There is something that happens when you travel. You are stunned with things that happen out of the blue and take you off guard. That surprises me every single time we travel. A few days ago we started on our big journey to UK and Europe. Aadya and I fell sick a week before making it difficult for me to pack our bags. K was busy with work winding up what he could before we left. But then a day before we left when we were supposed to pack, he fell sick. This put the entire task of packing bags plus getting things sorted in our place on me. Just like that, my adventures began. It was indeed time to travel with the rush of things getting done frantically. How these things happen the way they do is beyond me!
On 8th Dec, we took off on BA to London Heathrow. The British are very hospitable people. Can’t say much about the customer service at British Airways though. They not only managed to mess up our reservation but were quite rude and creepy. One customer rep insisted on performing a blessing for our daughter when we called quite stressed out about our seating arrangements. After all, this is our first trip abroad with our toddler. Blessings are always welcome but it was just so frustrating when you are trying to get to some information to plan and the way this person goes “Ms. Divya, I just said I bless your daughter wholeheartedly. Did you not hear me?”. I was very creeped out then because of the tone. The day prior when we called to sort our seating and meal preferences, the representative out of the blue asked us what our nationality was. I have no idea what our nationality has to do with our reservations.
The onward flight to London was very smooth. The new Boeing was just as they call it – dreamy. A good thing about having babies is choosing that front row seat. It gives you the best leg room in economy. Aadya did great on the flight. She was entertained by air hostesses and fellow passengers. She entertained them in return with her air kisses and cute baby head tilts. The 11 hour journey was a breeze. London greeted us with cozy weather. On landing, the first thing we did like any sane person with jet lag would do – get some coffee. We hit up the very famous London coffee chain – Costa. We both had 2 flat whites and shared a ‘toastie’. Why America will not make anything beyond plain grilled cheese I will never know! Toasties are just amazing savory quick eats. You just can’t go wrong with it. It’s also unbelievably easy to make. The toastie we had was a Mushroom Emmental Cheese toastie. I still can’t believe we’re here. It feels surreal. Yet this is happening. We checked into our hotel which is very close to Trafalgar Square. So far London has been nothing but welcoming. Now onto our adventures here in UK and more!
For those of you who already know what Jimjilbang is, I am still undecided and wondering if it is not as creepy as it sounds. If you do not, well then, read on to find out.
I have a new favourite coffee place here in S.Korea. What already?! Yes, that’s right. Bad coffee provided by my hotel has pushed me desperately to find the perfect cup of caffeine to ingest into my body. Thank you very much!
I don’t know if it’s just me or do all tourists feel like they can’t get good coffee here in South Korea?
Right across the street from our hotel is a coffee place called “Coffeesmith”. They are indeed smiths who know their craft to the very end. So it was super surprising when the coffee I got yesterday was very good. And it’s even more surprising that they serve their coffees (I’m talking about the smallest size here) in gigantic cups like in the TV show “Friends”.
After some good coffee this morning at Coffeesmith, K and I walked back to our hotel’s cafe to have some expensive breakfast. Why? Apparently, breakfast is not really the “ingest all the grease and carbs you can find” kind of deal here in Korea. It’s usually a humble bowl of soup and there are not too many restaurants especially where I am at to get some cold cereal or eggs! K left for work after scrambling in how much ever he could eat and I finished a plate loaded with half a veggie omelet, some potatoes, a humble cup of vegetable congee (a rice gruel common to many Asian countries including India), some fine German style muesli and a regular sized cup of cappucino. Ok do not judge me. It was an expensive buffet!
After that athletic breakfast, I decided to get some laundry done as we had only packed enough clothing to last 4-5 days. I worked for a bit and made use of Korea’s uberfast internet to watch a bunch of Youtube videos on what to do and not to do in Korea while the washer and dryer did their heavenly work that God sent them to do here on Earth.
*Interesting fact: It is considered highly rude to talk loudly or hush all the way in buses or the subway in Korea.
A few days before we left for Korea, K was telling me how beauty regimes are very popular in Korea and how many Koreans to this day flock to get one particular treatment in a place called “Jimjilbang”. Jimjilbang is nothing but a public bathhouse where you get your body scrubbed off dead skin cells using an abrasive cloth. You can either do this yourself with all the materials they provide you or get yourself an ajumma, a woman who performs the service of scrubbing you down. It seems quite normal… except everyone is soaking in a variety of pools inside the Jimjilbang butt naked. Obviously, being an Asian country, it wasn’t surprising for me to hear that they have separate bathing areas for both men and women. While to an outsider who isn’t particularly accustomed to this cultural regime can find it utterly disturbing and strange, it is a weekly ritual for most Korean men, women and children to this day.
As I read up more about it, I understand that it is more of a “fear of the unknown” that crowds me when going to the Jimjilbang is maybe like going to the salon to get your legs waxed to many Korean women. As I’m so confused on my what my thoughts are about this weird Korean cultural thing, I asked myself why not do this myself in my hotel room and make today a spa sort of day to take care of all that jet lag. So after doing my laundry, I had a quick chat with the guy at the front desk who helps me with restaurants. He asked me to try a restaurant right opposite the hotel after I told him I wanted to try Rabboki, another Korean comfort food. I took a short walk to Homeplus (soon becoming my favoritest* store) to get in on some of the Korean beauty trends.
*favoritest – not a word in the English dictionary 🙂
Firstly, if you ever speak to any Korean or anyone who has visited/lived in Korea a while, they will tell you how obsessed Korea is with beauty regimes. Secondly, they will also tell you just how popular mask sheets are in Korea. I have seen face masks come in tubes or in packets where you squeeze the goo out and apply them on your face and wait until the end of one tv episode before you wipe it off. But this was the first time I saw mask sheets which are wipes cut out to fit your face with holes to see, breathe and chomp down a bag of chips.
I got myself the tea tree mask sheet and a pack of the scrub towels they use in the bathhouses (also known as the “italy towel”). The best part is tons of free stuff. I thought India was obsessed with free goodies and the “buy one get one frees”. Korea takes the cake. They gave me so many cool mask sheets, body wash and body lotion samples. I was feeling pampered already.
On the walk back to my hotel, I stopped at the restaurant right opposite my hotel that sells “gimbap/kimbap” which is a korean sushi roll stuffed with steaming sticky rice, veggies like carrots and pickled radishes, sliced omelet strips and meat. A fellow blogger this morning told me that Rabboki, pronounced labboki, is another spicy korean dish and that most places that sold gimbap would sell Rabboki. This definitely had to go on my list of foods to try in Korea. Rabboki is basically a thick soupy stew made by boiling ramen noodles, veggies, rice cakes, strips of fish cakes (which you can swap with omelet strips or tofu if you are vegan or vegetarian) along with gochujang paste (a korean red pepper paste) and topped with a hard boiled egg to soak in all the spiciness. It was delicious and I can imagine why rabboki is another food popular among college kids. It’s easy and quick to make. Rabboki tastes like ramen noodles cooked with veggies in a spicy marinara sauce mixed in with soy sauce. It sounds gross but makes you wonder why you never thought of this before.
Another astounding find in my exploration of delicious Korean foods is the cheese soondubu jigae last night for dinner. It is processed cheese mixed in with the traditional kimchi soondubu at the very end of the cooking process. I don’t know why Korea hasn’t gotten on the fancy/real cheese wagon yet but processed cheese is all you get in Korea. Plus it doesn’t taste as gross as it sounds. The processed cheese gives the soondubu a very unique flavor. Yet another weird combination that goes completely wrong in my mind but so right in my mouth.
So after all that delicious goodness, I got back to my hotel and relaxed for a while with the mask sheet on. I don’t know if it’s the mask sheet but something about beauty regimes calms me down completely and sweeps me off to another world. It felt so good doing all this after so many years. After that quick ritual and using the scrub towel in the bath, I was thoroughly relaxed and my muscles had loosened up enough to let me drown in the calm
While I was down at the laundry room earlier this morning, one of the things I did was download a book on how to speak korean for beginners. I am so fascinated by the language and the familiarity of the sounds with my own mother tongue. The language is nearly not as intimidating as the script itself. In fact, I am finding it easier by the day to communicate with the shop help, waiters and cashiers at restaurants and supermarkets. I spent the afternoon picking up a few essential korean phrases to help during my trip here.
*Question: Has anyone ever been to Rolling Pin bakery in Korea? These guys have some ginormous looking breads I’ve ever seen.
Now onto some humble dinner (which is a chunk of bread because it is too late to get dinner and I’m so stuffed from all that heavy breakfast and lunch) and a nice cup of hot tea to give a calming finale to my spa day.
I PROMISED MYSELF I WOULD WRITE SOMETHING ON MY MOST MEMORABLE TRIP AND HERE IT GOES.
Around June last year, I was on vacation in New Zealand, the most beautiful country on Earth or that’s what I believe it is. And on my way to the City of Sails, I wrote a poem despite the heavy onslaught of viral fever, cold, cough that resulted in phlegm, phlegm and phlegm.
Here is what I wrote:
THE JOURNEY TO TAKE
To a land I’ve never been
To a land I’ve never seen
A journey far too long
In an airplane so strong
Many people I may see
Except maybe one, two and three…
This journey I need to take
A memory by Auckland’s lake
Click many a photo
some by the car and some by a toto
Kuala Lumpur’s on the way
But I won’t get to see its bay
In the airport I shall stay
Until I reach the City of Sails!!
I’m sure that almost everyone who has visited the most luscious green country in the world – New Zealand has some story to tell. Well mine’s not all that different. It’s a simple one.
However, the first day I reached Auckland is something to talk about, at least for now before I put down the rest of the wonderful moments and memories I collected during my stay there in my blog for all of you.
New Zealand is indeed the most beautiful country, not just for its scenic beauty but for the magical quality it possesses to make you curious to know NZ right till its roots. The origin, the story of its evolution is particularly the most interesting and will take a lot more than one WordPress post to talk about.
The country on landing seemed very much like the land right out of a J.R.R. Tolkien book and you are almost expecting to see “Hobbits” moving around. And why? Everything in New Zealand looks short and stout. The roads are broad. The trees are fat and rich. The country on the whole has a beautiful palette with all of nature’s colours in appropriate proportions. This is what they call Winter in NZ.Wonder how Spring must be then?!
Anyway once I was at the airport I found that the airport was like a one-way street. Nothing much to it. More like FIFO [ First in First out]. With ornaments and decorations typical of the Maori culture, the Auckland airport is petite and just about enough to cater to the air traffic of the entire country.
Unfortunately, my journey to New Zealand was not so smooth. It was difficult and indeed, the most memorable trip of all.
I was suffering from severe cold and fever on the way to NZ. I knew it was definitely not the Swine Flu. As I got it a mere 2 hours before leaving home to the airport. Could have been the excitement, the tension, the anticipation. Call it whatever. I knew it could not have been the Swine Flu coz I had never left my home until the day I had to travel. And yes, a lot of trust on my gut instincts told me very strongly it could not be swine flu and there was no way I wanted to get quarantined in any of the airports (Chennai, Kuala Lumpur – where I had 14 hours transit and Auckland) for two whole weeks to ruin the most awaited beautiful holiday of my life!
On arriving in Auckland, I just wanted to get the hell out of the airport. Didn’t want those creepy guys with the walkie-talkies stalling me for their lack of confidence. But alas! my sister and brother-in-law were running late to the airport. I walked back and forth from the domestic to the international terminal (so-called… remember I told it’s just a one-way street?!) and after 15-20 mins I decided to give them a call to find out if they were going to arrive soon. The fever was getting on my nerves. I was feeling weak. I wanted to just go home and clear my nose and throat off phlegm. But no sign of Rat or Ram.
I go to the telephone booth and realised “Silly! U need Coins”. So go to the nearest pie shop to get some change.
My call was getting rejected the first few times. And then only did I realize that there is probably an extra number you would have to add or something like that. In India, you would not have to add the extra 0 you dial when you are calling home from another country. I followed the same tradition and realized maybe that is not how things worked here and thanks to the lack of instructions on the telephone or the telephone booth, I decided to go to the nearest Vodafone store feeling like a complete jackass, feeling humiliated than ever, ask them “How do I dial a mobile phone number from the booth?” Luckily the guy in the Vodafone store seemed to be friendly and gave me instructions on how to go about it.
I thank him and give a call to Rathi thinking “If this is some kind of joke Rathi’s playing, it must be sick!” No answer. The phone keeps ringing. I hang up. About to scream but decide to give it another try. I tell myself “One more call… If she doesn’t pick up, I leave this airport.. take a taxi or worse book a flight back home”. So I try again and this time my B-I-L picks up and tells me, “We’re so sorry. There was heavy traffic on the way. We should be there in a few mins”.
I waited on a nearby platform and soon enough, as promised, Rathi and Ram showed up in a few minutes. I breathed a heavy sigh and was thankful to them and God for getting me to the City of Sails with minor hassles that anyone can deal with. We went to their place and I was relieved and then excited to kick start my trip in the most beautiful country in the world.