I lost my capsule hotel virginity

A couple of months ago I visited Hong Kong for the very first time. It has been somewhat overwhelming for someone like me, who grew up in a tiny village and has chosen to live the small town life, for the most part at least. I have been to plenty of 5+ Million people cities before, but nothing has been quite as impressive as Hong Kong, the sheer density of high rise buildings and people on the street has had no match in the cities I’ve been to before.

It was a good idea then for me to book a stay in Hong Kong’s latest addition to the novelty hotel scene, the SLEEEP capsule hotel. What was an accident after days and weeks of research on hotel booking sites and evaluating prices, distances to sights and ratings turned out to be a godsend, as the hotel delivers what the name promises: Sleeep, and plenty of it, in a quiet and serenely blackened out setting, drowning out the relentless noise backdrop of Hong Kong’s Central area.

The only real hurdle with SLEEEP is to find its location, as it is halfway up a fairly steep (steeep?) set of stairs, hidden in a small entryway.Once you are there though you are welcomed by the owners themselves, which is both a sign of their hospitality and the fact that your stay is supporting a new small business venture, which is always a plus. On the first inspection of the

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Once you are there though you are welcomed by the owners themselves, which is both a sign of their hospitality and the fact that your stay is supporting a new small business venture, which is always a plus. On the first inspection of the place, I noticed the modern interior and the environmentally friendly water heating systems as the most positive features of the place, followed closely by the super comfortable memory foam mattress and pillows and the welcoming staff. The water from the showers is heated by the residual heat of the air conditioning. The complimentary toiletries have been sourced from a local indie brand. There is a clean water dispenser where you can refill your water bottles for free.

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But the best part of it: apart from the occasional stir when people move in/out or go to the bathroom, the place is a haven of silence. You close the main door behind you, climb into your capsule, close the black heavy felt curtain and you are in your own little world. I have had a few chats with the founders of the hotel, who explained that from experience Hong Kongers get little to no sleep due to their fast-paced work and social lives, and the sheer density of the place with all of its people, cars, noises and neon lights prevents them from a good night’s rest when they actually do make it into bed.  That’s why Sleeep wanted to provide a place where all kinds of people can come to recharge, right in the centre of the city. This is why they are open for bookings by the hour, and more than a few of their guests stay for just a lunch time nap. However, you can stay for a longer period of time if you are a tourist who enjoys the busy bustle of the city for exploring, but wants to shut it out overnight.

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Going Seoul-o

20170421_115114For months I have been day-dreaming about and planning for a trip to Seoul, and in February I finally sealed the deal by booking my flights. As a perpetually single person and very happy solo traveller there was not one doubt in my mind whether I could do this by myself, despite the language barrier and all. Because why the hell not. I can read a map, I can print out a few sheets of phrases in Korean to help me get by, and I can learn about etiquette and rules before I go there and without ever needing access to a smartphone.

By the way, if you have developed such an unhealthy bond to your mobile phone that your life’s motto could be “Google first – think later” (someone hire me as a slogan-writer please. Also, this IS my life’s motto.), you won’t have to go without. You can leave that mobile data function turned off once you disembark your plane in Seoul as it will be completely unnecessary there. There is free WiFi access at almost all public spaces – don’t forget that this town is the central hub for Samsung and more in love with technology than any other place. My point is: you can get an “egg”, a nifty little mobile WiFi device, at the airport, but you probably won’t need it. There is, however, no free WiFi on the metro trains, only on the platforms, which is kind of a shame. But then compared to other cities (I’m looking at you, Hong Kong) Seoul will very likely be sharing her WiFi with you if you ask nicely, you might just have to walk a few blocks for access. Some other things you need to know and bring:

  • City and Public Transport Maps – these are often provided at hotels and tourist information centres anyway, but I wanted to know where I am going from the moment I exited the airport so I brought a print out of a map I (you guessed it) googled. I ended up always keeping this in my pocket for the occasions where I got on a train and completely forgot where I was going. It saved my behind from going the wrong direction a few times. You can also download a Seoul transport map app, for example from Mapway Seoul
  • Important Phrases, even if it’s just “Hello”, “Please” and “Thank You”. Being polite and at least trying to make an effort will get you a long way. A lot of Koreans don’t speak a lot of English so if you need something from them they will appreciate you meeting then half way. Also remember to take a small bow before and after transactions, e.g. when saying thank you and after exchanging money for goods. It’s basic etiquette.
  • The names and addresses of your hotel(s) in Korean in case you hop on a taxi whose driver doesn’t speak English, which is a strong possibility, or simply when you find yourself lost and you need to ask a stranger for directions.
  • A brief written extract of every video about South Korea Simon and Martina have ever uploaded onto YouTube. They lived in Seoul for a while and have a massive amount of advise to give (often food related) and they helped me a lot in figuring out what to expect. And they’re funny and generally nice humans and definitely worth following (they currently reside in and make videos about Japan in case that interests you as well.
  • Cash. This might be obvious but bring plenty of Won with you. My UK and Austrian bank cards were not accepted at most ATM’S, and it got me into a lot of awkward situations. Only Citibank and KEB are reliable to give out cash to foreign cards, and they are few and far between. I ran out of money and then I had to find WiFi and Google the locations of friendly cash machines, and that took a lot of time away from my day and made me feel really anxious for a while, so don’t do that to yourself.
  • Deodorant. If it’s hot and you’re sweating and you need deodorant, you will have to pay a fortune for it in Seoul. It’s like a luxury item. Like 10000 Won for one spray can. You could save that money and spend it on Tteokkbokki and other delicious Korean food (and you should).

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When you’re going on a solo trip to Seoul and you’re worried about being out in the streets by yourself, especially after dark, don’t worry too much. As long as you keep in mind standard safety precautions which you probably already have in place in your day to day life you should be very safe in Seoul. This city basically never sleeps so there are always a good few people in the streets that make you feel like somebody would come to your aid if you were approached by a shifty figure. And judging by my own experience of the kindness of a Seoulite stranger I’m convinced they would.

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Speaking of shifty people: if a man who looks like a monk dressed in grey or olive coloured clothes walks up to you smiling and saying the word “Peace” a lot, politely shake your head and say no. Sounds rude, but what he’s going to do next is put a gold coloured piece of paper in your hand which looks a bit like Buddha’s official business card. If at this point you still haven’t caught on to the fact that he’s scamming you he’ll put a bracelet on your arm and then ask for ‘little money’, but don’t expect him to be happy with 5000 Won. He won’t leave you alone until you hand him over 20000 won, which is more than I spent on food for myself per day unless I had too many coffees. I fell for it on my first day and then resentfully ignored every other ‘monk’ who tried this with me as well. The only good thing that came out if this is that I am now using the wooden bead bracelet as a hair bauble.

If you’re anywhere near the shopping streets beware of the cosmetic houses. Yes, I myself went and bought a few beauty products you can’t get anywhere else, but sometimes when you walk past their door (especially in places like the busy Myeongdong market) they will actively try and get you to come in and buy stuff you don’t need. They achieve this by handing out free samples or – which is what happened to me – simply grabbing you, linking arms with you like you’re BFF’s and drag you inside, showing you some of the products they want to sell. This was a very awkward situation for me, a person who doesn’t know how to say no sometimes. I ended up buying the cheapest thing she could show me and I don’t think she was pleased, but I really didn’t want 200 face masks for the price of 100000 Won, thanks very much Holika Holika. You didn’t know you grabbed the one tourist on the he street travelling on a budget.

 

Seoul is very respectful to its elders as well, so when you’re on the train you’ll see special assigned seats for elderly people and mothers/mothets-to-be. If these seats are all taken, and during peak hours they will be, and you see an older person boarding the train, you are expected to give up your seat for them immediately. It’s just common courtesy. Look at it this way: they have worked hard all their lives to build this city so you are able to enjoy its sights, technology and food, and now it’s your turn to give back and their turn to relax. Simple.

All in all Seoul has a lot to explore for a solo adventurer, from the sights to the food markets to the off-the-beaten-track areas. The Koreans might be shy with you at first but if you’re polite and maybe say a few phrases in their languages they will be very welcoming and helpful, in case you ever get lost. One week might be not enough time to explore it though, so if you’re luckier than me with more free holidays to spend you should probably look more like at 10 – 14 days. Living costs attre not very expensive, and if you find attre nice place to stay somewhere less central you might get cheaper rates than if you stay in Myeongdong. Train rides at tree not expensive, just get a T-Money card in a CU convience store in the airport arrivals hall and top it up with around 5000 Won per day you plan to use the metro. And you probably will cause Seoul is massive and the metro is very quick and easy to use.

I’d love to jear your own experiences once you’ve been there yourself!

Happy anniversary to my favourite city on this earth, San Francisco

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It was exactly to the day 11 years ago today that I stepped on a plane at Munich airport, and with that move I took three massive steps at once in my own life:

  • It was my first solo trip
  • It was my first trip crossing an ocean taking me outside of Europe
  • It was my first time in the States

and basically, there was no hope for me afterward. The shy, mousy little 22-year-old me fell in love with San Francisco at first sight, and with the rest of California thereafter. She was hooked on travelling, exploring the world, because there was so much more to see outside of her comfort zone. She also realised she wasn’t so shy and mousy after all, because when you’re 22 and you’re travelling through a completely foreign country by yourself, using a foreign language you’re not 100% secure in, builds and strengthens your character and self-confidence like Captain America builds his biceps.

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I’m not even ashamed talking about myself in the third person here because it does feel like the girl who got on that plane on the 21st March 2006, was not the same person I am today. In fact, I know she was someone else than present me, but this is a good thing. By travelling to San Francisco / driving through California in a car by myself I H A D to come out of my shell. I had to talk to strangers, ask for directions, for help, and make friends to hang out with in the hostels. I was forcing myself to socialise and give less shits about what people think about me, and for the first time it didn’t feel like a chore, it was fun and I enjoyed putting myself into that awkward position. To this day, only travelling can do this – putting me in awkward positions which under normal circumstances I would be totally annoyed/embarrassed/anxious about but making me think like it is the best thing that could have happened to me.

Like that time when I got lost on Highway 1 due to a road closure and I had to ask for directions in a remote gas station, and the only person who was able to help me out was the one person I was scared of the most in there, just judging by his looks – and I had to admit to myself that I was judging prematurely, and I shouldn’t be judging people by their looks anyway, my mother had taught me better than that.CIMG0197.JPG

Or the time I met this girl in the Adelaide Hostel (still the best hostel I’ve ever been to, and I went back there last year to check up on it) and she took me on a tour of San Francisco that isn’t in the Lonely Planet books, and I remember I had the best time with her but for the life of me, a few days later, I couldn’t remember her name.

Especially that one time when I collected my rental car in the downtown office of one of the rental car companies, they parked it outside the main door for me, handed me the keys, and then I sat there in the car for 20 minutes not knowing how to start the stupid thing but too embarrassed to ask. It was my first time using an automatic and I had no clue how to use it, and it was before the time I had a smartphone and access to Google 24/7. In the end, one of the clerks in the office noticed me still sitting there and he came out to help me get the engines running….in the literal sense.

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San Francisco was the first place I’ve visited on my trip, and it was in beautifully warm spring weather, and everyone was so welcoming and the people were so wonderfully weird. The buildings and landmarks are incredible (hence my obsession with the Golden Gate Bridge) and the fact that it is on three sides surrounded by water and the visual depth of field you get from all the hills makes it even prettier and more interesting than it already is.There’s enough to do and see for a lifetime. It made me a little bit more confident, and secure, and most of all it made me believe that I could achieve things (like going 9000 miles away from anything I know and still make it on my own).

It is needless to say, I fell in love at first sight and it has been my favourite place since, even though I’ve only been able to go back once, in 2016. I’ve never had such an instant, constant, loving relationship with a man. This city is giving me #Goals for any future relationship with a guy. This is how much I love the place.

Santa Cruz and the case for celebrating your birthday away from everyone you know

First of, Santa Cruz is a very pretty small town just around 1.5 hours South of San Francisco. One of its main draws is the location right by the Pacific, and the other is the small town version of Coney Island they put right on the beach, making the boardwalk look like a 1950s Pleasantville movie setting.

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I chose Santa Cruz because I wanted a little time away from the big city, some quiet and some beach, to get some rest and level my head from the excitement of San Francisco. I also wanted to drive, but not too far, so I rented a car and GPS for my little getaway. To book the GPS was a genius move as it turns out, because the nice GPS lady lead me spot on exactly where I needed to go, always letting me know well on time when I needed to make a turn or exit a freeway. I remember being in Nashville two years ago driving with the Google maps lady and almost losing my cool or crashing the car quite a few times…I do not recommend it. Anyway.

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At first I was a bit disappointed when I got to the rental car company as they have overbooked the convertible class and had none left for me, and I was so hoping for a flashy American car, like a Mustang or Corvette. In the end I got a solid Nissan. Not exactly what I expected, but I got free insurance and fuel upgrades and insofar you can’t fault Dollar for their service.

Arriving in Santa Cruz I checked into the Rio Vista Suites, a lovely little Victorian house with only a few rooms. I don’t usually name-drop hotels but this one has convinced me with one simple thing: having the absolute most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Seriously. I did not want to get out of bed, ever. The only thing that got me out of it in the end was the great weather and the thought of lazying at the beach. But this bed was like a fluffy big cloud and I am still considering writing the management an email asking where they buy their beds. Seriously. I can’t stress this enough.

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During my short stay here I also celebrated my birthday. And by celebrate I mean sleeping in, not caring about a thing, doing only things I want to do, which was mainly the sleeping in part and driving up and down the coast, occasionally stopping for the nice views and getting coffee or food. I did absolutely nothing and it was amazing. Doing absolutely nothing is extremely great at any given time, but on your birthday it makes for that extra special something. The fact that I was thousands of miles away from my loved ones actually made it all the better, as bad as that sounds. Of course I was constantly checking my phone to see if anybody has thought of me and sent me electronic birthday wishes, and when they did it made me very happy. But not having to do the birthday party thing, trying to get people to go out with you and socialise or come to your place and socialise, or even just getting a big enough crowd together that doesn’t make you depressed at the fact that so many people you would like to see are scattered around the planet, well, Europe at least. Not having everyone ask what your plans are for your birthday celebrations and look at you funny when you say ‘nothing’. When all you want to do is enjoy yourself without culturally dictated rituals you aren’t all that comfortable with.
That whole part was a revelation.

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This plus the scenic views of Santa Cruz and the sound of the ocean waves breaking has made me more relaxed in those three days than I have been in a very long time.
You should try both things out for yourself sometime.
Put yourself first. Treat yo’ self.

I take myself out to the ball game

One of the very few things I planned for this trip (I like letting things come my way rather than to plan things and maybe stress over keeping on track with my to do list) was watching a baseball game at the AT&T park. There is just something about baseball that makes it so utterly American, I just had to check it off my to do list, because why not and who knows when else.

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For somebody who is so in love with San Francisco as I am, the Giants are the ideal team to get you into the sport. They have a faithful following of fans whose excitement for the game will pull you along all the way through 3.5 hours of watching men throw and catch a tiny white ball. From the moment I stepped off the N-Line at the ballpark, all dressed up in an official T-Shirt from the Dugout to blend in and pretend I know what I’m doing, I was surrounded by people in Black and Orange who just took me as one of their own. Some people were actually dressed in Giants merch from head to toe, literally, from the hat to the shoes, with belts, scarves and blankets on top. These people don’t do the fan thing half-arsed.

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The first thing to do was go to the customer experience stall where I was given a certificate for my first ever attendance, so I am now officially claimed by the Giants as one of theirs. I had enough time to walk around the entire ball park, looking at all the food stalls and merchandise shops, and of course the glass box with the three trophies from 2010, 2012 and 2014. These guys have a thing for even years it seems, hopefully they can win it again this year. Fingers crossed. Although do not ask me where they currently stand in the league, I have no clue.

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After finding my seat, which was waaaayyyy up on the highest balcony or View Reserved as they call it, which are literally the cheap seats, although the view is better than I expected, I went and got myself a bowl of those famous garlic fries. For $8.50 you get quite a big heap of fries with chopped garlic cloves and parsley. They are as tasty as everybody says and on the plus side you also get two enormous breath mints with your serving, which I guess is especially helpful for the couples hoping to end up on the Kiss Screen later on.

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As it turned out it wasn’t hard for me to follow the game itself despite my lack of knowledge and the sheer length of the game. And I have to admit, the names of the Giants team kept my childish self entertained for a good while. Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik must be some of the most awesome names in the history of names.

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Don’t Panik.
The Giants won that night.