New photo gallery for Seoul

I’ve added a new page of pictures from Seoul yesterday, as I finally had another roll of film developed last week. It is possible there are still one or two rolls missing from that trip because I still have around 5 undeveloped rolls at home, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get these done. Until then, enjoy the scans from the day trip to Gangnam, Insadong and the pit stop at the cat cafe!

A paper tiger can't tell you where he stands - Spoon

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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.

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.

The case for not developing your film straight away

For an analog photographer there is probably no better and more exciting feeling than getting film developed and finally seeing the end result of their hard work and/or happy accidents captured on film. It’s easy to get overly excited and impatient to see pictures printed, like a child before Christmas waiting to open its presents. And there is nothing wrong with having your rolls of film developed straight away, sometimes it’s needed due to projects and commissioned work where the photographer needs to stay within a deadline.

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But from recent experience putting your full rolls of film away for a while, safely stored somewhere out of reach, and then developed months later, can be equally as satisfying an experience.

I went on a two-week trip to the States last April. My first stop was San Francisco, a city I had already been to before and was already helplessly in love with, and my other stop was Seattle, a city I knew I was going to love due to its close proximity to both mountains and open water and its solid place in music history, giving life to some of my favourite bands. Obviously, I came prepared with shitloads of film and 3 analog cameras. When I came home I had too many full rolls of film in my suitcase and not enough money to develop them all at the same time. On the one hand, I wish I would have had a way of developing some of the films while still on the road (I have a solution for this – WATCH THIS SPACE) on the other hand I am glad I had to put some of the rolls away for a later date.

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Yesterday I got 3 developed films back from my trusted photo store (Moorfields Photographic in Liverpool). When I left them at the store I wasn’t entirely sure anymore what was on them or where I shot them, I was fairly certain though it would mostly be photos from my trip to the States, but I am dangerously unorganised when it comes to labelling films and taking notes so I usually just throw my full rolls of film in whatever handbag I’m currently carrying around, without taking notes of what I shot and which camera I used on this film, so it could have been a number of different projects.

When I looked at the pictures I got back yesterday I almost squealed with excitement and joy, simply because I got pictures back I didn’t remember taking and they came out so much better than I expected, probably because I had no clue what to expect. It was like a little surprise, a hidden happy memory my past self left for my present self. The only way to somehow describe this, however insufficiently, is delayed gratification.

You should try it for yourself! And then, by all means, send me a link to the pictures your present self will leave for your future self.

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Why it is important to travel home sometimes

Maybe you know this from experience, but when I was a teenager I could not wait to move out of my parents’ house and see new places. I always knew I was going to explore as much of this planet as I could, even though to this day I’m never really sure how to afford it.

Well, this feeling ended in me moving to Munich for a few years, and then to Liverpool, and I am pretty sure that’s not my last stop. And while the physical distance to my family and friends has been tough sometimes while I am in England, and I can more and more imagine moving back to the idyllic Austrian village life some day, I am not done discovering. I love being in a foreign country, learning how the people here eat, speak, love and party. I was even able to experience Brexit from two points of view; my own as a European immigrant and the one of a British person who would prefer to stay individual and independent.

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But increasingly more often these days I experience phases of homesickness, and looking forward to my next trip back home is the only thing that will keep me going, and suddenly using most of my holidays on trips to the same old place doesn’t seem like a complete waste at all. When I was last in Austria this summer I realised how little I noticed how important going home is for me, even though I can never wait for the next time I go abroad again. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I hope some of you travelling souls can see themselves a little bit in this. I think it is extremely important even for the ultra-highest-level, constant travellers to go back ‘home’ every once in a while, and here is why:

  • If you still have family or friends somewhere, and you are at least somewhat close to them, coming home is like a reset and recharge button. You see familiar faces and places, you know your way around really well, and you don’t have to explore anything anymore. This place is already yours. Lay back and relax.

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  • By travelling you have experienced different cultures, food and lifestyles, and you’re absorbing it like a dry sponge absorbs water. You’ve been to Japan, the USA, Croatia and Nepal, and you enjoyed every second of learning something new. But the only way to suffer from a cultural information overload is to go home, dig your feet in the ground and reconnect with your roots. Only the contrast and comparison of your own cultural environment will make the cultures of others stand out.
  • Once you have done a fair amount of travelling and living abroad, it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen everything you could possibly see and you might run a little low on travel inspiration or motivation. For me, going home to the place where I had spent most of my life without seeing any other place in the world helps me reset my wanderlust. Also, it helps me remember the feeling I had as a kid when I wanted nothing more than to get out of my save haven and explore and have silly adventures. There is nothing better than that to remember how much I appreciate my ability to travel.
  • Being away from your original home will actually give you more appreciation for where you came from and how you grew up (unless, of course, you really hate the place you grew up in. But then I feel like this blog plost is probably not for you).
  • The next time you go home try and go for a walk and just look at things you thought you knew. You might be surprised by the amount of new things and places you will find you have never noticed before. It could be a lake, or a restaurant, or a library, or just a tree that looks like the skeleton of a 500 year old man.

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I am lucky. My home home is an idyllic small town in Austria with lots of open fields, trees and lakes, and a nice view of the North chain of the Alps. Who would not want to come back here to recharge their batteries? I really don’t know.

I lost my heart in San Francisco

That was ten years ago.
Now I’m just being reminded why. There is so much beauty here to discover in this city, even within the ruggedness of some of the rougher areas. The touristy activities are a lot of fun, sure. I have been waiting in line for a cable car ride and paid a fortune to go on a ferry ride too. But try and wander around one day, aimlessly, and you’ll find things and places you didn’t know you were looking for. It is also the only way you will find the hidden postcard views of the city, the really cute houses and the cosy artisan cafe’s, because those won’t be in any guide book.

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I spent my entire first day just walking. I walked around the ferry building, walked through the farmers market inside the ferry building, walked around Fisherman’s wharf and the little park by Ghirardelli square. A caffeine induced madness made me decide to walk all the way back to the hotel, past the curvy Lombard street and along Mason Street, because it looked like a pretty short walk on the map. What I didn’t account for was that walking along this route, even when walking straight ahead the entire time, I was actually walking up and down a few hills. And these hills are no joke to walk. Especially not in the sun. I was rewarded with great views at the top of each hill though, and that totally made up for falling into bed exhausted at 7pm.

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On the Sunday I planned on having a good chill to finally get my body clock adjusted to local time, and because I was switching hotels I couldn’t really go anywhere for long anyway. First I spent some time people-watching at Union Square (there are a lot of tourists, and a few homeless people asking for change, yes. But every now and again you’ll see the old man in a white tracksuit driving around in a mobility scooter blasting some Latin American tunes). Later I took a bus to Alamo Square, where I shot loads of pictures of the Painted Ladies and then just sat down in the grass and read a book.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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Speaking of taking loads of pictures: I somehow thought it was a good idea to restrict how many rolls of film I bring along with my three cameras, and so I only brought ten. After two days I have already shot two full rolls of film. After day three, another film was full. I am going to stay here for 14 days….you do the math. Luckily I have found a little gift shop on the way from the final stop of the Powell-Mason cable car line to Fisherman’s Wharf which just happened to sell a select sortiment of 35mm film. As it turns out the owner of the shop used to be a photographer and develop his own film, and as it happened he talked me into buying a UV filter for my Konica’s lens. Because of course I needed more equipment.

On day three I spent some time riding cable cars (they move slowly) and after strolling through the market behind Pier 39 and watching (and smelling) the hordes of sea lions located at the pier, I got on a bay area cruise ferry for an hour of taking pictures of the skyline and the Golden Gate. Good thing I brought my wind and rain resistant jacket too, because as soon as the ferry left the pier I felt a big giant gust of wind hating my face and hair and trying to make me fall in front of 100 people. And those are all people who will fight you for your space at the front end of the boat. It was totally worth it though for this view though.

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I just bloody love this city.