21.8.17

Seoul「서울」- Bongeunsa「봉은사」

Bongeunsa buddhist temple in Gangnam, Seoul
My dance teacher always encourages us to dance "one beat late" and put focus on sudden changes from one step to the next, as the unexpected delights the audience. Probably this is also the reason for me to be so fascinated by Asian metropolis.
English
Bongeunsa is a buddhist temple located in the heart of Gangnam, right in front of Starfield COEX Mall which we visited in this post. It was founded during the Silla period, back 794. During the Joseon rule, Buddhism was severy suppressed but still, the temple caught the eye of a Joseon Queen who sponsored its refurbishment in 1498. Interestingly, during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) the temple became the headquarters of 80 smaller Buddhist temples around Seoul. Bongeunsa is also offering the "Temple Stay Program" where you can live like a monk for a few hours.

Its priviledged location in an elevated hill amid the skycrapers, the beauty of its decorations year-round (in wintertime brings less of lanterns and more of candles) and its 1200 year history, make Bongeunsa a mandatory stop and nice balance to the shopping craze nearby.

Spanish
Bongeunsa es otro templo budista en Seúl. Fue fundado en 794 durante la era Silla, Bongeunsa tuvo momentos de incertidumbre durante la era Joseon, que reprimía el budismo, pero sobrevivió hasta la ocupación Japonesa, en la que se convirtió en el centro de otros 80 templos Budistas menores desperdigados por Seúl. Situado en una colina entre los rascacielos, ofrece un contraste muy interesante y una historia muy antigua. 

La visita es gratis. Si os apetece un día de contrastes, podéis combinar el "temple stay" en el que vives unas horas como un monje con las compras en COEX que está al otro lado de la calle.
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18.8.17

Seoul - Lotte World Tower

Lotte World Tower, tallest building in Korea
Spanish
Hoy visitamos Lotte World Tower: 555m de altura, es el edificio más alto de Korea y el quinto más alto del mundo. Pese a la humedad del verano, ofrece unas vistas espectaculares de Seoul previo pago de unos 20EUR por persona. Está abierto de 9:30-23:00 así que podéis visitarlo de día o de noche, según que vistas os gusten más!

Lotte es un chaebol al que le tengo un cariño especial, quizás por producir mis chicles favoritos en Japón que no se venden en Korea! Esta empresa que a día de hoy, es la quinta más potente del país con presencia en productos de alimentación, construcción, energía, hostelería y comercio, empezó en la posguerra . Fundada por Shin Kyuk-ho, un Koreano que se graduó en una universidad Japonesa allá por 1948, empezó vendiendo chicles a los niños Japoneses - ya sabía yo que tenían algo especial... - para convertirse en la multinacional que es hoy en día.

Como turista en Asia, es casi imposible no cruzarte con algo relacionado con Lotte. Sea el chocolate Ghana en el conbini, los Peperos, las hamburgueserías Lotteria o el duty free. Aunque en Korea y Japón estén mucho más presentes, estas cosas me las he encontrado en Bangkok - fijaos si estáis por ahí!

English
After 13 years of preparation Lotte gained approval to start construction of Lotte World Tower, which was finally open to the public on April 2, 2017. At 555m height, the tower is the tallest building in the peninsula and the 5th tallest building in the World. The attraction at the top is called Seoul Sky and makes it possible to visit the top floor observatory, which is 3rd highest in the World.

Lotte was founded in June 1948 in Tokyo, by Korean Businessman Shin Kyuk-ho who started by selling chewing gum - I knew this was something special - to children in post-war Japan to become a major multinational corporation. Lotte is today not only the manfuacturer of my favourite chewing gum in Japan - which is not for sale in Korea - but also the 5th largest chaebol in South Korea engaging in construction, food, energy, hospitality and shopping.

As tourist in Asia you will find plenty of confectionery (e.g. Koala's march), malls and duty free shops, burger shops - called lotteria that make the 10 patty burger that Enrique ate once in Japan. All managed by the same parent company, as introduced in this post, chaebol or business conglomerates are rather common in South Korea.

Seoul Sky [WEB]
Open: 09:30-23:00
Ticket price: Adults 27000 won / Children (3-12) 24000 won - tickets can be purchased online too, but we didn't and still it was OK.

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16.8.17

Una península, dos Koreas

hopes for Korea reunification at a wall near Pamunjon
Korea del Norte es noticia de cabecera. Bombas atómicas, fuego y furia, ataques preventivos, Guam. Cómo es posible que todavía exista un país así? La respuesta está en la historia que trato de resumir en el post de hoy.

La segunda guerra mundial
Es importante entender que en la segunda guerra mundial, realmente había dos guerras más o menos independientes, de las que os hablaba al final de este post:
  1. Frente Europeo (Alemania como principal potencia del eje)
  2. Frente Pacífico (Japón como principal potencia del eje)
La historia de Korea, está relacionada con el segundo. Importante recordar que US declaró la guerra a Japón a consecuencia del ataque Japonés a Pearl Harbor el 7 de Diciembre de 1941 - en estos días que se habla mucho de who strikes first, en este caso fue Japón. Tres días después, Alemania e Italia (las otras dos potencias del eje) le declararon la guerra a US, con lo que se involucraron directamente en Europa, cambiando el curso en favor de los aliados.Es cierto que US tenía intereses militares en Europa, pero éstos estaban cubiertos con el "Lend Lease" - básicamente un programa por el cual US suministraba barcos al Reino Unido a cambio de la posibilidad de establecer bases en Europa. Os recomiendo este libro si os interesan estos temas de geopolítica.

Las potencias del eje (Japón, Alemania, Italia) tenían pactos firmados pero en realidad actuaban con bastante independencia: Los Nazis se rindieron pero los Japoneses seguían batallando por mantener su imperio en el frente Pacífico.

El origen de la Korea divida es, en gran parte, una coincidencia temporal:
  • Febrero 1945: Estados Unidos temiendo que la guerra se alargara un año más, acuerda con Rusia su entrada en la guerra del Pacífico en los tres meses después del fin de la guerra en Europa.
  • 8 de Mayo de 1945: Rendición del bando Nazi en Europa
  • 6 y 9 de Agosto de 1945: Bombardeo nuclear en Hiroshima y Nagasaki, tratando de forzar la rendición Japonesa
  • 9 de Agosto de 1945: Ataque de Rusia en Manchuria (país marioneta controlado por Japón)
  • 14 de Agosto de 1945: Rendición de Japón
Revisitando el mapa inferior y centrándonos en la zona rosa, observamos que Manchuria era mucho más grande y estaba en frontera directa con la península - da la sensación de ser el último trocito que le falta a Rusia.


Temiendo el avance de Rusia hasta ocupar la península completamente, Estados Unidos asignó a dos oficiales bastante jóvenes con la tarea de definir el límite de una zona de ocupación Americana en Korea. Basándose en una lógica simple, buscando una línea que dividiera el país más o menos por la mitad pero mantuviera la capital bajo el control Americano, sugirieron usar el paralelo 38 como línea de división. Completamente ignorantes de discusiones pasadas entre Japón y Rusia pre-revolución bolchevique en las que habían acordado algo similar; se sorprendieron de que la URSS aceptara esta división de inmediato.

En el 10 de Agosto de 1945, se llegó al acuerdo de dividir un país que llevaba unificado desde la era Goryeo (918–1392), entre las dos potencias que emergieron de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, entre Comunismo y Capitalismo, con consecuencias que llegan hasta el día de hoy.

Hay quien afirma que es una cuestión temporal, porque si la guerra hubiera durado menos (URSS no habría entrado en el frente pacífico) o más (URSS habría avanzado hasta Japón), Korea no estaría dividida.

Las dos Koreas
Al terminar la guerra, ambos lados tomaron control de sus respectivos territorios, tratando de establecer un gobierno auto-suficiente. Tres años después, Norte y Sur se alzaban con gobiernos independientes de ideologías opuestas:
  • 10 de Mayo 1948: Syngnam Rhee (anti-comunista) era democráticamente* declarado presidente de la República de Korea (ROK)
  • 9 de Septiembre 1948: Kim Il-sung (comunista) era declarado presidente de la República Popular Democrática de Corea (DPRK)
*Sólo hubo elecciones generales supervisadas por las Naciones Unidas en el lado sur (ROK)
three generations in North Korea
Como podéis ver Kim Il-sung es el abuelo del presidente actual.

La división de un país que llevaba un milenio unificado era un tema rechazado por ambos. Los conflictos que habían aparecido en el borde, escalaron hasta que en la madrugada del 25 de Junio de 1950, Korea del Norte apoyada por la URSS invadió el lado Sur, marcando el inicio de lo que conocemos como Guerra de Korea.

La guerra de Korea
Una visita al War Memorial of Korea 전쟁기념관 sirve como buen resumen de la guerra, que tuvo 4 fases claramente diferenciadas ilustradas en la imagen inferior.

  1. 25 de Junio - 14 de Septiembre 1950: Retirada hasta Busan
  2. Tras el ataque inicial, el lado norte progresó muy rápido. Tomaron Seúl tres días después. Cómo podían ser tan débiles? El lado Norte había sido entrenado para el combate durante los 3 años de post-WWII, estaba apoyado por Rusia y equipado con mucho más armamento que el Sur, que había sido preparado para una democracia y se quedó completamente indefenso con la partida del ejército Korea del Norte empezó la guerra con unos 200 tanques. Korea del Sur, con ninguno. Al llegar las Naciones Unidas al rescate, se atrincheraron en Busan (donde podían recibir alimentos y armamento por vía naval) y se centraron en afianzar fuerzas, mientras preparaban un contra-ataque.
  3. 15 de Septiembre - 25 de Noviembre 1950: Desde el Incheon Landing (UN) hasta la frontera norte
  4. La figura del General McCarthur, que había liderado las victorias del ejército norteamericano en la guerra del Pacífico, como su Comandante, es un factor clave en la guerra de Korea. Se opuso a la mayoría de líderes y demostró que tenía razón en creer que un ataque anfibio en el puerto de Incheon, donde está el aeropuerto de Seoul hoy en día, era la mejor opción para cambiar el curso de la guerra. Allí desembarcaron el 15 de Septiembre unos 300000 soldados (UN) - de los cuales 260K eran Americanos - recuperaron Seúl el 25 de Septiembre, cruzaron el paralelo 38 (invadiendo Korea del Norte) el 7 de Octubre y siguieron avanzando, con el objetivo de unificar el país. 
  5. 25 de Noviembre - Febrero de 1951: Entrada de China causando la retirada
  6. Desgraciadamente, Mao Zedong se había comprometido a "apoyar a Korea del Norte en caso de que US les invadiera" en un meeting con Kim-II-sung el 15 de Mayo de 1950. De hecho, esta posición diplomática es la misma que la actual - China sólo entrará si US ataca a Korea del Norte primero. 200000 soldados chinos entraron en Noviembre, 500000 más el 31 de Diciembre. Usando la superioridad numérica, condujeron a las fuerzas de las Naciones Unidas, lideradas por McCarthur de vuelta al Sur.
  7. Marzo de 1951 - 27 de Julio de 1953: Estabilización del conflicto, terminando en armisticio
  8. McCarthur cruzó el paralelo 38 en Marzo. En Abril de 1951, fue relevado por el Presidente Truman - por sus declaraciones públicas y su agresividad, aprobando ideas como el bombardeo nuclear de Manchuria. La guerra, se transformó en una guerra de trincheras, estabilizada en torno al paralelo 38. Pese al desgaste en ambos bandos, la negociación del armisticio llevó bastante tiempo, hasta que fue firmado por las Naciones Unidas, Korea del Norte y China. Korea del Sur se abstuvo pues sigue esperando una península unificada.
La Zona Desmilitarizada
El armisticio establece 3 puntos principales, que siguen vigentes hoy en día. Lo más importante es entender que no es un tratado de paz, ni un acuerdo entre gobiernos. Es decir, la guerra NO ha terminado oficialmente:
  • Alto al fuego 
  • Creación de una banda de 4km en torno a la frontera que visitamos en un post siguiente y se conoce como zona desmilitarizada (DMZ)
  • Repatriación de los prisioneros de guerra*, que cruzaron el Puente de No Retorno cuya mitad está justo en la frontera (MDL).
*Excepto si ellos eligen rechazar esta posibilidad (22000 soldados del Norte se quedaron en el Sur, unos 350 soldados del Sur - incluyendo 21 americanos y 1 británico, se quedaron en el Norte)

Korean demilitarized zone
Que conste que llevo zapatillas a 2000C grados a la sombra porque es condición obligatoria para la visita, no por gusto...
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11.8.17

Seoul - Gangnam underground shopping

fashion shopping in Gangnam subway station
Siempre digo que Seoul es mi ciudad favorita, a la hora de comprar ropa, pieles y bisutería. Cada vez que me dejo caer por la ciudad, saco un hueco para visitar Doota, como si fuera mi peregrinación a la mecca de la moda en el barrio de Dongdaemun.

Sin embargo, la sopresa de este viaje es el underground mall en Gangnam station, un laberinto de pasillos subterráneos en el que las fundas de móvil se alternan con restaurantes, ropa, bisutería, calcetines, productos de belleza o ventiladores portátiles de los que os hablo en otro post - son el accesorio del verano. Con precios muy competitivos - el conjunto de camiseta y falda que veis en este post me costó unos 25€ en total - y una calidad comparable a la de las tiendas en DOOTA, se convierte en una zona muy interesante que explorar. Te va a hacer falta algo de paciencia y orientación, pero merece la pena intentarlo.

Cualquier cosa puede pasar en Gangnam Station. Un día volviendo a casa de trabajar, me paraban las dependientas que berrean en la puerta de las tiendas, para darme cajas llenas de muestras de diferentes marcas de belleza (Tony Moly, Nature House) completamente gratis, con la única condición de que entrara a mirar en la tienda. Pero estas alturas, ya he aprendido que el estándar de belleza Asiático no encaja en mis facciones - con esa cara tan blanca y esos labios tan rojos parezco un travelo en desintoxicación - así que no pico con nada!

El estándar de belleza Koreano es algo que siempre me ha parecido muy fascinante. Éste es el país del mundo con más operaciones de cirugía plástica, pero dónde empezó todo esto? La historia se remonta a los años 50, época en la que los médicos locales reparaban los daños faciales en los heridos de guerra. Poco después, las prostitutas se hicieron clientas de estos mismos médicos, buscando atraer a los soldados extranjeros comenzaron a alterar sus caras para tener facciones más occidentales, dando lugar a un crecimiento del negocio y a una transformación del estándar de belleza.

A día de hoy, la belleza en Korea es algo extremadamente específico que incluye:
- Delgadez
- Piel blanca inmaculada (body smooth no tattoos)
- Cara en forma de V
- Párpados con "double eyelid" (los asiáticos no tienen pliegue de su natural, así que se operan...)
- Ojos grandes y pestañas postizas
- Cejas rectas
- Nariz alta
- Cabeza pequeña*
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9.8.17

Seoul - Gyeonbokgung「경복궁」

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeonbokgung「경복궁」was built in 1395. As the main palace of the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1897) , it is also the largest of the five grand palaces (Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung and Gyeonghuigung) that this 500 year period left behind. We are trying to cover them all, but they are huge, so it takes several weekends. Still, learning about the history between his walls actually unveils many interesting aspects of the Korean history, particularly about their relationship with Japan.

The huge site is colorful and varied. From the throne hall through the lake, the library, the living quarters or the center of the palace - where queens would give birth among "special energy", it is full of beautiful structures,  a pleasure to explore.

From the entire complex, it was Gonnyeonhap, the residence of Empress Myeongseong was the one which stroke me the most. The story between these walls made me look at Japan from a different angle. Currently open to the public, it leverages art installations and video to look back at her tragic history. It also puts in perspective the  the pain Korea was put through, over and over again in history, because of being caught between China and Japan.
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8.8.17

Seoul - Gangnam nights

Gangnam neon lights
Do you remember the street from this post? This is it, but at night!

In big Asian cities, magic happens at night. When the concrete jungle becomes the colorful neon peacock, people leave their jobs, get drunk and have fun. Regardless of how many times I see this kind of show, my eyes continue to shine under this show, like they did the first time. These lights make me feel alive, as if I was again the girl with big dreams who moved to Tokyo 6 years ago.
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7.8.17

iPhone screen replacement

iPhone 6 screen replacement
Después de casi 3 años sobreviviendo sin percances, mi iPhone 6Plus quedó en este estado tras sufrir una caída de lo más tonto en Seoul.

Justo en el peor momento, cuando falta tan poco para que lancen el 8 y estoy en Korea, gastando un poco más de la cuenta, todo apuntaba a que iba a tener que hacer el desembolso que requiere un cambio de pantalla en la tienda Apple. Lo irónico es que llevaba un protector de altísima calidad que compré en Tokyo a principios de este año, que no sirvió de nada para parar el golpe ya que el teléfono se estrelló de canto :(

Menos mal que me casé con un manitas que es un as para encontrar gangas electrónicas en internet, además de tener mucha experiencia con electrónica, tan pronto te suelda una placa como te cambia una pantalla - es cierto que hice mi proyecto fin de carrera soldando con estaño, pero siempre he sido bastante más torpe que Enrique con estas cosas, para que engañarnos.

Encontró un reemplazo en eBay al módico precio de 30€ y una semana después, se disponía a la ejecución. Aunque el kit traiga herramientas y el reemplazo parezca relativamente fácil en las fotos, no lo es tanto. Tienes que seguir todos los pasos cuidadosamente, portar el micrófono, el altavoz de oreja, la cámara frontal y el touchID a la nueva pantalla, con lo que hay muchas cosas primordiales que te puedes cargar si eres torpe.

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4.8.17

Seoul - Smoking Break

salaryman during smoking break in Gangnam
Por fin consigo capturar esta escena tan usual en las calles de Gangnam y compartirla con vosotros.

Salaryman trajeados, que trabajan hasta en Domingo, salen a su descanso de fumar con sus fieles slides - serán ellos el origen de la moda que ha inundado las calles este verano? Quién fue primero, Rihanna o esta gente?

Me sorprende muchísimo lo poco que les importa el entorno a los Koreanos. Los que me seguís en IG podéis ver muchos ejemplos en mis stories - al menos los que consigo capturar. Adolescentes que van en metro, bus o caminando por la calle con un rulo en el flequillo, el que se pasa una afeitadora a pilas mientras va sentadico en el bus 441 con el que voy a trabajar, las que se ponen las pestañas postizas y se retocan el maquillaje, compañeros que se empiezan a cepillar los dientes en su mesa (siendo que trabajamos en un área abierta) y la clásica siesta, en esa media hora en la que la oficina apaga la luz completamente, de 12:15 - 12:45.

Creía que lo había visto todo... Pero Seoul demuestra que Asia no defrauda.
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3.8.17

Seoul - Gangnam Supermarket「럭키할인마트」

supermarket in gangnam
Maybe I should go for some Gochuang, the spicy chilli paste used in almost all Korean dish... 

As already mentioned in my Japanese supermarket post, I am truly fascinated by supermarkets away from my home country, as I feel they capture daily life in a very accurate manner. Typically, you won't see many tourists in them, specially when away from the sightseeing hotspots. The only people at the cashier are those who live or work nearby. When you move to a country where you can't read, the supermarket experience becomes increasingly interesting. Half of the time you can't figure the actual price, the other half you are wondering what exactly certain things are. Hope you find this post as cool as I do!!

Overall, supermarkets in Seoul are cheaper than in Tokyo. The neighborhood shop lacks variety, but if you go to Lotte Mart, the selection of Western products is huge, along with higher pricetags. Still sometimes it's worth the investment (e.g. we got some white truffle oil, 30% more than what we pay in Spain) as it is more expensive but not so crazy anyway.

Los supermercados me causan una tremenda fascinación, porque tienen la capacidad de capturar "la vida real" en un país o ciudad como pocas cosas. El súper es un sitio que visita la gente que vive o trabaja en las inmediaciones, donde la oferta y los precios apuntan a las opciones más normales en la dieta local. En su día os dejé una visita a nuestro tienda de confianza en Tokyo, hoy damos una vuelta por el de Seoul 「럭키할인마트」, que no es tan grande ni lujoso, pero al menos cae cerca de casa.
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2.8.17

Seoul - Samsung and Park


All that shines... Is not always full of light

DISCLAIMER: I don't consider myself an expert on local politics, just writing this post based on what I see on the streets and what I can read on international press.

Spending a slightly longer period in a new country gives you a chance to learn about their history, their culture and some of the current issues in the society. Before coming to Seoul, I had mistakenly assumed that Koreans were almost same as Japanese in many ways. Not only is that wrong, but given the history of occupation and war crimes during WWII (such as comfort women), this kind of prejudice is insulting here. I am quite thankful to having gotten this chance to learn more about Korea, including many outstanding issues behind the glitz of Seoul streets.

What remains true is the relevance of chaebol「재벌」in the society.Chaebol, that literally stands for chae (wealth, property) and bol (clan) is the Korean word used to name the business conglomerates that were borned in the post Korean war period, as outcome of Korean's major industrial programs. With the country in ruins, the Government identified an urgent need to move away from consumer goods and light industries, towards heavy, chemical, and import-substitution industries. These industrial programs funded by the Government brought incredibly fast growth, it also accelerated the monopolistic and oligopolistic concentration of capital and economically profitable activities in the hands of a limited number of conglomerates.

The tremendous growth experienced by the chaebol, was closely tied to the expansion of South Korean exports. The strategy was to produce and export diversity, rather than just one or two products. Innovation was critical, switching from one to the next success:
  • 50s-60s: Wigs and textiles
  • 70s-80s: Heavy, defense and chemical.
  • 90s-...: Electronics and hi-tech
In 2014, Samsung aka the largest chaebol, accounted for 17% of the total economy in South Korea. Samsung is the world largest television, mobile phone, memory chip and semiconductor chip (for PC) in the world - larger than Intel since July 2017. The semiconductor industry is therefore the heartbeat of Korean economy. Interestingly enough, walking around on Sunday we bumped on the following installation.

Can you guess what is it? A white ninja and some weird lady?
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1.8.17

Seoul - Konbini snacks

spam egg cheese rice burger as seen in seoul convenience store
Spam egg cheese rice burger

Somos más de desayunar que de comer, algo que se hace evidente los findes en los que no madrugamos. A menudo, la comida se convierte en algo semi-prescindible que termina menguado en un snack mientras caminamos. Hoy, os traemos las maravillas del konbini「コンビニ」Koreano donde encontramos cosas como una hamburguesa de arroz con tortilla y spam. Esto de usar el arroz como pan es algo bastante común en este lado del mundo, que también dio origen al perrito caliente de arroz 「大腸包小腸」, típico en Taiwan.
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31.7.17

Seoul - Gangnam by day

Gangnam square

Gangnam es un distrito en Seoul compuesto de 26 (dong) barrios, que se hizo famoso mundialmente con la canción de Psy en 2012 - cuyo videoclip fue el más visto en Youtube durante 5 años. Gangnam, que literalmente significa "al sur del río" había permanecido irrelevante hasta los años 80, cuando experimentó un crecimiento económico notable.



El área de Gangnam es famosa por la concentración de riqueza y alto estándar de vida, comparable con el de Beverly Hills, especialmente considerando el precio de las propiedades donde el m2 se cotiza a 10000€. Aunque adquirir una vivienda sea caro, el precio de los hoteles, la comida en el supermercado o el transporte, no lo es. Por ejemplo, la habitación donde nos alojamos en Urban Place Gangnam sale por unos 70€ al día, incluyendo cocina, lavadora y servicio diario. Del supermercado más cercano os hablaremos en otro post, pero esperamos que esta serie sobre Seoul os anime a visitar la ciudad!

Hoy nos vamos de paseo por Gangnam. Nosotros caminamos desde Gangnam station hasta Apgujeong Rodeo, porque nos gusta andar. Si os da pereza, podéis explorar las calles en torno a la estación de Gangnam y el Gangnam Square - cruce de calles entre Teheran-ro & Gangnam-daero - para después coger el metro hasta Sinsa y caminar desde allí.

Los highlights de la zona son los siguientes - Google maps en Korea no te deja buscar rutas andando así en el mapa sólo puedo marcar los pines. Aquí un mapa resumen - que me ha costado la vida, pues la mitad de los sitios no aparecen (e.g. Starbucks Reserve) y la otra mitad están mal posicionados (e.g. Jaju, cuya localización he corregido basándome en páginas locales :S)

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28.7.17

Seoul - Blooming lotus at Jogyesa

Lotus flower festival in Jogyesa buddhist temple in Seoul

La mayoría de la población en Korea del sur (56.9%) carece de afiliación a una religión mayoritaria. El resto, se distribuye entre Protestantes (19.7%), Católicos (7.9%) y Budistas (15.5%) - de ahí la cantidad de iglesias que me cruzo de camino al trabajo, si 1/4 de la gente son Cristianos! 

Pero a qué se debe esto? El Budismo fue suprimido durante el período Joseon (1395 - 1910) que apoyaba el Confucianismo Koreano. La fé Cristiana era la predilecta de las clases sociales elevadas, durante las últimas décadas antes de la ocupación Japonesa, que veían cómo la sociedad Confucianista se derrumbaba ante sus ojos. Lo interesante es que su propia tradición, el chamanismo coreano (mugyo, 무교) tenga una penetración anecdótica, como resultado de las múltiples campañas en su contra conducidas desde el 1500, culminaron en el movimiento para destruir la superstición "misin tapa undong" 미신 타파 운동 entre 1890-1980 que terminó por destruir completamente el patrimonio cultural.

El templo que visitamos en este post se llama Jogyesa, representa a la orden budista Jogye desde 1395, cuando se fundó bajo el nombre de Gakhwangsa. Pese a la ocupación Japonesa, este templo resistió cual fortaleza estandarte del Budismo koreano, con lo que en 1938 terminaron por invertir en el hall con los 3 buddhas y designarlo templo principal de los Jogye.

Jogyesa ofrece el temple life program en el que, por unos 30€ puedes pasar una tarde (1-4PM) meditando, haciendo linternas, pintando con bloques de madera y tomando el té cual monje cualquiera. Los motivados pueden optar por el temple stay que consiste en quedarse una temporada, para interiorizar más las enseñanzas y prácticas, así como familiarizarte con el budismo koreano.

De mis 4 visitas anteriores a Seoul - parece mentira, pero voy por la quinta, sólo había tenido tiempo de visitar Jogyesa en invierno. De ahí mi sorpresa al encontrarme con este maravilloso festival de la flor de Loto. Si viajáis a Tailandia o visitáis un templo budista en cualquier otro sitio, acordaos de este post y mirad con atención. Seguro que hay mil flores de loto, en las pinturas, en las manos o en la base de los Buddhas. Las flores de loto son un símbolo Budista muy importante, que representa la naturaleza real de las cosas, imperturbable por el barro del mundo y se realiza a través de la iluminación.
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27.7.17

Seoul - Dancheong colors

korean temple paintings and patterns are called Dancheong
Drumbeat over this gorgeous byeoljihwa dancheong

One of the things that always stroke me about Korean temples and palaces is the beauty of their colors and intricate patterns. It's the aqua contrasting with shades of red, yellow, white and black, sometimes finished with a blue touch. So pretty, it often leaves me with a neck pain from staring at the roof over long periods of time.

Turns out this art is very very old, full of symbolism and called Dancheong 단청 which literally means cinnabar and blue-greenDancheong 단청 is based on 5 basic colors, each representing one element: blue (east), white (west), red (south), black (north) and yellow (center). The patterns can also be used to reflect social status and rank, which is of uttermost importance in Korean society today, but even more so already in the Goryeo period (918-1392) when the first writings about Dancheong appear.

Dancheong can be further classified in four main types... Which one is your favourite?:
  • Morucho: Pattern used to paint the ends of supporting beams with simple figures like water lily, pomegranate, bubble, feather...
  • Byeoljihwa: Traditional storytelling , placed between two morucho. The patterns consist of holy animals (dragons, horses, lions, cranes), specual plants called sagunja (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo) and scenes of Buddha sutras.
  • Bidanmunui: Diverse coloring with geometric patterns, typically applied in temples.
  • Dangdongmunui: Single flower, animal, geometric or pattern in one section.
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26.7.17

Seoul - Fast, cheap and healthy at Gimgane

korean fast food
Gimgane es una de las muchas cadenas coreanas, que junto a otros tantos restaurantes tradicionales, ofrecen los staples típicos a un precio muy razonable. Hoy os presentamos nuestros 3 favoritos, en esta cena que nos salió por 15000 won, que vienen a ser unos 13€ - incluyendo side dishes, sopa y agua en vasos de metal que recuerdan a los de la oficina.
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25.7.17

Seoul - Sik Mool

Sik Mool, cool bar in Ikseong-dong district in Seoul
Sentados en  la mesa compartida, con buenas vistas del manga alternativo que proyectan constantemente... Atentos a los 4 que comparten sofá, eso sí que es amistad.

Nos costó encontrar Sik Mool, pero el esfuerzo mereció la pena. A los dos nos encantó este sitio que combina tradición y vanguardia, con un toque artsy. Aunque sea una gota en el mar de garitos en Ikseong-dong, sus paredes capturan la esencia que se respira en este barrio donde todo y todos son tan effortlessly cool.

Sik Mool realmente son cuatro hanok fusionados dando lugar a (mi arquitectura favorita) un área abierta, con muros y suelos recubiertos de hormigón, propaganda soviética, cactus, jabón artesano, IPA y vino a precio de saldo - por 20€ en Asia no compra una botella todos los días. Si vas solo, no pasa nada, pues las copas son más que generosas.

El menú es bastante simple, con picoteo español - jamón, queso, algunas olivas - para entretener la gana y poco más. Mini-punto negativo por tener el valor de sacar las raciones sin pan de acompañamiento. Esto del pan es algo que me da mucho coraje. Aunque pensándolo bien, he visto cosas peores, como Boqueria en Estocolmo, donde te cobran a 3€ la ración de pan y son capaces de sacar 3 lonchas en el cestillo para una mesa de 4... VALOR!

Altamente recomendado si visitáis la ciudad, especialmente para los que pasan un período más largo. Porque cuando ése "pero quién me mandaría venir aquí..." un vinito o una caña en un sitio guay, ayuda mucho a pasar el trago! Os dejo un mapa y una foto de la entrada, espero que junto al mapa en nuestro post de Ikseong-dong os sea fácil encontrarlo!!

Sik Mool is a highly advisable spot in Seoul provided you like concrete, hanok, drinks and all things cool. Located in the heart of the often forgotten area of Ikseong-dong, the place offers cocktails, coffee, wine (at very reasonable prices), IPA beer and house-made pizza. This is a place to find a young artsy crowd in an effortlessly cool environment, pretty much like the rest of the cool businesses around Ikseong-dong hanok district. Don't miss it!! It won't disappoint.

SIK MOOL 식물
46-1 Donhwamun-ro 11da-gil, Ikseon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
11AM - Midnight



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24.7.17

Seoul - Hipster alleys of Ikseong-dong

ikseon-dong neon lights
Tras pasar el día explorando los palacios de Gwanghwamun, centro neurálgico del país durante los 600 años que duró el período Joseon (desde 1395 hasta la ocupación japonesa en 1910); caminando entre las viviendas tradicionales hanok de Bukchon; presenciando una manifestación pro-USA / pro-Park; volviendo a visitar a los impresionantes buddhas de Jogyesa y explorando las tiendecitas de Insadong... Decidimos que sería una buena idea ir a tomar algo, algo hay que hacer en Sábado. Habíamos merendado-comido un kakigori koreano llamado patbingsu a las 6, después de todo el día caminando estábamos bastante cansados y teníamos poca hambre. Así que seguimos el camino hacia el prometedor bar descrito por Lonely Planet, hipster, cubierto de arte moderno y decorado al estilo industrial, en el interior de 4 hanok remodelados.
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23.7.17

Seoul - Gangnam Nail Art

nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul
Qué tal la semana? Por aquí bastante movidita. Enrique ha pasado dos noches fuera, trabajando turnos nocturnos en Daegu. Mientras tanto, yo me he quedado dos días trabajando desde nuestro room. Esto me ahorra 3h de bus y me permite tener un horario más compatible con el Europeo, al no tener que cortar a las 18 porque se va el shuttle bus de la oficina. Con estas 3h extra, he conseguido ir al nail salon, que ya me tocaba. Hoy va de belleza el post - si te interesan historias como esta, haz like en nuestra página de Facebook para no perderte nada!

Background
No soy de llevar mucho maquillaje, ni tatuajes-micropigmentaciones, ni pestañas falsas, ni de arreglarme el pelo excesivamente, pero hay una dos cosas en las que pongo atención: cejas y uñas.

Desde que volví a España, soy fiel al Benefit Brow Bar de Marbella. En 2014 no había en el centro de Málaga (y ahora que hay tienen como dos meses de lista de espera :O) así que empecé a ir al del centro comercial La Cañada, donde también encontré peluquero (Esteban en Monisú, es el #1), TOPSHOP y UTERQÜE. Así que de vez en cuando hago una excursión de pampering. No había ido a ningún otro sitio hasta este Enero, cuando me encontré de rebote en Bangkok y decidí arriesgarme con el Anastasia Brow Bar - en Bangkok hay varios, si vais de vacaciones y os apetece probar llamad de antemano para asegurar la hora - que también os recomiendo!

Mientras que mis cejas mejoraron al volver a España, mis uñas han perdido mucho arte al dejar Japón, donde como ya os he comentado en posts anteriores:
nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul
Aquí una muestra de sus herramientas de trabajo, con el pincel fino hacen los dibujos que luego arreglan con una punta afilada de goma, hasta que quedan perfectos antes de secar con el LED.

My Korean Nail Art Experience
Así que un poco intencionadamente, un poco circunstancialmente, dejé pasar el retoque de uñas ...Pero como siempre en Asia profunda, nada es tan fácil como imaginarías ya que las cosas más sencillas se convierten en un problema cuando no puedes leer ni escribir:
  1. Encontrar un salón de uñas, en un país donde que GOOGLE te muestra 1/10 de los resultados que saca NAVER; donde el GPS no es muy fiable porque las calles son estrechas; donde se construye en alturas, con lo que no vale encontrar el punto en el mapa, sino que tienes que identificar por dónde entrar y en qué piso está leyendo el nombre en Coreano. Mi habilidad de leer Japonés combinada con lo que he aprendido de Hangeul en el bus, me salvó - los demás podéis advinar en qué piso era?? El 3!
  2. nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul
  3. Hacer una reserva, en un país donde ni los empleados de tu empresa hablan inglés. La única opción - hasta que dominas el idioma lo suficiente como para poder negociar horarios y tratamiento sin gesticular - es ir allí personalmente, aunque implique gesticular y una conversación rota del estilo (How long will it take? Two o'clock!) que termina contigo enseñando una tarjeta de crédito para confirmar que es aceptada como forma de pago.
  4. Negociar el diseño y explicar lo que quieres. Nada más llegar, la nailist me tiende 4 paletas con mil colores y me dice que elija uno. A lo que yo le contesto, señalando los mil diseños super interesantes (suckers for nail art raise your hands now...) a su espalda, si sería posible hacer gel design (keyword: DESIGN)?

    Me contesta casi gritando con un "NO!!!!!" muy tajante... "NO TIME". Y me quedo con cara triste, pero sigo escaneando los mil diseños pensando en que la próxima vez será, hasta que mis ojos se paran en algo que me resulta muy familiar a la última manicura que me hice antes de dejar Tokyo (incorrigible nostalgics raise your hands now...).

    Mientras tanto, con ayuda de fotos en mi móvil... Le explico lo fan que sou del nail art y lo mal que lo paso en España, donde no se lleva nada y por lo tanto, no hay casi artistas cualificadas para hacer las monerías que te hacen en este lado del mundo. Cuando vuelve a preguntarme por el color, señalo el diseño con cara de pena y le pregunto si sería posible que me hiciera ése que es más sencillo. A lo que acepta, tras buscar la mirada aprobatoria de su supervisora (YASSSS!!!). Cuando pasamos a la pedicura me vine arriba y le pedí dos uñitas plagadas de pedruscos porque soy una urraca incurable. Salí de allí tres horas más tarde, pero super contenta. De allí me fui a trabajar lo que quedaba de mi jornada desde nuestra mesa frente a la ventana sin vistas.
nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul
Victoria!! Un gran momento cuando cogió la paleta con diseños y la colocó sobre los colores base..


Quick tips for manicure, pedicure and nail art in Seoul
...now a small summary and quick tips based on my experience as a newbie, specially targetted to those who don't have much time and don't speak Korean:
  1. Google maps won't help as much as NAVER / KAKAO MAPS. If your Korean isn't there yet, try to "search near me" the following 네일아트 (nail art) or 젤네일 (gel nail)
  2. Find the place and go there physically to make a reservation.  Often these spots are in height, make sure you have the name of the place so you can cross-check against the building information.
  3. Use as few words as possible when you talk (both Korean and Japanese have different gramatical order than western languages, so more words = more confusion, this is a VERY COMMON mistake done by natives actually) and focus on the key words: gel nail, one-color, french, deep french, design, stone, gradation, hand, foot, care (if you want scrubbing etc with your pedi, cuticle care is included by default), cash, card.
  4. Price can go up quickly. As you can see in the example price list below, one-color costs half of french, former gel removal is also charged, design nails are priced per unit and added on-top of your prime choice, 10% TAX is typically not included in pricelist. In Japan, when you don't pick a default design (some examples here), price also depends on the complexity of the design e.g. the number of stones placed).
  5. Mitigation for price uncertainty, in case none of the designs in the store suits your taste, is to prepare the nail visit by finding a design you like, bring the picture with you, show and ask how much. 
  6. Make sure to check NAVER / KAKAO / INSTAGRAM for discounts. I am sure there are plenty of offers and vouchers out there, it's just my Korean which is not yet there.
Lulueyelash [WEB]
This is the place I tried. Conveniently located close to the Gangnam Subway station i.e. where we stay, they have a very clean and comfortable space with a rather cool nail art offering. They also do micropigmentation and eyelash extension.



nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul

Nail art fans in Korea, learn the following keywords:
- gel = 젤
- nail = 네일
- art = 아트
- design = 디자인
- pedi = 패디

Here's the price list for nail art. Below you can find a translation, keeping the names in Korean side-to-side so you can use as reference to read other price charts. I am certain there must be cheaper spots, but this is to provide a ballpark figure.

GEL NAIL 젤네일
Basic Gel 기본 젤 33,000
French 프렌치 44,000
Variation French 변형 프렌치 55,000
Gradient 그라데이션 55,000
Glitter Base 글리터 기본 66,000
Glitter French 글리터 프렌치 77,000
Glitter Grace 글리터 그라 88,000
Clear maintenance 클리어 보수 11,000
Design 1 nail 디자인 보수 3,300
Gel removal 1 nail (fits) 젤 제거 (쏙) 1,000
Out-of-the-way removal gel 1 nail 타샵 젤 제거 1,000

GEL PEDI 젤패디
Basic Gel 기본 젤 44,000
French 프렌치 44,000
Variation French 변형프렌치 66,000
Gradation 글리터기본 66,000
Glitter Base 글리터기본 77,000
Glitter French 글리터 프렌치 77,000
Glitter Grace 글리터 그라 99,000
Nutrition Care 영양케어 11,000
Color Care 컬러케어 16,500
Add nutrients + quick spray 영양제+퀵스프레이 추가 5,500
Scrub + massage added 스크럽+마사지 추가 11,000

nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul

For a total of 10 nails with design which you can see in the pictures below (follow us in IG for more daily life!), the rest in one color, I paid 170500 (about 130€) which is a bit too much. I think my hands were classified as glitter grace and my feet as glitter base, on top of which a 10% tax was added. They caught me as newbie in Korea thinking it would be cheaper than in Japan, but it won't happen again... Will follow (5) from now on, check the designs in advance - there are plenty as you can see!

nail salon in Gangnam, Seoul
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19.7.17

Seoul - Our room in Gangnam

Urban Place Gangnam, Seoul serviced apartment
Gangnam backstreets

Siempre me llamó la atención mucho eso de que los Japoneses usaran la palabra heya「部屋」que traducen al inglés como room para referirse a su casa. Supongo que nuestra residencia en Japón era, a juzgar por las reacciones de admiración que causaba, algo muy alejado de nuestro poder adquisitivo real como asalariados de una multinacional.

Creo firmemente en el karma y en que nuestro alojamiento en Korea es el payback por los años en Japón, la suerte que tuvimos con nuestro piso de Estocolmo y mis quejas (que son cada vez menos, gracias a mis amigos y mi escuela de baile) acerca de la vida en Málaga. Una muestra de lo que es la realidad de la mayor parte de la sociedad en megacities como Tokyo o Seoul, que recuerda a ese 2008 en el que Enrique se mudó a Estocolmo y convivíamos en mis 18m2 de habitación+baño.

Bienvenidos a nuestro humilde hogar en Urban Place, Gangnam!!! Una habitación con servicio de 23.5m2 en la que el espacio no sobra, pero mágicamente es posible tenerlo todo bastante ordenado. La habilidad de aprovechar el espacio que tienen los Koreanos dejan en bragas al IKEA.
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18.7.17

Seoul - Expat 2.0




Dado que vamos a pasar lo que queda de Julio y Agosto en Seoul, he decidido empezar una nueva serie acerca de nuestra vida cotidiana en Gangnam. No la del influencer que viaja a gastos pagados, sino la de un salaryman en toda regla. De nuestro nidito de amor os hablaremos en otra ocasión, porque deja a los pequeños espacios de IKEA en bragas. El highlight de hoy es… La cantina de la empresa.
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18.7.17

Culebra - Playa Flamenco

Playa Flamenco, Culebra, Puerto Rico
A rusty Sherman tank, one of the highlights

Let's get this straight. I am kind of a morning person, but NOT the one who loves an early wake up call. If I did come to Flamenco beach even before drinking a sip if coffee, trust me, I did it for love. Enrique bought a DJI Mavic for Christmas, so he was super excited to try it in Puerto Rico, where you don't get sued for sneezing as you do back in US mainland.

Thing is, he wanted to shoot the 70s abandoned tanks without much people around but got busted by the campers on the beach area. Nobody had woken up as early as us, but ofc it was rather easy for them to walk on the beach and ruin our shoot. Anyway...

Playa Flamenco was once voted as World's top #3 by TripAdvisor for a good reason. Pristine water, white sand, coconut trees and those rusty graffitied tanks which are just so unique to it. There's one on the shore and another on the hill nearby, so you can get different vibes in your pictures.
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17.7.17

Culebra - El Navegante

El Navegante de Culebra, Puerto Rico

Out of all the places we stayed, El Navegante de Culebra is probably the most innovative.

Instead of having a formal lobby or person in charge, the building is equipped with a Key Room where guests enter a code provided upon room reservation to receive the key. When leaving, you just leave the keys inside. And that's about it. Like everything else in Culebra, the place is small but functional and gets the job done. This place is well located, close to Pandeli, Dinghy Dock and the harbour where Culebra Divers is located.

They have a small space beside the building that can be used by guests for parking. Given that golf carts are the norm in the island, there's usually room when coming back from the beach. Highly advisable for your days in this little paradise.
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15.7.17

Puerto Rico - Avionetas

Avionetas en Puerto Rico

Si llegas al aeropuerto y te hacen pesar la maleta, es algo normal. Pero cuando te conviertes en el segundo bulto al que pesan, se te pasan muchas cosas por la cabeza - puede haber alguna aerolínea peor que Ryanair? Tanto se me notan las Piñas Coladas?. Hace un tiempo leí un artículo acerca de una aerolínea que operaba vuelos a Polynesia en los que se habían visto obligados a colocar a sus pasajeros estratégicamente para evitar desequilibrar el avión... Sería este el caso?

Parece que la situación era algo diferente, ya que no viajábamos en 830 sino en avioneta de 8 pasajeros. Como ya os adelantábamos en la mini-guía de Puerto Rico, además de una experiencia nueva y memorable, las avionetas son el medio de transporte más rápido y predecible para moverte entre islas.

Aunque los bultos de gran tamaño no estén permitidos en la cabina, nos dejaron coger la cámara con la que capturamos unas imágenes dejando atrás los rascacielos de San Juan y acercándonos a la jungla de la - todavía virgen - isla Culebra, donde aterrizar es una aventura dado que la pista aparece entre dos montañas cubiertas de jungla, momentos antes de tocar tierra.
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13.7.17

Puerto Rico - Pinky's, healthy brunch in Condado

Perfect brunch at Pinky's, Condado, Puerto Rico

People often think I don't like food at all - well, in fact I do! 

It's just that I struggle when things ain't clean or my intake of vegetables goes below the critical level or both. After a couple of mornings at Starbucks - open 365, easy pick when you don't know the area, we tried to find a better alternative as we had managed to do in Miami. Walking along the street we bumped into the cute pink storefront of Pinky's: Green smoothies, large coffees and egg-white wraps! They got me at hello...

If you are also into healthy brunch at a very reasonable price... Don't miss it.

Pinky's
1122, 1110 Ashford Avenue, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico
8AM - 10PM

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12.7.17

Puerto Rico - El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque, Puerto Rico

El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System and the largest block in the island, located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains. This is also the place when I truly understood the meaning of rainforest, a place where it does rain ALL THE TIME as a lot of water is needed to preserve the jungle-like setting — lush foliage, crags, waterfalls and rivers. Pack some water, a goPro, a raincoat and tones of patience, because hiking on the rain is not so pleasant but well worth it.

The park is packed with tourists, specially during the Christmas - New Year vacation period, so it might be hard to find a parking spot. Be patient and keep driving, the further you go the higher the chances. Once you enter the park, the first stop should be at the Visitors' Center, where you can get some information about the conditions and a trail map indicating the entry points, length and difficulty.

We did the Mt Britton trail, that crosses through a cloud forest - where you are indeed inside the clouds, but then we ended up continuing all the way up to El Yunque Peak which is another trail slightly longer. On the way back, we walked the Mina Falls trail which is very short and can be wrapped up with a waterfall bath. I did not go into the water but Enrique did. For me, it felt it was too crowded. At that point I was wet already, because of all the walking under the rain in the morning, all I could think of was the drive back home, a hot shower and a dinner with wine.

Still, looking back... One of the starkest memories I keep from this trip to Puerto Rico are the views from the cloud forest. Couldn't see much actually, but felt completely embedded in the sky.

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11.7.17

Puerto Rico - Pirilo's Pina Colada

Pirilo Pizza Rustica, Condado, Puerto Rio

As a sucker for coconut, I couldn't help dedicate a post to the perfect cocktail and Puerto Rico's National drink since 1978: The Piña Colada.

The legend says that in the 19th century, Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí, used to boost his crew's morale by giving them a cocktail that contained coconut, pineapple and white rum, which is believed to be the origin of would be later known as the famous piña colada. However, with his death in 1825, the recipe was lost until 125 years later, when Ramón "Monchito" Marrero experimented until creating the proportions behind Piña Colada as we know it today in 1954. He was a bartender at the Caribe Hilton, where he continued to serve the drink for 35 years until the creation was finally rewarded in1978 when Puerto Rico officially proclaimed the cocktail its national drink.

Fine. But I will continue to believe that its true origin were the Pirates' sailing the Caribbean.

Based on this Colada revelation, I read about Roberto Cofresí who turns out to be a local legend in Puerto Rican culture. Staring as a penniless nobleman he eventually became the last pirate in the Caribbean, the one who stole from the rich and gave it to the poor. A subset of these claims became part of the Puerto Rican independence movement and other secessionist initiatives, including Simón Bolívar's campaign against Spain. He was eventually captured and executed, by an international coalition as his skills were too much for the local authorities.

Yes... Back to the Colada! My taste for big breakfast combined with the heat implies that many days I skip lunch or replace it with some small snack, like an icecream or a Colada - why not? So I tried a few of them, but this one in Condado remains the highlight of the trip. Yes the Cocotazo of Villa Cofresí in Rincon was good, but was nowhere close this one prepared by the super smily owner of Pirilo.

Pirilo.  The restaurant right in front your hotel. The place you see always buzzing with people, fully booked, so you never get a spot, but walk away with that it must be a great place feeling. And you are right. Besides freshly made pizza, the interior is highly decorated on a wanderlust theme where different rooms showcase goodies from different parts of the World.

Pirilo Pizza Rustica
2000 Calle McLeary, San Juan, 00911, Puerto Rico
11:30AM - 12AM
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10.7.17

Puerto Rico - Old San Juan

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Established in 1521, when the Spanish colonist withdrew to this rocky outpost to stay away from Indians and mosquito-borne malaria, San Juan was the primary military and legislative outpost of the Spanish Empire in the Caribbean and Central America. Unfortunately, its economy stagnated and it would not be until the end of the 1898 Spanish-American War that the light would shine again along the coastline. The US annexed the island as a territory and designated San Juan as its primary port, triggering agricultural goods (sugar, tobacco, coffee...) to flow into the city.

WWII brought military capital into the island and in the after-war period, the island gained commonwealth territory status, making factories and banks reallocate to the island attracted by the advantageous tax breaks. This boom was a nightmare for city planners who were unable to keep up with the demand for services, roads and housing. In the 1980s, unemployment was rampant along with crime. Old San Juan was a scary place, so tourist re-routed their vacation plans to Condado, Isla Verde and Miramar. It would not be until 1992, the 500-anniversary of Columbus discovery, for the restoration of the Old San Juan, which is currently a safe and lovely city to explore.

We visited San Juan on January 1st, so the main fortresses (El Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal) were closed for National Holiday. Still, we took our time to explore the narrow streets, colonial buildings, cute little stores and restaurants. San Juan is easily reachable from the surroundings with Uber, no real need to rent a car or suffer trying to park it.
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9.7.17

Focus

Stop sign in Puerto Rico
Sometimes it's good to stop and think...

After these 6 months of travel, I decided to take a week off work:
- Where are you going this time? Somewhere exotic?
- Yes indeed, an unusual place where I'm hardly at... Home.
- Visiting your mum in Zaragoza then? Great!
- No... At MY HOME in Malaga.

I used to hate vacations at home. Simply because we all have a tendency to laze out too much and let time go bye without doing anything meaningful. It's good to relax, but 7 days in a row like this is plain waste of time.

To prevent that, I booked a week at South Dance Experience, the intensive course arranged at my usual dance school - the best in Malaga - Headway Dance Studio. Absolutely an excellent decision. Again, thanks Ale & Juande for arranging this experience. After 30h classes (spread over 6 days) from international choreographers on different styles (mostly Urban, but also Contemporary and Heels) I made new friends and also proved myself that, despite my age doubling 80% of everyone else in the room, I can still withstand this kind of physical and mental intensity.

This week was also refreshing, but in a psychological way. A total disconnection from all pressures and fears that us, 30 year-olds go through - Where do I belong? Am I too old for this? Shouldn't I rather concentrate of "appropriate for my age stuff" like having a baby? Where is my career going? Why am I still in Spain?. A total focus transition back to where it should always be i.e. right now. In life, like in an advanced dance class, blink and you miss it.

Yes, it important to have a plan. Yes, you should steer your life, while making room to enjoy things that make you happy. Even when they seem irrelevant to others (imagine talking to colleagues about my teenage end-of-year dance showcase), if they make you feel good... It's all that matters! This week over dinner with a good friend, we talked about depression and how it hunts "normal people" we know of. This reflection made me realize the therapeutic power of dance, to let go negative emotions, to energise you back to balance. At least, that's what it does for me.

During SDX, Jordy taught us this great choreo on Kylie's "Can't get you out of my head" and Jesus, this class felt like 1000 days of therapy. Guess it brought me back to 2001. The time when my age matched everyone else in the class, when I was thinking what to study in Uni, feeling I could be anything and change the World - at least a little, because everything is possible, as long as you try hard enough. Maybe, I was right then... And it's just time that blurs our eyes and tricks our brain to lose hope because we think "we know how the world works... and that's fairly unlikely to happen"

Lot's of good vibes :)  The right kind of energy  needed to start our summer adventure in Seoul.
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7.7.17

One week in Puerto Rico

girl on Puerto Rico beach
It's already 6 months since we came back and content keeps piling up on my disk... My iMac broke and my travel schedule was craziest than ever (2x Bangkok, 2x Jakarta, Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Stockholm, Berlin and Delhi in a 6 month period) but still, here comes our mini-guide to the lovely little island of Puerto Rico - have you noticed? Their flag is just like Cuba's but with opposite colours!

WHY
While I have not travelled around the Caribbean as much as around Asia, Puerto Rico seems to offer an unusual excellent balance between unexplored nature (not as commercialised as e.g. Punta Cana) and safety (not as dangerous as Trinidad). I suppose this is partially thanks to being an unincorporated territory of the United States. If you are after days of chill in pristine empty beaches, a bit of history, hiking, surf and diving, wrapped up by a Piña Colada - Puerto Rico's National drink! This is the place for you.

WHEN
Anytime but better avoid May - November it gets humid in May and then, it comes the hurricane season.

WHERE
We tried 4 different spots during our vacation, spending 2 nights on each:
- Andalucia Guest House [WEB] while visiting San Juan and El Yunque
- El Navegante [WEB] in Culebra
- Flamboyan Guest House [WEB] in Vieques
- Rincon of The Seas [WEB] in Rincon

All of them have 4.5 in Tripadvisor and are also featured in Lonely Planet's Puerto Rico guide. Highly advisable. It's been a long time since we went on a trip as "shaky" without counting a single bad experience with the hotels, but hey! Magic happens. Make sure to book well in advance, specially in the smaller islands where the options are few and quickly sold out. One important thing to consider though is that Puerto Rico is not cheap - at least coming from Spain. None of these is a fancy spot, but they were all already around 120-150$/night.

HOW
We arrived from Miami by plane. During our stay in PR big island and Vieques, we rented a car. During our stay in Culebra, we rented a golf car - which was simultaneously fun and scary. Highly recommended to book all cars in advance, using SIXT or another major company in the big islands and the local operator (right in the airport) in Culebra. Uber also works well to move around San Juan.

We went by plane - call it private jet because 8 passengers was the total - from San Juan to Culebra anda from Vieques back to San Juan. We moved between the islands with the local ferry because we were diving in the morning, and there are no direct flights between the islands anyway... The local ferry is a very cheap alternative (1$) but subject to delays. The ferry does not go directly from Culebra to Vieques either, a layover in Fajardo (east of PR big island) is mandatory and sometimes risky business - actually our trip turned nightmare when we ended up waiting for 6h in Fajardo with no food or water...


WHAT
We spent a total of 8 days in Puerto Rico, 2 nights on each place:
- We flew from Miami on NYE, arriving to Ocean Park (2 nights)
- Full day in San Juan and 1 whole day in El Yunque
- Morning walking around Ocean Park and afternoon to get to Culebra (2 nights)
- Full day in Culebra
- The morning after diving and in the afternoon, a ferry ride to get to Vieques (2 nights)
- Full day in Vieques (wrapped up by a night kayaking in the bioluminescent bay)
- The morning after exploring the south of the island and in the afternoon flight back to San Juan, followed by a long drive all the way to Rincon (2 nights)
- Full day in Rincon
- The morning after visiting the Goldeneye radio telescope which is located in Arecibo, driving back to San Juan on time for an afternoon flight to Miami.

1. Old San Juan
We kissed goodbye 2016 with a dinner in Greengos Caribbean Cantina, a random Mexican restaurant that turned out to be pretty awesome and popular among the locals. Then we went for some dancing, following the people and spent January 1st exploring the Old San Juan. While the main historical sites - Fuerte de San Cristobal and El Morro - were closed we walked through the rest of it, all the way down to the lively square called "La Placita de Santurce", where all bars were packed so we opted for an Uber home and a quiet dinner in Mango's Ocean Park nearby our hotel, which was one of the few places open and packed with locals celebrating the New Year.

2. El Yunque
We started the day picking up our car from SIXT and driving all the way to El Yunque, a tropical rainforest that offers waterfalls and hiking opportunities for all levels. It was a bit hard to find a parking spot, but once we did we killed ourselves walking 3 trails - I almost passed out, the humidity and the heat are hard to bear. We drove back and enjoyed dinner in a lovely little restaurant hidden behind Mango's called Bagua, that served excellent fish.

3. Arrival to Culebra
After a great brunch a Pinky's and a walk all the way to Ocean Park beach, we squeezed a colada from Pirilo - a great spot facing the hotel, drove back to San Juan, returned the rental car and ubered ourselves to the airport where both our luggages and ourselves got weighted, so the 8 passenger plane would not get out of balance. After a rough landing in "the most difficult airport in the Caribbean" - according to a fellow passenger - we managed to get our large suitcases in the golf car and drove back to El Navegante, our home for the next two days. Culebra's restaurant choice is not very wide, so we spent both nights in Dinghy Dock - come when you are not yet hungry as the wait is long.

4. The beaches of Culebra
We drove all the way to Playa Flamenco at sunrise, to shoot some pictures and drone videos. Then we went back to the hotel area and waited for quite long to get breakfast in Pandeli, the only café opened at the time. Pandeli is great for wraps, sandwiches and donuts but extremely understaffed so you have to wait for very very long time. Then, we drove to the ethereal and empty Playa Zoni, missed the chance to check out Playa Carlos Rosario (as cleaning activities were ongoing) and wrapped up the day with some snorkelling at Playa Tamarindo. Dinner again, was on Dinghy Dock.

5. Diving the Luis Peña Marine Reserve in Culebra
The last day started early with another long wait at Pandeli, a dive with Culebra Divers and the luck of catching the 13:00 ferry to Fajardo. Everything worked according to plan, except for the 4h delay on our ferry to Vieques, where we arrived at around 22, having eaten a total of 2.5 protein bars / each in the entire day. We dropped our stuff between the cute purple walls of Flamboyan Guest House and run to Lazy Hostel, the only place serving food at 11PM. Trust me, even I ATE PIZZA that day.

6. Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
After a basic yet amazing breakfast in our balcony featuring local fruits, bread and all-you-can-drink coffee, we drove to one of the highlights of the trip. This 18000 acre refuge occupies the land formerly used by the US military. The 3100 acre segment at the west end was used mainly as storage area, so it is very quiet. However, the remaining 14700 acre eastern segment includes a former firing range is still off-limits, despite including some of the island's best beaches. We stopped at Pata Prieta, Playa Plata and some other I don't even remember... It was an amazing day by the beach. We took a shower and got ready for kayaking in the Bioluminiscent Bay, another highlight of Vieques. On New Moon days, you paddle and see the water microorganisms glitter. Dinner was this time in Duffy's the bar under our hotel, where we shared table and conversation with some cruise ship crew.

7. From Sun Bay to Punta Arenas
We spent our last day in Vieques hanging out with the wild horses of Sun bay as preparation for a dip into the wilderness of the West Point of the island, all the way to Punta Arenas. Another flight back to San Juan, followed by a drive all the way west, to Rincon - the surfing paradise of PR. We ended the day with a quick bite in the hotel restaurant.

8. Rincon
Rincon ain't big but memorable. We started the day checking out the weekend market in Rincon's main square, then drove all the way to BONUS - the abandoned nuclear plant - and Punta Higüero Lighthouse. Then we walked along the beaches surfing spots, from Antonio's down to Sandy Beach. Then we went back and chilled at the bar of Hotel Villa Cofresí, where some locals had recommended us to try the speciality called Cocotazo which is like a humongous Colada inside a large coconut. I'll remember that sunset for the rest of my life.

9. Observatorio de Arecibo and the way back to San Juan
We started our last day in Puerto Rico with a great breakfast at Cafe 473 followed by a visit to the largest radio telescope on Earth, located at Observatorio de Arecibo. We just dropped the car on time for the plane back to Miami, but thinking about it - was all well worth it, there aren't many who can claim to have visit the 007 Goldeneye radio telescope!.
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19.6.17

Miami - Nautilus

Nautilus a sixty hotel in Miami south beach

Cuando nos vamos de vacaciones, tratamos de evitar los hoteles excesivamente caros, dado que nuestros viajes de año nuevo suelen ser bastante largos y a la vez, podemos prescindir del lujo. Con un baño limpio y agua caliente, es suficiente. Sin embargo, decidimos hacer una excepción en la noche que teníamos de layover entre el vuelo de Puerto Rico a Miami y el vuelo de regreso a Madrid.

Para una vez que me dan vía libre conseguí encontrar la mejor opción, Nautilus, un hotel del grupo Sixty cuyos principios me cautivaron.
SIXTY Hotels es una colección de alojamientos de lujo, iconoclastas y exclusivos con sede en la ciudad de Nueva York, Los Ángeles y Miami. Elegimos fomentar la inspiración a partir de nuestros telones de fondo urbanos, y ofrecer un servicio y una experiencia exclusivos; el objetivo de SIXTY Hotels es, simplemente, inspirar y satisfacer a nuestros huéspedes. Consideramos que un hotel debe proporcionar más que solo una cama, un baño y un minibar. Un hotel es una forma de vida que representa los gustos personales de los huéspedes. 
Nuestros huéspedes son verdaderos “artistas en residencia” que se sienten como en casa y convierten su experiencia en un lienzo. En nuestros hoteles exclusivos, los huéspedes en residencia se toparán con una paleta de colores distinguida, un servicio profesional y comodidades en todos los aspectos. El resultado es un equipo de atención que garantiza que tu estancia en un SIXTY Hotel te acompañará por mucho tiempo después de salir del hotel. 
SIXTY Hotels forma parte de SIXTY Collective, una nueva compañía fundada por los hermanos Jason Pomeranc, Michael Pomeranc y Lawrence Pomeranc, comprometidos en crear una experiencia cultural integral en la industria de la hospitalidad.

Alojarte en Nautilus es como vivir en un museo de arte moderno, donde el servicio es atento y refrescante. Aterrizamos en Fort Lauderdale, donde un tiroteo había ocurrido menos de una semana atrás con lo que todo funcionaba anormalmente tarde. Al llegar al hotel, estábamos bastante cansados así que decidimos probar Cabana, el restaurante del mismo. Pese a no ir para nada vestidos para la ocasión, fue una velada memorable.
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16.6.17

Miami - E11EVEN

couple pre-party before Miami E11EVEN
Warming up in the apartment

Those who know Enrique and me, know we are very different people. Both personality wise and in terms of musical taste, there's close to zero overlap. He likes rock, I like hip-hop, ragga and soca. He likes ska, I like house. He likes underground, I like fancy stuff. This makes it very difficult for us to go party as "a couple" and actually have a memorable night. But even for this, Miami had a special surprise for us.

As a I have explained some time ago, I am huge Nicki Minaj fan. I learnt that she would perform for NYE in a club in Miami, so of course I was dying to go. Still, the problem was that we had already booked flights to spend NYE in San Juan, and the 340$ entrance fee was a bit too much - even for a talifan like me. To compensate for it, Enrique agreed to take me to the club on a separate night because if Nicki is performing, then it must be worth checking out right? We bought the tickets online and Enrique checked online reviews, indicating the place was actually a strip club.

I was in COMPLETE denial... Until we arrived there. Indeed it was one-of-a-kind, just not what I expected. Long story short, the reviews were right. E11even is open 24x7, as a club that doubles as strip-club. This was a bit shocking for me, the whole idea of having women walking in underwear around you is something new to me. But I tried to make the most of the investment and enjoy the show from some of the best pole performers EVER. The girls were able to climb a 5m high bar - which was not attached to anything else than the central platform, so it had some vibration to it. They performed fearless acrobatic tricks that typically ended with dance on the circular platform, while customers rain notes on them. Once the 2 girls on the main stage were done, a guy in suit would collect the notes into some metal bucket, a new pair comes and it keeps rolling. Not what I expected, but hey definitely an interesting part of the local culture - if you ever tried pole dancing as a sport, you will certainly appreciate the difficulty of the show much more.

In my defence, the website does not mention full body strip tease anywhere.
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15.6.17

Miami - The story behind our 640i ride

640i, Miami

Those of you who follow us on Instagram may remember our BMW 640i ride along the bridge between South Beach and Downtown.

To get things straight, we did not book such car - which is only made available by specific reservation, for the record - just happened to drop by SIXT in an extremely busy season, meaning the car we had actually booked was not available with the next best option being paying a bit extra per day (and a YUGE deposit) to get this convertible dream instead.

Things turned out to be fine, we did not damage the precious ride and got a feeling of the Miami vice in our hair. In the end, it might be worth the investment - because if you're gonna drive it once, where could be better than Miami Bay?


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14.6.17

Miami - Design District

Design District, Miami

Miami Design District is one of these neighbourhoods where you feel too poor to even dare to use the restroom of the shopping mall.  My cousin loves it, as she often visits these stores to create interiors for her rich and beautiful customers.

Still, we dared to take a walk and admired the architectural jewels, in conjunction with the modern street art and of course, palm trees. Very Miami. There were stores where they sell high fashion interiors, like Armani or Versace Casa, surrounded by all high fashion brands, fancy car and fancy people overall. Cool for some pictures, but completely OK to skip if you are tight on time.
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13.6.17

Miami - Crandon Park Beach, Key Biscayne, Miami

Crandon Park Beach, Key Biscayne, Miami

Miami has a mild weather year round but temperatures around Christmas and New year, when we visited, average 20C - high 24, low 17.

Despite being low season in Key Biscayne for temperature reasons, Crandon Park seemed to be a perfect spot to spend the day picnicking and barbecuing with your friends and family. We only had time for a short walk, but still... It made the perfect wrap up for this nature walk, just before the final stop of the day - my cousin's favourite place - the Miami Design District, which we'll see tomorrow.

We even saw a peacock!
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12.6.17

Miami - Bill Baggs Cape, Key Biscayne

Bill Baggs cape, Key Biscayne, Miami

Key Biscayne is an island east of Miami, where 12K people live. Why is it called Key? Isn't it an island? When the Spanish arrived to the New World, they took the word 'cayo' from the Taino Indians of Hispaniola (today's Haiti-Dominican republic) and Cuba, which used 'cayo' to refer to small islands. While in Spain, we use the word 'isla' for island and 'islet' for small island, the Spanish in the New World used 'cayo' and 'cayuelo' for a very small island. The English used 'cay' as in Hawks Cay, so it ultimately became 'key'. Hence the Caribbean is full of keys surrounding the bigger islands.

Key Biscayne offers the perfect background for a relaxing day in the nature. Beaches are public, long and sandy, parking lots huge and barbecues mushroom along with picnic tables. I always enjoy spending time in places where you can see the life of the local i.e. where the average family would spend a day. We parked and took a walk on the beach, followed by a climb to the top of Cape Florida Lighthouse, a brick structure from 1845 that offers superb views of the bay. This lighthouse  replaced the previous lighthouse which was damaged in 1836 during the Second Seminole War.

Around the lighthouse, we can still read about the history and get a feeling of the houses back then.

The Seminole Wars
Also known as the Florida Wars, were three conflicts in Florida between the Seminole — collective name given to the amalgamation of various groups of Native Americans and African Americans settled in Florida - and the United States Army. Together the Seminole Wars were the longest and most expensive Indian Wars in United States history.
  • The First Seminole War (1816-1819) began with US army excursions into West Florida and Spanish Florida against the Seminoles after the conclusion of the War of 1812. The governments of Britain and Spain both expressed outrage over the "invasion". Spain was unable to defend its territory, and the Spanish Crown agreed to cede Florida to the United States in the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819. According to another treaty (signed in Moultrie Creek, 1823), the Seminoles were required to leave northern Florida and were confined to a large reservation in the center of the Florida peninsula. The U.S. government enforced the treaty by building a series of forts and trading posts in the territory, mainly along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
  • The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) was the result of the United States government attempting to force the Seminoles to leave Florida altogether. Raids and skirmishes and a handful of larger battles raged throughout the peninsula, with the outgunned and outnumbered Seminoles effectively using guerrilla warfare to frustrate the ever more numerous American forces. After several years chasing bands of Seminole warriors through the wilderness, the US Army changed tactics and began destroying Seminole farms and villages. This cruel strategy proved quite effective and changed the course of the war. Most of the Seminole population in Florida was killed in battle, ravaged by starvation and disease, or relocated to Indian Territory in modern Oklahoma. Only a few hundred Seminoles were allowed to remain in an unofficial reservation in southwest Florida.
  • The Third Seminole War (1855-1858) was again the result of Seminoles responding to US Army scouting parties encroaching on their lands, perhaps deliberately to provoke a violent response that would result in the removal of the last of the Seminoles from the area. After an army destroyed a Seminole plantation west of the Everglades in December 1855, Chief Billy Bowlegs led a raid near Fort Myers. This set off a conflict which consisted mainly of raids and reprisals with no large battles fought. American forces again strove to destroy the Seminoles' food supply, and in 1858, most of the remaining Seminoles, weary of war and facing starvation, agreed to be shipped to Oklahoma in exchange for promises of safe passage and cash payments to their chiefs. An estimated 100 Seminoles still refused to leave and retreated deep into the Everglades to live on land that was unwanted by white settlers.
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