Sunday, May 10, 2015

To Venice we go!

Two days into our Lake Bled camping trip, a critical decision was made. Or as Ishita likes to say, she had "a think in the bathroom." Since we had already seen pretty much all of Lake Bled's offerings, why not continue our road trip and take a detour into Venice before driving back to Budapest? After all, Venice was only an hour or two away. I was very much on board with this plan. I had never been to this sinking city of canals, and if not now, when?! (Venice had already eluded me once before when I went to Trieste. We were so close, but we didn't stop by).

In fact, we were all on board to go Venetian. ;) So we packed up our tent and drove into Italy. Since the actual city center of Venice does not permit cars, we dropped off our car at a parking garage and crossed the bridge into the floating city of masks.

One thing Joyce kept waxing on and on about was the best steak she'd ever had in her life when she visited Venice a few years ago during her study abroad at Oxford. So naturally, she tracked it down and we went. I was kind of in a grouchy mood because I didn't want to eat so late at night (this was after 10), but once that platter came out, it was game over. And this coming from someone who had been vegan for the past three months prior for a social experiment. Yeah, I concede – it was divine.

The next morning, we made no waste in exploring the city. After all, we only had that full day left before we had to start the drive back to Budapest. Only one thing caught us off guard: the rain. We even lost Joyce and Megan once during a heavy spell, and we very luckily found them huddled under Joyce's scarf in the Piazza San Marco after a good hour. It was such a relief. We somehow made a contingency plan in case the four of us got separated again.

The waterways and twisting narrow streets were quite charming. I imagine life on the canal must be a very interesting affair – especially opening your door to water. It's a strange concept. But I guess similar to people who live on houseboats?

Just being in Venice was a bit surreal. We hadn't intended to visit, and Slovenia's alpine landscape was such a dramatic change to this Adriatic city. All in the span of a few hours. You gotta love Europe, man. 

The rain was a good reason to find a warm place to eat. We tried our best to avoid tourist traps and found a small restaurant that was in a smaller alleyway. I had truffle gnocchi. In our excitement, we also asked for a bottle of Pinot Grigio because Megan had a glass the night before and we all fell in love with the crisp, apple and honeysuckle flavors. To date, this white wine has been my favorite so far. That and Pinot Noir for red. There's something about Pinot...must research.

Continuing our foray into the city.

It was a whirlwind of a trip,  but now I can safely say that I visited Venice and experienced just a tiny bit of what this magical city has going for it. Hopefully it doesn't sink anytime too soon, so I can make another trip back.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Camping in Lake Bled

We were all blown away the natural beauty of Slovenia. Even zipping along the highway, you can't help but notice how pristine and green everything is. The country is rather small, but its landscape suggests otherwise. Here, Megan, no doubt is taking it all in. Those Julian Alps gave such a majestic touch to Lake Bled.

So we drove into Lake Bled at night, and since Ishita had made the reservations, I really didn't know what to expect in terms of the camping grounds. But I've pretty much experienced the grand spectrum of camp sites, so I didn't worry too much. Only one thing pressed on my mind: How would the four of us fit into a two-person tent? I was more than ready to sleep in the car, haha, but turns out that without any rucksacks, the four us girls managed to fit into my tent, which has now been christened the "Weasley tent." One size fits all. :D  

Relaxing on the dock before our hike around the lake. Joyce and I had run the perimeter earlier that morning, as it's only around 5K or so. I was initially shocked because in Google photos, the lake appears to be so much bigger than in real life. It was still very beautiful of course, but aerial photos of the tiny island within the lake make it seem much bigger than it actually is. If anything, the size of the lake meant that we really could explore every nook and cranny. And we did!

As it turned out, the camp grounds were more or less for glampers! I have never been to such a well-maintained camp site. There were heated bathrooms, laundry machines (for free), WIFI, the WORKS. It was insane. Is this Europe's version of car camping, I wondered aloud? It was not wild in the slightest. But that was fine with me.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A wee road trip to Slovenia and then some

Just as spring was ushered in, Joyce's best friend from college flew in from New York for a week of travels in Europe. We spent a lot of time on the road and decided we'd make a little road trip to Slovenia with some pit stops along the way. Lake Balaton was first! We stopped for a little lunch break to eat some freshwater fish, pizza, and of course – white wine. 

After another three hours on the road or so, we entered Ljubljana, a medieval town I had visited before when I went on a road trip to Trieste the previous year. We spent some time wandering around, admiring the many dragon motifs in the city. 

Ljubljana is a really accessible, charming town that can be explored in a day or so. There is a canal, a castle atop a hill, and affordable restaurants flanking both sides of the river. 

Joyce and Megan, reunited in Europe! :-)

A wide shot of the streets and the multi-colored buildings.

Ljubljana by night. We were quite picky about our gelato and walked around a bit sampling different vendors before finally picking one. This coral building in the town square caught my eye!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Second time around: Half-Marathon

How was this year's half-marathon different from last year? For starters, I didn't run it alone!

I also trained for this marathon on a vegan (mostly gluten-free) diet. That part was a bit tricky, but I still felt like I had a ton of energy! There were some difficult times when I was in a social setting because of the lack of vegan options in Hungary, but all in all, it was totally manageable. I'll have to write another post on why I decided to train for this race on a plant-based diet, but long story short: Ishita and I created a documentary about the vegan lifestyle as experienced by people who live in Budapest. We thought we'd be able to relate more with our subjects if we also went vegan.

And finally: It was great to to see Ishita run her very first race ever! I was blown away by her dedication to training. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cheonjiyeon Falls, Jeju Island

Although my family loved staying in and relaxing on the warm ondol (heated flooring system) of our guesthouse in Jeju Island, we did manage to make some day trips to explore the island. 

A little lore on Cheonjiyeon Falls – locals would pray for rain as a holy dragon lived at the bottom of the waterfall, and apparently their prayers were answered.

Ahh, koi fish. That speckled one looks like an old man with whiskers. 

It was good to stretch our legs and inhale in the fresh air. The contrast between the clean air in Jeju Island versus the smog that is the urban jungle of Seoul was notable. Enough for me to fill in my lungs with as much tranquil air as possible! 

A cascade of waterfalls from the main source. 

Despite our going in the height of winter, I found that there was still beauty to be seen in the foliage.

That glorious waterfall.

Not everything was dead! This bloom reminds me of that quote from Mulan's father about the last blossom being the most beautiful of all. #DisneyEnrichesLives ;)  

Hi, Mom. 

A pensive moment for Joyce while crossing the little foot bridge to land. 

These basalt stone statues are iconic to the island. These particular statues are called dol hareubang (literally: stone grandfathers) and are often seen at the entryway of places as they offer protection.  Their mushroom-shaped caps, which let's be honest are pretty phallic, also meant these stone gods symbolized fertility as well. They're kind of ubiquitous on the island, and Joyce bought a tiny replicas at a gift shop to take home. 

The surface of this porous basalt rock is a reflection of the geology of Jeju Island.

Good tidings.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A peek into a Jeju Island fish market

Oh me, oh my. I absolutely adore going to fish markets when I'm in Korea. How could I not? Everything from the colors, to the smells, and the throngs of people rushing in and out. Oh – and one must not forget the bargaining! I was digging through my external hard drive, and found these photos from my most recent trip there in winter 2014. It's bittersweet thinking about South Korea, now that my parents have moved back to the U.S. It was a good four-year run, in which many summers and Christmases were spent eating my favorite food in the world.

These photos are from a fish market in Jeju Island, where my family rang in the new year during a week long stay. Squid and eel were a common sight. Squid I'm good with, but I still feel a bit queasy seeing eel, they're just so slippery and snake-ish! Of course, it tastes good, so I shouldn't really be so discriminating. ;)

Before seaweed and algae products became mainstream and touted as "superfood," Koreans had been eating this stuff for thousands of years. I guess it's hard not to as the country is a peninsula and seafood is inherently part of the core diet of many locals. Since I'm more used to eating the roasted (and salted) type, I couldn't get over these glistening beauties. It's clearly been harvested quite recently. Wondering how it will be prepared, mm mm mm. So good and healthy for you, too!

If you look to the upper far-right corner, you'll notice some orange porcupine looking critters. Those are sea pineapples (or meonnge in Korean). My mom is in love with these things. She always scans for them when we eat sushi, but they're not as common as other sashimi options. I've always respected people who have a deep appreciation for seafood, but that respect heightens when they eat more adventurous things. Salmon? Tuna? Child's play. I remember my mom eating sea cucumbers, which are also really odd looking, and her in absolute bliss over the crunchy texture. "It tastes like the ocean," she said. That always stuck with me. If you're Korean, you'll probably know how we describe foods with certain adjectives connoting the particular experience when you chew them. My mom loves food with texture, but she also loves its connection to the sea.   

Roasted in advance. Dried fish, of many sorts, are quite popular to eat as a standalone snack. Yum!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 2015 is the year of the sheep.

As we were in an isolated vacation rental in Jeju Island, my family ushered in 2015 virtually, thanks to Joyce's trusty iPad. Complete with countdown and digital confetti, yay!

I even cracked open my journal to write a few solemn words about 2014 and how thankful I was for all the opportunities that came my way, particularly when it came to travel. 

We woke up the next morning to light snow, which quickly melted, but was welcomed, nonetheless.

Excited at where 2015 will take me!  

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