Hong Kong Highlights

When I went to visit the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, it would have been easy for me to become overwhelmed. Luckily, some family friends lived locally and offered to guide me around the city. They planned a very special itinerary for me so I could see what Hong Kong had to offer.

One of the most popular things to do is to visit the bay. I got two great views. One was walking along the Kowloon Boardwalk and the Avenue of Stars. We strolled along one evening to watch the sunset. Just after dark, about 8 pm, there was a beautiful light show. Many of the tall buildings lit up different colors with lasers and even projected image displays. The 20-30 min show was timed to music, and lots of fun to watch.P1140366 P1140349 P1140372

Avenue of Stars

Avenue of Stars

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

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But I also got to see the bay from above. After a trip up the Peak Tram I saw the spectacular views of all of Hong Kong, both main areas, the bay, and the surrounding islands. Framed by the lush greenery on Victoria Peak, it was a sight to see. We toured about half of the Circle Walk to take in the views. It was an easy trail, but the hot, humid weather tired us out quickly. But when we got too hot we could go into one of the hilltop shopping malls to cool down.P1140432

Mall on the hill

Mall on the hill

Hong Kong certainly has plenty of shopping. There are malls all over downtown to beckon shoppers in with all sorts of luxury brands. On the streets you can find markets selling just about every good imaginable. Clothes, souvenirs, and small electronics are abundant. But you usually have to haggle over the price. I used the rule a girl from my hostel told me: always start by halving the original offer. Then you have some room to work up.thumb_P1140477_1024
We went to the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market. They were both big and crowded with booths and shoppers. I got some great deals on things to bring home.IMG-20150706-WA0001

Another popular spot in Hong Kong is the beach. We took the bus around the windy roads to the Stanley Beach area. In addition to a crowded beach, there was also a boardwalk with beautiful water views and a small market. It was a nice area to get away for a bit from the hustle of the city.P1140448 P1140458

fishing boats!

fishing boats!

Hong Kong itself has a long and interesting history. I spent one afternoon exploring the history museum and another at the maritime museum. Both had very detailed displays with lots of interactive areas. The history museum in particular was entirely built around the theme of each room, with the different time periods housed in full sized replicas of boats, houses, streets, and jungles. It added flair to the museum. I enjoyed both museums a lot.

History Museum

History Museum

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At the Maritime Museum

At the Maritime Museum

But above all else, the most important thing to do in Hong Kong is to eat. Hong Kong is a foodie capital of the world, so to miss out on the deliciousness would be a shame. Just like everywhere else, the best meal is brunch. In Hong Kong that means dim sum. You get lots and lots of little dishes like dumplings and pork buns and even egg rolls. Everything we had was so tasty. Other meals followed a similar pattern of including many dishes to be shared by the table, and all of them tasting amazing. I didn’t eat a bad meal the entire time.thumb_P1140470_1024
One morning for breakfast we stopped by the Honolulu Coffee House for their breakfast specials. I got eggs, bread, and a bowl of instant noodles with bacon. My eyes are now open to all new, noodle-based breakfast options.P1140398IMG_20150704_091753

After eating, shopping, and sweatily sightseeing my way through the lush metropolis of Hong Kong, I came home with the worldly insight to put bacon in my ramen. Just kidding, I actually learned so much, and cannot wait until the day I get to go back. There are so any things left to see and do in Hong Kong, but I had a wonderful time just scratching the surface.P1140439

Scenes from Seoul

Arriving in Seoul was like flying into a movie version of my life. I had seen a wide variety of places and cultures in Europe, but I’d never been anywhere like Korea before. Just seeing the mountains and the tall high-rise buildings seemed exotic to me. But by the time I left, the beautiful city felt almost familiar.
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A lot of my comfort in the city was thanks to having an amazing host who showed me around. Our neighbors from Texas moved to Seoul a few years ago, and they were gracious enough to let me stay with them while I was there.

During my stay I wanted to use this opportunity to see and learn about Korea’s long history and unique culture. Naturally, I started at some of the city’s museums.

The biggest museum in town is the National Museum. It has over 40 rooms of artifacts from Korean history and walking the entire display area covers 4 km of ground. I honestly didn’t spend that long in the museum. There was too much to do! But I enjoyed the ancient history area, and got to see some amazing paintings and porcelain.

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Another great museum I visited was the National Folk Museum on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Leading up to the museum was an excellent garden full of statues, recreated old homes, and even a little village that you could walk through. Inside was a fabulous exhibit of woodblock prints that were absolutely gorgeous. And there was a station where you could make your own too!

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The main area was devoted to the rituals of everyday life. I saw wedding costumes and learned about birthday traditions. A very cool learning experience. P1140204 P1140205

Also on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace was the Palace Museum. It held three floors of artifacts from Korea’s royal families and their various palaces around Seoul. There were lots of beautiful things to see from all of the buildings, and it was a nice overview of who had lived where.
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Speaking of the royal palaces, I had the chance to visit several while I was in Seoul. Each had different grounds and some unique architectural features, but the look of all of the palaces was very consistent. By that I mean they were consistently beautiful, colorful, and unlike anything I had ever seen. All of them had magnificently simple throne rooms, but each was built for a different ruler. One was even home to the queen. I think the pictures really describe them better.
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Other than palaces, I also saw some of the hanok houses built for members of the court. These houses still exist in their original style today, and you can see some walking through the hilly neighborhood of Bukchon.
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When I wasn’t in a museum or exploring a historic site, I was shopping. Seoul was full of great malls and markets with a place for just about everyone to shop their heart out. I was obsessed with the gorgeous Korean clothes, so I poked around trendy Myeong-dong. I also stopped at two of the 26 malls near Dongdaemun Market. But I could have shopped a lot more, had my suitcase not been so full.P1140327

My time in Korea was truly amazing. I learned so much about a new culture, and got my first taste of a totally unfamiliar place. Plus I just had lots of fun sightseeing, shopping, and eating. Thank you Seoul for a swell time!P1130882

A Little Time in London

It’s hard not to love London. There is something for just about everyone, from hipsters to history buffs. I stopped over in London for four days on my way to Asia. And those were some action-packed four days. From seeing London’s most famous sites, to visiting a few hidden gems, I was busy having a great time day and night.

On my first evening I met up with a friend at Hyde Park. They are hosting a big summer festival, and on weekdays you can eat from food stands and watch free movies. We hung out there awhile before walking down to Trafalgar Square, past Buckingham Palace. It was my first little overview of London, and a particularly beautiful walk in the evening.P1130337 P1130348

Over the next few days I set out to see some of London’s biggest tourist attractions. There are a million ways to see London, but one of the best is to just walk around. I saw the west side on a walking tour that I highly recommend. To see the official City of London I set out on foot myself. Either way, walking let me go where I wanted in a very walkable city.

I had a great time on another Sandeman’s walking tour through the West End and Westminster. It was basically a London highlights reel. The tour started in Covent Garden and we walked all the way to the Houses of Parliament. Along the way I got to learn about the history of sites like Trafalgar Square, St. James’ Palace, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. I always enjoy hearing the stories and learning some interesting facts about a place.

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My tour guide was super funny

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P1130461Since the City of London is only one square mile, I made exploring it my next day. I started with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Nearby I found the lovely, not crowded, All Hallows by the Tower Church. The oldest church in the City of London, it is filed with maritime memorabilia, and completely charming.P1130527P1130524

Then I walked along past the beautiful covered building of Leadenhall Market to the Monument. Built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, you can now climb the freestanding monument for an excellent panorama view of the area. And at the bottom you are given a certificate!P1130545 P1130549 P1130556P1130565

The last big landmark I saw in the City of London was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful day outside, so everyone was sitting in the gardens enjoying lunch. From there I crossed the Thames on the Millennium Bridge. I visited the Tate Modern and walked along the artsy South Bank. Popular for tourists and locals, the South Bank offers fun art galleries, shops, and spectacular views of London across the river. Just taking a short stroll down was a total treat.P1130570 P1130577P1130609

That evening I got to enjoy another London treat. I managed to score tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Drury Theater in the West End. Since it was a weeknight, I simply showed up at the box office about 90 minutes before show time and asked if there were any tickets. Luck was on my side, and I even got them to give me a deal. The show, based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, was a delight. It stayed mostly true to the original story, with a few modern adaptations. What I loved was seeing how the factory was brought to life on stage. The design and mechanics were whimsical and brilliant. It was a great night out in an acclaimed theater district. P1130480

I also spent an evening at the British Museum, but I could have been there for at least an entire day. Their collections are well-known for covering many time periods and cultures. The museum was fascinating, even in my whirlwind tour. My favorite thing I did there was to take one of their 20 minute spotlight tours on the Enlightenment. The tour wasn’t too long, and it helped me to learn some more about the museum and a few key pieces. They offer lots of free tours throughout the day and on Friday evenings. I highly suggest you try one next time you find yourself at the British Museum.P1130714 P1130656

I took a little detour from downtown one afternoon to Greenwich Village to visit the Fan Museum. I read about it online and knew that I had to go check it out. The Fan Museum is in an old townhouse. There are two floors of decorative fans, including their history and a special rotating collection. While I was there they were displaying fans from Paris’ Belle Epoch. They were the most beautiful fans I had ever seen.P1130641P1130631 P1130630 P1130625

Other than gorgeous and interesting fans, the museum also had a tearoom in the Orangery in the back. The room itself had been painted by a theatrical painter, and was just lovey. It was also one of the best afternoon tea deals in London. For just seven pounds I was treated to a pot of tea and a whole tower of fresh baked scones and victoria sponge cake. If you, like me, can’t leave London without stopping for afternoon tea, this is definitely the place to go. The staff was super friendly as well.P1130621

I was staying near Camden, so decided to go to the busy and wonderful Camden Lock Market on Saturday as well. Just walking down Camden High Street there were stalls and shops before the market even began. Then you enter the labyrinth of the actual lock market. It’s named after the river locks and the bridge that it’s next to. Every kind of craft, book, vintage item, clothing, etc. was being sold there. As I walked around, I kept thinking that I had reached an end, but there was always more. The shopping was amazing, but the food was better.P1130738

P1130720 P1130722P1130772 P1130769P1130728Sprinkled throughout the huge market were food stalls. But in the center was a food court area. There you could push your way through the crowd and eat cuisine from around the world. If you happened to be there around 10:30, then you can also eat your way through the vendors’ samples as they prepare for the lunch rush. Everything was delicious. I had Spanish paella, but my options were endless. So if you don’t want to go up to Camden to shop, go there just to eat.P1130734 P1130770 P1130774

There is so much to do in London that I could have stayed for another four days easily. But all good things must come to an end. I had a great time sampling some of London’s famous neighborhoods and seeing the sites. I can see why it is practically impossible to grow tired of London. I hope I can go back some day.P1130649