Seoul Travels Part 2

I was told off! Ok, maybe that is a bit too harsh, but apparently my posts are super lengthy, and you know what? I agree! The last thing I want to do is to kill my audience as opposed to entertain them.

So ladies and gents, good news! From now on I am trying a new approach based on the above feedback! I will be aiming for more digestible snippets as opposed to trying to compete with the writings of Marcel Proust in length.

Would be interested to hear your feedback on it, but for now let’s continue with Seoul, shall we?

I thought that in this post I would burst the bubble of Korean cosmetics and guide you through the underground malls of Seoul, or at least the ones I came across. Don’t shy away from them, they are serious sourcing locations for music geeks, craft and food lovers… Read along to find out more!

When it comes to South Korea, the one thing you will read everywhere is about their cosmetics; the greatness of it, the variety of it and not to mention the abundance of it. And it is true! At least the last one, but I am sure many swear for the others too. Personally, I was mostly amazed by the number of cosmetic shops located on tiny streets or in fact on any streets. At one point I think I counted seven adjacent cosmetics shops. It seems like a never-ending opportunity for them with girls standing outside and trying to get you in the shop by handing out free promotional stuff. But how much you can actually buy, or should you buy?

Well, let’s look at the positives of this cosmetics heaven;

Price: Competition creates lower prices, and it is definitely the case in Seoul. You can stock up on reasonably priced creams, foundation and face masks. Oh the face masks…. I think one could write a full book on them, the variety is just crazy, you can find some with avocado, aloe vera, coconut, clay, enriching minerals…. You get the picture…really, with everything.

Location: Think about it this way… if you can’t find it in the first shop, you will in the second, third, fourth… or the ninth and you still only walked 500 metres. Win-win situation.

Promotion: You should really watch out for the promotions in the shops as you can get some good value for money. Like the buy one get one free (my personal favourite!) or get a free gift with the purchase offers.

 

Now the downside…

I mean do you really need any of these items? It is a frank conversation that you need to have with yourself as it is soooooo easy to get weak and you will end up buying things that you will never ever use. Trust me, I know! It happened to me before, but to add to my tragic, I was seriously jet lagged after a 16 hours flight to Los Angeles, and I thought it would be a good idea to go shopping. I went into this mall where they had all these stalls with free samples and 24k gold face mask and much worse. They lure you into a conversation on how pretty you are, how nice your hair is and from that it is downside if you show any weakness. And I must have, as I ended up buying loads, that you have rightfully guessed, never ever used. The funny thing is that these products all seem to work when they try it on you, and as soon as you get home and try them; you no longer see the miracle difference about your wrinkles or the softness of your skin. I wonder how they do it…

So ladies, one piece of advice, be strong and fierce and have a budget that you will be happy to pour down the drain. Otherwise you will end up like me, and would not even admit it to your own sister how much you actually spent on creams!

Now, in Seoul I managed to stay strong and reasonable… well, at least I think… Let me share with you the goodies I left with… and I was very happy with them, no regrets whatsoever! (unlike after my Los Angeles trip!!)

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My Bioderma gift set

Bioderma… I mean can you beat this? I needed some make up remover anyway and knew that it was one of the best brands. Watsons (one of the cosmetic shops where they actually don’t try to lure you into anything) had an offer on where the 500ml bottle came with a 250ml sibling. Price is 38USD. I am currently using the blue bottle that is for dehydrated sensitive skin. I love the smell and my skin afterwards, though yes, with my mascara it struggles a bit, but after the second wipe, it is OK.

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Snail cream, made in Korea. They had regular and intensive

Snail cream… well, my sister and mum are always going on about them, that they are supposed to be great, so I wanted to surprise them with these. They also had a great variety, so you will most certainly find something that will suit your needs and budget. 10USD and above.

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My Vichy twin set

Now, my old time favourite is the mineral mist! I mean give me something else that in 34C degrees will cool your red face down and will refresh you in public without you making a clown out of yourself. You can’t! It is so refreshing, I normally spray on my face, hair, neck and cleavage and no, it will not smudge your make up. Best used after popping it in the fridge for a while. They had offers on various brands, but I opted for the travel-sized Vichy buy one get one free pack; 16USD for the double pack. The bigger size was actually even more economical; the only problem with that is carrying around such a huge bottle!

Fun fact….

If your make up, deodorant, mineral face spray needs retouching whilst you are on the go in Seoul do not be ashamed to pop into one of the stores and refresh yourself. It is normal, don’t be shy, everyone does it, well, at least the locals, and no, they don’t even get a look ( ok, maybe I looked at them a bit surprised, but the first time only, after that I was like, hah, give me a bit of that as well to try!)

So I managed not to go overboard this time on cosmetics and only bought the things I know I would use. Although I am going to share with you my old time favourite product, the one, which I cannot live without, and as you can see I have a substantial amount of it stocked up in my bathroom. Luckily, they sell this originally Australian beauty in Hong Kong… as before, I had to beg people to bring some for me whenever they travelled to Australia.

I prefer the travel size option and I always carry one in my bag. When I use it as a lip balm, fine, no reaction from people, the fun part begins when I start using it on mosquito bites or burns so basically on the rest of my body. Then I normally get the look, followed by the question of ‘what the hell is that?!’ Well, it is my miracle cream, that I pretty much use for everything. From, as you have guessed my lips to dry skin on my feet to all face moisturisers in the evenings, but it is also good for boils, burns, chafing, cuts, cracked skin, gravel rash, splinters, open wounds, insect bites and nappy rash. I just love this cream, great for so many things and it is all-natural       (fermented papaya). My love for  Luca’s Papaw ointment is forever!

 

What else is worth getting in Seoul… Well, I am sure many things, but the ones I came across were these

Vinyls….

I stumbled across this underground shopping mall near my hotel and even though I am not a collector I was still amazed by the sheer volume of vinyls that I came across. The price from 5 USD also seemed reasonable. So if you are a real music geek or at least you know one, don’t forget to drop by this place.

Where to go: Head to the Hoehyun Shopping Centre in Myeongdong, just opposite of the Shinsegae Food Market

Craft material

From beads to ribbons to wood and much more! This underground shopping mall is a heaven for the crafts and hobby lovers. In many of the tiny shops they also do workshops. Happy crafting…

Where to go: Head to Namdaemunno Underground Shopping Centre

And for the serious food lovers

This underground arcade will bring tears in your eyes if you love your cakes, pastries, meat and basically all the good stuff that you can eat. Plus it may provide you with a great alternative to the local cuisine. We all have days when we want some comfort food or something that we are familiar with, and seriously who could say no to some nice jamón?

 

Where to go: Head Shinsegae Food Market in Myeongdong,  Business hours; Department store 10:30-20:00, Restaurant 11:00-21:30, Duty Free 09:30-21:00

I hope you enjoyed Seoul Travels Part 2, yes, as you may have guessed; there will be a Part 3. So visit back soon! Love_intentionally blonde

Tokyo Travels Part 2

As promised after my first entry, in this post you will read about my following Tokyo discoveries

Where to eat…

A bit of culture… aka where to hang out when you feel like being a kid and when you don’t mind acting like an adult (the second part will also work for sweeping ladies off their feet)

 Happy reading, planning and daydreaming!

Where to eat:

One thing we noticed in Tokyo was that restaurants close quite early everywhere, some at 10pm, others at 11pm, so bear that in mind when you are planning your evening. Also, on Sundays, most of the traditional Japanese restaurants and bars will be closed, so you may need to opt for a chain or a hotel restaurant.

Of course, there is no shortage in restaurants in Tokyo and it is great for exploring. Some will have English menu, at others you can choose from a picture selection, though you will come across a fair amount where you need to improvise. I remember our first time in Japan; we weren’t really prepared with Japanese expressions for pork, octopus and the rest, so after the first few restaurants where we had to randomly point at Japanese characters on the menu, we ended up drawing some animals on a piece of paper. You should have seen Antoine’s first attempt to draw a cow! Not that my chicken was that much better! So our ‘Pictionary’ attempts have eventually developed into what we named as our survivor card. Here it is for a bit of laugh.

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The one and only Japan survivor card from 2014

Nowadays we speak the basic food language so we can order chicken, beef, tuna and octopus, though we often are (ok mainly Antoine is) adventurous enough and just select a few things randomly on the menu, and hope (especially me) that it is not beef tongue or chicken skin that will follow.

But, when in Japan, you have to go with the flow and one thing you should do is to be brave enough to venture into the little traditional restaurants that are often filled with local people only. At first, it can be a bit intimidating, but once you downed your first cold sake, you will become more and more relaxed and will enjoy the experience. I have to admit, when I am on my own, I am slightly less brave, though with Antoine it is funny, as he doesn’t mind doing the initial assessment of the places and peeking through the little curtains and windows to check the places out. I follow him to most of the places…though I hold the veto power.

Japanese people are also very friendly, so if you show some willingness to communicate; a smile or a hand gesture could get you far. They also enjoy a brief conversation, and normally ask where you come from. This was the case in Yuki’s bar as well. We were actually going back to Shimbashi to try to find a restaurant that we enjoyed very much, back in January 2016, but unfortunately the place was closed. So we carried on with our search and ventured into the tiny streets, away from the crowds of Shimbashi. Yuki’s bar had a great entrance with huge stone steps and the ambience was a mixture of western and eastern charm. Was definitely a great spot for some cold sake, and as it turned out, also a place to start a new friendship.

We were offered to try at least 7 different types of sake, before settling for the one we liked the best, of course this was all on an empty stomach. But fear not, as some very delicious food followed… We ordered our usual sashimi plate, which was great, but despite me eating raw fish now, I have a tolerance level and once I reach that, I need something cooked! So luckily we got some baby grilled corns, followed by some pork slices with grilled peppers and shiitake. I just loved it. So much actually, that I wanted to come back and eat the same things again and again. Hence we told Yuki that we would be back.

Yes, that is me in the below mentioned devil horns, and I am very glad that the picture is so dark and blurry 🙂

In a couple of days time we returned as promised, but we only got to the bar as it was closing and we found Yuki in his boxers behind the bar, changing back from his work clothes. I was gutted as all day I was picturing myself having the pork and my grilled pimiento again, plus I was sooo hungry!

Yuki apparently had to meet his mum or that was what we understood, and he gestured that we should go with him. That was my chance gone of having a proper dinner that night, so I thought, and I pictured the 7/11 shelves and what might be left on it when we finally get around to eat. Sulk!

Before the rest of the story, you have to know that under no circumstances I do karaoke, and despite much encouragement from friends I still deny participation and just quietly and very quickly disappear from the scene. So to my luck Yuki took us to this private Japanese whisky/karaoke club that was run by his 70 years old mum, and as it seemed it also functioned as the family and friend-entertaining venue after the regular closing times. The evening turned out to be hilarious with a lot of sake and karaoke, and of course, us not singing was out of the question! I don’t think I’ve ever had such a crazy night; a room full of strangers being so welcoming and despite of us not understanding each other by words, the singing, the dancing and the hand signals did the job. And guess what, Yuki made some phone calls at the night, and shortly after we got our (my!!!) favourite dishes delivered and the same sake we had selected the other day. At one point I had an devil headpiece put on me by Yuki’s mother, who was also wearing one, and we danced and sang as if there was no tomorrow, until 1 am. Antoine had to get up that day at 6 am for his meeting. Oops.

We always planned to have a Japanese karaoke experience in those private rooms with Antoine, but never got around it, or just never had enough sake to build up the courage. I guess life had enough of our indecisiveness and arranged it for us!

Yuki, very sweetly, sent a message the following day in his broken English. “Yesterday thank you, September see you. “ As we were leaving that night we said that we were hoping to return to Tokyo for a few days in September.

Screenshots of our Google map entry and the bar found on Google. Just type this address in to locate the place; Japan, 〒105-0004 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Shinbashi, 2 Chome−13−13-3

So if you are Tokyo, and want to enjoy a great bar with great sake selection and food, please visit Yuki’s bar. Can’t guarantee the karaoke craze afterwards, but you will not be disappointed even with the standard experience, I promise. And please mention that you are there due to Tony’s and Adrienn’s recommendation and pass our regards onto Yuki.

A bit of culture

Akihabara: Anime nails and video games. Of course you must have read about the vide games in this area, but did you know that you can get super cool anime nails done here?! I went for some Studio Ghibli options; Totoro, Mae, Kiki and Jiji. Studio Ghibli fans out there, I know you will truly appreciate this! I loved it so much and it lasted for a good few weeks. Some things to consider though before you sit down in the nail salon chair. They are made from scratch, these are not stickers, but a truly amazing form of art and you can watch the whole process. It was actually pretty cool, even though to get one nail done was approximately 30-40 minutes and not that cheap as I recall it was ¥2000 per nail.

Pros to get it down here, amazing quality, lasts weeks and boyfriend can be occupied with the video games in the same building or nearby. Win- win situations, isn’t just?

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Must be at the beginning of the 2 hours sitting still 😉 though was very happy to watch the artist working

Some tips: don’t get base colour under the figure, only a see through coat, as once your nail grows it will be too obvious and you would need to get rid of the figure as well quite quickly.

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TADAM, the final result! Let me introduce you to Totoro, Kiki, Mae and Jiji ( from left to right) all painted from scratch, and I promise in reality my fingers are less sausage looking

You can take pictures with you as communications in English can be quite limited, though I mentioned the figure name, she Googled it, and I picked the image I most liked! Oh, and it is gel nail polish, so once you are done with it, you need to get is scraped off. Happy painting!

Where to go: Don Quijote shopping mall, Akihabara, ground floor – don’t expect a big shop, it is a couple of chairs in the corner. But look at the result! I went to the lady with purple hair, though she could have green hair by now!

Yes, as you have probably guessed this was the tip about where to hang out when you feel like being a kid. Before we move onto the slightly more grown up and serious ambience one final advice for the ladies out there who has never really been into video games (like me!!!). Do not shy away from the game parlours in Tokyo, they are certainly a unique experience, and I would have never thought I will say this, but also so much fun! I ended up trying out some dancing and drumming games to start with, and I loved the ones where they test your reflexes as you hit each illuminating character. We also tried some adventure and shooting games together, which were a lot of fun! Needless to say that Antoine beat me 19 games out of 20, and yes I won one!!!, but I loved it and am very glad I gave in. Some advise though: If you aim for the Pachinko floor, don’t forget about the noise and the smoke! Having said that there is never a queue at the ladies toilet here 😉 Who said I am not an optimist?!

So if the above didn’t rock your boat how about some amazing view of Tokyo city instead, a cold glass of Boulanger rose champagne and some smooth jazz music? If this is more like your thing then read along.

The first time we went to the New York Grill Bar at the Tokyo Park Hyatt was for last year’s New Year’s Eve. It was a surprise organised by me marking Antoine’s special birthday, yes, it was one of the big ones.We actually flew on the 31st and landed at Tokyo Narita airport after 7pm. Our reservation was for after 9pm and I knew we had to race through the city, locate our Airbnb for the night (wanted to stay walking distance of the hotel in case of public transport disaster on the night, who would have thought that on New Year’s Eve in Tokyo it is as easy to find a taxi on the street as finding a 7/11 in Asia. Lesson learnt!)

So, just as most of the time, me, stressing about the time and hoping we will have 10 minutes in the flat to actually get ready for a super posh night, whilst Antoine is casually strolling through Shinjuku station admiring anything that is Japanese. This was the point when I thought, OK let’s break the silence about the surprise appointment, though according to Antoine, no issues, we can just stroll around in the city and pop into a bar, yeah, good luck with that on the 31st of December! Anyhow, eventually we located our tiny apartment, got ready in 10 minutes, I think Antoine even had time to smoke a cigarillo, we hailed a taxi off the street and headed for the big surprise.

I loved the whole experience, it was a bit of a splurge, and needless to say that after the 5 courses of set menu we ended up locating a McDonalds at 3am, as the size of the meals were rather questionable. But we had gorgeous cold champagne, a bottle of cold sake, some amazing ambience and smooth live jazz in the background.

So this time in Tokyo Antoine had a business dinner (men only I guess) so I decided that instead of sitting alone in the hotel room, I shall find some entertainment for myself. Googled the Park Hyatt again, and it turned out that they have the jazz performance every night. Wohoooo, I thought, though the fact that I would be sitting alone in a bar made me a tiny bit uncomfortable, I still got my black little dress ready, found the one pair of heels I had packed just in case, put my Lady Danger lipstick on, and headed to the hotel.

There is jazz performance every day starting at 8pm, except on Sundays when it starts at 7pm. I managed to get there a bit after 8 and offered me a nice table. I ordered a glass of Boulanger and soaked in the jazz.

Not bad for a regular weekday, right?

Now lets talk about prices, ok, not cheap, as a glass of champagne starts at ¥2000, and it is easy to have more than one, but cocktails are slightly cheaper and they have some more reasonably priced drinks as well. If you are not a hotel guest, they also charge you ¥2400 cover charge from the time the concert begins, but think about it as a concert ticket price for a 3 hours jazz concert!

By the way if you have not seen the movie of Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, check out the hotel bar scene, as you might find it familiar.

Snaps of the hotel bar and its amazing murals

And finally, something in between, aka the golden middle… Ex-Theatre Roppongi

I really like the music of Damien Rice. So when I learnt that he was coming to play in Hong Kong naturally, I got very excited, then very annoyed. Unfortunately the tickets sold out a month prior to the concert and the one available ticket, that was originally 500HKD, was put on a resale website for 12000HKD!!! I don’t even know how that was legal!

So as it turned out Damien Rice was doing an Asian tour and he was going to be in Tokyo at the same time of our travel. We booked the tickets via Viagogo.com, which was fairy pleasant, though I suggest you get smart on the delivery options. Originally we opted for the tickets to be delivered to Hong Kong, but as nothing seemed to happen a week prior to the concert, we changed the delivery location to the hotel in Tokyo, which eventually worked.

The venue, Ex- Theatre Roppongi, was great. I loved the seating arrangement, with plenty of legroom, great lighting system during the show and well arranged exits and washrooms on each floor. We got there quite early, and formed a queue obediently. They operate on a drink chip system, where you pay ¥500 for a person and get one chip that you can exchange at the bar for any drinks. My suggestion would be to get a couple of chips at least (each), as when Antoine tried to go back for another set of Rum and Coke before the concert began (yes, even the drink choices will take you back a few years into your youth) a queue has developed that was going through 2 floor levels. Having said that, I’ve seen others bringing their own drinks in their backpacks.

In the Ex-Theatre Roppongi waiting for Damien Rice

So next time I am back in Tokyo, I will definitely check who plays there, as they seemed to have a good international selection with a comfortable and airy venue. In case you get unlucky, and nothing is on that would rock your boat, the venue has a rooftop bar that you can also enjoy, regardless.

Address: Ex-Theatre Roppongi 1-2-9 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, 1060031,Tokyo, Japan

 

Thanks for reading; this is the end of Tokyo Travels Part 2. More to follow in the next entry:

Where else to shop… ladies and gentlemen it is bargain hunting time

My best find during this visit…

For the couples and the romantic hearts out there…