Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Revisiting Seoul: Hop on Hop Off - Nami Island, Petite France

Day 4: Nami Island, Petite France day tour

Since I'm still heartbroken that I wasn't able to book a piso fare to Tokyo, I will just reminisce about my previous Seoul trip. Nami Island is one of the must see tourist spots in Korea because it's the shooting location of Hallyu drama, Winter Sonata. But aside from that, its a nice one day side trip because its an island accessible from Seoul. 

There's a shuttle bus from Seoul to Nami Island. The bus stop is located on Insadong near Tapgol Park but you need to buy a ticket a day before your preferred schedule. The fixed departure time is 9:30AM and you'll be travelling back to Jamsil station (back to Seoul) by 4PM. A one-way trip costs 7,500 won while a round trip ticket costs 15,000 won. 

My sister and I woke up early to catch the train to Gapyeong Station. It's cheaper but with more transits. We chose this option because we can control our itinerary. 

  1. From Myeongdong Station, alight to Sangbong Station (1 transfer, 15 stations, 1 hour)  
  2. From Sangbong Station take Gyeongchun Line and get off Gapyeong Station (45 minutes, 30 minutes train interval) 
  3. We missed the hop on hop off bus by 1 minute :( We took a taxi to Namiseom Island parking lot (15 minutes travel time, 3,000 won)  

Looking back, I realized that I had the same instructions on my 2013 trip itinerary but we weren't able to go to the 2nd step because of a misunderstanding. We thought that there's no scheduled train that day, what they meant was there's a 30 minute interval for trains. =))

Immigration to Namiseom
The taxi dropped us on the parking lot and after  a 5 minute walk, we arrived at Namiseom's Immigration. We paid for 8,000won for our visa and fare for the ferry.
Ferry ride to Nami Island
We lined up and waited for our turn to ride the ferry. There's a big morning crowd but its not a problem because the ferry goes back and forth in 5 minutes interval. 

temporary relief from cold
As expected, its extra cold because we're in an island.
hotdogs for breakfast
We didn't have time to eat proper breakfast so this hotdog was our first food for the day.

Biking in the island
our family bike
Unfortunately, my sister doesn't know how to ride a bike so we rented the family bike instead of the tandem/couple bicycle. The staff warned us that it will be too heavy for us but balancing together on a couple bike is a bigger risk. We persuaded the staff to allow us to rent this and true to his word, there were several instances where locals pushed our bike to help us get through elevated areas. =))

Bulgogi for lunch
We had to travel for 3 hours to Nami Island to have our first non spicy food for lunch!
Trolling the Winter Sonata couple

Sonata Cafe

coffee and fried pancake
Because its too cold, coffee is always a good choice.
Four seasons in Nami Island

Autumn in Nami Island
Daredevils are somewhere in that photo
Yes, some tourists preferred going to Nami Island though a zip line rather than riding the ferry.
Bye Nami
By 1PM, we've already explored the island so we went back to the Nami Island parking lot where the hop on hop off bus is located. We arrived in time for the 1:15PM bus ride to Petite France. We paid 5,000won for our ticket that we can use for the entire day. We even have a tour guide but she generally speak in Korean and Japanese. There's a funny moment when she caught our full attention after saying "on your left", but then proceeded to speaking in another language.
Plot your schedule using this table 

After 30 minutes, we arrived at Petite France. It is a French cultural village, youth training facility and also the shooting location of some of my favorite TV shows, My Love from Another Star, Secret Garden and Running Man! 

Do Manager and Cheon Song Yi
Scenes from Running Man episode
Colorful and vintage style
I wasn't able to verify but according to Korea's tourism site, it consist of 16 French style buildings, guests can stay on guesthouse, enjoy French inspired restaurants and stores.

THE Secret Garden jacket =))
Where to?
Petite France, also known as Little Prince theme park, has exhibits, art installations and decors inspired by Saint-Exupery, the author of Le Petit Prince. We're able to catch a percussion instruments show on the open area stage. It only took us an hour to explore the whole place then we're off to catch the bus then train to go back to Seoul. The entrance fee is 8,000won and it's open from 9AM to 6PM. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jung Yong Hwa's solo album: One Fine Day

CNBLUE endorsing The Class = best visual award
CNBLUE is my OT4, so when I heard about Jung Yong Hwa's plan to launch a solo album as early as last year, I was a little worried on what will happen to the band.  They just won 4 awards from Golden Disk aka Korean Grammy Awards. I can't blame people who don't get the reason why he needs to launch and produce his own album when he's already the band's leader and main vocalist. I streamed the album online because my pre-order from CNBLUEStorm will arrive in February wohooo and after hearing "One Fine Day", the best answer that I can think of is that he has too much to offer but he doesn't want to compromise CNBLUE's sound IMO.

You see, his role in CNBLUE doesn't end in singing the songs or playing the guitar, he's involved in producing the music, writing the lyrics and even arranging the songs. I like how generous he is with his bandmates, the perfect example is "Coffee Shop" where almost everyone have their solo moments, even the fans have their chants! Maybe he thought that its time to write music where he doesn't need to think of the band. 

His title song is "One Fine Day", a ballad that showcased his strong vocals. Some immature people were shocked by the kissing scenes, but give him a break, do you expect him to be the second lead (like in his dramas) on his own music video?! I was actually expecting a dark sexy metal title song but we're given a ballad that showcased his emotional side. It's a good or bad thing that I didn't know what to expect on this album and his title song.  The song grows on me, I just found myself singing "ganuel, ganuel, ganuel.." 

I like the fact that his collaborations are with his sunbae (senior) musicians. I mean, to be honest, the easy route is to have a duet with Ailee or IU, the popular female vocalists who happens to be his friends. But, he used this opportunity to work with musicians who influenced him as a child and now as an artist. In an interview, he mentioned that doesn't care about the rankings. He wishes that the album will be recognized as a good album and that he's not just an idol but a musician. Well, its a damn good album and it ranked #1 on iTunes for 7 Asian countries!

His debut stage on MNET Countdown is with Verbal Jint for the song "Energy". I have limited K-Pop and Korean music knowledge - I only like CNBLUE but I come across different artists while waiting for their turn on music shows or festivals - but I've learned that he's a respected hip hop artist. Since "Mileage" was pre-released before the album, I was expecting an RnB type of collaboration but they produced a pop rock song, it's a nice surprise.
Look at that smile of satisfaction after "Cruel Memories" duet with YoonDoHyun, an iconic Korean band vocalist and YongHwa's childhood hero. I really love YDH's raspy voice and effortless rock style. They proved that musicians don't need fancy background to entertain, they just stood, sang and owned the stage. I'm also happy on how "Checkmate", a cross border collaboration with JJ Lin, a Chinese superstar, turned out. Thank you, YongHwa for introducing me to these talented musicians. I'm currently loving JJ Lin's collaboration with Jason Mraz!

The best thing that happened after "Three Musketeers" TV series is "Mileage" collaboration with Yang Dong Guen!
 
I'm in love with this cheeky and fun music video and I was so happy to see Yong Dancing King's debut at Inkigayo. On YongHwa's MBC Section TV interview, he mentioned that YDG asked him if they're going to China =)). YDG even mentioned that he's happy to collaborate with a hallyu star, in a way, I think it helps that it gives YongHwa a new perspective since his sunbaes aren't used to this global attention. We'll its not that he has an attitude and needs to be grounded but these reminders are great to let him appreciate what he has, I think.
Arm dance, partida may guitar pa yan
Awww, you've come a long way from I'm Sorry arm dance days. I'm happy to say that I've seen it in Cant Stop live in Manila=))

I really enjoyed piano driven ballad "Without You" and "Last Leaf" with haunting vocals "Beautiful world..Beautiful love..ohhhh". It feels like "Cold Love" part 2 which is not a bad thing because I really love "Cold Love"!  "Goodnight Lover" is so familiar yet it's something new. Maybe it's the trademark, JYH pop rock feel, good track with English words =))

"One Fine Day" ends with "27 Years", a collaboration with American producer Peter Malick. The uplifting song aptly closes the album with JYH looking back on his childhood, realizations on what he's achieved so far and what's ahead. Hopefully, the future will be CNBLUE becoming a haraboji/grandpa band. =))

                 

As part of his promotion, he stars on his own reality show "Hologram". He's actually the producer PDnim, writer-nim and artist =)) Aside from promoting on music shows, I wish to see him on Yul's Sketchbook where he can perform his new songs live.



I love how the CNBoys supported YongHwa on his debut stage. At the rate things are going, FNC already announced his solo Asian tour that will go on until June. I'm happy because he deserves all the success and opportunities that he's getting as a solo artist but I hope we'll get a CNBLUE Japanese album in between and a strong Korean comeback this year!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chilly New Year in Baguio

It probably wasn't the best idea to go up to Baguio City because 1.6 Million people also decided to spend the first weekend of 2015 there. But my balikbayan relatives already missed the cold weather so we decided to go up north. We prepared a list of must see places (Ben Cab Museum, La Presa) and must try restaurants (50's Diner, Cafe by the Ruins, Ketchup Community ) but we had to change to plan B because of the traffic within the city and the restaurants were fully booked.

It only took us more than 3 hours from our province Nueva Ecija to Baguio proper.We're expecting a carmageddon on our way back to Manila but thankfully, it was only a 4hours commute to Caloocan. We may not be able to go through with our planned itinerary but here are the top 15 things/places we enjoyed on our 3 days, 2 nights stay on the Philippine's summer capital:

1) Seeing the lion's head after several hours on the road means that you've finally reached Baguio City! We had our mandatory tourist shots and treated ourselves to a delicious strawberry taho!
stawberry taho is <3
2) Although the brown water on this man made lake looks scary, we tried Swan boating at Burnham Park.  
My parents and aunts said "thanks, but no thanks" =))
We're in the middle when we realized that there's an option to pedal instead of paddling our way to this lake. There's a mini heartattack moment when one of my cousins quickly transferred to our boat. We lost our balance for a while and I was already planning how to save my phone and how not to stranggle my cousin =))
Pedaling our way
 3) While we're on full tourist mode, we also rented a tri-bike

 ..and a bicycle
still at Burnham Park
4) I really like where we stayed. Albergo Hotel is near the Mansion, Botanical Garden, Wright Park and even Ketchup Community - yeah, we passed by the fully packed restaurants every day. Plus, it even has a Korean grocery store where we enjoyed Banana Milk and Melona ice creams! 

5) Since it's difficult to find a restaurant for 27pax, we went to SM Baguio for grocery and my aunts cooked our dinner and breakfast meals instead.

6) Start the day with strawberry ice cream =)
strawberry everything!
7) My Ninang wanted to see La Presa, the shooting location of Forevermore TV serries but we ended up in La Trinidad. She was disappointed that it was few hours away so we settled on a nearby strawberry farm, and I get her, its like eating sulbing at JongHyun's and another branch. =))
strawberry picking at La Trinidad
8) We needed to pick at least 1 kilo/450pesos worth of strawberries.Wow, I never realized that it was that hard to fill up this entire basket! It was so traffic on our way to our next destination that I ate half kilo worth of these!
our basket
9) Too bad there's no cadet activities when we went to PMA


10) but we enjoyed this beautiful view 

11) We we're greeted by heavy traffic from PMA to Camp John Hay to Mines View so we gladly stopped by and munched on these street food!

12) The lovely view at Mines View Park

13) We also went to Good Sheperd for the must buy pasalubongs: choco flakes, ube and strawberry jams!

14) We we're hungry and 50's Diner has a long waiting list. We settled for Yamashita, a hole in a wall Japanese restaurant beside it. A hot ramen on a cold weather was a good idea.

Grabbed from Yamashita's Fb
15) Before going back to Manila, we went to Baguio Cathedral and Grotto to offer our intentions. We weren't able to attend the full mass because of parking issues but we lighted our candles on the Grotto.
Grotto
Tourism boom in Baguio has its share of pros and cons. I'm happy that it can provide livelihood for the locals but the city traffic that it caused is really disappointing. It will take at least an hour to go to another place, but maybe it was also a peak season. But I still envy them because Baguio seems like a nice place to live in, me thinks that they have this chill aura because of the fine weather.

Reflections on 2014, an awesome, epic year!

It's the 19th day of January but I feel like its only now that the New Year's fireworks show has ended. I had almost two weeks of holiday from the Christmas and New Year break but I hardly felt it because of the get together schedule with family and friends. I'm not complaining though. Then, I had another 3 days holiday due to the Papal visit but I mostly spent it with my relatives from California and on another family gathering for the dela Cruz side. 

I was also closely following Pope Francis' activities and now that we've sent him off to his flight back to Italy, it feels like the midnight of January 1st. Like the whole neighborhood already fell asleep and its now a quiet and peaceful time for me to reflect on the highs and lows of my 2014.
my 2014 in a nutshell
In my 2014 planner, I wrote that "2014 is my most awesome year everrrrrrr!" and I claimed it! I started the year by finally moving out of our ancestral house to my own condo unit! A series of house warming parties/ get together with family and friends happened in my little home. I'm happy that I was able to share my home to the important people in my life. Even my cousins from LA were able to visit me here. Fortunately or unfortunately, I've also turned into full on lola mode as I now prefer intimate lunch with my friends at home or on a nice restaurant rather than staying up all night on a crowded bar.

It was truly my Wanderlust year as I was able to cross out my dream local (Vigan, Ilocos & Pagudpud) and Asian destinations! I was able to do a solo backpacker tour in Tokyo and returned to Manila in one piece with twice as much baggage. After 3 years, I was able to travel again with my family, we went to Malaysia and Singapore. I can't believe that on the same epic year, I  went back to Seoul, this time, with my sister. It's just fitting that I was voted as "Dora the Explorer" on my office year-end fun awards. I love the cycle of researching for my itinerary, the actual trip and making my photobook to document it.

It's also the year of "fangirling" as I was able to catch Ginebra's opening game at Philippine Arena, Takeru Satoh and Rurouni Kenshin's mall show and CNBLUE's concert in Manila (I hope to get to watch their concert in Japan this year). Fangirling is expensive never stops. =))

It's the year that I lost my grandmother but consequently the time that I realized that I should always make an effort to be there for my mother. I also welcomed 3 godchildren and I hope that I can continue being there for them and their parents. 

More importantly, its the year that I've been closer to God and I pray that I'll improve on this aspect more. As of today, my 2015 planner has a lot of blank spaces, not because I don't have any plans but I'm open to twist and turns that I might encounter. My only New Year's resolution is to work hard to be secure of myself - emotionally, physically and financially. I have this habit of finding a reason to be offended, if someone is late, if someone says no. I want to be secure of myself and don't put bad intent to unintentional/intentional actions of others. I want to hold on to positive, inspiring and encouraging people/thoughts and let go of the rest. I want to be physically secured and take better care of my health and finally, be wiser on financial decisions. I think that being secured in those 3 aspects and with God's grace, 2015 will be another banner year for me. :)