Preview for Tromsø, Norway: 1-12 March 2013

Hints of Aurora Borealis in Laksvatn to the east of Tromsø, Norway. 

For a little more than a week in March, I made the trip up north, way up north to Tromsø, Norway to catch the aurora activity during this year's solar max. What a trip it turned out to be. There was no CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) during that two weeks and I spent most of the time caught in a snow storm, but it was a trip to remember for a lifetime, maybe not as I have plans to go back there in the future. Anyway, while I work on my "opus", enjoy this photo. 

Bohyeonsan Observatory, Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do

​The idea for this place came about one day while I was browsing the contents of Korean Airline's inflight magazine and I read about a small village north of Yeongcheon very close to the large city of Daegu. This town decided they needed an identity and a signature dish. And it so happens that there is an observatory right on top of Bohyeonsan 부현산 and apparently they nicked-name the village "Star City" for us English-inclined speakers, and since there seems to be quite a number of Korean parsley growers, they started making a fuss out of grilled pork belly 삼겹살 and parsley 미나리. 

And as it always goes with me, time to check it out. Interesting combination. Stars and parsley. I recall the time I was in turkey close to the Syrian border where every meal seems to have a large side serving of parsley and how I loved it. 

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An Afternoon in Yeouido 여의도, Seoul

This small urban island is the home of many company headquarters, the seat of the Korean parliament and just about very major TV stations in Korea. Not to forget the occasional mega churches. Situated in a piece of land on the Han river, it is an island because a small stream cuts it off the mainland. So the southern part is just a stones throw to the mainland while the northern section requires a larger medieval catapult to get to land. 

The western part of Yeouido has tight security, and there is where the National Assembly building is, where the politicians hang out. I don't even bother to take out my camera as I'm sure security guards don't like any pictures taken. There's not really much to take here, mainly drab government building, that box with a dome on it and perhaps KBS station. 

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Foods of Wan-do and Cheongsan-do, South Korea

Steamed Seafood & Abalone - Jeonbok Jjim (전북찜)


I just looked it up, jjim is translated as "steamed" but it is basically a stew with less soup than the usual, so it is really steamed with usually plenty of sauce of the spicy variety. Just about every shop sells this. Randomly picked this one on the way from Wando bus terminal to the ferry terminal. One of the cheapest I've seen, 38,000₩ for a medium plate that's enough for 3 person with rice. It has abalone, squid, octopus, crabs, mussels, scallops and other seafood I cannot name served on a bed of bean sprouts and what looked like Korean water parsley (미나리) with hot chilli paste sauce. The sauce is more sweet than spicy, but tastes quite well with rice. Rice would e require at the end of the dish to wipe up all the sauce. The banchan here comes with kimchi that tastes more sour and you can kind of taste the fermentation. They like to serve the banchan here on a canteen type plates with shallow separates that serves four types at a time. Never seen this in Seoul other than canteens. Anyhow, tastes great and very filling especially when you finish off the sprouts. 

Abalone porridge - Jeonbok Juk (전복죽)


It's porridge, with sliced abalone, and greenish stuff that I later learned was the interior parts of the abalone that lies between the abalone and the shell. The stuff is then mixed into the porridge giving a sweet tasting gruel. Nicer in winter than summer but I'd happily eat this anytime. Price usually ranges around the 10,000₩ tag. Tastes even better if the shop puts more slices of abalone. Usually looks like less than a whole abalone in most shops I've tried it. 

Shellfish bibimbap 


Served with different types of shell fish sashimi on a bed of lettuce. You'd dump in the rice yourself and put as much gochujang sauce and sesame oil as you would personally like and stir it into a nice uniform consistency. The shell fish gives the texture into every bite but I'm not sure that it lends too much to the overall taste. Other than being healthy, I can't say that it's a dish I like to order if I was a taste freak. 10,000₩ poorer for the privilege. 

Instant Noodle with Abalone - Jeonbok Ramyun (전복라뮨)


Now this is a strange one. Instant ramen is popular cheap breakfast dish. Salty, MSG and a sinful serving or never expired noodles, but with two fresh abalones inside. Had this one when I got off the ferry on Cheongsando island. That's 8,000₩ bowl of the best combination made with Nongshin ramen. They did add some bits of additional spring onions to make it look healthier. 

Abalone and Seaweed Soup - Jeonbok Tteokbaegi 


Two things Wando region is famous for. Abalone and seaweed in casserole dish. Tastes slightly salty, but not ramen salty. Probably a lot less salty than a jiggae too. Just nice as far as my taste goes. Served with rice and the usual banchan on canteen plates. Really good for hangover I think. Not that I plan to get drunk here though. Of course no need to do so to try this dish. At the shop I tried this, I counted 2 medium sized abalone. 10,000₩ dish. It looks great as a hangover dish!

Abalone Pancake - Jeonbok Paljeon (전복팔전)


I love paljeons. Even better when I spotted the abalone cousin on the menu. That's one expensive pancake at 15,000₩. It's made of batter with strips of whole spring onions including the oniony bits and the leafy parts and with uniformly spaced small abalones. I did not count the number of abalones but suffice to say, there's enough to cover the whole 20cm radius pancake. Taste? With the soya sauce with chilli flakes as a side dip, really good. In fact so good I think this is my favorite Jeon so far because of the chewy texture. Look for it in restaurants. I got mine in Cheongsando close to the ferry terminal. 

Jeonju, Jeollabuk, South Korea: Bibimbap Town

Directly south of Seoul, is the small town of Jeonju. There is plenty of history in this town, I’m sure, but this trip is not about history but about eating. No, I have not sold out yet, it is still a travel site, and not another “foodie blog”. Back to the topic at hand… Jeonju is just 3 hours away from Seoul, enough to get there in the morning, have lunch and dinner and then come back before midnight, which is what I’m going to do.

At the Express Bus Terminal, the bus leaves from Central City terminal about every 10 minutes. There are two classes of bus, but I’d go for the more expensive service that cost 17,900W one way. According to the map, it is just about 200km away, but as usual, traffic jam plus heavy rain means that the trip took 3 hours. There will be a break half way to Jeonju, and the rest stop i surprisingly well equipped. There is a small supermarket, and plenty of shops selling sit down meals or korean junk food. They even have toebokki and sundae (korean blood sausage, not ice cream).

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Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines' inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So... mind made up, and ready to go.

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Leica camera CLA in Seoul

I have a couple of Leica Ms and of all of them, my favorite has to be the M2. However that M2 is also the only mechanical camera in my possession that is in need of overhauling. Clean, lubricate & adjust as they say it, or simply CLA. Doesn't take long to do a search on the Internet before I stumble across a supposedly nondescript shop in Chungmuro (충무로) that came recommended. GPS coordinate is approximately at 37.562063, 126.990041

To get there, take line 3 orange line to 충무로 station and get out at exit 5. Continue straight towards Myeongdong and one you pass a big tower called Kukdong Building, turn right and immediately turn left on the next small junction. About ten meters later on your right will be a small camera shop called Yeongsang 영상 Camera. Go up to the second floor and there is a black and white photo developing shop. In a small corner of the shop, the old man there will CLA your mechanical camera.

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Patagonia: Civil Strife in Puerto Natales & Evacuation

12 January 2011: The road to Puerto Natales

It was supposed to be a simple day, we were suppose to drive to Punta Arenas today, and I would split up with the group and go alone by bus to Ushuaia. But the last few days there were some rumours about a civil strife in this part of Chile, mainly in Magellanes region over the rise of heating fuel. The whole region was supposed to go into a protest mode and they showed their displeasure by trying to hurt the economy of their own region, and in this place it means shutting down the tourist machine. At this point we were not too sure about what that means, there were police at the hotel this morning in Las Torres but they didn't know what the latest status was. All we heard is that at Punta Arenas, the road to the city was blocked by protestors and tourists will have to walk the whole distance. 

The choices then was either to drive back to Argentina to escape the blockade, or continue the drive to Punta Arenas, and have the option to spend the night at Puerto Natales if the situation was not favourable. Even the drive to Argentina was not guaranteed as the protestors could block the border too. 

It was basically plenty of unknowns and at worst case it was a regional lock down. 

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Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

​This post spans 7-11 January 2011 that I spent in probably the most spectacular landscape I've seen so far at Torres del Paine National Park. It starts with the crossing into Chile from Argentina with time spent at three Estancia, first at Laguna Verde in the south, then to Lago Grey at the southern end looking at Glaciar Grey and finally to Las Torres for the final big hike up to Mirador Las Torres. It was a combination of landscape photography and wildlife hunting. In terms of scenery it was the icing on the cake.

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Patagonia: El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Argentina

El Calafate is the largest town at Parc Nationale de Glacieriares but it is still a small town with tens of thousand inhabitants. It is named after Calafate berry that is close to blueberry and make very good jam and sorbet. This was a one night stop, like a trip break between driving from Perito Moreno into Chile, which otherwise would be a long drive indeed. I think it was fun to be able to walk around a small city once, since after leaving Buenos Aires the only thing I saw was estancias and vast patagonian deserts and plenty of mountains.

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