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Noreabang – Top 10 Songs To Sing Your Heart Out To

29th October 2014

header There are few things in Korea that I have loved discovering more than Noreabang. What is Noreabang ? I hear you cry. Noreabang or 노래방 translates as ‘singing room’ and it does exactly what it says on the tin. These small rooms are normally located in basements and can be found on every street in Korea. You can find a 노래 (Noreabang) sign flashing even down the darkest of alleys. How to use them is simple. You go in with a group of friends (or alone as many Koreans do), pay for an hour and sing your heart out but be warned you may find yourself in one of these for most of the night.

Every Noreabang is different. Some look like a 1970’s pimp’s den and some look like a suite at the four seasons. My favourite is the dark and dingy kind. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time and for some reason its easier to let your inhibitions go.

Once you’re in your little room you will find a variety of strange objects. Microphones with little shower caps on, a very thick book with English songs near the back and a tambourine or too.

sing4 By the time most westerners come to these places you have already had a few but you can always order a few more beers from the lady or man in charge…then its time to sing.

Stick in the number of your chosen track , the lights will change and you will be the center of your own personal disco. The cheesy images that accompany each video are worth the trip. Think kittens frolicking in feathers while you sing a hard core metal song.

Before coming to Korea I had a fear of singing in public. I use to sing when I was little and after messing up in front of a lot of people the fear set in and I didn’t sing again. Lee on the other hand had NEVER sung in public. He couldn’t even watch singing TV shows because he’d cringe at the idea of singing. Cut to two years in Korea and you can’t drag us out of a Noreabang. These little private rooms with your friends don’t just make singing less daunting than Karaoke, they make it down right fantastic.

sing1 sing2 sing6 Many of my favourite memories in Korea all take place in a Noreabang. When friends come to visit I take them straight there, and although a lot of people are skeptical the pull of acting like a fool normally wins out.

Lee’s family, my friends and all the people we have met here have sung their hearts out in front of us (sometimes even rapped). If we were business minded we’d be opening them up all over the UK. These little rooms contain a lot of memories for me.

sing3 So what to sing? A good tip when in a Noreabang is keep it light, keep it fun and have lots of song lined up. Here is our list of top ballads for getting your Noresbang going.

 

  1. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

Just makes sure to scream every note during the chorus and add the obligatory ‘so good So Good SO GOOD’ during the chorus.

2. Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen

Great for practicing your guitar air solos

3. Twist and Shout – Beatles

This is my particular favourite. I love any excuse to twist but its made all the more fun when you have friends to help you scream along to the chorus with.

4. Killing in the Name Of – Rage Against The Machine

It sounds like a random song choice but seeing a room full of people jumping around like crazy and attempting to mosh after a few beers… it’s magical

5. Run to the Hills – Iron Maiden

This is one of Lee’s favourites . It is great to get everyone dancing. I also know when Lee wants to Noreabang because he will go around our flat humming this. Norea’s always on his mind.

6. Ironic – Alanis Morissette

This is what I like to call the anthem of Canada. After getting to know a few Canadians this is our go to song. Screaming every part of it is necessary.

7. Africa – Toto

Enough said really. Sing it and sing it loud.

8. End of the road – Boyz 11 Men

This cheesy romantic number is great to get the tambourine out and sway with your friends. As long as you are ready to get to your knee and proclaim your love to every one of your friends. We had a group sing along to this when a lot of our friends were leaving Korea. I never thought that this would be a song I actually got emotional about. That’s the power of Noreabang.

9. Tribute – Tenacious D

If you know this song then you will know why this is such a great one to belt out. Plus there’s a lot of talking for those non singers out there.

10. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

I think you all knew that this would be on the list. It’s a classic and a great one. IT may be obvious but some times its those obvious ones that get everyone up and dancing. The perfect way to end any Noreabang.

* I really wanted to include the videos my friends have made over the last two years of us all singing like fools but what happens in Noreabang really does need to stay in Noreabang .

Have you or would you like to Noreabang? What is your go to song? Have I left out any classics here? When can I Noreabang ?!?!? These are all very important questions. We look forward to hearing from you all x signature

5 Reasons to visit Taipei – Taiwan

12th September 2014

taipei Oh Taiwan you sweet mysterious country. The first time I ever even considered Taiwan as a destination was when I arrived in Korea and people were spending their long weekends there. The first thing I heard about it was that it was very similar to Korea so we put a visit on the back burner since we were seeking something a little different for our holidays but the more that people went there and the more they spoke to us about this magical country the more we wanted to go. Since we were in China for the summer we added it onto our trip and were ready to spend 4 days there.

cks7 We arrived into Taipei to brilliant sunshine. It was impossible not to be in a fantastic mood when we walked around the city mainly because the Taiwanese people were incredibly kind. They were smiling, courteous, friendly and patient. People make special queues to get on the subway, they create lines to join escalators and there are signs asking you to text instead of making a phone call if you can while on the underground (but if you do text, please turn the button noises off) …I mean who are these people. It was amazing.

phone This feeling may have been heightened  since we had just come from China but either way it definitely made a difference to our stay. I won’t go into every detail of our trip but I will tell you a little about our favourite elements of the city.

market7 The Night Markets

Taiwanese night markets are everywhere. It’s actually confusing trying to choose which one to go to. There are some great blogs that have reviewed a few such as:

. The Goverment’s Site.

. http://farsicknessblog.com/night-markets-in-taiwan/

. http://hungryintaipei.blogspot.kr/2013/06/night-markettaiwanese-i-still-strongly.html

We were lucky enough to have one near us so we tried that. It was called Nanya Night Market 南雅夜市 and it is a 10 minute walk from Fuzhong MRT Station. Head out of Exit 1.

market3 market4 market5 Although the reviews weren’t fantastic, we loved it. I think there is so much variation in Taipei that people can afford to be choosie. We drank stupidly cheap fruit juice (Hello limes! I’ve missed you while I’ve been in these Korean lands), ate noodles till we popped and Lee showed me his shooting skills on one of the many games arcades.

market market2 shoot The other night market we visited was Shihlin market which is the most famous market in Taipei. It was stupidly busy but that just added to the market feel. We had cheese sticks, spring rolls and the most poignant item to note…cheesy potatoes. A potato covered in sweetcorn, bacon, chicken, other salad and LOTS of cheese. I was in my happy place. Lee and I battled over whack-a-mole (to which Lee won) and he won me a lovely little green Stitch toy, which unfortunately couldn’t fit in our suitcase so it lives on , on a bed somewhere in a Taipei hotel.

cks5 cks6 fruit games games2

 

cks cks2 The History

The Taiwanese history is fascinating. The people here have been through so much and they are fighting to stay cordial and hold on to their history and traditions. When China decided to start their communist rule many people left China. In my opinion, the people that left China were free thinkers and artists that didn’t want to be put into a box. This means that Taiwan is full of art on every corner and the people have embraced religion. Taiwanese temples are some of the most intricate, detailed buildings you’ll find. It made me want to become an instant Buddhist. Not just that but their memorials are incredible. cks3 cks4 history The CKS memorial honouring the man that made this country possible blew us away, mainly because I’d never heard about it or seen a photo of it. And why is that? Why is it that this incredible city is unknown? It seems that many countries rightly fear China and want good relations with them so it seems everyone is jumping through hoops to keep China happy. I had never even see the Taiwanese flag before I arrived due to the fact that even in the Olympics this country isn’t allowed to officially compete. They have to carry the Olympic flag. This quiet unassuming country with its kind people touched our hearts and we became kind of Taiwanese fan boys/girls. I now own almost everything with a Taiwanese flag on it. Come to this country now before everyone figures out how great it is.

Taiwan Man!

Taiwan Man!

cks10 food2

The Food

The night markets were our main source of food while we were here but there was a special meal we had that made my belly happy. The restaurant Din Tai Fung is a Michelin star dumpling restaurant in the base of Taipei 101. If you are lucky and turn up at the right time you will only have to wait about 15mins. I’d advice a weekday in-between lunch and dinner. We arrived at 3:30 and we were sat down before we’d seen the menu. When we left an hour later there was a 40 min queue. food1 food3 food4 We ordered way too much but it’s a holiday after all. We learnt the proper way to eat a dumpling which in case you were wondering is put it on your spoon, poke the dumpling and let the broth pour out and then eat your dumpling and suck up the broth. A huge meal cost only about 15 pound which is ludicrous for a Michelin star restaurant. This was just one such instance of great food. There are also countless theme restaurants such as a hospital restaurant, ninja restaurant and a barbie cafe. We headed to Modern Toilet  which is exactly what it sounds like, a toilet themed restaurant. The idea was so absurd that it was worth the trip. The food wasn’t anything to write home about but it made us giggle and if you are in Taipei for a few days its worth popping in. toilet toilet2 toilet3 There was also countless noodles as well as delicious breakfast restaurants. Just basically eat everything and then eat some more.

 

taipei2 The Outskirts of Taipei

A quick train ride away and you will end up on the outskirts of Taipei where you can ride the Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車).

outside The Maokong Gondola travels between Taipei Zoo and Maokong station. Here you can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain and see the tiny traditional villages that are still there or maybe try some traditional tea. My advice for the cable car would be to buy a ticket for the glass bottom cars since they are the exact same price and don’t require queuing. You just arrive at the time you were allocated. You can even use your subway pass to pay for it since it’s counted as a stop.I would advice not to head on the cable car if the weather isn’t great. When we were on the cable car the weather turned and a thunder storm attacked. I had one of those lovely film moments where I turned to a terrified Lee and said ‘At least there isn’t Thunder’ only for the air to shake all around us. Opphs.This was the only portion of our holiday that had rain so we were very lucky but still I wish it hadn’t  been when we were hundreds of meters off the ground in a metal box. When we made it to the top we wandered the hills and stared out at the misty city below us. We didn’t get to try any tea since everyone had run inside to hide from the rain and it was very busy. So after a lovely walk we headed down by taxi.

cks8 night The Nightlife

Now we didn’t get to see much of the nightlife but what we did see was a few choice bars that were really unique. I was determined to head to Ounce, a speak easy cocktail bar in central Taipei, ever since I heard about it from friends. As I may have mentioned before, I’m a sucker for jazz, swing and all things vintage so the idea of an actual speakeasy got me very excited indeed. Unfortunately by the time we finally tracked it down we were very late and had to wait a while for a table. We waited about half hour.

So why is this place worth the wait? Well, to find this bar you will need to first enter the ‘Relax’ coffee shop. Once inside you will have to track down the working button for that evening. This will be hidden on the wall. Once you have put your names down, drank a coffee (or beer) in the café a secret back door will open to reveal a candle lit bar hidden away. Once inside the bar staff will tend to your every need and make specialists cocktails to your exact tastes. A word of warning – this bar is expensive. These cocktails are London prices. But they are delicious (and very alcoholic) Would I advice people to head here? I would if they are cocktail people. I love nothing more than a good cocktail so I appreciated it but if you just want some beers with friends this isn’t the place. My biggest disappointment with the place was that I thought it would be a 1930’s speakeasy. I was expecting jazz music and themed décor but it is more of a hidden bar than a place to Charleston the night away.

cks9 There is so much we loved about this city that it’s hard to list just a few things but it is definitely somewhere everyone should experience. Lee and I got really excited to see the place featured in the film ‘Lucy’ recently and it got us all excited all over again, hense adding it to our Asia tour next year. We will see you soon Taiwan.

GO and GO NOW!

Have you been to Taipei? Did you love it as much as us? What should we do next time we go? How do you find teaching in Taiwan? We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

5 Cliche Things You Should Do In Tokyo

6th August 2014

5 cliche things you should do in tokyo Before I write this post it’s important to note that I love travel cliches. When I visit somewhere I’ve always dreamed of I am a walking talking cliche. I want to drink Guinness in Ireland, dance to bagpipes in Scotland and eat Paella in Spain. It’s those cliche moments that allow you to embrace the fact you are travelling  in those exotic locations. For Lee and I they are bench marks for a country. Not everyone appreciates these moment and everyone travels differently . These moments can be found in a thousand different ways. But if , like us, you want to have those moments that make you stop and say ‘wait a minute, I’m really in (insert country here)’ then these are the posts for you.

So with all that being said, let’s talk about Tokyo.

tokyo When we decided to move to Korea we knew without a doubt we would be taking the hour flight to Japan while we were here. We found the perfect opportunity to go last September, during the Korean national holiday of Chusok  . We even managed to recruit one of our friends to come along.

I  loved everything about Tokyo. It’s people, food and culture were everything I hoped for. Before going to Japan we made a list of things we knew we wanted to try and do in the 4 short days.  Our list was about two pages long and we did manage to do quite a lot of it but for your sanity (and my carpal tunneled hands) I won’t list them all. Instead I’ll share the five most iconic things that have become cliche but are actually those pure blissful moments when you are traveling that allow you to step back and say ‘wow, I’m in Japan’.

5 Cliche Things You Should Do In Tokyo: Sumo Circle

  1.  Watch Sumo –

Sumo is synonymous with Japan. When you think of Sumo wrestlers it conjures pictures of Japanese flags floating behind them large men in diapers while they stamp their feet down in the sand and throw salt. When we decided to go to Tokyo I knew I wanted to see sumo. Lee knew there was no way in hell he wasn’t going to track down a Sumo in a nappy. Luckily for us we were visiting during one of the main Sumo championships. We paid quite a hefty price (no pun intended) for the all day event and hoped it wouldn’t be a waste. I can tell you categorically , it was not. The huge venue was full of eager locals as well as people that had travelled to Tokyo just for the event. We ate sumo themed food, drank beer and watched the most interesting live sport I’ve ever seen. The main event sumo The only down side to sumo is that the warm up to each 10 second match is epic. Sometimes they would bow to each other for a good twenty minutes before a fight would begin but this really is what you have come to watch. Seeing them throw the salt and bow to the respected members of the judging panel all added to the experience. If you go wanting to experience the ancient sport and rituals rather than the actual 3 second match , you will not be disappointed . Lee even made me chase down a sumo in the street to have his picture taken beside him. super duper sumo tokyo Let me tell you that no man has ever smelt as good as that sumo wrestler. Shocking fact: sumo’s (or at least that one) smell like chocolate.

2. Go to a Sake Bar

Sake Tokyo We were extremely lucky that during our visit to Tokyo our friend brought us along to dinner with his old Oxford school mate. His school mate is actually Japanese and knew the ins and outs of Tokyo. The day we spent with him was by far the most interesting. He led us three, the lost looking foreigners, to a restaurant where we ate the most delicious Cow’s tongue. Dinner Tokyo Yes I realise that sounds disgusting but its really tasty. We even ate the free snails we were given. although I was eating it all out of politeness to start off with it was actually delicious. This was followed with a trip to a Sake bar. None of us (even our new Japanese friend) had tried Sake but I’d been told to go to a real Sake bar and to ask for the sweeter stuff instead of the spicy brand. We found a tiny bar that sat about 10 people, which is common in Tokyo and ordered. The next thing we knew, we were being handed delightful solid cubes of wood filled to the brim with sake. This in itself wouldn’t be weird apart from the fact there was also a giant glass of sake in the block too. MArk Sake Tokyo We blew every etiquette rule out of the water since we had no idea what we were doing or how to drink from this tower of booze  but  it was …um…tasty is the wrong word…It was interesting. We drink Korean alcohol a lot here in Korea so it didn’t blow our taste buds as they are quite similar but I would definitely take it slow the first few tasting. It’s extremely strong stuff. Sake Tokyo 2

3. Buy something from a vending Machine

vending machine tokyo When ever you mention you are going to Japan someone will tell you about the vending machine that you can buy dirty underwear from. Although seeing that written down makes me think that this may  just be a weird fact that my weird friends know. Dirty underwear being forgotten, we were interested to see if it was more of a myth than a reality that vending machines were everywhere and selling all manner of things. When we arrived we realised very quickly that the rumours (not the pants one, that’s still unproven) were true. Every corner, even dark alleys have vending machines for hot coffee or coke. We did see a few random ones for fruit, ice cream and one for books but my favourite, by far, was the ramen machine. Inside a small , sorry make that TINY restaurant we were pointed towards a large machine with all manner of buttons. We all guessed at what there were from the tiny pictures, paid and took a seat. A few minutes later we were presented with the most delicious noodles I’ve ever eaten. ramen tokyo Even to this day I have dreams about that ramen. Poor Lee who doesn’t seem to have too much luck with Asian food happened to press the wrong button and got a bowl of ice vinegar noodles. ice noodles These are much loved by locals but were quite a hard flavour for Lee to swallow. Either way it was a fun experience and I’d do it again.

4. Go to an Arcade

Tokyo Arcade This was something our friend Mark and I knew we wanted to do before we’d booked our flights. Mark is an avid Mario Cart enthusiast so he wanted to destroy Lee at a game or two. Tokyo Arcade 3 I was in it for the bizarre games such as the ‘first date’ game a friend had played on his trip to Tokyo where you had to woe a lady with button bashing. We tracked down a traditional Japanese drum game. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing or what the options were but it was fantastic fun. Tokyo Arcade 2 Japanese arcades are a world of their own and a great little hide away if you are visiting Tokyo in the blistering heat. Go on, let your inner teenager out.

5. Cross the Shibuya crossing

Shiubyua 3 I remember telling Lee we had to go to Shibuyu crossing while we were in Japan. He agreed and I was a happy camper, that was until ten second later when he asked what it actually was. Here was the downfall in my plan because Lee hates busy roads and lots of people but like a trooper (and because I told him many beautiful Japanese woman may be there) we headed to the crossing and took a moment to take in its splendor. In case you haven’t heard about Shibuya it is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world with as many as one million people crossing a day. Shibuyua It is a crazily fun thing to be a part of and it adds to the fun knowing its the busiest crossing in the world. You’ve just become a record breaking road crosser. The famous crossing is featured in many films such as Lost in Translation. Shiubyua 4 It gives you this feeling of being right in the centre of it all when you look up around you to the towering buildings and big screens. This spot feels exactly like Times Square in New York. This felt like real Tokyo to me. Iconic, busy, Kitsch and of course beautifully cliched.

Shiubyua 2 Well thats our top five. There are millions more I wanted to list but these are the five that I think of when people mention Tokyo. Cliches are cliches for a reason. The things I’ve listed are truely unique to Tokyo and made it feel real for us. Hopefully it will do the same for you. Like Alan Bennett says – “Clichés can be quite fun. That’s how they got to be clichés.”

What cliche things are you looking forward to doing? What cliche things have you done around the world? Where in Tokyo do you love or are you travelling there soon? Let us know and send us any questions you have about this lovely city.

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5 Things to See in London.

30th July 2014

thingstosee Originally we are both from Wales but London has always had a special place in our hearts. It was our first trip away together when we were 15. For some reason our families were brave enough to let us catch the bus on our own. We were so excited and spent all of one pound to ride the ‘Mega bus’. London seemed so big and daunting and we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We did however stand on the south bank and pinky swear that one day we’d live there. Ten years later at 25 we were both making those plans a reality and moved to the big smoke.

The years we spent in London were mixed since we lived in very different areas. I lived in Finchley which was the set for Shaun of the Dead and where they filmed Spaced. Lee lived in the butt hole of London and had riots in his street. Luckily for the traveler coming to London for the day, you will see neither of these places as they are both a good hour away from anything worth seeing . (Yes, London is that big).

What we both agreed on though was that we loved London’s heart and its center. We both spent many hours exploring all kinds of things there and we wanted to share with you five of the things that maybe not every ‘Things to see’ list would share with you. Really it’s just an excuse for us to relieve our London day’s since I’m a little home sick and jealous of all my friends about to leave for home in the summer vacation

Things to see:

gilbert3

  • The Gilbert Scott and Kings Cross Station –

These are two very different things but they are attached to each other so it’s easy to list them together. Kings Cross station was one of my favourite places in London. This station with its high vaulted glass roof, well thought out design, beautiful art and delicious restaurants of every variation makes it feel like you are getting a glimpse into a fictional world, reserved for Celia Ahern novels and Audrey Hepburn movies. It feels like everyone is heading somewhere important and everyone is happy about it. Obviously there is always the Harry Potter fandom reasons to head here since this is the location of ‘platform 9 & 3/4′  but the Euro star is also here which allows you to watch tearful reunions and excited tourists arrive from Paris. Or if you are really lucky,maybe even travel there yourself. The Starbucks opposite the Eurostar arrivals gate may be the best people watching spot in London.

If you leave the station then you will see the massive St. Pancras hotel that is attached to the building. This magnificent red bricked building dates back to 1873. It was used as the Railway offices for the whole of the UK. If you are facing this building and you head to the far left you will find the entrance to a hidden gem in London. The Gilbert Scott. gilbert Gilbert Scott was the original architect of this building in 1873 (after winning a competition to design it.) The bar and restaurant has taken on his name. This was an accidental find for Lee and I. We had met up one day when it started to pour down. We dashed inside only to come face to face with the most incredible bar we’d ever seen. The high ceilings are painted expertly and the original bells that once hung in the tower of this building are now hung from the roof. This bar makes you feel you have just entered the set of the Great Gatsby. The art deco glasses, jazz music, low candle lights and waiters in their three piece suits will throw you back to a bygone era. I must warn you that the drinks are scarily expensive, even for London but when you order a cocktail here you get a real cocktail. Hand made with precision and some interesting techniques. My friends drink arrived in a portable smoker to allow for the smoky taste of her whiskey. The 1873 is my personal favourite cocktail. Featuring Bombay Sapphire gin, Apple juice, Cranberry, Rhubarb and filled CO2 from an antique spritzer bottle right in front of you. gilbert2

The drinks are normally accompanied with free BBQ popcorn which sounds suspect but this secret recipe from a Michelin star chef makes it highly addictive.

The bar is attached to a restaurant and we never ate here but it’s on our to-do list. I would also love to try their afternoon tea. It comes on the silver tower with all kinds of delicious goodies, cakes and cucumber sandwiches (with no crusts obviously) and even some champagne. This is definitely our bar and any special occasion, if we are in London, you will find us there.

How to find it:

Take the underground to Kings Cross Saint Pancras on the Northern line , Hammersmith and City or the Piccadilly line.

No photo's of Waterloo i'm afraid but this is Lee and I on a speed boat on the Thames. A great thing to do if you have time.

No photo’s of Waterloo i’m afraid but this is Lee and I on a speed boat on the Thames. A great thing to do if you have time.

  • Waterloo –

If you leave Waterloo station from the back entrance instead of the large front entrances (head towards the McDonlads in the station) you will find yourself by one of London’s oldest theaters, The Old Vic. It has housed many a star and is a great spot for celebrity spotting. Kevin Spacy lives nearby and is quite a common sight. This area isn’t really a tourist area so you find great bars such as ‘The Fire Station’ or the Cuban themed ‘Cubana’ that does a fantastic margarita and great live music. There are also a range of vintage shops such as my old go to clothes shop ‘Radio Days’ as well as the best bakery in London called ‘Konditor and Cook’. If you like cakes then I’d say it’s worth the effort to head to this area but it is quite a maze of streets so if you particularly like the sound of any of this it’s worth researching a little more. If like me you like wandering and don’t mind what you find then this is a great place to head. It also is a very short distance to the south bank so not really a loss if you decide to head back to waterloo station. konditor

How to get there:

Take the underground to Waterloo on the Bakerloo line, Jubillee line, Northern line or Waterloo & City line.

porobellaroad2

Portobello Road –

For the avid Disney fans among you , you make recognize the name of this street from the classic Bed knobs and Broomsticks. Portobello Road is basically Notting Hill. I love its tiny streets, vintage shops, antique market and coffee shops. Lee loves the crazy variations of food and the fact that at any second he thinks people will spring into song like in the movie.

It’s a great place to have a wander, buy some trinkets, eat pie and mash and find great ice cream.

How to get there –

Take the tube to Ladbroke Grove (Hammersmith & City Lines) or Notting Hill Gate, which is on the Central, Circle and District lines.

trafalgar

The National Portrait Gallery, The Crypt and Trafalgar Square –

It may be cheesy to list this and I realise that every London list in the world will tell you to go there but I just love Trafalgar Square. From a certain spot on the balcony you can stand and see Big Ben while the fountains flow around you and happy tourists climb the impressive Lion statues. Everyone is normally so happy to be here since they are mostly tourists but it’s a great atmosphere and there always seems to be something going on. There are street artists, singers and bands’ always playing here to entertain the crowds and it’s a great spot to bring a sandwich and have lunch in the sunshine. gallery

The other benefit of this area is that right behind you is the National Portrait Gallery, a free and lovely way to spend an afternoon. I love photography and find portraits so interesting. There are paintings here ranging from actual paintings made of Henry the eighth all the way to the new Photos of Princess Kate. There is a fantastic modern art section with many famous paintings and sculptures as well as interesting exhibitions always arriving. I love seeing the wildlife photography exhibition as well as the photographer of the year.

Once you’ve taken in some art and culture you can head across the street to St. Martins on the Field, which is a church. Down below the church is not only old graves hidden in the stone but a café that’s been built into the catacombs called The Crypt. The foods not great and the drinks are expensive but if you happen to be here on certain days of the week there is live Jazz, Dixieland music and swing bands. People dance everywhere and it’s a fantastic spot.

trafalgar2 How to get here:

Trafalgar Square is a short walk from Charring Cross underground station and can be reached on the Northern and Bakerloo lines.

london3

The Players Piano Bar –

This is another of Lee and my favourite spots. Hidden away under the arches of the Charring Cross train bridge is this tiny bar. It doesn’t seat a lot of people and it only seems to be known by the directors, theater goer’s and actors from the theaters around it. On any given night you take a seat, by a relatively cheap drink for London and listen to the piano man or the cabaret star of that night sing all the classic . There is almost always a sing along and a fantastic buzz in the air. It is definitely where the cast of all the shows come to let their hair down. Fridays are especially great.  At 11pm (when most of London starts to shut down due to the mass exodus for the last train home) the place is full of singing and laughter as every one joins in for a cheesy classic. You know a bar is good when even Londoners are willing to take the night bus home.

I don't have photos of the piano bar but here is Lee enjoying a cheeky wine.

I don’t have photos of the piano bar but here is Lee enjoying a cheeky wine in the bar.

How to get there:

The Players Bar is hidden under the bridge below Charring Cross train station and can be reached on the Northern and Bakerloo lines.

So that is my 5 random favourite things to do in London…but there are of course more than 5. In fact food places alone can take up the entire list so here is a sneaky few places to try.

Great food places in London

  • Bodean’s Soho

A fantastic BBQ restaurant that specializes in messy pulled pork and delicious ribs. – Bodean’s Soho, 10 Poland Street, London, W1F 8PZ.

cupcakes

  • Humming Bird BakerySoho- Notting Hill – South Kennsington.

Fantastic American style cupcakes in a variety of flavours.

www.humingbirdbakery.com

  • The Blues KitchenCamden

My favourite casual restaurant and night out in London with friends. This live music venue delivers delicious New Orleans food such as gumbo and pulled pork sandwiches as well as delicious cocktails. Try the salt beef ruben sandwich.

www.theblueskitchen.com

The beautiful and talented Joanna Woodward singing in Proud

proud

  • Proud CabaretCamden – Bank

This is another one of those places that guarantee’s a great night out. My personal favourite is the Bank City branch and is based around a 1930’s speak easy. The waitresses dress in stunning corsets and the entertainment is funny if not a little tongue in cheek. With singers, comedians and burlesque dancers to entertain you throughout your meal. Their 5 course meal is often offered for a discount so it’s worth checking the internet to see if you can find any deals. www.proudcabaretcity.com

  • Konditor and CookWaterloo

a delicious and unique bakery. Try their curly wurly brownies and their passion cake. http://www.konditorandcook.com/

  • Borough MarketLondon Bridge

A huge variety of foods can be found here. Fresh fruit and veg, the best meat, cheese, cakes, wine, olives, bread…well anything you can imagine. The vendors also make a great variety of food to eat on the spot such as chorizo paella, chow mein’s and hog roasts. Bring an empty belly when you come for a visit.

http://boroughmarket.org.uk/market-map

Where do you love in London or where have you always dreamed of going? What’s your favourite restaurant and bar? Where should we avoid? Let us know what you think about the Big Smoke . We look forward to hearing from you. signature

Five Tips – Things that you wouldn’t think of trying in Korea.

29th July 2014

suprisingthings The first thing we did when we were thinking of moving to the lovely Korean shores was investigate the food. As any researcher would we headed for the source of all knowledge, Google. We promptly typed in ‘what is Korean Cuisine?’. Our small town of Bridgend hadn’t quite reached the sophistication of a Korean restaurant. In fact we barely have a Thai restaurant.

We spent hours researching the unknown and fancy things we could consume. Unfortunately our research would produce the same results ever time. Every site told us to try the same things. We knew we were going to live on 비빔밥 – Bibimbap (vegetables and egg mixed into rice with a red pepper sauce) and we  knew we’d be trying 김치 찌개 – kimchi jjigae (a spicy red broth with tofu, kimchi and onions). We also knew to expect to snack on 김밥 – Kimbap (rice, veg and meat wrapped in seaweed, similar to a Californian roll). Be warned – never accidentally call kimbap ‘sushi’ or you will have some offended Koreans on your hands. Lastly we were quite confident that fish bones would make an appearance.

Please note that these are exactly the kinds of search results we should have found since they are exactly what we eat each day and I have a soft spot in my heart for them. What no one talks about is the random items that you can find here that are a) better than most other countries and b) completely random and very Korean.

melon 1. 수박 or Watermelon – Fruit and vegetables are extremely seasonal here. You can buy them out of season but they will cost you a pretty penny. When we arrived in Korea we were advised to bring fruit to work as a gift. In the UK if you took some bananas into the office instead of biscuits you’d be shunned by your fellow co-workers but here fruit is so expensive that it’s a delicacy. This doesn’t mean you can’t find it, it’s in most stores but it is expensive and you have to buy in extreme bulk in most cases. It may be the fact you can only get items at certain times, but the fruit just tastes better here. During the watermelon season in June and July I just can’t eat enough of the stuff. It may be in my mind (or my aging taste buds) but the Korean watermelon is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I will miss it so much when I’m gone. A watermelon will set you back about $11 or 8 pounds but it will feed you for a week. It is also great for parties since you can stick a soju bottle in the top of one and let it absorb the alcohol throughout the night for a tasty alternative to a cocktail.

fish 2. 빙그레 or Binggrae Fish Ice Creams – These may look ominous with their less than appealing design but once you try these delicious treats you will be hooked. It is a simple item, wafer shaped like a fish on the outside with soft scoop ice cream and a layer of red bean on the inside. Red bean is something you either love or hate but when it’s made into a jam and put with ice cream its heaven. Many of these will be keeping us going during this hot Korean summer.

squid 3. 땅콩 버터 오징어 or Peanut butter dried Squid – Yes you read that right. I realise that your instinct is to think I’ve made a spelling mistake or that I’ve lost my mind but this is Lee’s favorite discovery in Korea and he has demanded it be listed. I quite like it but he lives on the stuff. This is something you can find in most convenience stores such as 7-11’s and Gs-25’s. It is strips of squid similar to jerky that’s has a distinct peanut buttery flavor. It has a strong smell but once you get over that it is fantastically chewy and delicious. It is the perfect bar snack. In fact some bars serve it in a red sticky sauce that will also tickle your taste buds. If you are in Korea its worth giving it a taste and if you don’t like it, it still makes a fantastically weird present to take home to the family.

mando2 mando1 4. 만두 or Mandu – This shouldn’t really be on the list since I’m sure most websites will tell you to try mandu at some point but mandu is so good it deserves to be reiterated here. TRY IT! Don’t’ just settle for trying one type, either, try them all. From the small fried pork mandu to the dessert red bean breaded mandu. It is all delicious and addictive. If you aren’t familiar with mandu it is a Korean dumpling. It comes in a few different varieties such as 왕만두 or wanmandu (translated as king dumpling) which is more of a steamed breaded bun with a chive and pork filling, 물만두 or mulmandu (translated as water dumping) which has a thin almost pasta like exterior that’s steamed or 군만두 or Junmandu which is a fried variety. If you are lucky enough to be in the city of Daegu I’d also recommend you try the cities specialty which is 납작만두 or Nabjang mandu. This is very different to normal mandu since it is a very thin sliver of batter fried with chives and dipped into soy sauce. It is perfect to wrap rice in and is a great fried treat. If you see a shop with steam billowing out of tall metal cans you have stumbled on a rare and beautiful mandu house. Try everything!

choc 5. 가나 초콜릿 or Ghana chocolate – Lotte is a huge company in Korea. It owns buildings, theme parks, toilets and chocolate companies. It would be impressive if you came to Korea and didn’t find their name somewhere. You’d expect that a company that has its finger in so many industrial pies would not be a good fit for a chocolate making company but you’d be surprised. For the first few months we lived in Korea Lee refused to eat any chocolate because he was in mourning for Cadburys. Eventually the cravings became too much to handle (he is a complete and utter chocoholic) He ventured into the American market and bought a Hersey’s bar. They sell them readily here in Korea. He was not a happy bunny. If you have grown up on very sweet chocolate Heresy’s can be a bit of a shock to the system. I am a fan, especially of their cookie and cream bars but even I didn’t think it was a good enough substitute so like any normal expats we begged our families to send supplies. This kept us going for a while but the crazy price tag did taint the flavor. Luckily for us a friend of ours came to the rescue. He offered us a Lotte Ghana bar. The bar was red in colour so our British chocolate brains had always just assumed it was dark chocolate but what it was in fact was delicious creamy chocolate. This once again may just be our mirage mechanisms cutting in after a Cadbury’s fast but it tastes really good and it is very satisfying. If you are in Korea and in need of a British chocolate boost this is the closest thing to home and definitely worth a try. It is also great when you melt it down and combine it with peanut butter. Once it sets you have your very own peanut butter chocolate.

So there you have it, five random Korean foods you have to try when you arrive. Obviously there are a stupid amount of things that will make your mouth happy in Korea but these are the surprising finds that make my days (and hung over mornings) happy ones.

What surprisingly good items have you found on your travels? Is there anything you are looking forward to trying in Korea that I haven’t listed or do you miss a particular things from your trips to this lovely country? Let us know your opinions and surprising finds from all around the world. signature

5 Tips – When Eating in Korea

22nd July 2014

smallandtallertips 5tipseatinginkorea

1. They use spoons –
One of the problems westerners face when arriving in Korea is the prospect of using chopsticks. With Asian cuisine being popular abroad most people have had a few attempts at these intriguing utensils but knowing it will be the only way you will eat when you arrive can scare a few. The main thing to understand is they don’t just use chopsticks here. In Korea a spoon will always come with your meal. This is mainly for soups and you will happy to hear, rice.
During university I lived with a friend who was originally from Hong Kong, he use to find it hilarious that we all tried to pick up rice with chopsticks. ‘We always use the spoon; we think you are crazy when you don’t’. This filled me with relief but I wondered if Korea would be the same. Luckily it is, in fact Koreans use their spoons for most things, and they even use it as a knife when the job calls for it. It is however important to note that chopsticks still crop up in the weirdest places. The most challenging things I’ve had to use them for would probably be birthday cake and chicken wings. If you fear the chopsticks and want a fork then you may be out of luck as they are as rare as a French man’s steak. The only time I’ve seen forks is in western restaurants or when you order a DongKassa which is a bread crumbed steak of meat that comes in a curry sauce similar to the Japanese dish Dong Katsu which is also a bread crumbed meat with a curry sauce. I’ve asked a few Koreans if one dish is based on the other but no one seems to be sure.
It’s also important to note, Korean chopsticks are a little different from the Chinese chopsticks. They are normally flat and made of metal instead of round and made of wood. This doesn’t sound like a big difference but if you’ve been using one type at home for most of your life it will be an odd adjustment, or at the very least an embarrassing one.

2.  Nobody really drinks with their meals –
In almost all restaurants water is provided   but it is usually in a very small metal cup. People apparently, aren’t meant to drink with their food as it slows down digestion but if like me it is something you are use to it will be a hard adjustment. In school the only drink people have is a very small glass of barley tea at the end of the meal and this is meant to be to swill your teeth.
The exception to this is of course alcohol. Drinking alcohol and eating is a very popular past time in Korea. Instead of going to a pub for a drink you meet friends and do both eating and drinking at the same time. This is a very good thing since the alcohol is very potent in Korea. Your stomach will be grateful.

Some of the food we bought to get some Makgolli

Some of the food we bought to get some Makgolli

3. You need to buy food to drink –

This is leading on from our last tip and is important to know when you sit down in a bar. If it is western themed then you may be ok but if the establishment calls itself a soju room (a type of sweet potato liquor similar to vodka but a fraction of the price) a Hof (a German word that has somehow become the Korean reference to a bar) or a Korean makgolli bar (a rice wine ) you will almost certainly be asked to buy food. Normally it is well priced and perfect snack food so it’s still definitely worth it but very good to know when the waiter stands patiently waiting at your table. kimchi1

4. You will eat KimChi (and Radish) –

When you order food in a restaurant you will normally be showered in tiny plates. Normally the amount of food that accompanies your meal for free will fill you up before your order even arrives. These normally include, egg in a hot pot, seaweed, a sweet potato dish, a salad with kiwi/ pineapple dressing and of course kimchi, bugs and radish.

If you are coming to Korea then it is inevitable that you will have heard of this fermented cabbage. KimChi isn’t just a food in this country but a national symbol. The food itself can only be made in winter during kimChi season and consists of a cabbage fermented with a mixture of garlic, red pepper paste and a whole host of ingredients. These ingredients are kept underground in in a think vase like pot for one to two years before being consumed. It is red in colour and will come to your table at every opportunity. Trying to explain the importance of this food to someone who hasn’t visited this country is hard because I’ve never experienced an association like it. In Korea, when you take a photo people shout ‘KimChi’ instead of cheese, in fact the peace symbol that is famously seen in most Korean photos actually stands for kimchi, not peace. You will be given kimchi when you order pizza, BBQ and even just a beer.
As for radish. Before arriving here I thought radish was a small red vegetable that went in salads. Here it is a serious business. If its not cabbage kimchi it will be radish kimchi and if its not radish kimchi on the table then a plate of radish will be bought anyway. The radishes grown here are as long as your arm, white in colour and not my cup of tea but I’ve met many westerners that love it so its worth a shot.
The question everyone will want to know when you arrive is ‘do you like KimChi’. Whether you hate it or love it, it is wise to answer yes because the real question they are asking you is ‘Do you like Korea’. Hopefully if you are lying then they won’t put a huge pile of the stuff in front of you but I’ve learnt during my time in this lovely country that it will probably happen anyway.

You also will be faced with these critters.

You also will be faced with these critters.

5. They have different tastes –

Now I understand how reading that may seem like the most obvious tip in the world, in fact it is just an agreed upon inevitability when you travel to a new country since we all have our own cuisines but I’m not referring to national dishes, I’m referring to western food. When you travel and you decide to give in and try the western delights (don’t judge me, I’ve been here a year and a half and sometimes you miss home) you expect the familiar items to taste, well familiar. In Korea this may not be the case. Take for example a trip to a bakery. The bakeries here are my downfall. Hundreds of choices all beautifully displayed and every item looking tempting but sometimes you will be tricked. It may look like delicious garlic bread that you’d eat with some pasta but in fact it has a sugar glaze over the entire thing. It may look like a delicious fruit tart with strawberries on it but its actually tomatoes in strawberry jam and of course it is never custard, its always sweet potato mash. These are difference you come to love and I know I will miss some of them (not the garlic sugar bread, you can keep that.) but when you expect the taste of home it is sometimes shocking.

Paris Baguette - yum!

Paris Baguette – yum!

These are just five small glances into the world of Korean food. During our time here we have discovered many nuances to the food culture. Sometimes lee and I agree full heatedly about whether these nuances are a good thing and other times we will disagree vastly ( The tall one loves garlic sugar bread….ukkkk) . Like the country itself the food is interesting and culturally revealing. I would recommend everyone try it. After all even if you come and hate the food there is always McDonalds that delivers to your door.*

*if you are ordering a Mc D’s in Korea then get the Korean double bulgogi with cheese burger. It is fantastic. See, you can’t escape Korean food even in McDonalds.

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