Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Made in Korea

March 1, 2011 - Tuesday
Jim has a IBA conference in Seoul, Korea for two days this week.
We will be making it a long weekend in Seoul. This area we have never visited. So once again it should be interesting to see if it is a destination we want to return to in the future.
Our flight travels today start early, with a 7A departure to San Francisco, an hour connection, and then 14 hours to Seoul. We should arrive into Korea at 4:30P on Wednesday.

March 2, 2011 - Wednesday

We arrived in Seoul at 4:30P. The flight here seemed longer than others, though it was only 12 hours from San Francisco. After a small lunch, 3 Bloody Marys, and an ambien, it was time for a
long nap to kill the time of the flight. Unfortunately, we were only able to sleep about 2.5 hours.
No idea what the reason was for the short duration. Usually we can sneek in 6 hours.
Movies and reading were the call for the duration of the flight.
We took the airport bus to The Shilla hotel, which took about 60 minutes. The airport is quite a distance from the hotel.
Because we had been up for most of the day, a short nap before dinner was in order.
We decided to have dinner in one of the 3 restaurants, on premise. Neither of us was in the mood for any city adventures tonight.
We stopped at the beautiful hotel bar for a few nightcaps, and called it a night.

March 3, 2011 - Thursday

We had planned to do running this morning out doors. The weather though was a bit to cool for our liking, 25 degrees. We went first thing to the hotel gym, which has all the amenities one could imagine. Three miles on the treadmill overlooking the city was perfect.
The included breakfast buffet, made for a perfect morning start.
Since Jim had the day free until the cocktail reception at 6P, we thought we would venture out and explore Seoul.
Seoul is a massive city. We took a cab (very inexpensive) quite a distance to one of the many street shopping districts. Streets were lined with shops after shop selling all kinds of goods, from purses to jewelry and food.
We stopped in two large department stores, that were high end in prices. Though not at all crowded, there was staff everywhere. The shoe department must have had at least 20 employees milling around. Though none of them were ever idle. Always either looking for a customer assist or straightening up the merchandise.
The weather was sunny but very cold. It is hard to enjoy the scenery with 25 degrees temperatures. We wandered into an underground shopping area where there is a variety of shops, small in size, but literally hundreds of them side by side. Most of them selling similar merchandise. (I wonder how the owners can survive making a living)
Most of the clothing, in our opinion, was quite expensive. Nothing was screaming bargain.
We stopped for a light lunch at a "safe" restaurant that was German themed. As much as we wanted to venture into some of the local establishments, we opted for the other venue.
The brisk air wiped us out a bit, so again, nap time was calling at 3P.
Dinner tonight was at a authentic Korean restaurant, Samwon Garden.
Very bright in lighting, with granite tables that had the grills built. Dinner was cooked at the table by your server. Our problem was the language barrier. Though a manager who spoke a bit of English, helped us through the order process. (Pictures on the menu was very helpful)
We were bought about 10 small dishes of various marinated vegetables and salads to share. Though some were on the spicy side, all were fresh and tasty.
The strip steak and short ribs were grilled in a short period of time and were delicious.
Our entire time spent here was about one hour, very fast compared to out usual lingering.
Back to the hotel bar to finish the evening.

March 4, 2011 - Friday

Jim was scheduled for an all day session at the International Bar Association Conference.
After breakfast I ventured out on my own to check out a different part of Seoul.
My cab ride started out fine for the first few minutes, until a new Hyundai driver decided to slam into us on the road. My belongings got tossed off the seat, but the cab driver and I were fine except for the damage to his cab. After a few minutes my driver hailed another cab and I was back on my way.
I spent the next three hours walking through the streets of Gangnam-gu, south of our location. This area is referred as the new town. It very much reminded be of Hong Kong vs Kowloon, which is a much older area.
I came across many restaurants that looked like possible dinner locations for the next two nights.
The shopping areas in this area are very high end; Escada, Prada, Armani, Cartier etc..
The automobiles here were less Hyundai and more BMW and Mercedes just like in Hong Kong.

Our choice for dinner this evening was Gramercy Kitchen. (Ironically we enjoy the Gramercy Tavern in New York and thought this was just a coincidence in name) We found out the Kitchen is owned by the Westin Hotel. Though the menu is entirely different, they did have some similarities besides the service and quality of food. Individual wrapped and bagged muffins are given to each guest before you leave, for a morning snack the next day. This is exactly what is done in NY. Not quite sure who is involved here, but the brought a fine dining theme to Korea.

March 5, 2011- Saturday

We started are morning early with breakfast at 6:30A., to be ready for the start of an organized tour, DMZ. There were approximately 10 tourists this morning and 2 guides. Jim & I were the only Americans, while the remaining were Japanese. (It was like having our own private tour guide)
It took approximately 45 minutes to reach the DMZ. Security is high, border checks, passport checks and many rules to follow on picture taking.
The highlight (if you want to call it that) was the visitation of Tunnel 3 which was burrowed by the North sometime in the 1960's and was discovered in 1978. We rode down to the tunnel in funicular, the walked the narrow and very low passage to the safe line. (Once this was discovered in 1978, two rooms/walls were built so the passage was further prevented from the North)
Throughout the area you see barbed wire with red triangles hanging. This serves as notification that land mines are still present.
Uniformed Korean and UN soldiers are present everywhere.
As with any attraction in the world, a small food/refreshment stand is available and of course a souvenir shop.
Though I will admit, I was a bit nervous about this trip today, I glad to have have an opportunity to see this area first hand.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Australia 2011

February 1/2, 2011

A few months ago, we, Jim, Cynthia, Theresa, Linda and I, decided to plan a trip to Sydney, Australia.
All the plans were set for our departure on February 2 at 5:00PM to Lax, with a connection in LAX the same day at 10:30PM.
Once we heard the grave news of an impending blizzard in Chicago, we became very concerned about getting out and making the connecting flight.
So, at the last minute we were able to secure seats on an early morning flight a day early to LAX.
Little did we know that flights were starting to cancel a few hours after we departed and all flights to LAX on our scheduled departure day have been canceled.
Now we are in LAX, staying at the Renaissance Center near the airport just waiting for our 10:30PM departure on Quantas to Sydney.
When we arrived yesterday, everyone just relaxed during the day. Cindy and Therese did not sleep the night before with the last minute change and the sudden need to pack up all the belongings for an early morning limo pick up.
Last night we took a taxi into the city, walked around the outdoor Grove Shopping Center before dinner at 8:00PM at Osteria Mozza.
Today, Wednesday, I've been monitoring the blizzard conditions back home, having some guilt that my daughter is holding down the fort and having patience with the two dogs. Millie & Lainie are not very thrilled either with the first experience with a blizzard.
I am going to do a run before we leave our hotel at 3PM for our 16 hour flight.
We arrive on Friday morning at 8:30AM. Sydney is 17 hours ahead of central time.
Our flight to Sydney was on the new airbus A300. A fantastic aircraft.
The flight was about 15 hours from LAX. There were over 50 movies to choose from on your personal seat video screen.
An additional feature added to the flight tracking is the tail cam. You are able to view the outside activity throughout the trip.

Friday February 4, 2011

We arrived in Sydney at 8:30a to a warm 85 degrees. A welcome change from Chicago.
After checking in at the Swissotel, everyone spent some needed time to freshen up and unpack.
Jim, Linda and I walked a bit around the city to get acclimated. We made our way down to Circle Harbor, which is where the Opera House us located. A few beers and some appetizers were the lunch for the day.
Our evening was spent having dinner at a the recommended Peter Doyle on the Harbor. All of us enjoyed a great seafood dinner.

Saturday February 4, 2011

Jim and I started our day with a nice 3.25 mile run around Sydney. We started at Hyde Park (which is located 2 blocks from the hotel) and ran around the Opera House, the hilly parts if the city and back.
The plan today was the Taronga Zoo.
We took the ferry, which is about a 2o minute ride.
The temperature was 106 degrees - a record setting heat.
The zoo is spread out over a large area, so it never seemed to be overly crowded.
The temperature was stifling. Therese bought a large hat to block the sun, all of us loaded up on sunblock and Gatorade.
We returned after a long afternoon to Darling Harbor, minus Linda who had enough heat.
The four of us stopped at the visitors center for more local information. We the planned our week ahead over a few very needed cold beers.
Dinner was back at Darling Harbor. A nice casual Italian restaurant, Casa di Nico.

Sunday February 6, 2011

Day of leisure.
Linda spent the day rejuvenating from the previous heat spell, and through in a bit of shopping at the air-conditioned mall across the street.
Jim & I took a 30 min ferry to a popular tourist stop, Manly Beach.
The town is quaint with all the typical shops of a beach stop.
Though overcast, we got settled on the sand and Jim decided to hit the water. After about 5 minutes the ran arrived and everyone was told to leave the water.
We packed up our few belongings, rinsed off the sand and headed over to the corner bar for a beer.
The rain continued for the next few hours, from sprinkles to hard rainfall.
We met two local men who were seated next to us. Both of them lived in Manly, one a chef at a local restaurant and the other who owned a office cleaning company. Great conversation; laughs and exchange of cultures.
Dinner was at Meat and Wine CO. We were fortunate to have a window table on the second floor overlooking Darling Harbor. While we were dining there was a fire works display right in the harbor as part of the Chinese New Year celebration.

Monday February 7, 2011

Started the day at 7:30a with a nice 3 mile run through Hyde Park and the Gardens.
After breakfast, Jim stayed back at the hotel to get a few hours of work done. I spent the next few hours with the "girls" while they shopped. We stopped at various small quaint stores looking at all the local Australian merchandise.
By mid afternoon, we all returned to our rooms for a short nap, so that we would be well rested for our reserved Sydney Bridge Climb at 6:15p.
The climb started with about an hour of forms/releases to be signed; instructional videos; climbing outfits distributed and the all important final bathroom break.
The climb lasted about 2 hours. The weather and city/harbor views could not have been better. We had a total of 14 people in our group and our tour guide/photographer.
Though all may have a bit nervous, and tired after climbing 1400 stairs, everyone survived and truly enjoyed the once in a lifetime experience. Highly Recommended.
Quick can ride to Rockpool Bar and Grill for an excellent late night dinner.

Tuesday February 8, 2011

Breakfast early for our 9A train ride to the Blue Mountains, exiting in the town of Katoomba.
We purchased the weekly train, bus and ferry ticket for $57 which enables us to get around for one very low fare.
The train station is located a block from our hotel. We did a quick transfer and arrived about 2 hours later at Blue Mountain.
Upon arriving, we purchased a $20 hop on hop off pass that enables you to see all sites, time permitting.
We chose to see Leura Cascade and Three Sisters. Perfect allotted time to fill our afternoon and not be rushed.
Both attractions wore equal in beauty.
We arrived back in Katoomba with about 45 mins to spare before the next train back to the city. We enjoyed some pesto and garlic pizza washed down with a nice cool beer.
Our train ride was a very comfortable and quiet (electric) bringing us back to Sydney by 5:30p.
The "girls" stayed at the hotel for dinner; Jim and I had dinner over looking Sydney Harbor at Cafe Sydney.We were seated on the outside terrace on a beautiful night.

Wednesday February 9, 2011

Yesterday we wanted to stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park on the way back from the Blue Mountains. Time did not allow it, so we set out the morning for the 40 minute train trip.
This park is nestled in a very neighborhood type setting. We spent about 3 hours here and enjoyed every minute. Birds of all species, kangaroos milling around at hands touch and Kahlua Bears sleeping in tress. The Tasmanian Dare devil available for viewing. Truly a great attraction that we all seemed to prefer over the zoo on Saturday.
We returned in plenty of time for our 5PM, one hour tour of the Opera house. Our guide was great and very informative. At the completion of the tour, Jim was able to secure tickets for tomorrows performance of The Barber of Seville.
Dinner tonight was on Manly Beach, at 30 minute ferry ride departing from Sydney Harbor, opposite the Opera House.Dinner was at 8:00P at PILU.We arrived there by cab from the beach, to a restaurant that was previously utilized as a private residence. It was transformed into an beautiful fine dining restaurant.The menu was fantastic.
Jim & I shared duckling pig for two, Linda had lamb gnocchi,and Cindy and Therese had a pasta dish with calamari.
After desert we took a cab to the dock for our late night 30 minute ride back to Sydney.

Thursday February 10, 2011

Planes, trains, ferries, cabs and now rental automobiles!
Our original plan was to take the train to wine country.
After a bit of research, we realized that it would be a near impossible journey.
We rented a car that was dropped off at the hotel and began our travels at 9A.
The roads were fine. Back to driving on the opposite side.
The ride took about 2 1/2 hours to our first of three wineries. We stooped at Scarborough, Bimbadgen and Tyrrell wines. Purchased a few bottles to take home after each tasting.
Recommended to to have lunch at the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop. This was a cheese shop and restaurant combined.
We sampled various dipping oils and ordered lunch that we ate outside overlooking the vineyards.
I dozed a bit in the car on the way back to Sydney and gave Jim the wheel for the return trip.
Once again we did a quick shower and change and headed off the the Opera House for our 7:30 opera.
Beautiful acoustics, something we never had experienced.Though I an not totally sold on the opera, it was the perfect place to experience my first performance.
Due the late hour, we stopped at the Opera Bar, located near the "house" for some cocktails and margherita pizza.

Friday February 11, 2011

Our last full day in Sydney.
Everyone spent a beautiful weather day strolling around Sydney getting some last minute shopping before our long trip home on Saturday.
For dinner, Jim booked Aria a few months back for our final dinner.
We stopped for pre-dinner drinks at the Blu Bar 36 located at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Both had spectacular views of the city. Dinner was excellent. We laughed more tonight than ever.

Saturday February 12, 2011

Back to reality.
We departed Sydney at noon for our 3P flight back to LAX.
Our flight was delayed about 40 mins due to a minor mechanical.
We arrived in LAX around 10:30A Sat, and were able to switch our flight to arrive in Chicago by 8:30P.
Truly a memorable vacation.