Posted in Travels in Japan

Golden Week Adventures: To Kyoto!

It’s been awhile everyone! Yes, I know, sorry. I should’ve put out a post before I left on vacation, but I had literally NO TIME. From the second I posted my last article to now has been just non-stop, can’t stop, all the things!!!

See my friend from high school, Rebecca, came over to visit me. She’s super cool and going to be a doctor pretty soon. I’m still thinking of calling her Dr. Becky with the Good Hair, but then I’ll have to have my coffin with me when I do it (She’s never liked that name and it’s only gotten worse with time).

She wanted to go to a lot of different places in Japan, with my original list including fox village and cat island with a possible Hakone excursion. However, we only got about a week to do all the things. In the end, she decided the number one place to go to would be Kyoto.

And I agreed. Hakone in Golden Week is terribly, oppressively crowded. Fox Village and the nearby Cat Island up in Miyagi are a long trek from my area. With only a week, Kyoto and Tokyo seemed the best course of action. I had to be back in Tokyo on the weekend for Tokyo Rainbow Pride.

We headed off as soon as she touched down. Poor thing had already flown for over 30 hours and here I was forcing her onto a Shinkansen. I mean, it’s a comfortable train, but still added 2 hours to her already long travel time.

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“Proof of Shinkansen!”

When we arrived at Kyoto station it was pretty late, so I opted to just get a taxi and head for the apartment. I found this pretty cheap place through Agoda.com, an apartment that we could stay at near Kinkakuji for only about 3,200 yen per night (plus a cleaning fee). Wheat a steal, right? The place was really nice, too. My only worry had been that maybe the apartment would be hideous in real life, but instead it was just a typical Japanese show box apartment.

The next morning, we headed right out to Kinkakuji. The Golden Temple was a bit packed at the beginning, with a lot of tourists using selfie sticks to try and get some good angles. I expected as much, Golden Week meant that everywhere would be either packed or super packed depending on the time of day. I was just surprised that so many were there so early in the morning.

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Rebecca wanted to buy some charms and some yatsuhashi (famous Kyoto style mochi that’s in the shape of a triangle…that you can also totally buy at grocery stores, but shhhhh). She wanted to get some marriage good luck charms as well as some studying/knowledge charms.

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We also stopped by the fortune area. Omikuji are like lottery fortunes, you put 100 yen inside a machine and then a random fortune pops out. I think only in Kinkakuji and maybe a few other main shrines can you get the English versions. Usually, I have to give my fortune to the nearest Japanese person to read and translate. Rebecca and I both got the “Good” level fortune. There are actually several levels of luck with these that range from “Awesome!” to “Absolutely wrecked.”

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Via Next Stop, Japan

After Kinkakuji, we ran off to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. As it was getting to be around lunch time, high noon and very sunny at that, there were less people milling around. I like the Palace mostly for the gardens. In the spring there are cherry blossoms and in the fall the leaves change colors, so I definitely recommend those.

We stopped there for some udon, and discovered to my horror that Rebecca is a pod person because she didn’t like the udon. Everything I thought I knew about her is a lie. In case you didn’t know, kitsune udon and soba are a staple in Kyoto. Everywhere you do there is an udon and/or soba place.

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My version of fine dining

After resting up, we figured out the bus to take to Kiyomizudera. Just as an FYI, the bus schedules are a bit hard to navigate without Japanese translation assistance. I discovered much, much too late that there are actually bus maps in English available online through the Kyoto Tourism site. There’s also a whole PDF that you can easily download to your smartphone or tablet. Don’t use Google Maps, it’s all kind of wrong and confusing.

At Kiyomizudera, it was super packed again. Ladies were running around in yukata, kids were playing tag on the steps, couples were holding hands and taking selfie shots. Rebecca and I did the whole purification ritual before entering, and discovered unfortunately the main temple is under construction for the 2020 Olympics. There is scaffolding all around it for the foreseeable future. If you’re planning to go, just a heads up.

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Not terrible, but not as picturesque as normal.

After walking around, we waited in line to drink from the spiritual waters from the waterfall. Each stream is different, and you’re supposed to drink from the one you want and make a wish.

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The one on the left is for knowledge, the middle for love, and the last for a long life. 

I chose knowledge, because living long is fine and love is alright, but I would rather just be smarter in general. Rebecca chose the same, because future doctor, it’s kind of important for her.

After a full day, we walked around to find dinner and had a couple of drinks at a bar before heading back to the apartment. We planned to hit up the Fushimi Inari Shrine as well as Heinan Temple the next day before heading back to Tokyo the next day, with possibly squeezing in a tea ceremony if we could manage it.

We did one of those things, that being the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and that’s kind of my bad. The morning started off with us checking out and then getting on the buses. We were only supposed to transfer once to another bus in order to get to Kyoto Station to drop off our stuff. As it was, we transferred onto the wrong bus, and had to get turned around.

Once arriving at Kyoto Station, we discovered that everyone and their mother had taken the lockers. I managed to get lucky and find one, but then Rebecca had to do a baggage check instead. By the time we finally got on a train and hit Fushimi Inari, the day was already half way eaten up.

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Fushimi Inari Entrance

And of course, it was congested with people, so going up the mountainside of tori meant slowly meandering our way towards the top. I felt really guilty for getting us on the wrong bus, so by the time we got halfway up the mountain, we had to turn back so we could get to Kyoto Station for Heinan Temple.

But then I messed up again, and we went down a wrong path. According to the map it was supposed to take us back to the main area, but it didn’t. Instead, it brought us into the suburbs surrounding the mountain. We got lost, not for terribly long, but still too long in an already crunched timetable.

By the time we righted ourselves and headed back towards the station, it became fairly obvious we couldn’t do the other temple or a tea ceremony. Rebecca wasn’t super upset about it, she’s kind of really laid back like that, but if I ever do another tag along to Fushimi Inari, I’m going to just stay on the main paths. No adventuring out to short cuts, it’s not worth it.

Right across from Kyoto Station is the Kyoto Tower. We didn’t go up for the view, but instead did some last minute onomiyage (souvenir) shopping, because I needed some for my co-workers.

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At the base of Kyoto Tower there’s a mini-souvenir shop. You can buy Kyoto sweets and the yastuhashi I was talking about earlier, along with other specialty Kyoto things. I bought some matcha cookies, because Kyoto is pretty famous for green tea.

And from there it was back to Tokyo. All in all it was a good trip, but next time I will be better about planning for certain things. However, in the next post I’ll talk about our Tokyo adventures, and then of course about Tokyo Rainbow Pride, so stay tuned!

 

 

Posted in Travels in Japan

A Dark Arcade: Kawasaki Warehouse

The day started out fun and sunny when Gina and I left the art show. We had just watched a woman have the most stylisticly amazing breakdown via dark comedy and shadow puppet space hippos, so I assumed (as one would in that situation) I had reached peak awesome for my week. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

Gina’s girlfriend had told her about this retro-arcade, which I figured meant sweet Pacman and Galaga. We figured we’d check it out, if it was good we’d spread the word and maybe have friends come see it with us later. I expected to just have a few cool old games, maybe get some nice nostalgic moments, and that’s about it. 

And then I turned the corner. 

This impressive five story structure immediately made me wonder what exactly I was walking into, because even though I was still down to play games, I didnt want to get into a high priced themed thing. We went through the entrance, but no cover charge or bouncers to be found. Instead, I got a very distinct horror movie vibe. Red lighting casted shadows along walls with faux aged posters citing the “dangers” of the warehouse. 

I loved it, as any fan of scary films would. If you like Halloween, amusement haunted houses, this arcade is for you. It’s got the creepy vibe down pat. And the games are retro, which was oddly enough like a nice bonus to the cool atmosphere. 

I got to play a game I hadn’t in years, the Silent Hill Arcade Game , and man was that fun. I hadn’t shot monsters and Pyramid Head with a gun controler in so long. It was the cherry on top of this spooky sundae. 

Racing games were tucked away into dark enclosures, between sets of “food vendors” with plastic dead rats. On the third floor, you could see faux apartment balconies set in dystopia. 

But not everything was creepy, there were older versions of DDR in a more well lit area on the second floor, as well as typical crane games in every Japan game site. The top floor hosted the gambling areana, as well as funnily enough an area to play Pacman and Mrs. Pacman. A little something for everyone, I suppose. 

Eventually we had to leave of course – we lost hours in there somehowand  leaving held a new experience for us. The back exit was through a low tunnel, that led into a radioactive looking moat. I had to step over “stones” to get out. 

I adore little kind of unknown places like Kawasaki Warehouse, places that are so finely detailed to set the mood, and this mood is taking you into Resident Evil territory. If I could have a house like this entertainment venue, I would, it’s that kind of love for me. I also enjoyed that even though we went on a Sunday, the place wasn’t packed, and we could play games pretty quickly after only a short wait maybe once or twice. 

For sure check it out if you’re in the Kawasaki area, it’s only about a ten minute walk from the station. You won’t regret it! 

Posted in Travels in Japan

Kawaii Monster Cafe: Part Time Nightclub?!

I knew that the Kawaii Monster Cafe was, well, a cafe. From the decor to the food, everything is all about the kawaii culture. Pinks clashing with neon greens, red lips on the walls, rainbow spaghetti noodles, a freaking carousel in the shape of a cake whirling around, and dancers dressed up in cute outfits dance on that cake. It’s a definite dinner and a show sort of place.

The place is fun, right in the heart of Harajuku (Tokyo’s notoriously awesome fashion district), and made to entertain. During the daytime, you’ll have a sort of cute, kid friendly atmosphere. I went last year with a bunch of friends. I got the (Non) Drug Cocktail, which comes with test tubes featuring different liquor flavors. My friends got the Colorful Poison Parfait, which is a ton of cake and ice cream towering high inside a glass.

What I didn’t know was that sometimes the cafe becomes a nightclub! Saturday I went to a Tipsy event, a popular girls only party group (i.e. lesbians, bi gals, trans, etc.), with business suits as a theme for the night. The line was long, but it moved smoothly enough that I only stood for a grand total of eight minutes.

Upon entering the now Kawaii Monster Club, the music was pumping and the lights were dimmed low. It was a surreal experience of seeing something that was once so cute it was borderline childish turn into a cool venue to get down and party. Clustered between giant mushrooms and tea cup booths were shadows that once featured loud colors, with people moving about in clothes straight out of fashion magazines, and the animal heads that hung from the ceiling took on a slightly sinister feel. It was, in a word, awesome!

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Dancing in the space was a bit tight, since the entrance area serving as the dance floor had the carousel right smack dab in the middle. Nonetheless, people endeavored to keep going, even though it got tough as the night wore on and more people piled in through the front door. The DJ’s kept a constant stream of top hits going, so people felt pumped up all through the night, even if they couldn’t move as much as they wanted. Everybody stopped dancing when the performers came on.

In the day, the cafe is severely brightly lit until the performers get on the carousel to dance. At night, the dancing area remains dark until the performers come onto the “stage” to dance with strobes and spotlights on them.

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The performers were definitely the highlight of the night. They were up there about five times, and each time they kept coming back to perform with zeal. I’ll be honest, I really admired how they kept coming back, appeared to have fun, and just kept moving to the beat without hardly slowing down. I wasn’t performing and by the end of the night I was exhausted, but they did their last show with huge smiles as if they weren’t tired at all.

I think if the performers had been half-hearted, the whole rest of the event would’ve been only slightly better than an average night out. See, as much as I loved the atmosphere and the performers, other parts of the night were a bit hit and miss.

Drinks were a big disappointment for me. Even though the main bar was encapsulated with towers of blue columns depicting flowing flowing ice cream coming down from the roof, the drink list itself was surprisingly mundane, with only about seven drinks in total. I suppose I expected something like the (Non) Drug Cocktail I drank last time, but instead I had to choose between Sky Blue or Smirnoff bottles, unless I wanted to do a Jagger shot for the same price as a regular drink (¥700 yen, by the way for all of them). I suppose maybe I was just expecting too much, but it is a shame to have such a cool place with very few drinks with no flare to them at all.

The only “specialty drink” there was a Love Shot. What’s a Love Shot? It’s a container of some alcohol, which can be opened on both top and bottom. Two participants in this (sure to backfire and ruin shirts) experiment try to blow the liquor into the other’s face for them to drink.

I suppose they were going for something risque and sexy, but really it just seemed kind of silly. If there was even one really cool, really expensive signature kind of drink available, I would’ve paid for it just to have the experience. Instead, yay Smirnoff.

In case you’re wondering, yes they did serve some cafe food! A whole big section was marked off for people wanting to eat (with about a half hour time limit to sit). There were only four menu items to choose from, colorful noodles and a Valentine Cake being two of the choices. Since we already drank too much for heavy food to sit comfortably in our stomachs, my friends and I chose the simple “Friedo Potato” (french fry) snack . The interesting thing about it was the sauces: ketchup, mustard, wasabi, cheese, sour cream, and chocolate.

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Oddly enough I really liked the wasabi flavor, as it was so mild it just tasted a little spicy. I discovered that I’m definitely not a choco-fry fan, but the other flavors were fine in my opinion. All the same, a bit underwhelming in comparison to the food available in the daylight hours.

I was also bummed out that the ticket entrance price itself was ¥3,700. I was under the impression that if I wore a suit the price would be cheaper, but nope. Only if you called ahead and made a “reservation” did you get money off. The reservation, by the way, was just advance ticketing. Everybody who showed up at the door got that same price, suit or no it didn’t matter. If I’d known that, I would’ve opted out of wearing one entirely.

All in all, I had a fun time, danced and watched some great ladies shake it until dawn. It makes for a great experience, and an interesting compare and contrast from what I knew the Kawaii Monster Cafe to be versus how it is on a Saturday night. The atmosphere and mood, 10 out of 10, definitely great. Everything else, like the drinks and the food, are only maybe 2 out of 10. I would recommend it to least try it once, but every single weekend? Maybe no.


If you know of another cool themed restaurant or venue for a night out, put it in the comments below! 

Posted in Travels in Japan

When You Miss the Last Train

Despite the fact that Tokyo is a huge metropolis completely capable of 24 hour transportation, it chooses not to because reasons. Last trains are generally from 11:00 p.m.to 12:00 a.m. Most train lines start back up at around 5:00 a.m. In general, you’ll just need to stay somewhere for about 5 hours or so if you miss the last way back.

Still, where do you go? What are your options? Well, you’ve got plenty of them! But I’ve narrowed it down to the top five things you can do if you missed your last hope towards home.

#5: Internet Cafes

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Wikipedia Commons

In Kentucky, internet cafes weren’t exactly common, and what few there were didn’t have much besides computers with quarter slots. Japan’s internet cafes are a completely different thing, it’s not even an apples and oranges comparison.

Internet cafes will have large lounge chairs, small mat rooms, and other types of corner office spaces transformed into a cheap place to crash. For less than ¥2,000 you can sleep in that space for 8 hours, and it only gets cheaper if you want to stay for less time.

Of course, the main reason it’s so cheap is because it’s not like a hotel. Your small space will have very, very thin walls. No pajamas or amenities unless you want to pay (about ¥700 for a set). They will give a blanket for warmth, but that’s about it.

Manboo is my top pick, because 8 hours at Manboo you’ll pay ¥1,600 to stay. Also, in my experience every Manboo I’ve ever stayed at has showers that are nice. Other internet cafes will have showers too, but they’re not always as well maintained as Manboo’s. They even have ¥500 t-shirts available if you want to feel a little less grungy in the morning.

#4: Capsule Hotels 

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Wikipedia

Capsule hotels have an interesting reputation abroad, with many tourists wanting to stay in them for the sheer novelty. They are generally pretty cheap, running between ¥3,000 to ¥7,000 a night. Why are they more expensive than internet cafes? Well, you get more stuff usually.

Unlike an internet cafe, you’ll have a bed with sheets and blankets. You’ll be given a locker for your stuff, as well as pajamas to sleep in along with shower packs (razors may or may not be included though). The walls aren’t as thin as the internet cafes, so odds are your sleep will be more restful.

However, a big downside to capsule hotels is that so many of them are for men only. For whatever reason, all internet cafes are fine with men and women, but capsule hotels can be only men. There are some co-ed and a few only women capsules, but not all. Be sure to check out if you can get in before you check in!

#3: Business Hotels

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Japan-Guide.com– “Business Hotels”

Business hotels are intended for Japan’s salarymen, the business guys who travel a lot and want a no frills hotel room. You’ll get the basics here, a bed to sleep in with a bathroom. It’ll have towels and soap, but don’t expect anything 5 star. These rooms will range from ¥5,000-¥20,000 depending on what kind of place you’re going to stay in.

For example, I usually stay at the small ones about ten minutes walk away from the nearest train station. Those tend to not have as many people in them, and will welcome someone trudging in a midnight needing a room.

If you get one close to the station and has more than fifteen levels (and say possesses a bright neon sign that stays lit even in the darkest of nights) odds are it’s going to cost you much more.

And honestly, for the money you’re going to spend, there’s not much difference between a lower end business hotel and a higher end one. You’ll just be wasting money if you pay more than ¥5,000 for one night, since they all come with the same basic amenities (that aren’t very good). For Americans, if you know what a Holiday Inn Express is, you will be getting more or less the same thing with a Japanese business hotel.

#2: Love Hotels

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Kotaku– “Inside Japan’s Plasure Hotels”

For these, the price range can be super cheap from ¥3,000 to a whopping ¥50,000! So be careful and ask before you just sign up for a room. Usually with love hotels you need to have a partner with you, you can’t just sleep by yourself, but that’s fine! Grab your friend who no doubt stayed out late with you and make them experience this!

Love hotels generally on the outside look, well, ridiculous. They’ll have the oddest names like “Goddess” or “Passion” or something crazy like “Hotel Castle” and even be in the shape of a castle! Neon lights, signs with purple or pink colors, some kind of theme or statue to set it apart from everything else around it, they’re just amazing to see.

The reason some of them are so expensive is because some rooms have unique designs and themes, and along with them a bunch of adult toys to play with. They’re made for a night of love making, after all, but the big ones make an American honeymoon suite in Las Vegas look tame in comparison. Meanwhile, the cheaper ones fit with the hotel theme, but they’re smaller and just provide lube and condoms. Basically, you’ll be staying in a room with a friend (or special friend *wink,wink*) for cheap if you find the right place.

#1: McDonalds, Saizeriya, Denny’s, Jonathans, Gusto, etc.

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Satoko Kawasaki Photo featured in Japan Times

Let’s say you don’t want to stay at a hotel. The morning trains are coming soon enough, you don’t want to shell out your precious money for a room you’re only going to use for a few hours. Family restaurants are for you then!

Denny’s, Jonathans, Gusto, just to name a few, are all 24 hours. They will serve you food and get you sober for that first train back home. Those restaurants offer sit down meals that will fill you up, too. However, if you want to be super cheap, the golden arches are also 24 hours for your convenience. McDonalds will be the place to go for free WiFi too, so if you want to watch a movie on your smartphone, eat a greasy burger, and just chillax until the trains are running that’s where you want to go.

All in all, these are the options that I like the best. These are also, for me, the safest options as I’m a female who often travels alone. If you’re a male, you might be able to get away with just sleeping on the sidewalk. I’ve seen plenty of guys doing that after a night of hard drinking. But if you want a good place to stay, these are the best and cheapest options for you.


 If you liked this, please hit the like button. Share with someone you know who needs this info.  Do you have a topic you want me to write about? Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you. 

 

 

Posted in Travels in Japan, YouTube Videos

I Went to Korea!

 

Finally! I did it. I went to Korea (the South part, of course, I’m not a risk taker). A couple of friends from JET moved over there semi-recently and I promised them over and over again that one day I would hop on a plane to see them. I booked my flight and got out right as summer vacation started, giving me about one week to travel around the country.

The first place was near Incheon, where I’d be staying with one of my friends in her apartment. Thanks to her, I didn’t need a hotel for most of my stay and I’m appreciative of that. If and whenever you can, go where your friends are, and you’ll sure to feel right at home even far away. She let me crash on her floor, fed me, sent me all these messages telling me where to go, she was da bomb!

We headed out together on the KTX (Korea’s version of the Shinkansen, only much cheaper), to Deagu. There we met up with our other friend and toured around a bit. We hit up Duryu Park, which is where I decided to start off the vlog.

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At night, we went up Deagu Tower and took all the pictures. (Sidenote: I also just so happened to buy my first ever selfie-stick there. I’m officially a mellinial.) Deagu Tower is located in EWorld, a kind of knock of Disney Land, which was really pretty and romantic looking at night.

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All three of us went down to Busan, and that meant BBQ and beach time! I didn’t vlog it, but there is a Brazilian place near the beach that is just AMAZING. They just keep bringing over meat on sticks and filling you up, but it’s never enough! I can’t recommend it enough.

 

The beach itself was actually nice and clean, the waters were pretty clear. The only issue I had was that the lifeguards weren’t letting people swim out very far at all. I don’t know if it was some sort of safety issue, be it sharks or strange swimming regulations, but they wouldn’t let anyone go further than chest high. Still, it was a nice day, and I got tanned up.

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After the beach day, I decided to visit the Busan Sea Life Aquarium. They have otters! And their special “Finding Real” exhibits had all the fish from Finding Nemo/Dory. The kids were loving that, but I was all about the sharks. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by them, although my brother was the real fanatic when we were youngin’s.

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The last day in Busan, I ran off to a seaside temple. Apparently, I didn’t managed to take any videos of that side trip, which is a rotten shame. The whole place was simply magical, the way the waves were beating against the side of the cliff holding the temple, the serenity of the sea breeze, I can’t capture it in words. Luck for me, I did remember to do photos, so I have those to commemorate the experience.

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My friend and I returned to Incheon that day. She told me about a bus that could easily take me into Seoul, so that’s what I ended up doing for the last leg of my journey.

The first thing I did immediately was go to Gyeonbokgung Palace. I spent the majority of that day simply walking the grounds.

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I ran into a museum half way through the day to get out of the heat, though. I couldn’t believe how hot it got! I stayed there recuperating my energy until I could make myself move and find more things to discover.

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I ended up finding more gates and stone guards. That night I tried to go to the market, but apparently if there aren’t that many people around they will just close up shop before even 8:00 roles around. It was disappointing not to get that experience, but overall I couldn’t complain about the other adventures.

The next tourist site was Seoul Tower. It took me a long time to figure out how to get to it, a combination of very rude/unhelpful tourist guide information people at the Seoul Train Station and my lack of GPS navigation. On that note, I highly suggest that if you can splurge, go ahead and grab a pocket WiFi from the airport. Getting around Seoul without a smartphone was a pain, and the maps were just an urban mess. Still, I found my way to my destination, eventually.

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The view from up there was amazing! I spent so much time wandering around and around the tower just looking out at the horizon. Unfortunately, just as I started taking pictures, a mist or a fog of some kind swooped in, messing up the shots very effectively.

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Oh well, it was still a fun time. After that, I returned to have one last dinner with my friend, a proper Korean BBQ dinner with pork and kimuchi. I really enjoyed getting to see her and our mutual friend. I hope one day I can go back and see them, and perhaps even see other friends that have moved out there.

Until then though…

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