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Trip 2012 Travels 2012 Travels   All of my travels in 2012. 1. Milwaukee/Chicago - August (Waypoint 1-8) 2... Walter Ch (US)
South Korea USA

2012 Travels


All of my travels in 2012.

1. Milwaukee/Chicago - August (Waypoint 1-8)
2. Los Angeles - September (Waypoint 9-15)
3. South Korea - November (Waypoint 16-22)

  • 20Aug 2012

    1 Annoying Construction Detours 08/20/2012 USA —

    Milwaukee, USA


    As my trip to the Midwest has come, this time going to Chicago and Milwaukee, to see my newborn niece and another baseball stadium. I have been to Milwaukee before, back in 2004. This time, my main purpose was to see Miller Park.

    I packed up, went to the airport, and boarded the flight to Chicago. Once I arrived there, I took the El train to McCormick Place to pick up a rental car, since it was cheaper there than at the airport. What I did not even bother taking into account, was the issue of time, because it took a lot longer than I thought. And I had a hard time finding the office, as it was on the other side of the building, and I had to go through it, rather than around it. But I was able to find it, and picked up my rental car. Then left the garage, and got on the highway.

    Not surprisingly, I would run into traffic, all the way towards O-Hare Airport. But once past that area, the traffic lightened up, and I was on my way to Milwaukee.

    I had to go through a rain storm, and stopped by the service stop along the way, also known as an Oasis. The storm would pass, and I continued on to Milwaukee. As I was getting close, there was construction throughout the city, making the directions that I had from MapQuest, useless. I had to take a detour, to get to my hotel, near the airport.

    I was able to find the Motel 6, the same one that I stayed at, back in 2004. More about the motel in the review here. I checked in, and got settled in the room. Feeling tired, I did take a nap, which was longer than I wanted to. That was because I would be running late to the baseball game.

    I headed out, trying to find my way to the ballpark. But once again, the construction got in the way, causing some highways to close, and I got lost. I ended up backtracking, trying to find some other way to Miller Park. But after a while, I found myself all the way back to the Motel 6. Then I had to follow detour signs, leading me to the right way. Eventually, I was able to get to Miller Park.

    Originally planned to open at the start of the 2000 season, it was delayed due to a construction accident that killed 3 workers, to 2001. There is a memorial to those 3 workers in front of the stadium. Miller Park is one of the few stadiums in baseball, to have a retractable roof. But this one has no air-conditioning when the roof is closed, so it can feel stuffy at times.

    The only good thing that came out of this whole thing, was getting to listen to Bob Uecker do play-by-play on the radio. I always remember him as that guy from the 80's TV show, Mr. Belvedere. But he was an accomplished announcer, having done it for decades. I got to hear him for 1 inning.

    Once there, I had to pay for parking. And did see some tailgating, which I don't expect to see for a baseball game. I did not spend much time looking outside of the stadium, since the game had already started. I went in, and to my seat. The place did feel a little suffocating, with the roof closed. That did not make much sense, since the weather was feeling nice outside.

    Anyway, by the time I got to my seat, it was the 2nd inning. The Milwaukee Brewers took on the Chicago Cubs, as both of these teams were well out of the playoff race. That would explain the low attendance at the game, as fewer Cub fans were willing to make the trip to see a very bad team. Also, I still have a hard time thinking of the Brewers as a National League team, even though they have been in it for the past 15 years. It will be the same with the Houston Astros, when they move to the American League next season.

    It was interesting to see fireworks inside the ballpark, for every Brewers home run. Even with the roof closed. Also, I did get to try some of the bratwurst here, which was good. One of the few times that I buy ballpark food. Also, I got to see the sausage race, which happens in every Brewers game. I can't remember who won, though. :)

    The Cubs led 2-1 by the time I got there. They would lead 3-1 by the top 5th. But then, the Brewers would score 8 runs in the bottom half, taking a 9-3 lead. The Cubs scored a couple more runs, but it was not close to being enough. The Brewers would win the game, 9-5.

    After the game, I walked around the concourse, and looked around. Then had to exit the ballpark. I went back to the motel, and just relaxed. Then to sleep.


  • 21Aug 2012

    2 Beer, Art, Harley, and Baseball 08/21/2012 USA —

    Milwaukee, USA


    I started the day later than usual, since I was trying to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. I was not in any hurry, having been there before, and my main purpose was to see the baseball stadium.

    After a while, I drove into downtown, to the Central branch of the Milwaukee Public Library. There, I had to use a computer to print some things out. Also, I was debating whether or not to visit Green Bay, to see the stadium and museum there. It would have been a 2-hour drive one-way, or 4 hours total. Not sure if I could handle that, and still make it in time for the Brewers game. I decided not to do that.

    Instead, I went to the Miller Brewery, which was near Miller Park, outside of downtown. With signs that actually help, I was able to find the place with no problem. Once there, I looked around, before going inside the visitor center.

    A tour had just started, and I had to ask if I could join that one, rather than wait another half-hour for the next one. I was able to, since I was by myself. The tour started with a film, which was a different one from 2004, the last time I was there. After the film, then we toured the brewery. It included visits to the packaging plant and distribution center. Then to the other building, where the processing of beer took place. And finally, the last part being inside a cave, with artifacts. This used to be used to keep things cool, before the days of refrigerators.

    After the tour ended, there was free samples of drinks, of beer and soda (for those who don't drink alcohol). There is a limit on beer, but not on soda, which I drank a lot of. Probably not a good idea, since I've been trying to kick the soda habit.

    I left the Miller Brewery, and headed to the Milwaukee Art Museum. I parked in a garage across the street from the museum. And at the top level of the garage, was a city park, where you see downtown and the museum building. I cross the bridge, and went inside the museum. And looked around the lobby area, which is enough reason to see this place. I would see art from ancient Egypt and Greece, along with European paintings, American furniture, Asian art, and some modern art. Also of note, is works of art from Haiti.

    After my time at the art museum, I went to the Harley-Davidson Museum. But I had difficulty getting to it, as I tried to follow signs to the place, which were no help at all. I ended up going around blocks, trying to figure out where it was. Then it occurred to me, that I had to cross a bridge over the river. When I did that, the place was right there.

    I found myself hurrying through the place, as my time was limited. I went through the main museum, then next door to a temporary exhibition "Worn to the Wild: The Black Leather Jacket". Basically, the history of the motorcycle, and how it had to change with the times. And its impact on pop culture. It was worth checking out.

    I returned to the motel, and then to a nearby KFC, to get some food. This would be my dinner, to save money on buying ballpark food, and not have to wait until after the game, which would be too late. Then headed to Miller Park, as I wanted to get there early this time.

    Once I got there, I saw tailgating in the parking lot, which I often associate the activity with football rather than baseball. I walked to the stadium, passed by the home plate markers, to the front where there were many features to see.

    There are statues of Brewers players, and even one of Allan "Bud" Selig, which is very surprising, considering how controversial he has been, with the changes he made to the sport. And he is notable for the infamous tie in the 2002 All-Star Game. Also a memorial of the 3 construction workers who were killed in an accident while building the ballpark in 1999.

    I went to look for the home plate marker of the late Milwaukee County Stadium, which was home of the Brewers from 1953 to 2000. And it used to host a few Packers games per season until 1994. Nearby was the Milwaukee Braves memorial, as the Braves franchise were there from 1953 to 1967. They moved to Atlanta after that, where they are to this day.

    I looked at my camera and saw that the settings were off. So I had to adjust it, and retook some shots around the ballpark. Then went to the entrance, where I had to have my bag inspected. Hoping to bring food into the ballpark, I wrapped my food with my jacket. I was able to pass, and could eat my dinner while watching the game. :)

    I went to my seat, and saw that the roof was open for the 2nd game between the Brewers and Cubs. It felt more nicer, with the open air and breeze. I got to see more, and enjoyed my food, while watching the game. The Brewers have quite a history, despite no World Series titles and only one American League pennant.

    The game was not great, as the Brewers took a 1-0 lead in the 4th. Then they scored 3 runs in the 6th inning on only 1 hit, due to the first 3 hitters getting on base because of walks, followed by a wild pitch and a double. The Brewers score one more in 8th, then the Cubs scored 2 in the top 9th, preventing a shutout. This game featured only 7 hits, with the Brewers having only 3 of them, as they beat the Cubs, 5-2.

    After the game, I walked around the concourse, as there was more to see. There was a display on the Negro Leagues, and jerseys with #42 in them, which were worn by different players on Jackie Robinson Day. I exited the stadium, and looked at the home plate markers. They had names of past Brewers players, managers, and the broadcaster Bob Uecker.

    I left, and headed back to the motel.

    Photos & Videos


  • 22Aug 2012

    3 Ayyy! 08/22/2012 USA —

    Milwaukee, USA


    Last day in Milwaukee, as once again, I considered visiting Green Bay, but since this was the day to return the car, I could not do it. I had to pack up, and check out of the hotel.

    I considered doing the Miller brewery tour again, just for the free soda and pretzels. The only factor would be time, as the tour took up about an hour. I ended up going towards there. Then went back towards downtown, as I wanted to get a quick look at the historic Third Ward, which is a former warehouse district.

    But I took a wrong exit, and ended going out of the way, driving on a highway alongside the lake. I had to exit and turn around, but that took a good chunk of time. I found my way to the Third Ward, and decided to park the car on the side of the street.

    I went to the Riverwalk, and walked on the boardwalk, along the Milwaukee River. The trail led into downtown, as I was hoping to get to see the statue of Fonzie, a character from the TV show, Happy Days. Never really watched much of it, having only seen a few episodes in my lifetime. But I am familiar with the show, and knew it took place in Milwaukee, though I'm aware it was not actually filmed there. It took a while, but I was able to find the statue.

    After seeing it, I walked back along the river, as it was so hot! I decided to head to the Milwaukee Public Market. I went inside, where it was relief from the heat. Basically, a farmer's market, where I had to try some Wisconsin ice cream. I got the chocolate flavor, which was more creamy and smoother than ice cream from anywhere else. So good!

    I looked at the time, and saw that my time on the meter expired. So I had to head back, and once there, I saw a ticket on the windshield. Seeing the time stamp, it was by 2 minutes. No grace period at all! I would have to pay $22 fine.

    So I drove off, and headed out of Milwaukee. I would run into traffic, no thanks to the construction. I had to get back to Chicago, and return the car by a certain time. I would leave Wisconsin, and back into Illinois.

    It was a good time in Milwaukee, and I got to visit Miller Park. I'll return someday, because I have to make that trip to Green Bay, and look for that "Welcome Milwaukee Visitors" building that shows up at the start of the Laverne and Shirley intro. :P

    Photos & Videos


  • 22Aug 2012

    4 Unbelievable! 08/22/2012 USA —

    Chicago, USA


    Coming back from Milwaukee, where I spent the first half of this day. I would hit Chicago traffic, and got stuck in it for 2 hours. And it was made worse by the fact that I had to return the rental car by a certain time or pay extra fees.

    So after enduring the traffic, I was able to return the car, but not on time, and had to pay extra. Then I took the El train, and went to the North Side, near DePaul University. I got there, and walked to the Chicago Getaway Hostel. A very nice hostel. I decided to stay at a hostel instead of my sister's place, since my sister just recently gave birth to a baby girl. I planned to visit her and see the baby for the first time.

    I checked in, and rested for a bit. After that, as it got late, I decided to go to my sister's place. I had to send her a text to make sure it was okay for me to visit. It was, and headed there.

    I arrived there, and got to see my baby niece for the first time. And even got to hold her. It was truly unbelievable, as I never saw myself ever doing that. Not sure why I feel that way, I just do! I was really an uncle, holding her.

    I was there for a few hours, with my sister and her husband, having dinner and hanging out. It was a nice time there, catching up. Then it got late, and I headed back.

    It ended up being an unbelievable day, for simply seeing my baby niece.

    Photos & Videos


  • 23Aug 2012

    5 Old School Games! 08/23/2012 USA —

    Brookfield, USA


    This was the day that I would go to an arcade, and play some old school video games. Now, you may wonder, why would I waste vacation time, going to a place to play video games when you can do that back home? A long time ago, that was a valid question, and I would have no good answer. But now, with arcades nearly being extinct, I tend to look for these places, hoping to find ones that have old video games.

    I learned about the Galloping Ghost Arcade, which was located in Brookfield, a suburb of Chicago. And not too far from Midway Airport. A true arcade, unlike Dave & Busters, which isn't really one.

    I went to Union Station in downtown. From there, I had to take the Metra, which was a commuter rail line to the suburbs. I had to check the schedules, and saw that I would have to use 2 different stops. More about that later on.

    So I got to the right platform, and hopped on the Metra. A 2-story train, I went to the top level. I got off at Congress Park, which was much closer to the arcade. The ride was not long, and I had to make sure that I did not fall asleep.

    I was able to find the arcade, with help from my phone. I went inside, paid admission, and it was unlimited free play for the entire day. Oh man, I was going back in time, not only because of the old games, but also because of the environment that is slowly disappearing from this world and can't be duplicated at any other place.

    It did remind me how much time and money I spent playing video games, especially the fighting games. I would spend 5 hours playing. I could spent the entire day, if I wanted to. Games I really enjoyed, are Super Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat games, Double Dragon, and Time Soldiers.

    I did take a break, and went to the Chinese take-out place next door. I ordered the chicken wings, and was salty and nasty, as they were stale.

    I had to leave, since I did not want to get back so late. And I had to walk to the Brookfield station, which was a 20-minute walk. I had to go there, since not many trains stopped by Congress Park, and none after 3 PM. I got there, where I hopped on the Metra, and rode back to Chicago. Then back to the hostel.

    I had a great time at the arcade, which was a throwback to my childhood in more ways than one. And hoped to visit again on this trip, but not sure which day. But it is always something to do whenever I come to Chicago.

    [I should have taken more photos of the place, but I just got distracted big-time!)

    Photos & Videos


  • 24Aug 2012

    6 Soldering Through Heat 08/24/2012 USA —

    Chicago, USA


    I started this day, not sure what to do. I was thinking about going to a doubleheader of baseball games, as both the Cubs and White Sox were home at the same weekend, which is very rare. I decided to just go to the White Sox game. Plus there were stadium tours of Soldier Field, which were only given once or twice a week. So I had to plan around that.

    Going outside, I was sweating very quickly, as it was so hot outside. And I did not pack any shorts, which made it worse in this heat wave.

    Until then, I decided to visit my sister's place, and hang out there for a bit. It was just nice to talk and catch up a bit. When the time came, I left and went towards Museum Campus. I arrived by Soldier Field, near the actual soldiers' memorial, hence the name of the stadium.

    I went to the gift shop, to see if that was where I bought a ticket for tours. But they tell me that I had to go all the way around to get there. So I had to go back out, and run around the stadium. Very hot and humid, as I quickly got tired and sweaty. Another family followed behind me, as they were looking as well.

    We got to the entrance, where there were people already waiting. I paid the fee, and waited a little while, until the stadium tour started. We went inside the stadium, starting in the concourse area. There were murals and displays of events that have been held at Soldier Field.

    The tour guide was an unapologetic Bears fan, and will take occasional jabs at the Packers. He showed us the field, which we can see but can't walk on. Then the visitor locker room, along with the trainers room. Then back out in the hot weather, passing by the area where we entered and the mezzanine area.

    We would find major relief in the heat, in the skyline suites, the only air-conditioned part. As the name suggested, you can see the skyline and watch the game. Can't imagine how expensive it would be, but one has to have major money.

    Unfortunately, we went back out, and to the Greek columns, the original part of the stadium. Nearby are the original seats. This was where the tour ended. I looked around, seeing the lake and memorials. Then walked near the bus stop, seeing another memorial.

    The tour was okay, but it just reminded me, that to really see a football stadium, I would have to attend an actual football game. A tour just doesn't feel the same.

    I left, and went to my sister's place, to hang around again. When the time came, I went back to the hostel, and took advantage of the all-you-can eat BBQ. It was free for those staying there. I ate so much and stuffed myself. As a result, I would run late to the White Sox game.

    So I headed to US Cellular Field, a stadium that I first visited back in 2008. More about that visit in the blog entry here, along with the review here.

    So there was no urgency to get there early. But I did want to see a few things that I missed the first time around. One of them was the home plate of Comiskey Park, the old ballpark of the White Sox. After that, I went to the current ballpark, seeing the starting lineup on the wall. I went inside, and headed to the upper deck, seeing the Chicago White Sox play the Seattle Mariners.

    It was the 2nd inning, by the time I arrived at my seat, with the Mariners leading 2-1. But not for long, as the White Sox tied in the bottom of the 2nd inning. They scored 2 more in the 3rd, and 2 more in the 4th, all of which on home runs. Another in the 6th, as the White Sox led 7-2, going into the 9th inning. Looked like a blowout. But then, the Mariners scored 6 runs in the top of the 9th, to take a 8-7 lead. The home crowd had to be stunned. But it was not over, as the White Sox scored 2 runs, to come back and win it 9-8.

    An unbelievable game, with the best part in the 9th inning, with all that scoring. There were postgame fireworks afterwards. Then headed out, and went back to the hostel.

    Photos & Videos


  • 25Aug 2012

    7 A Field Day 08/25/2012 USA —

    Chicago, USA


    As I got up, I decided to go to the arcade again. I checked the Metra schedules, and had to catch it by a certain time to really enjoy the place, and not come back late.

    So I went out, and tried to get to Union Station. But would run into a problem, as there was construction on the subway tracks, closing part of the Loop. So I had to get off at a different stop, farther away from the train station. I got off, and went one way, thinking I was heading there, as I was running out of time.

    Sweating like crazy, I realized that I went the wrong way. By then, it was too late. Being the weekend, not as many trains running. So I went to get some bottled water, as I dripped in sweat. Using my new I-phone, I looked into other options. I decided to head to the Hershey shop, heading north on the El train.

    I got to the Hershey's place, which was nothing more than a gift shop. It was located near Michigan Ave, along the Mag Mile. But it was a place to cool off, and relax at the cafe. I got a peanut butter chocolate milkshake, which was really good and cooling, but really messy without the lid. Basically, I had to remember that it's not ice cream, even though I tend to use a spoon instead of a straw, since I have a hard time sucking the thick milkshake through the straw.

    After enjoying and relaxing the milkshake, I had to head back out into the muggy weather. I decided to go to the Field Museum of Natural History, so I headed over there, to Museum Campus. Once there, I went up the stairs, and inside. I figure, might as well spend this time indoors.

    There was a Genghis Khan exhibition, which was the main reason coming here. I had to pay extra for it, and photography was not allowed inside. So I went in, and learned about the famous Mongol leader, Genghis Khan. He was the leader of the Mongols, who stretched their empire from Eastern Europe, all the way to Korea. There were displays of artifacts, showcasing the way of life for the Mongols, and how they lived in the desert.

    It also got into the history after his time, particularly of his grandson, Kublai Khan. And how the empire would eventually fall, and the legacy that Genghis Khan left, and the impact he had for today. It was interesting to see how they put a positive spin on the guy, considering he is normally portrayed as a ruthless killer.

    Afterwards, there were other things to see in this museum, and I was not going to see everything. The place was huge. So I had to pick a couple sections, and focus on those. I checked out the Egyptian collection, as I always enjoy looking at them. Then went to the Africa section, which was a section on the continent itself. Then came the dark and tragic part, which was on slavery. It started with a dark tunnel, then got into the horrors of slavery in the New World. After that, an exhibition on life of African-Americans, and their culture in the US. Closing time approaching, and I ended up rushing through most of the Africa section.

    It was a nice place to spend some time, considering how last minute it was, and how freaking hot it was outside. When closing time came, I had to leave and waited at the bus stop. I would end up waiting about 40 minutes, as I saw so many coming into Museum Campus, but only one coming out. And that one was so full that it did not bother to stop. Another one came, and I got on it.

    I went back to the hostel, once again, for the all-you-can-eat barbecue. And once again, I ate so much and was stuffed, but satisfied.

    Afterwards, I went to visit my sister's place, and hang out there for a while. And get to see the baby one last time. I would learn that I have to wash my hands before touching the baby, as their immunity has not been built up yet. Still, it was truly something to see the baby niece.

    After a while, I had to head back to the hostel. And then to sleep.

    Photos & Videos


  • 26Aug 2012

    8 Going Back Home 08/26/2012 USA —

    Chicago, USA


    It was time to go home! I had to get up early enough, and pack up my things. I was able to make it to the lounge for some breakfast. Then had to get ready, and finish up packing.

    I did talk with some roommates for a little while, as I had enough time to get to the airport without being rushed. Then checked out, and left the hostel. I went to the El station, and rode it all the way to O'Hare Airport.

    I got there, with enough time to check in and go through security, and no pressure. Then went to the gate. I would see it rain a bit outside, but the flight was not delayed. I got on the plane, and it took off on time. It took 2 hours to get back to Philly. Then took the train to get back home.

    I have not done much travel this year, and this one was mainly to see my niece for the first time ever. That was truly something special, to hold her. Plus I got to make a return trip to Milwaukee, to visit the baseball stadium there. And visit the arcade just outside of Chicago. A very enjoyable trip, despite a few setbacks.

    Now, I have to pay off that parking ticket.


  • 27Sep 2012

    9 Going to Hollywood 09/27/2012 USA —

    Los Angeles, USA


    I was not sure where to go, as I tried to squeeze in another baseball stadium before the regular season ended. I narrowed it down between Kansas City and Los Angeles. The deciding factor was a TravBuddy meet-up being scheduled that same weekend, so I chose LA. Never been to a regular one before, and wanted to check it out.

    So from the Philly airport, I would go to Dallas first, with only an hour to connect. I was able to make it, getting on the plane, and arrived at LAX. Returning to LA since 1999, I went to board the FlyAway bus, which took me from LAX to Union Station in downtown. I decided to rely on public transportation for the first couple days, to save some money. I know, it's unheard of, but wanted to try it as well.

    I got to Union Station, where I would pay at a window booth. The strange thing is that one can only pay by credit or debit card, and no cash. Usually, it's the other way around. So after paying, I went to the Metro station, and tried to figure out the card machines. Turned out I had to pay an extra dollar for the TAP Card itself, in addition to the fare.

    Once I figured all that out, I got on the subway, and headed to Hollywood. I arrived at the Hollywood and Highland stop, and walked to the hostel, which was a few blocks away. And it was hot, as I was sweating quickly. I arrived at the USA Hostels, and checked in. I was caught off-guard when being asked for a passport, but I did not have one with me, since I am a domestic tourist. So I had to show a copy of my itinerary instead.

    After checking in, I went to the room, and got settled. It felt a little stuffy, as I had the top bunk. Each bed has its own outlet and light, which is a huge bonus. Took care of a few things, then went out to see Hollywood.

    I went one way on Hollywood Boulevard, to the well-known intersection of Hollywood and Vine. Along the way, I could see the Hollywood sign, and the Capitol Records building. There was a little monument at the intersection, back when all the movie studios used to be in the Hollywood area.

    I turned around, going the other way on the same street. Along the way, I looked at the names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In a nutshell, the celebrities earned their star, for their accomplishment in the entertainment business, of all-time. And some of the names even include cartoon characters.

    I walked to the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store, which was a diner and gift shop. I walked around, seeing the photos of various celebrities that have eaten there. I thought about getting a sundae there but it was way overpriced. Looked around the gift shop as well, seeing the Disney merchandise. Just outside of it, was a star for Disneyland, along with a small statue of Mickey Mouse sitting. Next to this place, is the El Capitan Theatre.

    I went to the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, but it was very crowded, so I would come back to it later. I continued on, passing by museums and people posing as movie characters, to the Gateway to Hollywood. This is a silver structure of silver statues of 4 ladies, holding an arch. When trying to photograph it without people in it, the camera batteries died. Major bummer!

    So I went back, stopping by, to get some drinks, as I felt dizzy and hot. And passed by the Hollywood Wax Museum, which I planned to visit later. I returned to the hostel, and rested there for a bit. When getting back up, I took advantage of the all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner, which cost $6. I ate so much and got stuffed. Then went back out.

    I walked along Hollywood Blvd, seeing the place at night. I past by the theaters in neon lights, which looked nice. Passing by the Disney Soda Fountain place, I came to the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Less crowded this time, I saw the handprints and footprints, of various actors and directors. Tried to look inside the theatre, but could not see anything.

    After a while, I went to the Hollywood Wax Museum, which looked different than when I last visit it in 1999. Obviously due to the advancement of technology, as it did some light show at the entrance, which was unthinkable back then. I went through it, and it was different this time around, which is not surprising. Basically, a bunch of wax figures from various movies. A bit more "updated".

    After going through the museum, I went back to the hostel. Next day would be a big day!

    Photos & Videos


  • 28Sep 2012

    10 TravBuddy Hollywood Hike 09/28/2012 USA —

    Los Angeles, USA


    Since joining TravBuddy in 2008, I have only been to one mini meet-up in 2008, and met a few TBers over the years. But this would be a big day, since I was going to my first regular TravBuddy meet-up.

    I would meet up with the TBers, and we all hike to the Hollywood sign. I left the hostel, and walked to Hollywood and Vine. Then boarded a DASH bus, going to the end of the line. When sending a text to Virginia, she told me that she was running late. When reaching the end of the bus line, I walked the rest of the way. It was uphill, but luckily, it was mostly in the shade, and in a quiet neighborhood. Then onto dirt road to the start of the trail.

    I got a text, being told that everyone was running late. I had bugs buzzing in my ear, as I tried to stay in what little shade remained. I started to get discouraged, until Mike came. He noticed me waiting, and figured out that I was a TBer. Good timing, too, because I was close to turning back and forgetting the whole thing.

    The other TBers showed up, as I got to meet each one of them for the first time. Then we started on our hike. The people on the hike included the following in alphabetical order by first name:

    Adam (bluemoon), BiG (Biglush_23), Ferlin (ferlinwu), Luis (Trekk), Mike (NJTProadcruiser), Monica (monky), Raymond (saintgl), Virginia (lachicktravels), Walter (WalterC)

    We came to a fork in the road, where one way was blocked by a "Road Closed" sign. So we went the other way, which went around a hill, and farther away from the sign. It was very hot, and there was very little shade along the way, which was only provided by small trees.

    When we hit paved road, we realized that we went the wrong way, and turned around, going to the fork in the road. That was when we realized that the sign was ignored, as we saw people coming back on that trail. So went up that trail, and towards the Hollywood sign.

    My eyes started to hurt, because of sweating and causing the sunscreen to go into my eyes. It bothered me so much, that I had to keep wiping my eyes. And my bottled water was running low. Luckily when going around a hill, there was some shade, which was much needed relief. And we would see downtown and Burbank in the distance.

    I am not much of a hiker, but this one was worth it, mainly for doing it with TBers, talking and getting to know them.

    We were able to reach the Hollywood sign, which was fenced off. And we could only see part of it. Nearby are a bunch of security cameras, for those who get any ideas. Still, it was remarkable to see the sign really close. We then went up another hill, to get a better view of the sign, though still not the whole sign. Still, we made it to the top. After being there for a while, we went back down.

    Once at the parking lot, I got a ride with Mike, as we all went to Alcove Cafe and Bakery. Once we got there, we sat at a table outside. Then just had lunch and a fun time. 2 more TBers came: Bruno (bubu932) and Rodney (joe2009). The food at the restaurant was okay, as I had a turkey melt with fries. But the space at the restaurant was cramped, and never easy for me to sit in the sunlight. On the other hand, it was nice to go to the register and place our individual order, and pay for it that way. That saved the hassle of figuring out the bill in the end. ;)

    Bruno ended up ordering a large piece of chocolate cake, which it got passed around, with some people taking a piece. But there was still a lot left, and normally I would have eaten the rest, given that I love chocolate. But somehow, my appetite was just not there.

    Afterwards, there was a valet who was nice enough to take a group photo with multiple cameras. Then we parted ways, as the TBers would meet up again for dinner and drinks later that night. But for me, I will be heading to the Dodgers game, as I continue my baseball quest.

    So Mike gave me a ride back to the hostel. Once there, I would go in and just rest for a little while. When I got back up, it was time to go to the ballgame. More about that in the next entry.

    [Special thanks to BiG, for taking most of the group shots!)

    Photos & Videos


  • 28Sep 2012

    11 Dodger Night 09/28/2012 USA —

    Los Angeles, USA


    Leaving Hollywood, I hopped on the Metro, going to Union Station. From there, I would go on the Dodger Express, an express bus that takes people to Dodger Stadium. It was free with a game ticket. And the bus was not completely filled.

    The ride took about 30 minutes to get there. Once there, I looked around for a bit. Then tried to enter at lower level entrance, but was not permitted. Instead, I had to go up flights of stairs, all the way to the top, where the Reserve level was. Along the way, I saw murals on the wall, highlighting moments in Dodgers history. I would enter the ballpark through that entrance.

    This is the 3rd oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, opening in 1962. I would learn that a game ticket is restricted to a specific section of the stadium, and there is no switching between them. Not even for a visit, and not even after the game is over.

    I went to my seat, which by the time, the sun had already set. And it was a cool night, making it an enjoyable night to watch the game. I looked around, seeing the 2 scoreboards, with the retired numbers in the outfield seats.

    As game time was approaching, I had to try a Dodger dog, which is a foot-long hot dog. It was okay, as I enjoy eating hot dogs at baseball games. Hot dogs is to baseball games as popcorn is to movies.

    I did worry a bit about the gangster element, which I heard about at Dodger games. Especially since the incident last year, with the Giants fan nearly getting beaten to death. But I did not run into that problem.

    I would get to hear the legendary broadcaster, Vin Scully as the radio announcer, whenever I went to the restroom. It is odd to have only one person in the broadcast booth, with no color analyst.

    And it was Tommy Lorsada's birthday. The fans would sing "Happy Birthday" to him, then a montage of him, played on one of the scoreboards. Moments included the 2 World Series championships, in 1981 and 1988. I think the Dodgers were underdogs in both seasons.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers took on the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers are trying to keep pace with the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Race, while the Rockies are in last place in the NL West. The Cards already won earlier, so a must-win for the Dodgers.

    The game was one-sided, as the Dodgers jumped to a 4-0 lead in the 2nd inning, which included a 3-run homer by Shane Victorino, who spent the past 8 seasons with the Phillies before being traded this season. The Dodgers scored 1 in the 4th, and 3 more in the 8th. I did see another former Phillie, Bobby Abreu, hit a 2-run homer. The Dodgers would shut out the Rockies, 8-0. Clayton Kershaw limited the Rockies to only 5 hits, who probably could not wait until the season ended.

    After the game, there were postgame fireworks. Set in the tune of Frank Sinatra songs, since Sinatra is Lorsada's favorite singer. When the show ended, looked around a bit, but could not get close to the field, due to the rule of not going to another section.

    I exited, and headed to the Dodger Express. There was a line, and I jumped in front, as the usher asked for those willing to stand for the whole ride. But I did not get on. I ended on getting on the next one, and even had a seat. And I sat near some people wearing a Giants cap. Very brave of them.

    At Union Station, I took the Metro back to Hollywood. Taking public transportation sure beats driving to the game.

    Photos & Videos


  • 29Sep 2012

    12 A Look Back, Then the TravBuddy Bonfire 09/29/2012 USA —

    Los Angeles, USA


    I started the day, by going to Union Station, and taking the FlyAway bus back to LAX. Then went to Enterprise rental agency, where I would pick a car. Hard to believe that I got around in LA, without a car for the first 2 days.

    So I picked up the car, and went towards downtown. I went towards the campus of USC, to the street, Ellendale Place, where I stayed during my 1999 visit. This was when I used to be part of a group (now I realize they are a cult, but that's another story). I passed by the house that I stayed at, and the memories came back. But I could not stay long, and continued to Koreatown.

    This part was a look back to my first visit to LA, which was 1984, but not exactly sure. I remember going with my family, and being bored when my parents were visiting their friend. I remember giving them a hard time that I had nothing to do. But later on, they tell me that they used to live in the Koreatown area, when they first moved to the US. I drove around Koreatown, and continued on, until I found the Korean Cultural Center. I went inside, and looked around.

    The first floor has a quick overview of Korean history, and displays of items relating to Korean culture. Also, there is a replica of a traditional Korean home. On the 2nd floor, is a display of Korean ceramics. The museum is sparse, which can be seen very quickly. I assumed it would be a museum on Korean history, as well as the history of Koreatown. Well, it had a little bit of the first one, but none of the second one. Not extensive enough! Not worth going out of my way to visit.

    Afterwards, I got a few text messages from Jamal, and I told him when I would come. I had to go back to the hostel, because I was not feeling too good at the time. So once there, I rested for an hour. After that, I went back out, and headed to Dockweiler State Beach. When trying to pay, I tried to pay with a $100 bill, which they did not accept. But I managed to find enough small bills to pay for parking.

    I found the right Lighthouse, which was #54, and the TBers there. It was a barbecue and a fun time together. The TBers that were in attendance:

    Adam (bluemoon), Adrian (acowboy), Belinda (belinda2000), BiG (Biglush_23), Bruno (bubu932), Cydele (retrospeck), Daniel (daniel_jetsetter), Ferlin (ferlinwu), Jamal (Jamal1280), John (pensacolapyro), Luis (Trekk), Mike (NJTProadcruiser), Monica (monky), Raymond (saintgl), Rodney (joe2009), Solomon (soljohnson), Sue (Tamanawas), Virginia (lachicktravels), Walter (WalterC)

    During the day time, it was all food and drinks, and getting to know each other. And seeing planes flying over us, since we were very close to LAX. Sometimes, we wonder where that plane is going next. And I can't go without mentioning the little incident of BiG getting pooped on, by some seagull. It was just too funny and unbelievable.

    We did get to see the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. I missed my chance to photograph it, but it was truly something to see. After sunset, it was time for the bonfire. Some TBers would arrive later as the night went on.

    Never thought I would ever be at a beach bonfire, considering how I'm very much an indoors person. And thought this was very much something I would only see in the movies or TV. But here I am, at a beach bonfire, as people were roasting marshmallows, to make s'mores. Just feels too surreal!

    There was a limbo contest. I figure I try it, but did not get very far. I was not flexible enough. I think it came down to Virginia and Ferlin, with Ferlin coming out as the winner of the limbo contest.

    It was a great time at the beach. But unfortunately, it had to end, as it got late. There were a group of TBers, planning a trip to a winery the next day. But I could not go, because I was going to a Dodgers game, plus promised to meet up with another TBer, who could not make it to this meet-up. After saying goodbye to everyone, I headed back.

    My first TravBuddy meet-up, and it was definitely a great time. While it won't be the only reason for me to travel anywhere, I am definitely open to going to more in the future. Though it is hard to explain to non-TBers on how I could meet up with total strangers.

    So I left, and went back to the hostel, and had to ask about parking. I would learn that the hostel did not have its own parking. Instead, I had to park at a lot or garage, none of which have in-or-out privileges. Plus the rates are pricey. But I had no choice but to park there, as it got late and I was really tired. Then back into the hostel.

    Photos & Videos


  • 30Sep 2012

    13 Some History, Lousy Baseball and Meeting a TBer 09/30/2012 USA —

    Los Angeles, USA


    Even though I had a car, I would end up not using it at all, instead choosing to walk and rely on public transportation, which itself, is not so bad in this city. At least not for the tourists, getting to the immediate area.

    From Hollywood, I rode the Metro into downtown, to meet a TBer. But before I do that, I stopped by the Bradbury Building. I went inside, and was only allowed access to certain parts. This building has been used in various movies, most notably "Blade Runner". And it has been used in multiple music videos as well. The look of the place looked interesting, and I could see why this building is used in films. Like a step back in time, as this is a LA landmark, built in 1893.

    Afterwards, I would meet up with May (cotton_foam), and met in the Grand Central Market. The Grand Central Market is a farmer's market and food court into one. We finally met up, and she came with her husband, Ed. She would refer to me as her first TB friend, since I was the first one to comment on her page.

    So we tried to look for a place to eat, and looked around the market. Then went out, and to El Pollo Loco, which was a fast food Mexican place. We ate our lunch there, and had a fun time, as I got to know May and Ed better. It was very nice of them to drive 4 hours one-way, just to see me. Well, they came to see me and relatives who live in the LA area.

    After the meal, we walked around downtown. Oh man, I can't believe how hot it was. Yeah, I get that this is LA, but still, very unbearable.

    Anyway, it was nice of them to accompany me along the way. We went through the Grand Central Market, and took a ride on Angels Flight, which was a funicular. It took us to the top of the hill. Then came upon a fountain, and a view of downtown. We came to a street, which we walked along it, passing by the Museum of Contemporary Art. Then passed by the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Music Center. Then down a hill, towards City Hall.

    This was when we would part ways, as they had to get somewhere, and I was on my way to the Dodgers game. After saying goodbye, I went to Olvera Street, which was part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. This was the oldest part of LA, dating back to 1781. Also known as the Mexican Marketplace, with a bunch of stalls along this stretch.

    I did wish I had more time to spend here, as I found it very interesting place to check out, with the Mexican and festive feel to this place. I got to walk around, getting a quick overview of the area, and visit the museum called the Avila Abode. This was a replica of a California home in the 1840's.

    But now, it was time to head to the game. So I walked through Union Station, and took the Dodger Express to the game. Once there, I walked around, and had to go up the stairs, this time on the 3rd base side. I entered and saw that my seat was in the sunlight. So whoever said that this section was in the shade during a day game, was dead WRONG!

    I have a hard time sitting in the sunlight, and would get up and stand underneath the overhang in the concourse, behind a section there. My feet started to hurt, but it was better than sitting in the sun. But then, some security guard told us that we had to stand behind the white line, which made it harder to see the field. After a while, I went back to my seat. Luckily for me, my section would eventually be shaded, about 90 minutes into the game, or the 5th inning. Though, some crazy fans decide to hit a beach ball around the seats. I think I hit it at least once, and nearly got hit in the head.

    This was the 3rd game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, with Josh Beckett starting for the Dodgers. The Rockies finally scored in this series, after being shut out in the previous 2 games. But that's all they would score, as the Dodgers scored 7 unanswered runs after that, on 3 home runs. The Dodgers win the game 7-1, thus sweeping the Rockies and keeping pace with the Cardinals in the Wild Card race.

    The game took nearly 4 hours. At times, I wanted to leave early, and wished that I went with the TBers to the winery instead than sit at this game. Also, I hope not to attend any more day games, just for the fact that I hate sitting in the sunlight. And for a stadium that turned 50 this season, it did not seem to do much to acknowledge the ballpark's history.

    So I left the ballpark, and headed back to the hostel, and just waited there until the spaghetti dinner there. I met 2 Dutch guys there, and hung out with them, as I ate so much again, and satisfied.

    After dinner, I tried to go to the Griffith Observatory, without a car. I took the Metro, then waited for the DASH bus to the observatory. But turned out, the schedule on the internet was not accurate, as I called the hotline for real time, and what they tell me, did not match the internet schedule. As a result, I would not get to go to the observatory at all on this trip, since it is closed on Mondays.

    So back to Hollywood, and walked around for a bit, seeing costumed characters. Then back to the hostel.

    Photos & Videos


  • 01Oct 2012

    14 Touring Warner Brothers Studio 10/01/2012 USA —

    Burbank, USA


    I packed up, and was ready to check out of the hostel. Only to find out, that I actually paid for the night that I won't be staying. I did not realize it until they told me, and showed on the receipt. A major oversight on my part. So I put my backpack in the room, and would check out at night, since that was when my flight was. Too late for a refund.

    I decided to do a studio tour, picking Warner Brothers Studio. Located in Burbank, it was not as far from Hollywood as I thought, though it was difficult finding the right area, as the studio covers a wide area. I had to pay $7 for parking, and nearly $50 for the studio tour. So it is not cheap. Also, it has been said that no 2 tours are exactly alike, as it does depend on what is open, and what is closed due to filming in progress.

    So I arrived and went inside the studio store, greeted by statues of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I waited until my tour time started. Then went inside the theater, for a short film, which basically was an intro to Warner Bros. Then went outside, where it was very hot, and to the tram.

    Once on the tram, we entered the studio lot, and toured the area. The guide that we had, was a guy named Nance, and he was great.

    The things we saw on this tour included:
    1. town set that was used in "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Gilmore Girls"
    2. El steps from "ER"
    3. hospital from "Chuck"
    4. set of "2 Broke Girls"
    5. Ashton Kutcher's trailer from "Two and a Half Men"
    6. courthouse from "Night Court"
    7. the iconic water tower (most associated with "Animaniacs")
    8. Central Perk from "Friends"
    9. garage having cars from "The Mentalist"
    10. displays of cars used in various movies and TV shows (like Batmobile, General Lee, among others)
    11. desk used in "The West Wing"
    12. prop rooms

    I'm sure there are more, but that's all I can remember, for now!

    It has been said that you may see an actor or actress on the set along the way. I did see one, and it was Bernandette from "The Big Bang Theory". I was not able to get a photo of her, since she was pretty far away, and facing away most of the time.

    The tour ended with a visit to a small museum, where we had only 30 minutes to see it. This was one of the few places where photography was not allowed. I saw a small exhibit on the Looney Tunes, with the other props and dresses on display, along with the Harry Potter exhibition on the top floor. I had enough time to see everything, as I am not a big Harry Potter fan, but did read most of the books.

    That marked the end of the tour, and we were taken back to the studio store. After thanking Nance, I just relaxed in the cafe there, having some ice cream. And thought about doing another studio tour, but the tour times and the distance would have taken up too much time. Not to mention, very costly. So I decided to head to the ocean!

    Photos & Videos


  • 01Oct 2012

    15 Sunset, Take Two! Then Head Back! 10/01/2012 USA —

    Los Angeles, USA


    Leaving Burbank, and after stopping by the hostel, I drove on Sunset Boulevard all the way to the ocean. And yes, I can't go without saying this... how I first about this street, from the Nintendo game, Rad Racer. There were no car crashes or flipping over a few times, like in the game. :)

    I did the same thing back in 1999, and thought to do it again. I drove on the Sunset, until I reached Beverly Hills. I took a detour, and did a quick drive through Rodeo Drive. A bunch of expensive places, basically way out of my budget range. Moving on, I did stop to look at some of the mansions, with palm trees lining up the street. Basically what I would see in the movies.

    Continuing on, I was driving through a wealthy residential neighborhood. I did hit a problem along the way, but found a way to solve it. Can't really get into it here.

    After a long, curvy drive, which takes a while, I finally reached the Pacific Ocean. Then drove on my way to the Venice Boardwalk. I was able to find a cheap parking lot, as I planned to linger around until after sunset.

    I walked up and down the boardwalk, which was not the same as the one at the Jersey Shore. I saw some weird t-shirt shops, with places to eat and other weird stuff. I walked to one end, then went the other way.

    As I went towards the beach, there were people riding bikes or roller blading. And an area where skateboarders go up and down in the pit. And some interesting artwork on structures along the way.

    I found a spot, to watch the sunset and photograph it, since I missed my chance at the TB bonfire. Seeing the sun set over the horizon, it was amazing to watch once again. Glad to have seen it. Then I headed back, going to Hollywood.

    I got back to the hostel, hoping to get to the BBQ there, but learned that it ended. So I went back to the room, for a much needed shower, since I sweat so much. Then packed up completely, and checked out. Yes, I would have to deal with the extra cost, but since I got a shower, it was not a total loss.

    I did take one last walk around Hollywood, seeing the costumed characters, like Jack Sparrow, Chewbecca, and Wonder Woman. Then headed to Mulholland Drive for nice views.

    I followed the signs, and stopped by one of the lookout spots, which was closed off. But I was able to see downtown LA in the distance, which was nice to see. After that, it got difficult finding my way around, as there were no signs to point the way. I would eventually figure it out, and came to a few more lookout spots, seeing downtown LA and Burbank. Too bad that I could not get good photos of it, and will need a lesson on taking good nightime shots with an old camera. But still, it was worth it, for the views, which is so nice to see.

    It was time to go, and I got lost along the way. I had to stop by a McDonald's to get directions, as well as get something to eat. Then headed to LAX, first going to Enterprise to return the car. Then to the airport.

    I went through security fast, and to the gate, where I waited until boarding. I went back the same way as I came, having to connect in Dallas. And taking me into the next day (October 2nd). Then from there, going back to Philly.

    It was a memorable trip, mainly for going to my first TravBuddy meet-up. But now, I look ahead to my next trip.

    [I put the photos under Los Angeles, to keep it in one entry, rather than split them into many entries.]

    Photos & Videos


  • 20Nov 2012

    16 Walter's Intro to Asia 11/20/2012 South Korea —

    Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Seoul, South Korea


    After talking about it for a few years now, I am finally going to South Korea. The main purpose of this trip was for medical tourism, as it was a lot cheaper for a doctor checkup, than in the US. More about that on a later entry.

    Anyway, I saw this as a chance to finally visit Asia, seeing it as my introduction to the continent. I wanted to visit various countries in Asia, but felt like I couldn't unless I went to Korea first, since I am an ethnic Korean, but born and raised in the US. I have been to South Korea twice before, but this would be my first time since getting the traveling bug.

    The first time was in 1987, when I went with my mom and sister. It was my first overseas trip, and the first time I experienced jet lag. I remember meeting cousins for the first time, and nearly getting lost for good in Busan.

    The second visit was in 1995, when I went with my whole family. Again, it was to see relatives in Seoul, plus a trip to Jeju Island. I remember thinking, on the flight back home, thinking I would come back to this part of the world many times. But that next time would not happen for 17 years.

    Now to 2012, when I travel solo to Asia for the first time. I would put my cats in boarding for the first time, which was not easy for me to do. Anyone with pets, would understand this. ;)

    I had to get to the Philly airport early in the morning, to catch a flight to Washington DC. From there, I had 1 hour layover, then got on a flight to Tokyo, Japan. That one took me into the next day (Nov 21).

    I forgotten how long flights from the Eastern US to Asia were, which was twice as long as going to Europe. I arrived in Tokyo, for a 2-hour layover. Then a flight to Seoul, South Korea. I had to go through immigration, and was required to put an address of the place I'm staying, on the card. I had no idea of the address of my grandmother's place, which was where I was staying. But they let me through. No idea how or why, though.

    I was able to meet up with my mom, who was waiting at the airport. This was the first time I arrived in Incheon Airport, which was built sometime after my last visit. Looked very futuristic!

    I took the bus to my grandmother's place. The bus ride was surprisingly more relaxing than the plane ride. I arrived in the area, and went to my grandmother's place, seeing her again after 1 year.

    [NOTE: This entry is for 2 days, which I decided to combine into 1 entry rather than into 2 entries on TB.]

    Photos & Videos


  • 22Nov 2012

    17 Long Ride For 1 Palace 11/22/2012 South Korea —

    Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Seoul, South Korea


    I ended up waking up early, so I could see my mom leave, who was going on another trip of her own. Then tried to go back to sleep, which was hard, probably due to jet lag and sleeping on the floor.

    Later on, I was ready to go out and see the city on my own. This is probably the first time for me in Korea, as in past trips, I would be accompanied by family members. I went out, and got lost, walking around in blocks for a while. I backtracked, and was able to find the Metro station.

    I tried to figure out the system, and wasted more time, looking for a place that sold some of kind of card that the guidebook mentioned. But did not find any, so I just paid the individual fare card. Then got on the Metro, and was in it for about 90 minutes. Hard to believe how far it was.

    When I got off, I tried to exit through the turnstile, but could not. Turned out that each ride is rated according to distance, and that there is a machine nearby, to insert money to pay the difference. Once I did that, I went to Changdeokgung Palace. I would pay admission for both the palace and the secret garden, which is guided tour only. More about visiting this place in the review here.

    Changdeokgung was built in 1405 during the Joseon Dynasty, as the secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung (which I will be visiting later on). The Japanese invaded Korea in the 1590's, and burned down all the palaces. While Gyeongbokgung was left in ruins, Changdeokgung became the main palace shortly after in 1610, and remained that way until 1868, when the other one was finally rebuilt.

    I spent about 90 minutes, walking around the palace grounds. Starting from the entrance gate, I crossed the small bridge, which goes back to 1411. Then went to the main building, where the throne hall was, and where the king conducted his affairs there, with the ceremonies done in the courtyard.

    After that, there are other areas to see, seeing where the king and queen, along with other palace officials, lived and conducted their affairs. Just seeing the architecture and setup of the buildings, was really fascinating to see. I went one way to the end, then backtracked all the way, to the area straight ahead from the entrance. This area was where the government offices were, and the ancestral rites were performed.

    With some time still available, I decided to step out and get something to eat. But I did not really find anything to my liking, either because it would take too long to serve the food, or just not to my liking. I stopped by a Dunkin Donuts, and saw Korean twists to a burrito, like a jalapeno bulgogi. I ended up eating some snacks. Then when it was time, I reentered the palace, and went to the entrance for the secret garden.

    I waited until it was time for the secret garden tour. The entrance was on the right side of the palace area. With the tour started, we were given a guided tour of the secret garden, or sometimes known as Huwon. It was called that, because it was only for private use by the king and some of his officials.

    At first, I wondered if this would be a waste of time, paying extra for what I thought, was a typical tourist trap. But after seeing the garden, it turned out to be well worth the money. In fact, I remember visiting this place back in 1987, with the pond and the buildings in the background, being the only things I remember from this palace.

    We were given the tour of the different parts of the secret garden, and the unfortunate thing was that we came after all the autumn leaves are gone. Thus, it makes the place a lot less colorful. While disappointing, I was still amazed by the architecture of the buildings, and the background with nature. I could only imagine it would look a lot more nicer at other times of the year.

    After the garden tour, it got dark, and I had to head back to my grandmother's place. I had to ride the Metro for 90 minutes, which just felt like forever. Once I got off, I got lost, but eventually found my way. Then went inside to her place, where I had dinner. Then to sleep, as the next couple days will not be fun.

    Photos & Videos


  • 23Nov 2012

    18 Medical Tourism 11/23/2012 South Korea —

    Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Seoul, South Korea


    I reached the medical tourism part of my trip, as it was time to see the doctor.

    First off, medical tourism is basically where people travel to other countries to get medical services done. There are numerous reasons why people travel abroad for medical care. My primary reason was costs, as it was a lot cheaper to have the medical examination in South Korea than in the US.

    Isn't the cost of airfare and hotels going to offset the savings from just having it done in the US? In this case, it is not, as the costs in the US are high. Extremely high! Plus I don't have medical insurance. As for a place to stay, I was staying at my grandmother's place, so that took care of the costs of room and board. Also, the doctor that I was seeing, knew some people on my mom's family. And my grandmother made the appointment for me.

    This was necessary, as I worried about some health issues and could not put it off any longer. Plus it has been a long time since I had tests done on me. I won't get into details of this, but anyone who has done a thorough medical examination, will know what it's like and the tests taken, to check health. It does get a little graphic, to try to describe it.

    The tough part for me, was dealing with the language barrier, as I could only speak a few words of Korean. The doctor was the only one who knew enough English, to let me know what was going on. But the other medical staff, knew very little English, so we did communicate at times, by hand signals.

    During these 2 days, I was not able to do anything else. But when it was over, I was relieved, as I came out with no problems, except for the fact that I need to start exercising more regularly haha.

    I just rested and did get to have dinner with my relatives. The rest of the trip, I would get to see more of Seoul.


  • 25Nov 2012

    19 Prison and War 11/25/2012 South Korea —

    Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Seoul, South Korea


    After getting ready, I went to the Metro station, and decided to pay a little extra to take one of the Express trains. It reduced the time by about 30 minutes, but still felt like forever. I arrived and came to Independence Park, where Seadaemun Prison History Hall is located.

    Being the only attraction on the Japanese Occupation, I had to check this place out, since it did affect my relatives for some time. The Japanese Occupation (sometimes called the "Colonial Period") referred to the period when Korea was forced under the colonial rule of Japan, from 1910 to 1945. During this time, Koreans were basically forced to be Japanese, by adopting Japanese names and speaking Japanese only, as the Korean language was not allowed. Basically, it was cultural genocide. The prison was built in 1907.

    Arriving at the entrance, I went into the main exhibition hall. As I would learn here, that the prison continued to be used after liberation in 1945, as South Korea was under a dictatorship, until 1987. During that time, it was used to jail the pro-democracy activists.

    When I went downstairs of the main Exhibition Hall, I saw a lot of school kids. It was very surprising to see them there, considering the type of attraction this is. I guess they are just happy to be out of the classroom, as they don't seem to really know what the prison was really about, judging by how they were acting. I do wonder if the most of the torture displays were removed for this very reason, as I did see some photos of them on the internet, but did not actually see them at the museum. Judging by those photos, they were very graphic!

    After the exhibition hall, I went through a few of the actual prison buildings, then walked around Independence Park within the prison premises, seeing various features.

    The most touching part of this visit, was watching a video of a woman, who was a prison survivor, being next to one of the torture displays, and saying how the display does not even come close to describing the horrors that she had to go through.

    I can't imagine what it was like during this time. I know that my grandparents, and even my father lived during that time in Seoul. All I remember, was that my mother would tell me, that my grandmother would have to speak Japanese whenever she went to school.

    I left, and headed to War Memorial of Korea. I had a limited time left, and wasted part of it, looking for a place to eat. And strangely, I ended up eating lunch at the museum restaurant, which served some good Korean food. I had some jajangmyun, which was good. Too bad I did not photograph it, because I have a hard time describing it.

    I walked around the museum area, seeing the "Statue of Brothers" and the Korean War monument, among others. On the other side, are replicas of war planes and tanks, some of which, you can go in. But I did not spend too much time seeing them, since my time was limited. I went inside the museum, which was free.

    I toured the museum in chronological order, which started with ancient Korea. With so much to see, and trying to see it all, I did find myself skimming through most of the exhibitions. Basically, it got into the various wars that the Koreans were involved in, whether between themselves, or against the Mongols or Chinese. And most notably, against the Japanese during the invasions of the 1590's. Some of the exhibits reminded me of the Korean historical dramas that my dad used to watch.

    It also got into the Korean War in depth, which is the most extensive part of the museum. With so much to see in this museum, I did not have enough time to see it all. The most notable part is on the Korean War (1950-1953), with a big part of the museum devoted to it.

    But I do remember some stories my parents would tell me, though they did not share too much about it. Still, it was a reminder how great of a childhood that I had, when compared to them, having to live through this war.

    Closing time came, and I had to leave the museum. I walked around the outer area, where the airplanes were. But they were closed off, so I could not go in them. I'll have to make a return visit someday, to see more of this place.

    After spending the day seeing a couple of dark attractions, I went back to my grandmother's place.

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  • 26Nov 2012

    20 Having a Towering Seoul in a Palace 11/26/2012 South Korea —

    Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Seoul, South Korea


    I did have a hard time sleeping, as I did end up waking up in the middle of the night. And would end up making a few calls back home on a regular phone, since my cell phone was not working in Korea. Mainly to get an update on the cats, as I received e-mails from earlier, that the cats are not doing good at boarding. That did make it hard for me to enjoy the trip at times. As some of you already know, I am just as crazy about cats as I am about traveling.

    When it was morning, well after sunrise, I rode the Metro, all the way into town. I did not like doing this, but a small price for free room and board. I arrived into town, and hoped to get to an information center, to find an internet cafe with phones. But they were not opened on Mondays, so I had to continue on, heading to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

    Gyeongbokgung was the first palace built in 1394, by the first king of the Joseon Dynasty. And remained the main palace until the 1590’s, when it was burned down and remained in ruins, until it was re-built in 1867. It remained the main one until the Colonial Period, when the Japanese destroyed most of it. The palace started to be restored in 1996, a work that continues to this day.

    I arrived at the main entrance, seeing the guards standing still there. Very much like the ones in London. Just hard to believe how well they were able to stand still like that, as it was very cold, and the wind was really blowing. Talk about having major discipline!

    I went onto the palace grounds, to the ticket booth to pay admission. Then went to a visitor center, hoping to pick up a tour booklet. But they ran out of the English ones. When asking if they will get more, but they said it would be a long time, due to budget problems. I ended up picking up a French one, though no idea why!

    I stayed around the entrance area, to see the Changing of the Guard. It did have that ceremony atmosphere, as there were a group of guards coming from one end of the square, and went through the entrance, to switch with the ones that stood guard beforehand, to the beat of the big Korean drum. I went inside and outside the palace area, as the whole thing was happening in both areas at the same time.

    Afterwards, I did decide to get an audioguide, which was a little helpful at times, but most times, it was frustrating to figure out and follow the commentary.

    I walked to the main throne building, which looked very much like the one at the other palace, Changdeokgung. Then walked around the labyrinth of buildings, reading the descriptions along the way. Like the other Korean palaces, all the buildings have their own names and served some purpose along the way. If you want to know more, there are more detailed descriptions on Wikipedia.

    I got to a familiar sight, which was a pavilion on a pond. I was told this was where the king would hold banquets. I remember seeing this in 1987, one of the few sights I remember from that trip. I continued to walk around, just enjoying the architecture of the buildings, even if I don't know the full history of the palace.

    I did take a brief detour to the National Folk Museum of Korea, but only to relax in a warm place. It did look like an interesting place, but I did not have time for it. I went back to seeing the rest of the palace.

    After seeing the palace, the next place to visit was the Seoul Tower . It was a short Metro ride away. From the station, I had to walk up a hill, which was quite a walk. I arrived at a cable station, and rode the cable car to the top of the Namsan, the hill where the Seoul Tower was.

    This was another place that I remember visiting from the '87 trip. In fact, a souvenir photo of me and my sister from that time, is still hanging on the wall in my house. I had to see it again, as an adult.

    From the cable car, I had to walk up a path towards the ticket booths, passing by smoke stacks and a cardboard Christmas tree, reminding me that this holiday is coming up. After paying admission, I went inside to ride the elevator to the top, which stands at 777 feet (237 meters) on Namsan Mountain.

    Once there, I was able to get nice views of Seoul, with the mountains in the background. And at different moments, as I saw the city before sunset. Then at sunset, and after sunset, as the city lights came on. It was really nice to seem as I saw downtown and the Hangang River.

    The only problem that I had, was trying to photograph through glass, which made it a pain. When the photos came out, it came out blurry or the reflection showed up. And since I am not skilled at photography at all, I did not get any really good nighttime shots of the city from above. It doesn't help that I'm still using an old camera from the early 2000's.

    I walked around the viewing area, then just went to the elevator, to go back down. Then rode the cable car down, and walked down to the Myeongdong area. I was amazed at the sight of the bright lights of the shopping area, and just walked around.

    After walking down a couple streets and around blocks, I went back to my grandmother's place. Once there, I just hung around, and did see one of my cousins briefly. Then started packing a little, as I would leave the next day.

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  • 27Nov 2012

    21 Last Museum Before Leaving 11/27/2012 South Korea —

    Taepyeongno 1(il)-ga, Seoul, South Korea


    It was the last day, as I had to pack up. My flight was not until the evening, so I would have enough time to see one more sight.

    After packing up, I said goodbye to my grandmother, who has been helpful to me. And I did see my mom briefly, who just got back from her trip to Southeast Asia. I headed to the Metro, and rode it into the city, as I was heading to the National Museum of Korea.

    I arrived at the building, passing by a pond with a pagoda in the middle of it. It was closed off, so I could not get a closer look. Just like the one in the palace. Anyway, as I went to the entrance, there were a lot of school kids already there. Needless to say, very noisy and crowded!

    I checked my things in, so that freed me from holding my backpack for a while. Then started to tour the museum. This place was very extensive on Korean history, the most I've ever seen on this subject. Normally, Korean art tends to occupy very small space in other art museums, when compared to other Asian art. So visiting this place, it looked very promising.

    The museum goes through the history of Korea, on the 1st floor, starting from the prehistoric age. There are good English descriptions, telling the history, along with the artifacts from that period, on display. The museum also goes into the Three Kingdoms period, followed by the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and then the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). And each of those section have their own sub-sections.

    Other highlights is on the 3rd floor, with Buddhist art on display. And there is one section there, where there are art from other parts of Asia. When going through it, I could not help but think it could be a preview of possible upcoming travels to other parts of Asia for me. I can only hope!

    So when it was time, I had to leave. I was able to see Namsan, the small mountain with the Seoul Tower, from the museum. Then headed to the Metro, which I took to the Seoul train station.

    I took the Airport Express to Incheon Airport. Then checked-in, went through security fast, and just waited at the gate, with plenty of time to kill. Not really much to do, other than look around.

    When the time came, I got on the plane, and was heading back to the United States.

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  • 27Nov 2012

    22 Returning to My Cats 11/27/2012 USA —

    Philadelphia, USA


    I had to go to San Francisco first, and was able to get in line for immigration quickly, before it got really long. Then went to a different terminal, where I would catch my flight back to Philly.

    Once back in Philly, I headed home. Then went to pick up one of my cats, who did not like being in boarding. The tough part of traveling, is leaving the cats behind. I would have to wait til the next morning, to get the other one. Once they were back home, the cats started to do better, a little stressed from being caged up for a week.

    The trip to Korea has finally happened. While I did not get to see the DMZ, I did get the doctor's checkup, which I've needed for a long time. And finally got to see Seoul from more of an adult's perspective. It was very difficult at times, mainly due to how the cats were doing. No more boarding for them.

    Now, I am looking into where to go next. And have a few options in mind to take for spring break. Assuming it does happen.

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