Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Back on the blogging wagon

Dear readers,
I apologize sincerely for dropping off the blogging planet for the past year (or so). I got caught up in life and love and drama and didn't have the ambition to get out there an explore the places I was living in and to write about them. I've decided that I need a creative writing outlet besides social media, and I like the idea that I may be helping some fellow traveler find their way through my posts and pictures. It's going to be a bit hectic and disorganized around here for awhile because we have some major catching up to do.

Here's the shortened catch-up:
Since Korea, I lived in Okotoks Alberta for about a year before moving back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I've since broken up with Korea/Okotoks boyfriend, Hyper (mentioned in a few posts) and moved in with the love of my life, Kyle (will be mentioned in following posts I'm sure). I am fostering a mother polydactyl cat named Ebony and have adopted her two kittens, Ghost and Shadow. Follow me on instagram @dirtybiit to see more pictures of them as kittens and feel free to contact me about adopting the mother. Once the winter weather calms it's hormones down a little, I'll be training Ghost and Shadow to go on a leash. We will have tons of Halifax exploring fun this summer, I'm so excited to show you my favorite places around the City!

So now that you know where I am, be prepared for new Halifax posts along with old unfinished Korea, Okotoks, and Calgary posts to be popping up weekly (hopefully) until we get caught up!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

My first Rodeo

This weekend I went to my first Rodeo. it was amazing! I was invited to go with the neighbor's family to the Guy Westwick festival rodeo in High River, around 20 minutes out of Okotoks.
I had just gotten back from the beach so I wasn't wearing the most 'rodeo friendly' clothing. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my white shorts and ballerina flats amongst the cowboy style all around me. Wearing shorts to an outside rodeo in the rain probably wasn't the smartest move on my part, but with our upgraded seating we were out of the rain at least!

The first rule I learnt about the rodeo is NEVER touch a cowboy's hat. The second rule I learnt is a rodeo isn't complete without a mini doughnut.
Mini doughnuts come from a little truck that rolls around to events in Calgary like rodeos and festivals, it's called the mini doughnut factory. OMG they are delicious! I would suggest to anyone to try them! I loved them so much I bought more to bring home with me for a treat later on. Unfortunately they need to be eaten fresh or they lose their charm and delicious nature; they become just another boring old doughnut.

I enjoyed watching all the events but my favorite was the bull riding by far! There was something exhilarating about watching a man being flopped around like a rag doll on a huge animal as crowds of people cheer him on.

Although I do still plan on attending the Stampede rodeo, I am told the small town rodeo that I attended has the exact same cowboys but with a better view.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mini-trip to Hongdae Seoul

A couple of weekends ago, some friends of ours were heading up to Hongdae to stay at the Kimchi Hostel for a few days before their plane left for Australia. They had been to Hongdae several times before and agreed to show us around and hang out for the day.  

That morning, we got our usual backpack of supplies together and headed out. It was a lovely, warm afternoon  I was pleased that I could leave my bulky coat at home on this adventure.

Stupid card!
After a quick stop at a 7-eleven for water and snacks, our group of four headed underground to catch the next train to Seoul. We had a little trouble with the underground train this time. Hyper couldn't seem to get his card to work so he ended up getting stuck at every gate and having to get an employee let him through. After getting stuck a dozen times or so, he decided it was time for a new card. I thought it was hilarious! (I modified the image because he doesn't like his photo being put on my blog.)

Directions to the hostel
When we arrived in Hongdae, we went straight to the hostel to drop off our companion's luggage. At first we couldn't find the building and we had to circle back a few times. The houses in the quiet subdivision reminded me of cute little villas. I went on the hostel tour with them, I had never been in a hostel before. They are definitely not as scary as I thought. There is even a separate dorm just for women in this hostel which I liked very much. Paying under 20$ per night for a clean place to sleep with free internet is a deal I plan on taking advantage of in my future travels in other countries.

The hostel was located across the highway from the main area of Hongdae. Once we crossed the underpass I was wowed by the instant change. The amount of people that seemed to pop up out of nowhere took me by surprise. It kind of reminded me of a zombie herd from HBO's 'The Walking Dead'.  

Quiet Street
There were people and street vendors all around us. Cars were trying to maneuver through the hoard of people and scooters were zooming past in every direction. Hongdae is definitely the craziest place I've seen so far in Seoul! 

We decided to look around for a place to eat. Every restaurant we passed by smelt delicious! There were restaurants of all kinds, everything from Japanese food to Taco Bell. We decided we were in the mood for burgers. The smell of a particular burger place drew us in. 

'The Joe' had a nice atmosphere and decorations. The best part was we could order in English! If you know me, you know I am picky when it comes to burgers. I absolutely hate mayo, pickles, relish and mustard. Tomatoes, cheese and onions, I can live with however. Being able to custom order my burger was something I missed terribly. 

'The Joe' builds their burgers from scratch and they taste amazing! I ordered the mushroom burger. It came with potato wedges and a drink. Excellent, warm, salty, delicious, wedges!   

The Joe Menu
Wall art displaying the many burger choices

Once our tummies were full, we walked around and explored some more. There were hundreds of little shops on both sides of each street. So many shoes.. *drool*. 

My boyfriend hasn't had much pie growing up. Especially homemade pies. I made him an apple pie last summer and since then he is a little pie-crazy. He took a picture of the Jester's in Hongdae because he loved that they were so serious about pies. We were too full from Joe's to stop and taste their serious pies unfortunately. 
Hongdae Jesters
We went into a shop (sorry I forgot the name) that had amazing wallets made by 'Vegetable Garden' they looked and felt like real leather but they were made with 100% organic material. These wallets even had place for an iPhone and a hole for headphones. Click this link to go to their website to see pictures of the wallet I am talking about: Vegetable Garden.

Hello Kitty Cafe
Along the way we came across some really cool shops and restaurants. Hyper says he is bringing me back to the Hello Kitty Cafe some day. I'm excited! I looked inside the windows and the booths are bright pink Hello Kitty faces! How fun! 

Lush- Handmade cosmetics
As we were walking down the street, I smelt something very familiar. One thing about Korea, if you are walking down a street and something smells good... you notice it right away. Usually it smells like food or sewer *shudders*. As we approached the shop that the good smells were coming from, I recognized the scent. It was LUSH! When I run out of body soap, I know where I'm going shopping! 

Blue Lego man
 I definitely would have gotten lost in Hongdae without our lovely guides. Each street had a bunch of little streets attached to it. With the hoards of people pushing past you and the bright lights flashing everywhere distracting me, I would have never found my way out of the area alone. One little street we came across had a large blue LEGO Man just chilling beside a chair... Like a boss. The buildings beside him didn't even look like businesses, it was so weird to just have a LEGO character there for no reason. 

Add caption

One of our friends had been looking for a place to get his earring replaced for months so when we came across a piercing studio that looked professional, he checked it out. The employee there spoke flawless English and he said she did a very good job. It was a cool shop that sold not only jewelry but awesome clothing as well.  

In  Hongdae, we came across some nice graffiti art. Back in Incheon, the only graffiti looks like a 4-year old wrote some poorly-spelled English gibberish on a wall to be rebellious. It was refreshing to see some bright colors and actual art for once.  

 My favorite part of Hongdae is the street vendors. They are everywhere! One whole street was devoted to jewelry vendors, there was some very nice handmade pieces there. I wish I had bought a couple pairs of earrings as souvenirs for people back home. I hope I can find the same street if we ever return to Hongdae. 

Koreans aren't the best at translating into English. I love coming across strangely named places, it gets me every time. I thought my reader's would enjoy the name of a bar we came across. Beer Space. No, it's not a Star Wars themed bar, just a regular bar with a strange name:
Top right hand corner: Beer Space
Another personal favorite. Ho Bar. That's not even the best part. There are several Ho Bars all over Hongdae so they named them appropriately to tell the difference. Ho Bar I, Ho Bar II, Ho Bar III, etc.This Ho Bar is on the same street as the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Ho Bar
This one is sure to make you giggle. Welcome to 'FuckFake'. Located right underneath the restaurant 'Cats Living.' I'm not 100 percent sure on this, but we were told that Cats Living was a restaurant that had real living cats there roaming around that you could chill with and pet. Cute idea or really bad health hazard? Both maybe? 

Cats Living on top of FuckFake
I promised a friend I would try and post more videos so here is one of a fun mechanical noodle outside one of the many restaurants. Hyper was enthralled by it (his voice on the video). Small minds and whatnot. ;) 

Street vendors of every kind can be found all around Korea, even in Incheon, the small city where I live, we see street vendors selling fresh fruit or Korean street foods. In Hongdae the food looked and smelt much better than the food from the vendors in other cities I've been to. I took a picture of one of the stands so you could see the different types of food available.

Street food vendor

People hoards

As the sun set and night time approached it seemed as though the streets were getting even more crowded. Hongdae is kind of known as a party town so I assume the influx of people had something to do with the night time club scene warming up.

After walking around for hours, we were in a snacking mood. We were told by our friends that we had to try a special pastry while in town and this seemed like the perfect time to grab it. One way to know that the food is decent at a street vendor is that you have to wait in a long line to get to it. The vendor that they took us to had an especially long line. It's nice that you can get good snacks on the go for a handful of change, something like this would have cost much more. 
This is the vendor
The pastry was very delicious! It kind of reminded me of a BeaverTail. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It was sugar and cinnamon coated and had little nuts and sesame-like seeds on the inside. It also had a sweet syrup in the middle. Definitely worth waiting in line for! I wish I knew the name of this amazing morsel of snackage so I could Google the recipe! 

You can see in this picture all the tiny shops on each side of the street with cars trying to squish through the night hoards. I'm not sure what time the shops close at in this country, we left the city around 10pm and it was still just as busy, if not busier than when we arrived. 

Walking around in circles sure drains the energy out of you! I was glad to get home and crawl under the warm covers after my Hongdae adventure. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Exploring Sincheon with a side of Seoul- Part 2

Having a lovely time in Seoul!
I apologize for the misleading title, I am still getting used to the way the cities and areas are named. Sincheon is actually part of Seoul. The second part of this journey takes place in the Northern part of Seoul, also called the Joseon Dynasty city (heart of Seoul). 

1st Haechi statue

We arrived in the heart of Seoul and explored the train station for a little bit before continuing on to the palace. This station was also the location of the Haechi Seoul Shop. 

Seoul has recently made the Haechi their city's mascot. (One article said they wanted it to become as popular as the Statue of Liberty for NYC). Haechi is a mythological fire-eating dog from Korean mythology. He is said to protect a city from fires, and disasters. He represents justice, integrity and good fortune. This creature has existed as a guardian of Seoul for a long time. 

Haechi Seoul Shop
I bought some postcards at the Haechi Seoul Shop, they had lots of cute stuffed animals and other Haechi items. I also happened across my first Haechi statue. Many tourists find it a challenge to see how many Haechi statues they can find around Seoul, for there are many. 

In front of the station's exit, there was a beautiful, multi-colored Haechi skylight that I took a snapshot of. 

Hyper picked the exit that we came out of (there were like 7 to choose from). This is the first view we received at the exit... absolutely amazing! (See picture below.)

As we walked closer to the statue, we came across some interesting mini-statues. One is a replica of a solar model, I assume it was the first model that Korea came up with. Another was an aquatic clock. It resembles the sun clock in many ways. 

Water Clock
Solar Model

Close up of the Joseon statue
 As I looked around I noticed the change in architecture right away. To the right of the Joseon statue, there was a gorgeous theater. I'm sad I didn't get to see the inside, I'm sure it would have been wonderful. I especially loved how there was a historical walkway in the middle of a busy traffic zone. Hyper told me we need to come back in the spring once they have the fountains turned on and the flowers planted. I'll make sure to do a follow-up post once I have pictures of it in the spring. 
The Heart of Seoul

It was getting late in the afternoon, we knew that the palace closed before dark so we knew we would never have time to visit it during this trip to Seoul. Instead of turning around and going home, we walked to the Gyeongbokgung Palace anyways. After all, I didn't need to see the inside to be able to appreciate the outside. 

Outside of the palace walls, we found a map of historic places in Seoul. (Yes, the 'map song' from Dora the Explorer was sung by yours truly, which resulted in some strange stares from people passing by on the busy street.) We took a picture  of the map so we could follow it on our return journey and hit up all the interesting places. 

I'm a map, I'm a map, I'm a map
Part of the palace's beauty was the background of gorgeous mountains. It was interesting because if you look in one direction you see the huge, tranquil mountain landscape, while in the other direction you see the city's tall skyscrapers. 

Gyeongbokgung Palace walls with mountain background.
Palace walls view from the main road.
Same palace walls as the pictures above,
but from the inside looking towards the city. 
 Although the palace had closed for the night, we were allowed inside the first walls where it's mostly just parking areas and security buildings. I got some pretty good pictures in this area.

Pure unedited beauty (inside the first layer of walls)

There were a couple people left walking around 

 Being the history buff that he is, Hyper stopped to read the story of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was quite interesting. I found out that the mountain that took my breath away was named  either Mount Bugaksan or Mount Namsan. The palace is under constant rebuilding to restore it to it's traditional glory from before the Japanese invasion. I took a picture of the stone with the history on it in case my blog readers were curious about the story. Not many people seemed interested in learning about Korean history according to the poll, so I won't go into further detail. 
Hangul (Korean writing)

The story of the palace

By the time we had finished looking at the stones, and talked about the history a little, we were the only people left in the area (besides the security guards).  It was surreal to be alone by the ancient palace, the solitude increased it's grandeur.

After the last of the tourists left (besides us)
Near the Palace, there were two magnificent buildings. They were constantly changing because of the way the glass reflected the sky, simply breathtaking. I have no idea what purpose the buildings have, only that they were a joy to look at.

This is my edited version of the duo-buildings to see the original,
 please see Exploring Sincheon with a Side of Seoul- Part 1

A great mixture of old and new architecture!

One of the buildings solo-style
I look like such a tool, but I'm having so much fun
 in this pic I had to share. 

At the base of the buildings, there were some interesting artsy statues decorating the sidewalk. I took this picture so you could get an idea of how tall these slanted masterpieces are! 

As the sun started to set, the colors of the sky mixed with the colors of the ancient Imperial Palace, were just spectacular! The cold air was becoming cooler as the night approached, so we took one last look towards the Palace as we headed back to the train station. 

On the train ride home, it was super busy and there was barely room to stand this time. Hyper almost got pick-pocketed. It was impossible to tell who tried to put their hand in his pocket that's how many people were standing around us. Once we transferred to the second train, it was much more spacious. We even managed to nab two seats! I was so tired and sore from spending the entire day walking around in the cold; I almost fell asleep listening to my IPod with my head on Hyper's shoulder. 

All in all, I enjoyed my adventure in Seoul very much! I can't wait to return to Seoul in the Spring to see the inside this palace as well as the other ones in the city. 
I wonder how many Haechi statues I can find....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Exploring Sincheon with a side of Seoul- Part 1

 The story of this journey begins back in Incheon, a few weeks prior to our departure. I had been posting articles on local international forums looking for an English-speaking hairdresser with a good reputation to cut Hyper's hair. It was so long that he was beginning to remind me of an unruly sheepdog. I was given these directions by another user on InterNations to find 'Lucy' a hairdresser who studied in London; 

-From Shinchon Station (Line 2, the green line) take Exit 1.
-Walk straight until you see a "Natur" store (It's your first right.)
-Turn right into the side street.
-Down the street a few paces, on your right, on the second floor, is Lucy Hair. You can see a sign at the entrance to the building.
-Don't go past the intersection (there is a waffle shop on the corner).

I was also given a telephone number which Hyper called to make an appointment on his next day off.

We awoke that Saturday morning, and after eating chocolate chip pancakes, we packed a book bag with supplies for the day.  We packed gloves and hats, my Nikon camera, IPhones, IPad, a bottle of water, and a snack. It was sunny outside but with a sharp, cold wind reminding us to dress warmly. Well prepared for the adventure ahead of us, we locked up the apartment and headed towards the nearest underground train entrance.
Going down the stairs into the dark tunnel!
This was my first time back on the underground train since arriving to South Korea on the airplane. This time, I got to appreciate it much more because I wasn't distracted by lack of sleep and.. well.. everything!

Descending the stairs into the dark tunnel, I noticed on the left side, there was a ramp-type object for bikes. (Yellow in picture). Once again Korea surprised me with something so simple yet so helpful that I'm convinced we should have something similar back home.

This is how you load money onto your card.
You need a T-Money card to get into the train station.

Scanning my T-Money card, I was given access to the rest of the station. The way that the subway system works is that you need to use the card to get in and out of certain areas.

After consulting the map to find out which transfers we would have to make to get to Sincheon, we waited by the doors for the next train to arrive. Much different than the Halifax Metro Transit system, we found ourselves only waiting a handful of minutes between transfers.

The windowed doors open when a train arrives for passengers to get on or off.
Some of the stations are located outside instead of underground. 
The subway system being the safest and most efficient mode of transportation in most of South Korea, there was a lot more going on underground than one might assume.

Bunnies for sale

There were shops.. EVERYWHERE!
7-elevens, coffee shops, banks, clothing shops, street vendors, we even came across a less-than-legal bunny vendor huddled on the floor with her baby bunnies. (Sorry for the blurry picture, she quickly swatted away the Iphone when she seen we were taking a picture.)

Many sources of entertainment were found, including
people dressed up in costumes to advertise products.
These two are posing as a brother and sister and got into quite a fight, pulling hair and shoving each other all over the station.
Oxygen Masks
 One would think that something as important as oxygen mask instructions would be translated into at least one other language, but they weren't. Seeing the oxygen masks in every station made me a little uneasy. It's so easy to forget how close to North Korea I really live, the sight of a possible tragedy jolted me back into reality. What a strange world we live in that we can go about our day to day lives without thinking about the disaster and tragedy that lurks around every corner. I suppose if we did, we would be called paranoid. Is it really paranoia, or an intense sense of reality? I wonder...  

Suddenly a train appeared and pulled me out of my thoughts. Inside the train car, Hyper quickly secured two seats for us. Luckily that day, the train wasn't too busy. He explained to me that there is a section for handicapped people/pregnant women/children and the rest of the seats are first come, first serve. There are no niceties when it comes to seating in this country and on busy days you can be lucky to get a standing spot with something to clutch onto. 

Sometimes there are vendors that will enter the train cars and give speeches to people before handing out pamphlets and business cards. Solicitation is completely legal in this country, even on public transportation apparently. 

I'm on a subway train!

Across the street from Lucy Hair
We found Lucy Hair within a few minutes of our arrival in Sincheon. This city was much bigger than the little suburb where we live. As I looked around, I recognized many western businesses.  The architecture was different as well, more evolved and beautiful. Where I live, it sometimes feels like squares and rectangles with no imagination, only fluorescent lights to accentuate buildings.  
When we arrived at Lucy Hair, the receptionist greeted us and took our personal effects to put in a locker for us. She then gave us a key to the locker. I kind of liked not having to worry about my items, giving me the opportunity to relax without a bulky coat hanging around. 

Lucy wasn't the hairdresser that ended up cutting Hyper's hair, but the gentleman that did spoke excellent English and followed instructions quite well. As I sat at the window (waiting area), I was overjoyed to find an English magazine to read! I flipped through the old 2008 issue of 'Star' Magazine and relaxed in the pretty pink bar stools while Hyper got pampered (okay maybe I was a little jealous).  

I was fascinated by some of the different tools that these Korean hairdressers used. One in particular looks like a vacuum cleaner. They stuck a bag attached to the device over the woman's head and it started inflating with air to make a hair dryer. (See picture below). Hyper loved his haircut, and I was overjoyed to be leaving with a man instead of a sheepdog for a companion. 

Waiting beside a lovely Valentine's Day decoration of flower petals spelling something in Hangul.
Lucy Hair (LOVE the chairs!)

After grabbing a bite to eat at the first Burger King I've been to since coming to Korea, we couldn't decide where to go next so we just walked around Sincheon for a bit to see what we would come across. Around the corner from Burger King, we discovered a 'Subway' franchise. Hyper was furious that he ate at Burger King when there was a Subway so close; he didn't know that they existed in South Korea. We came across a shop called 'Cupcake' with the picture of a cute little pink elephant on the sign. It was the cutest little cupcake shop ever! From Chocolate Oreo cupcakes to Earl Grey and Green Tea cupcakes the flavors were all different and quirky in their own way. The shop also featured a nice, large library and it was a wonderful atmosphere. I wish I wasn't so full from the Burger King, or I would have stayed for awhile and sampled some of the cupcake creations. I am sure we will be returning for some Subway subs in the near future, so I will defiantly make a note to make a stop at 'Cupcake' when we do. 

Patio heaters... indoors
While we were walking around, we noticed some movie posters outside of one of the buildings. One of them featured Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 3D. Both of us were excited for the new Ghost Rider film, so we went inside to see if it was playing that afternoon. Inside, I looked around for a bit while he tried finding an English sign or English-speaking employee. I seen some strange poles with 'hats' near a counter and inquired about them. They are outdoor patio heaters. Inside. Figure that one out. Oh and did I mention they are gas-lit. Can you say fire hazard? (See picture on the left). I guess Koreans really hate the winter cold, and here I thought it was warming up outside. 


Snack counters look exactly the same as Canadian snack counters. (See picture on the right). The usual popcorn, soft drink, chocolate combos were all available. One thing I really liked about this particular theater was a little sitting area near the snack counter. It was well decorated with huge windows letting the natural sunlight light up the place. You could sit on one of the comfy couches and watch the many birds that they had in cages sing and fly around. I'm used to theaters being dark and closed in, but here I found a slice of beauty. 

Hyper found out that the movie that was playing wasn't actually playing in 3D at this theater, that was just on the poster. We decided to wait to see it in 3D another day and to continue exploring the city. 

Me and my beloved
We happened across a Starbucks and I decided to be brave and see if Korea could satisfy my Starbucks craving without ruining it for me. I ordered the usual; a Venti Caramel Mochiado with extra drizzle (I left out the triple expresso shots because the employee who served me only knew a little English.) Hyper doesn't drink coffee... mostly because like his name suggests, he would get too hyper. He decided to try a cinnamon roll. The cinnamon roll was bland and a little dry, but then again I'm a little picky when it comes to cinnamon rolls after being spoiled with my Mom's homemade rolls my whole life. 
Huzzah! My Mochiado was perfect! However, I did forget that Starbucks had changed their cup sizes recently so I ended up with a larger Venti then I usually drink. It was marvelous to sit in a Starbucks and drink my beloved caramel drink with all the wonderful, familiar Starbucks smells surrounding me. This was the highlight of my day. 

Once energized with my caffeine, we headed back towards the train station to catch the next train to Seoul. Hyper wanted to show me at least one of the palaces before returning to Incheon. 

To be continued... 

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