Friday, December 30, 2011

Dongdaemun Market

One of my favorite sections of Seoul was Dongdaemun or "Great East Gate", part of the wall that used to surround the city. Today, it is the site of a huge shopping district known for its cloth and clothing market.  Any visit to Seoul would be incomplete without making a stop in this fascinating district regardless of whether you are a shopaholic or not.

Hotpot in Korea

After a long day trekking around the Seoul area, hotpot sounded like a great option.  This was one of the hotpot places along the side streets on the way from Changgyecheon Plaza back to the Westin Chosun hotel.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Montreal by Day

The drive back from Quebec City to Montreal wasn't too bad, taking about 3 hours including a rest/gas stop along the way.  Snapped a picture of the Casino de Montréal on the drive back and a shot of the Montréal skyline while crossing a bridge to the Île de Montréal.

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

The most striking building of the Quebec skyline, towering over Vieux-Québec, is the Château Frontenac, currently branded under the Fairmont banner.  Opened in 1893, the hotel design is in the style of French châteaus, targeting wealthy clients.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fairfield Inn Montreal Airport

Enroute to Quebec City, Montreal seemed like a good place to stop and rest up before continuing the journey on eastwards.  There were a number of choices for hotels as I had some points in the Starwood, Hilton and Marriott programs saved up but the Fairfield Inn Montreal Airport ended up being the pick due to its having the lowest point redemption (10k points/night) for a quick overnight stay and including complimentary continental breakfast (with a hot item) the next morning (no need to be Marriott Gold).

Christmas (Noël) à Montréal

Been out in Montréal and Quebec City for the last few days for Christmas =)  It was freezing out there but got some nice, night shots =).  I'll keep this post nice and short!

Here's the Montreal City Hall (Hôtel de ville) and it nice, plump and colourful Christmas trees.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

GTO Review (1998)

Drama Rating: *****
Personal Rating: All time favourite!!

Based on an anime, Onizuka Eikichi, played by Sorimachi Takashi is a former motorcycle gang member who very much wants to be a teacher.  The opportunity presents itself when he goes for an interview and the school's director unexpectedly hires him, much to the chagrin of Head Teacher Uchiyamada and most of the staff.  Unconventional and peculiar barely begin to describe the methods he uses to teach his class of troublemakers.  Despite their best efforts to force him out, Onizuka turns the tables to win over the hearts of his students, coworkers and audiences everywhere.


I would probably be doing Switzerland a huge disservice if I failed to add a special note about the Confiserie Sprüngli =). Most likely my most favourite part of Zurich, aside from the possibly spectacular panoramic view of Zurich I never got to see =(

New Year's Eve in Zurich

The last day of 2010!  To start the day off, I figured I'd give Uetliberg, a mountain near Zurich, a try to get a panoramic view of the city and of Lake Zurich. There is a train that takes you almost to the peak and takes about half an hour.  That day, the train was pretty empty as I'm sure most people had better things to do on New Year's Eve. This is a picture of the station with some Christmas decorations.

End of 2010 in Zurich

Having left Strasbourg  in the morning, I got to Zurich in the afternoon after switching trains at Basel. The trams in Zurich are pretty long and pretty comfortable and took me straight from the Zurich Hbf (train station) all the way to my airport hotel. Having dropped things off there, I took the tram back into the city to explore.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Novotel Zurich Airport Messe

The last stop of the Christmas trip to Europe was Zurich.  Given that it was the Christmas holiday season, hotel prices were far cheaper than usual as there were fewer tourists at this time of year.  Having monitored the prices for a little while, I snagged a pretty amazing deal at the Novotel Zurich Airport for just 49 euros a night for two nights!  Not sure if people are generally acquainted with the Novotel chain as it is primarily based in Europe but it is part of the Accor Hotels portfolio (similar to Hilton or Marriott), and Novotel generally targets the mid-scale market (think Four-Points Sheraton).  Here's a shot of the lobby/lounge where you can get free wifi access.  There is also a hidden US adapter (the Swiss have their own electrical outlets - different from the rest of Europe) on the floor so you can recharge your laptop there as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Sights of Strasbourg

Strasbourg being the official seat of the European Parliament, it made sense to drop by Louise Weisse building, which houses it.

Strasbourg Capitale de Noël

Having departed Luxembourg, the next stop was in Strasbourg, France, self-styled 'Capitale de Noël' (capital of Christmas).  Capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a beautiful city, particularly well-known for the Petite-France district where numerous black and white timber-framed buildings occupy the region surrounding the gothic Strasbourg Cathedral.  Below are some pictures of the Petite France district.

Monday, December 19, 2011

KPop Masters 2011

Dropped into Las Vegas recently @ Thanksgiving and happened to catch the Billboard KPop Masters concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with a friend who's into korean pop music.  We were there on the night of the 26th so SHINee was the special extra performer that night.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

City Hunter Review (2011)

Drama Rating: **
Personal Rating: Disliked

Lee Yoon Sung was raised by his surrogate father Lee Jin Pyo in Thailand.  He later learns of the circumstances of his father's death and the involvement of several politicians.  Armed with a doctorate from MIT and a job at the Blue House, Yoon Sung takes on the mask of 'City Hunter' and begins his revenge on those who betrayed his father.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baker King Kim Tak Goo Review (2010)

Drama Rating: ****
Personal Rating: Enjoyable

Kim Tak Goo (Yoon Shi Yoon) is the eldest illegitimate son of Goo Il Jong, president of a large baking company. Due to various circumstances and schemes concocted by Manager Han and Il Jong's wife Seo In Sook, Tak Goo was separated from his mother and father during his childhood. Tak Goo eventually finds his way in a bakery run by his father's teacher Master Pal Bong. With support from his newfound family, Tak Goo strives to win back his rightful place in the family and society.

Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Times Square

After the five night stay at the Westin Chosun, I had run out of SPG points =) so another hotel was needed.  The lucky winner was the Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Times Square, embedded deep within the Times Square shopping mall.  It was embedded so deeply that it took a bit of detective work and wandering around before the entrance and lobby of the hotel were found.  The easiest way is likely from the street, past the Shinsegae department store.  The more difficult path is through the mall, making sure you continue to the very end...

A Day in Luxembourg

Following Brussels, the next stop was a quick, one day affair in Luxembourg.  The weather was quite cold and still as dreary as ever.  Fortunately, the train to Luxembourg was warm and welcoming.

Westin Chosun Seoul

The Westin Chosun Seoul, a Starwood Category 4 (now 5) hotel, was the selected lodging for five of my seven nights in Seoul.  The stay was redeemed using 40,000 SPG points, a fantastic deal considering a single night could easily go for $300 USD.  The Millenium Hilton Seoul had also been considered but the location had been less optimal.  From the exterior, the Westin Chosun was relatively nondescript building and was a little difficult to locate initially since we had arrived via the City Hall subway station.

Mount Namsan, N Seoul Tower and nGrill

One of the highlights of the trip to Seoul was the trek up to N Seoul Tower on Mt Namsan.  There are several methods of getting up to the top and one of which was to take the #2 yellow bus which makes regular rounds.  The Seoul city tour bus also has Seoul Tower as one of its many stops.  The third route, which I took, was to walk to bottom of the sideways escalator which takes you partway up the mountain.

Cathay Pacific Economy (SFO - HKG - ICN)

Back in May, I had applied for a Chase British Airways Visa card with a 100k point bonus and was lucky enough to be able to use some of the points for my trip to Seoul in September.  Based on the British Airways partner chart at the time (ie. before the transition over to their new 'Adios' points), I was able to snag an 'almost' free flight from San Francisco to Seoul for just 50k points, passing through Hong Kong both outbound and inbound.  This Oneworld award redemption was awesome as flights to Asia on almost all airline alliances require 65k - 75k points for a US-Asia flight, not to mention that this was on Cathay Pacific, one of the few Skytrax-rated 5-star airlines in the world.

As this was my first time flying Cathay, I was pleasantly surprised soon after boarding to receive a menu for the trans-Pacific flight:

Secret Garden Review (2010)

Drama Rating: *****
Personal Rating: MUST watch!!  One of my all-time favourites!

Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin) is a somewhat eccentric CEO of a department store with rather peculiar habits who happens to meet Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won), a stuntswoman, in a minor mixup. Their chance meeting kicks off the start of a turbulent relationship made all the more rocky when the two strangely swap bodies.

Queen Seon Deok Review (2009)

Drama Rating: ****
Personal Rating: Enjoyable

Deokman was one of the twin princesses born to King Jinpyeong, but to keep her safe from Lady Mishil, a powerful and influential member of the court, Deokman is sent far away from the Kingdom of Silla. Time passes and an unknowing Deokman eventually returns to Silla, determined to seek out her true identity and background. She joins forces with her twin sister Princess Cheonmyeong and together with General Kim Yusin, they face off against Mishil and attempt to thwart her plans to snatch the throne.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beethoven Virus Review (2008)

Drama Rating: ***
Personal Rating: Enjoyable

Kang Gun Woo (Kim Myeong Min), nicknamed "orchestra killer", is a world class conductor who, due to various circumstances, ends up leading an orchestra put together by Du Ru Mi (Lee Ji-Ah), concert mistress, and Kang Gun Woo (Jang Geun-Seuk), a police officer turned trumpeter. Will the orchestra be able to put up with Kang Maestro's insufferable personality?

Christmas in Brussels Part 2

The plan for the following day was to revisit the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis followed by a stop at the Belgian Comic Strip Center.  As recommended by a travel wiki, brunch was served at the restaurant T Kelderke where I tried the Carbonnades flammandes à la Bière - quite good but really rather salty.  And I must say, they really like their frites in Belgium.

Christmas in Brussels

As the holidays near, I think its the perfect time to share some pictures and recollections of Brussels during the holidays last year in 2010.  Our flight was slated for Christmas Eve and suffice it to say, the week immediately before flying was rather nerve-wracking. News of airport closures and diverted flights all across northern Europe filled the news every single day while the media was flooded with horror stories of people stranded at airports waiting for days before making it home.

As departure day neared, I kept watch on developments in Brussels as the airport had run out of de-icing fluid due to various disruptions in the supply chain caused by the snowstorms. Fortunately, three days before departure, Brussel airport received sufficient de-icing supplies and the airport was reopened. As a last minute scare, the exact flight that took off the day before departure was diverted to an airport in Germany due to temporary closure of the airport. Luckily, everything went smoothly and I made it to Brussels in one go. Brussels Airport was actually quite quiet when we arrived although it was a bit disturbing to see a sea of suitcases sitting around no doubt due to the flight delays and cancellations. After getting out of the airport, this was one of the first scenes I encountered upon getting off the bus to reach my hotel in the Belgian capital's European Quarter near Schuman Metro station. In the background is the European Commission building.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Thought I'd start off the blog with a picture of the giant Christmas tree in Strasbourg, France when I visited last year.  Standing an imposing 107 feet (32.5m) tall in the center of Place Kleber with various decorations adorning the foot of the tree, it gave off a warm, peaceful, comforting feeling as the light snow slowly fell onto the plaza, covering everything in a blanket of white.  Wishing everyone a merry Christmas and happy holidays!