Sunday, April 13, 2014

Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Over a week ago I wrote a huge post about my time in Paris...then lost it. Somehow it all got deleted. I got mad and haven't tried to write it again until now. So let's try this again.

PARIS IS BEAUTIFUL. Also, the subways are super ghetto and really do smell like pee, just like I was warned. But it doesn't take too much away from the magic of the city.

We arrived before dark, giving me my first glimpses of the gated windows in the evening light. My insides were screaming with anticipation as we zipped through the city on the train to our stop. My eyes couldn't take in enough. Everywhere one looks in Paris is something beautiful. Everywhere.

After getting settled into our tiny apartment, we decided to walk the 10 minutes to the Eiffel Tower (!!!) to watch the sunset and the show of sparkling lights the Tower puts on every hour after dark. After dreaming of seeing this icon of Paris my entire life, actually sitting in front of it is overwhelming. It's enormous! It's so much bigger than I thought. Its weird looking at it though because it really is nothing more than a big iron tower thing. But because of what it's associated with is what makes it so special.

The next morning, we found a little market and got bread, cheese, salad and wine (typical and cliché) and had our lunch there on the grounds of the Tower. I tell you what, there are few things more satisfying than having a glass of wine IN Paris IN FRONT OF the Eiffel Tower. It's just like the movies, honestly. We walked to the other side of the river to get a different view of it and then went to the Orsay Museum. I was really looking forward to this museum because it has everything I love: Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Matisse, Gauguin, Seurat, Cezanne...magical. It didn't disappoint. I have been nerdily overcome with emotion over the art I've seen on this trip. I have literally been brought to tears over the first Picasso I had ever seen in my life, and I also cried over seeing the Globe Theater in London. I mean, Shakespeare was there! Right there! Directing plays! What's not to cry about!? So the Orsay was definitely a highlight. Art is the best.

We also saw the Notre Dame that first day. Talk about awesome. These iconic things that we all know by sight are all of a sudden in front of my face. It's just insane. Al has been lighting candles for his grandma in all the Catholic Churches we've gone to so of course the Notre Dame was a big one. It's magnificent inside. One of the most detailed and ornate churches I've ever seen. The stained glass...whoa! And these places in Europe, the buildings and churches and monuments...are old! I mean old old. Like hundreds or even thousands of years old. Back home in america we flip if something is 1700s old.

The next day we went to the Louvre. They have things in there from ancient Egyptian times that were dated to like 5000 years ago. Its hard to even wrap my head around! I also, of course, saw the good old Mona Lisa. Seeing that with my own eyes was nuts. I know da Vinci was brilliant and everything, but for the life of me I just don't understand why it's so much more famous than other works. It's lovely and I understand the mystery behind it, but there are much grander and better works in that museum. Oh well.

Our second day we meandered around Montmartre and saw the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur before the Louvre, then wandered up the river to enjoy the evening. After getting back to our place, I realized I had somehow lost my new favorite hat I bought at topshop. I don't lose things and I'm still pretty mad about it. There is no topshop here in Italy, but there is one in Iceland so I think I'm going to get another one there. Sad face.

After hitting some big cities...London, Paris, Milan and Rome, Paris is my favorite. Just like any metropolis, there is graffiti ruining beautiful things and slummy areas and bums...but the magic is underneath. It's downright gorgeous and just as fabulous as you imagine. The little cafes with the tables outside and flowers in windows are everywhere, reminding you of where you are in the world.

Parisian people aren't too snobby, but that could be because I have a French husband. The women are very plain, pretty, but plain. The fashion is very simple. The opposite from London! I prefer London's style: more funky and colorful. I dig the classy black of Paris, but I'm feeling London more when it comes to fashion. (And the weather)

The next day we packed up and got our rental car and headed south to the Loire Valley...castle central.


(After re-reading this I realize how choppy and not great the writing was. I apologize. I do find it hard gathering thoughts and writing creatively on this dumb phone. Bear with me. Once I'm home with a keyboard hopefully my story telling will improve).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

England! You're Rainy.

First let me say that I will be writing these blogs on a phone so the writing and pictures won't be in the same sort of format that I usually do I don't think. I'm still playing around with it and it's way more difficult to gather thoughts and insert pictures when I'm on this forgive mistakes and weird picture placements or whatever! I am, in England. My first impressions of this new continent aren't much different than being in New York City, if I'm being honest, but really, how different are all big English-speaking cities anyway? The big Asian ones (Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei...) they all do feel really really different from the western world, but apart from the landmarks that obviously give it away as London, it doesn't feel any different. And that's ok!

It's been a very nice change to come to a place that feels like home after so long away from the familiar. We went into a supermarket called ASDA and I nearly squealed with delight because it was a REAL (to me) grocery store! With actual choices and variety! And everyone understands me! We've pretty much been nonstop since arriving and the first thing I'll say is that three full days is not enough time for this city. One more would be ideal, two more a bit much.

Everything does seem a bit more posh when everyone has a British accent. And all the royal stuff around...fabulous. We went to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  I'm not sure how much of it is true to tradition and how much is put on for the tourists...though I'm pretty sure the bit where the royal marching band played Michael Jackson probably wasn't going on hundreds of years ago.

Seeing all these things with my own eyes just blows me away. People are way more familiar with Europe and its landmarks and culture than Asia, so that's probably why I have over a hundred likes on my picture with Big Ben. It's also why I'm really excited to share these photos with people because they are so recognizable. I've been putting myself in European daydreams for as long as I can remember, so finally experiencing it is outrageous. 

We went on a tour of the Harry Potter studios. IT WAS AWESOME. By far the best tour of something I've ever been on. It is the very Warner Brothers studios where Dan, Rupert and Emma went every day for 10 years. All the sets are there and there are thousands of props. Seeing the details on all the props that don't even get shown in the movies is insane. Outside in the backlot you could buy butterbeer and see Privet Drive and they even had Hedwig there! As an extreme HP fan, this was my highlight in London. 

Here are some observations I've made about England so far:

-It's cold and rainy.

-I've been to a lot of big cities around the world but I don't think I've ever experienced such a variety of people from every walk of life. I'm not just surrounded by British accents but by every language imaginable. It's truly a melting pot. 

-It's really expensive. Really, really expensive. 

-Afternoon tea is a real thing. You get little cakes and sandwiches and a pot of tea and it's adorable.

-The shopping is unbelievable. Oxford street about blew my mind away. In the US, we have only a few lower-end cost shops like H&M and Forever21. There are SO MANY MORE here just like it. The fashion and shopping is insane and I'd kill to have a buttload of ££££££ to spend.

-The public transportation system is colossal. Between the overground and underground and buses it can get a bit confusing at times. Luckily we are familiar with how subways and things work, but I couldn't imagine this being the first time for someone using public transit.

-the money is super annoying. They have coins for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pence (cents) along with a £1 and £2 coins as well. The paper money doesn't even start until £5. My wallet weighs about a million tons.

-Everyone is dressed so well!! Coming from Korea where 80% of the women looked sloppy in tennis shoes, leggings and a big T-shirt all the time, this was a breath of fresh air. Men and women alike just seem to be way more put together and fashionable than in Korea. 

-The mix of the old and new is crazy. There will be a BP next door to a 400 year old church. The contrast is  shocking. 

We are in Liverpool now and are headed to Paris this afternoon!! We came up here so Al could see all the Beatles things. Liverpool is nice! The architecture is really beautiful. But it's so cold!! Maybe being right on a body of water has something to do with it. And Liverpool accents are really difficult to understand even though it's English. I've had to hang on their every word. 

It's time to get ready for the train to Paris so here are a few pictures...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Last Days and Thailand & Malaysia: Round 2

As most of you know, we managed to wrangle about 80-90% of our owed money from our school. Between finishing early, his reluctance to pay total amounts and months of unpaid pension (he decided to report to the government that we finished working for him in September so he didn't have to pay the remaining of our pension) we are out thousands of dollars, but there was/is nothing more that could have been done. 

The last day in our apartment was a sad one. We had everything but our bags and a few boxes packed up and sent home or given away and Mr. Snakeface boss came to check the place before handing over our cash. He decides when he got there that all the furniture had to be moved out (furniture that was there when we moved in) and WE had to pay to dump it. There was a lot of arguing and back and forth over the furniture nonsense but we got it sorted and spent the rest of the day with him and two other Korean dudes moving every last thing in that apartment up and down 19 floors to the basement dump. After it was all said and done and it was time to lock our door one last time, I had a nice cry looking out at our amazing view over this city that in a very short time would no longer be my home. We reminisced about all the parties and good times that were had over the past few years, took one last look at this empty space that was our home for 2 1/2 years and locked the door.

We spent a few days on friends' couches and then were finally off on our much needed vacation. We flew to Langkawi, Malaysia (northern west coast of Malaysia) for one night, then caught the ferry to Koh Lipe, Thailand (southern west coast of Thailand) the following day to spent 11 days lounging on one of those beaches you see only on postcards or calendars. Immigration was a concrete building with a palm-thatched roof and getting stamped and through basically took place right there on the sand. The entire island is walkable so we just walked to the other side where our bungalow was waiting for us. It was basic, stifling hot, had no air conditioning or hot water...but it did have a hammock and was about 15 steps from the most turquoise water I've ever seen.

Al under the mosquito net

It looks much dingier than it actually was. It was squeaky clean.

We soon got into the routine of doing absolutely nothing. Wake up, coffee (for Al) and tea (for me), beach, lunch, hammock book reading, beach, dinner, sleep. Not always in that order, but mostly what the days consisted of. Once we took a walk up into the jungly mountain part, where some of the local people live and on the way was a temple:

We then saw some roosters and then a few baby chickens squaring off and fighting:

And then saw a bit of the local scenery up in the hills:

Another day we hired a longtail boat and some captains to take us on a snorkeling trip. 

I. Love. Snorkeling. There's so much going on under there.

Sup Nemo

Parked on this beach to have our lunch

That water is about 6 feet deep there

One of our boat drivers

Stopped at a different island that had swings all over the place...

...And tree limbs...

...that someone had put pretty corals on.

One evening, I saw the sickest sunset I've ever seen in my life. Never, ever, ever have I seen anything like it. So Lion King. 

We arrived at the sunset beach and I was like so pretty! Little did I know what was coming.

Starts peeking under the clouds...



This is not real.



Picture of me taking a picture

We ate some good food...

Coconut banana pancake

Coffee, Thai milk tea and fruit (obviously)


Tom Kha. Kind of like a coconut lemongrass soup with lime leaves, bamboo shoots, chicken and veggies.
We even found some kitties! The path from our bungalow to the main walking street had a dump pile of roof metal and one night we walked by and there were kittens in it! So each night we would look for them on our way to dinner and play with them. 

I got a few $9 massages, but other than that it was mostly just laying around on the beach or meandering down to the walking street. 

Every restaurant or store is open air

This was a sand spit on one end of the beach

One of the most serene, (undoctored) pictures I took

Seems legit

This little kid stopped outside our bungalow and just played with the plants

When I get the settings right, my camera is capable of amazing things!

The main walking street...before I got a tan

The tide went down really low one night


Love this picture

This was about as crowded as the water got with people swimming

Shake and pancake stand

As our week and a half was coming to a close, we decided to use our last night for a movie. SE Asia is famous for "TV bars" I guess you could call them. They have TVs and cushions and pillows all over and they play movies and shows all day and night. We got some fries, picked some pillows and watched "Get Him to the Greek."

The last day we took the 4pm ferry back to Langkawi to catch our 10pm flight to Kuala Lumpur where we would spend two nights. Al isn't a big fan of Malaysia, but I don't mind it so I was pretty excited to spend a whole day in a new city. 

We spent the afternoon in the markets and then went a little outside the city to the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple of sorts set in and around massive limestone caves...complete with an enormous golden god statue. 

Outside our hotel

At the Batu Caves

It was a loooong way up

So many layers of paint

Indian ladies visiting the caves. Saris are some of the world's most beautiful clothing.
We decided we wanted to go see the Petronas Towers at night, so we relaxed at the hotel for a bit....then it started pouring the rain. And I mean pouring. Thunder, lightening, the whole shebang. It was really nice, actually, because I haven't heard a thunderstorm in so long, but there went our chances to see Kuala Lumpur's most famous landmark. Oh well! The rain let up a bit so we crossed the street to the market food court, ghetto in the daytime, even more ghetto at night. I got a "sesame chicken and rice" from one of the vendors, sounds safe enough, yes? No. It came looking like it was covered in blood, clotted blood, and I still have no idea what kind of sauce that was. I didn't eat much of the chicken, though the rice was steamed with coconut so I ate that instead. Al had some weird Chinese noodle dish. We had a good laugh about our gross last ever dinner in Southeast Asia and headed back to our air-conditioned hotel room, leaving for Busan very early the next morning. 

It's 1:32am as I type this which means I have exactly one full day left in South Korea. We fly out at 4pm on Thursday to Tokyo, giving me only tomorrow and maybe Thursday morning to finish the millions of things still left to be done. 

On to Tokyo!