no way to avoid painful goodbyes.  The only thing you can do is keep in touch (your Skype and email commitment list just got longer) and focus on the positive.  Having friends scattered around the world makes for a good excuse to travel more.  With a free place to stay!

It can be difficult to balance your new friends, friends back home, and the sadness felt when saying goodbye or missing out on important life events, but the relationships I’ve forged while living abroad and traveling have become some of the most rewarding of my life.  And my close friends at home are just a video chat away.

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Flashback Friday: Fall in Michigan

This Friday I won’t be flashing back to a specific trip I’ve taken, but rather to a time and place that makes me truly happy.  I grew up in metro Detroit and for the first 20 something years that I lived there, I hated it.  I didn’t see any positives, only things holding me back.  It wasn’t until I moved away for the first time, when I studied in Rome in 2009, that I became a proud Michigander.  Now that the days are getting shorter and I’m thousands of miles away, I am starting to yearn for my home state.  What are the things I miss most about fall in Michigan?  Take a look.

1.  Football games at the Big House.

I’m a proud University of Michigan alumna and strongly believe that there is no better place to spend an autumnal Saturday than in Ann Arbor.  Football Saturdays are a lifestyle and nothing is spared when planning the perfect tailgate.  Last year my family and I cooked a a prime rib in a travel infrared oven, and deep fried turkeys make an appearance at least once a season.  You will see people with campers decked out in maize and blue, big screen televisions on the golf course, and kegs in the trunk of a Ford Focus.

Once the imbibing has finished, over 100,000 people head over to Michigan Stadium to watch their beloved Wolverines.  Aptly nicknamed The Big House, Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the country and the third largest in the world.  The official capacity is 109,000 people but attendance often exceeds that.  Last fall’s home opener set a record for the largest in NCAA history with 113,090 people in the stadium.  The enormity of the crowd, passionate fans, a top notch marching band, and the history and tradition of the Wolverine football program combine to make an experience that is unmissable for any person even slightly interested in sports.

And you’ll be able to say you had a chance to see the winningest (it’s a word) team in college football history play in person.

2.  The cider mill.

No fall in spent in the Mitten is complete without a trip to the cider mill.  Scattered across the state, many of these places are also fully functioning orchards.  Michigan has the third highest apple production in the country, and as a child fall meant my mom’s apple pie made with apples we had picked from the tree.

Picking apples works up an appetite and nothing is quite as satisfying after picking bushels as a big glass of cold, sweet cider straight from the presses, and a cider mill donut.  For those not in the know, cider mill donuts are donuts rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served still warm.  Cider mill donuts are only available in the fall and are talked about year round.

3.  Getting away and heading north.

In the summer northern Michigan is known for its lakes, dense forest and cabin lifestyle.  Large numbers of people from the southern part of the state go “up north” every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day for boating and relaxing.  After Labor Day, though, northern Michigan is still a great destination.  There are significantly less cars on the major freeways, the leaves have begun to change, and you may be able to catch one of the last few days of summery weather.  Fall further north provide beautiful scenery and some much needed solitude after a Football Saturday.

Michigan is a state that is highly underrated by the majority of the country (when I lived in Philadelphia I had people ask me where Michigan is located) and has a lot to offer in all four seasons.  More people should check out this beautiful state.  Dispel the major Michigan stereotype, and help out a state in need.

Oh, and wherever you go, GO BLUE!

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Flashback Friday: New England Road Trip

At this time last year I was toiling away in a cubicle in suburban Philadelphia for eight hours a day.  The end of our fiscal year (oh, how I don’t miss using phrases like that regularly anymore) was approaching which meant my unused vacation days were going to expire.  The thought of wasting precious time off was unthinkable so my friend, who was living in Manhattan at the time, and I decided to take advantage of our new found east coast location and road trip up to Maine over a long weekend.  With no set plans except for making it to Bar Harbor, Maine we ended up having a weekend to remember.

Looking to take your own road trip?  Here are three things that can make the trip more interesting and less frustrating.

1.  If you want to stop somewhere, stop there!

We had a few places in mind that we wanted to stop on the way to and from Maine but when we saw the signs for New Haven, a place we hadn’t considered, on 1-95 we knew we had to check it out.  After quickly cutting across 2 lanes of traffic to make the exit, we started on what we thought was the road to Yale’s campus.  This proved to be incorrect but because of this mistake we stumbled across a large rummage sale.  My friend scored a beautiful antique mirror for her apartment and we were able to ask for directions.

We eventually found Yale, snuck into the Yale Daily News to pretend we were Rory Gilmore, and walked around the empty campus on a beautiful end of summer day.

This unplanned stop became one of the highlights of the trip.

2.  Feed the meter.

On our way north we stopped in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for lunch.  Ravenous, I haphazardly threw what change I could find in my cup holder into the parking meter and ran toward Portsmouth Brewery to get a table.  We sat at the table for a long time, lingering over one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve ever had and an almost equally good IPA, not even thinking about the car parked meer feet from the restaurant.  After settling the bill and rushing out with stolen pint glasses in our purses, we walked hastily not to the car, but over to a fire truck where we muscled our way through a bunch of five year olds for a picture.  Needless to say, when we finally returned to the car the Portsmouth Police Department had left us a little gift.

Lesson not learned, when we stopped in Providence for lunch on the way home we were too preoccupied with not getting soaked by the torrential rains that we neglected to feed the meter.

Throw a few quarters in.  The dollar you spend then is a lot better than the fifty you’ll have to spend later.

3.  Get an EZ Pass.

Out of all the information in this post, this is probably the most important, especially if you are traveling on the east coast.  A large portion of I-95 in the northeast is a toll road.  The toll booths, especially on weekends and during holidays, have long backups.  Most toll plazas are equipped with more EZ Pass lanes than cash lanes, some in which you don’t have to stop at all, and even when there is a line it moves much faster than the cash booths.

CC Image courtesy of MPD01605 on Flickr

Not only does EZ Pass save time, but also the frustration of having to search for change.  If you don’t already have a device, pick one up.  They can be found at most rest areas on turnpikes or at gas stations and grocery stores in states where EZ Pass is used.  The cost of the pass is minimal and you can set it up so it automatically charges your credit or debit card when your balance is low.  This small piece of plastic was a lifesaver on more than one occasion.

Road trips are a great way to explore on your own time.  Driving can become boring and tedious, but only a small list of must dos and a lot of patience and flexibility, your road trip will be smooth sailing.

Except maybe on I-95 when approaching toll plazas.

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