Wednesday, 28 May 2014

From Where I Sip: Brunch Cafes!

To continue with my From Where I Sip series...

They're more than just coffee shops. They're more like a cafe with a small kitchen.
          (Cafe Apassionato's mocha frappuccino, cheesecake  
                                     and a ham sandwich)

My all-time favorite cafe that served sandwiches and omelettes was Cafe Appasionato in Hannam-dong in the Yongsan District of Seoul. The location was perfect. It sat by the main Hannam-dong intersection; the seats by the window and at the entrance were always taken. Their mocha frappuccino was served on a tall glass, and they also made omelettes and sandwiches. 

When I first visited the cafe years ago, it was run and owned by a foreigner, a white male, and probably American. A year later, a Korean lady took over (she must have bought the cafe) and was always there to take orders. She was always dressed nicely and probably had an Asian blepharoplasty, or a double eyelid surgery, because whenever I saw her, her eyes were so wide open when she looked at me. Or maybe, she was just happy to see her regular customer. Ha-ha-ha!

I like these cafes, especially when I just want to work quietly on a corner with iced cafe mocha and some real food, without having to worry about getting hungry while I am trying to finish my work. I especially liked that cafe because they also had big tables. I could spread my papers in the middle, my laptop on the left, and my food on the right. I used to commandeer one of their two big round tables, which also had an electric outlet for my laptop. Now, that cafe is gone and its previous location is now occupied by a bar and frequented by people who'd rather drink alcohol than caffeine. 
                  (Patpingsu and ham-and-cheese 
                        sandwich at Paris Croissant)

In my neighborhood, the only brunch cafe left is Paris Croissant. The other brunch places are actually restaurants with small tables and bigger kitchens. You can't occupy a table for hours in these establishments. Customers here eat and go, as coffee and a cafe atmosphere aren't really their main attraction.

Of course, the omelettes and sandwiches on the menus of brunch cafes may be pricey. The KRW19,000 is the price to pay for not being able to fry your eggs with cheese and with french toast on the side. Or the price to pay for not knowing how to make a very good pancake. Ha-ha-ha! So, on days when you're lazy to cook some breakfast, or when your kids pressure you for some pancakes, you can always drag them to these brunch cafes and enjoy a relaxing brunch. Who knows? I may be seated on the next table.

So, what's your favorite brunch cafe?
                  (Blueberry pancake from Cafe Alice)

Sunday, 25 May 2014

At Dongdaemun's NamPyeongHwa Market, It's Bags! Bags! Bags!

I can't remember the number of times my friends bought ladies' bags at Dongdaemun Fashion Market for me to bring home as presents.  Just last month, my friends Joy, Jo and Vanji were (again!) at the NPH bag market in Dongdaemun and they asked me through a text message whether I would want to buy a red bag they saw for my mom.

I glady said 'yes'! For KRW35,000, the red bag was reasonably priced and they saved me a trip! I sent a photo of the bag to my mom; she's excited already!

                     (Shoes at the shopping underpass)
(The bag market is at the basement level 1 of NPH building)

But when my former colleagues in Manila came to Seoul last week, they asked me to bring them to Dongdaemun for some shopping. That time, I thought, it would be my first time to finally set foot at that notoriously famous bag market!

We arrived in front of the Doota building in Dongdaemun on a cab and just walked through the shopping underpass to cross to the other side. In Dongdaemun, as in other shopping centers in Seoul, the underpass is usually full of shops selling fashion items such as shoes, dresses and shirts. 

                 (A bag for my sister; only KRW30,000)

The NPH or NamPyeongHwa Building is actually on the side of Dongdaemun that's next to the Cheonggye Stream. Looking at the map, I think it's closer to the Dongdaemun Station (Exit 7), than the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park Station. The two stations are different, by the way.

Interestingly, the bag market, which is at first floor and basement level 1 of the NPH Building, opens at midnight and closes at noon the next day. Yes, midnight! The witching hour! Not that the vendors should remind us of the Underworld; it's just that they sell wholesale at the underground. Some bag shops from other parts of the city actually source their wares from here. That's why you would see some guys carrying huge packages full of bags that are to be delivered elsewhere.

The bag market is a labyrinth of shops after shops with bags of different styles hanging and laying on the display racks. Backpacks, school bags, small and big bags, casual and formal-looking hand bags are all everywhere. If you're a 'bag' lady, this must be heaven for you. Ha-ha-ha!

The shapes, sizes and especially, the colors are all overwhelmingly attractive. Although they are all pretty to look at, they are also very well made. Their quality is topnotch as I heard from Joy and other friends, who shopped (still continue to regularly shop!) here. 

As I roamed around the shops with my tourist friends, I ended up buying a casual bag for my sister; it was only KRW30,000. 

I think this place is the ultimate shopping center in terms of ladies' bags. Just in one place, you'd be able to get all the styles, designs, colors and sizes of any bag you want. You just have to be ready with lots of cash! But don't worry, some shops accept credit cards, too. 

After roaming around, it was already past 1AM and we were ready to go above ground. I have finally set foot at Dongdaemun's bag market! Ha-ha-ha!

With tired legs and some grumbling stomach, my tourist- friends stopped by a kiosk selling some sausages and delicacies for some after-shopping, past-midnight snacks. 

                                 (Hungry shoppers!)
                                    (Midnight snacks!)

At the Dongdaemun bag market that's only open from midnight, it's not just shopping till you drop! It's shopping...till you sleep! 

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Jamsu Bridge And The Floating Island!

Everyone in Seoul knows about the Banpo Bridge, which is famous for its very colorful and fascinating dancing fountains. But what's not well known is that, while the fountains are actually installed on the higher Banpo Bridge, one can have fun selfies with the colored fountains as your background while standing on the Jamsu Bridge, the lower one. Yes, the Banpo Bridge has a less known twin, the Jamsu Bridge. 

                Pedestrians on one lane, cars on the other, 
                                  bikers in the middle)

Jamsu Bridge is actually the best way for everyone to cross the Han River because it has, one, a vehicle lane; two, a pedestrian lane; and three, a bike lane! And these three lanes are full of traffic all the time, especially on weekends!

As I live in the Yongsan District, which is connected to the Seocho District by the Banpo and Jamsu Bridges, on cool days, with comfortable shoes and a bottle of water, I sometimes join hundreds of other people who stroll, run and bike at the lanes by the Han River bank, and I finish my stroll at the other side of the Han River, at the Banpo Park after crossing the Jamsu Bridge.

              (Banpo Bridge above, Jamsu Bridge below)
                       (A green bus on Banpo Bridge)

Crossing the Han River through the Jamsu Bridge is actually an interesting and enjoyable experience. While the river is just a few meters beneath you, the idea that hundreds of other people jogging, strolling with their pets, biking in groups, families and couples are also on the bridge, not only trying to cross it, but actually having fun while doing so, makes the experience unique. It's like crossing the bridge itself is an experience of its own. No wonder a few Korean movies and TV dramas have been shot on this bridge. The funnel-like view of looking at the other end of the bridge, while under another bridge is a different perspective that is not found in any other part of the city. But on rainy season, when the Han River overflows, this bridge is closed to traffic. Can you imagine seeing the water level rise and the bridge disappears entirely from view? Scary!

                                    (Floating Island)
                                      (A selfie, actually)

On a cool, sunny day, after I cross the bridge, I complete my stroll at the other side, where there are three interesting structures called the Floating Island, which, as the name connotes, floats on the Han River but is attached to the river bank by footbridges. This multi-million dollar structure actually consists of three 'islets', namely, Vista, Viva and Terra. The big one, Vista, is open to the public, and I have been up there a couple of times already. Looking out from the topmost level gives you a different 360-degree view of this side of Seoul from the Banpo Park. 

Going there on foot from my home in Hannam-dong is not a problem as you'd always feel energized to walk or run with everyone else on a cool spring day. But going back home with tired legs usually tempts me to take the bus. Unfortunately, there's only one bus heading back, the Blue Bus 740, which is usually full of passengers crossing from Seocho to Yongsan. And taxis are scarce.
So, sometimes, on my way back, I sacrifice to walk a couple of kilometers or more with a few stops to rest just to solve the problem. And to take my mind off the distance I still have to cover, I just try to continuously enjoy the view of the river, the pigeons at the bank and the ducks on the water, the formations of the apartments on the other side, the unique get-ups of everyone I meet along the way, and be glad for the feel of the cool breezes, the bright blue color of the clear skies, and the sound of an energetic city amidst the noise of my grumbling stomach. Ha-ha-ha!

And looking at the faces of some tired joggers and bikers, I sometimes think they must have even come from the farthest districts of the city and may have covered longer distances. And they're not even complaining. Ha-ha-ha!

So, if you have free time these days, do try to enjoy crossing the Jamsu Bridge; the most useful pedestrian bridge over the Han River has a name! But come to think of it, Banpo Bridge, if without its colored fountains running, it just another bridge full of cars and buses. 

                                     (A couple biking)
 Jamsu Bridge, on the other hand, offers more than just a crossing. It affords everyone a run, a bike ride, and for strollers like me, a  totally unique experience of walking just a few meters above the Han River, amidst the cool spring breezes and with a special view of this part of the city. And of course, thanks to the Banpo Bridge above it, we cross the river under the shade.
                         (A tunnel-view on Jamsu Bridge)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Spring, Strawberries And Smoothies!

Even my friends swear (in a good way!) that strawberries from Korea are the best! Sweet, huge and, well, if you're buying it from the neighborhood fruit vendor, very cheap, too!

I always look forward to spring and autumn when strawberries are in season. And when the fruit vendor, who parks his open van at any busy intersection in suburban Seoul, starts displaying these small packs of freshly picked strawberries, it's always the time to make smoothies! Of course, I also buy some ripe bananas to go with my strawberries.

Strawberry smoothies usually costs about KRW4,500 from any stall. And they come in small cups! But with a pack of fresh strawberries, a bunch of bananas, a quart of soy milk and a few spoonfuls of brown sugar, I can make my own the litter! Or more!

I sometimes bring a jug full of fresh smoothies to work so that I can enjoy them all day long. I store it first in the office refrigerator, and just take it out whenever I feel like guzzling down a cold, healthy drink that's full of the creamy strawberry and banana flavors.
I'm thankful to these fruit vendors selling their produce in neighborhoods around Seoul. They sell cheaper fruits than grocery stores because they don't spend on any overhead! Who knows? These fruits must have even been picked from their own farms! 

So, whenever I see strawberries and bananas at the back of their open vans, I don't see fruits. I see my strawberry-banana smoothies! Ha-ha-ha!