Tag Archives: travel

Bridges, beaches and beauty of Busan

KOREA PENINSULAThroughout my first month in South Korea, friends and colleagues recommended getting out of Seoul at some point. While the country is relatively small (roughly 20 percent the size of California or about the size of Maine), there is plenty to explore: big cities, quaint villages, lots of mountains and as a peninsula, lots of coastline. For my first solo trip out of Seoul, I targeted the city of Busan for a 24 hour weekend adventure. It sits on the southeastern-most tip of the country and is easily accessible via the KTX (one of four high speed rail systems in the world).

Here are a few fun facts about Busan:

  • With a population of 3.6 million, it is South Korea’s second largest city.
  • It is the world’s fifth largest container handling port in the world.
  • The city intended to bid for the 2020 Olympics before Pyeonchang to the north was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Not to be confused with Pyongyang in the actual North.)
  • It is home to one of the most influential film festivals in Asia.
  • In 2009, the Shinsegae Mall surpassed Macy’s flagship store in New York City as the world’s largest shopping mall with a whopping 3 million square feet of retail space. (1 square mile of shopping space per resident?!)
  • During the start of the Korean War, Busan was one of only two cities in South Korea not captured by the North Korean army.

While I traveled to Busan without any expectations on what I would see or experience that would impress, I left with an admiration for the city’s beautiful beaches and impressive bridges. A little more on that here:

The 4 mile long Gwangan Bridge stretches in the distance across one of Busan’s most beautiful beaches, Gwangalli. It bridge is Korea’s first double decker suspension and its design was inspired by the flapping wings of a seagull. In 2014, a colorful nightly light show began after more than 10,000 LEDs were installed.

A guidebook stated that Gwangalli Beach is less attractive because of the bars, restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. I didn’t expect to find serenity in the middle of a city of 3+ million and found the stretch to be entertaining, striking on the eyes and thirst-quenching.

Haeundae is Korea’s largest and most famous beach. It can draw up to 100,000 people during a sweltering summer day. Most Koreans that I talked to described it as chaotic and unappealing. For me, it was a pleasant place for local people watching. 😉

The 2.5 year old Bukhang (Busan Harbor) Bridge is the 2nd longest cable-stayed bridge in Korea. At first glance, cable-stayed bridges look a lot like suspension bridges. However, they are quite different. While a suspension bridge has main cables strung between towers with support cables hanging down below, cable-stayed bridges feature cables running directly from the tower to the deck. The Brooklyn Bridge is the most famous cable-stayed bridge in the world.

Billed as more tranquil than Haeundae and Gwangalli, Songjeong Beach was equally as jam packed with parasols on a 90 degree day.

An ambitious 45 minute trip north of Haeundae Beach via a bus (or two, by accident) reveals beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple clinging to a cliff-side. It offers a bit of respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

While there’s more to Busan, including an art museum seemingly obsessed with bosoms, and an art village with uniquely colorful panoramas, I’ll always remember it as Korea’s city of beaches and bridges.

A Wonderful Whirlwind in Japan

japan-112722_640While traveling for work, I always make an effort to carve out at least a small pocket of time to enjoy my destination… through cuisine, local acquaintances, or a drive-by sight-see. When I found out I was going to go to Japan for work recently I wasn’t sure what to expect. Meetings, dinners, train rides, repeat. While I was excited to return to Land of the Rising Sun, it was hard to imagine having any time to enjoy the culture.

Without really trying, my experience of traveling to Japan for work exceeded expectations by a mile. My trip was full of out of this world food and flavors, unexpected hospitality, meaningful local connections, and exposure to a new side of global business. I even was able to wrap up some unfinished business from my trip 10 years prior…

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My American colleagues and I were lucky enough to have a few of our local Japanese colleagues with us for the vast majority of our week. When did this become invaluable? Not only when navigating the intimidating train systems, but even more so when it was time to eat. From ramen and rice to sashimi to shabu-shabu (above), I ate some of the most delicious Japanese food. The most adventurous selection of the week went to sea urchin.

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I’ll try everything once and that’s a great attitude to have in Japan, especially when you’ve got locals ordering on your behalf.  A dictionary of food came in handy at one meal to help in our interpretation of the beautifully presented edibles.

Name that sushi?

Name that sushi? My favorite is on the top left.

When traveling on business, you have to work to see the sights. That's why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hoped on the train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole.

When traveling on business, you usually have to go out of your way to see some sights. That’s why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya Crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hopped on a late night train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole for a sake nightcap.

Coworkers

Getting the chance to do business in Japan was invaluable experience. Business in Japan is built on a foundation of respect, honesty and follow-through. I am a wiser professional after building relationships with colleagues from some of the most successful and well-established companies in the world.

Umeda Sky Building

I’ve always had a fascination with skyscrapers and tall structures, and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka had me entranced from the moment I laid eyes on it. I had never seen or heard of it and it became the subject of early morning exploration. While I didn’t have time to go up to the hanging gardens on the top floor, it will forever be in my memory as one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps the most

After 5 non-stop days of meetings, presentations and train rides we finally earned some official sightseeing time. Thanks to the never ending hospitality of my local colleague, we enjoyed Kyoto with visits to the Nijo Castle and the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). While I had been to both spots during my study abroad in 2004, being back was a time to reflect on how I’ve grown in the 10 years since my first visit.

Because of the nature of this trip, we spent a lot of time on the Shinkansen (bullet train)…  traveling from Tokyo to Hamamatsu to Osaka to Kyoto and back to Tokyo. During my premiere trip to Japan 10 years ago and during our ride early in the week south to Osaka, I missed the opportunity to see beautiful Mt. Fuji out the train window due to less than desirable weather. On our final train ride back to Tokyo, the day before we were to depart, as the sun was setting, without a minute of sunlight to spare, we lucked out and I finally got to see the majestic mountain.


It was a spectacular and satisfying way to wrap up an unforgettable week. More photos and memories on Flickr.

Treasures of the Sunset

I’m not shy when discussing the joy associated with my living situation. In addition to having a great apartment and great roommate, I embrace my neighborhood and take advantage of its riches frequently. There are many things to love about San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood. I love brisk after-work urban hikes to the top of Grand View Park and Strawberry Hill (in Golden Gate Park). I love the delicious cheap dinner spots like Lime Tree, King of Noodles and Crepevine, and its classier joints like Pasión and Nopalito. I even love Donut World, open 24 hours a day.

Grand View Park, Sunset, San Francisco

My roommate (Austin) and me at the top of Grand View Park, one of my very favorite vantage points from high above the Inner Sunset. Along your urban hike up to the park, be sure to stop at Moraga and 16th Avenue and discover one of the two nearby sets of mosaic tile staircases. (Photo credit: Nicolas Smith)

The Inner Sunset has a hot dog joint, comic book store, and shoe repair shop that’s been open since 1900. From its streets you can look in various directions and lay your eyes on Sutro Tower, the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park, an oasis where you can run on trails, run on a track inside a former NFL stadium, run a half marathon, hike, paddle boat, golf, frisbee golf, cycle laps, geocache, play baseball, soccer, kickball, attend a music festival and more. Our glorious park is home to a world-class science museum and art museum, Japanese Tea Garden, carousel and bison paddock.

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There is never a shortage of things to do and see in Golden Gate Park. Starting clockwise from top left: a butterfly inside the Academy of Sciences, ducklings and their parents at Stow Lake, a Burning Man tent set-up dress rehearsal with Brian, and a geocache discovery with Austin.

In celebration of my adoration for my neighborhood I recently contributed to my dear friend Andi’s travel, food and France blog, Misadventures with Andi. As part of her new series on SF neighborhood profiles from locals, I share more of my favorite Sunset neighborhood gems including a worker-owned bakery and a magnificent cheese shop. Check out my Sunset profile here.

Gimme 5: Peru

Peru 5It’s been 2 months since I returned from Peru. While I have archived my photos on Flickr, and now have a digital album filled with memories, I have struggled to find a way to chronicle my Peruvian vacation, simply and appropriately here. When it comes to blogging it’s common to over-think. I decided to pick five standout takeaways from the trip and build from there.

1 The Inca Trail is an adventure of a lifetime. Being on the 26 mile trail for 4 days exceeded my expectations in terms of thrill, beauty, serenity, spirituality and joy. By the end of our third day, before even making it to Machu Picchu, I was overwhelmed with awe. We began that day with magnificent views of snow-capped Andes Mountains, as seen from just outside our tent door. The day ended at Wiñay Wayna, where we had a stunning and impressive Incan archaeological site all to ourselves to explore, as the sun set on the Urubamba Valley.

Machu Pichu was impressive and there are no experiences I would trade for that moment when we walked through the Sun Gate at sunrise, to see the famous World Wonder waking up for the day amidst blue skies and sunshine. So many memorable moments along the 4 day trek, combined with the most stunning terrain, is what made for an unforgettable vacation (that I will unintentionally compare all future vacations to).

Mt. Salkantay in the distance, from an original stretch of the Inca Trial.

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna.

2 Pisco makes for delicious cocktails and Peruvian cuisine is among the most unique and satisfying in the world. Food from Peru is influenced heavily by what’s been grown there for thousands of years like potatoes, quinoa and corn. Peruvian cuisine is growing in popularity within world-class cities, as covered by Hemispheres Magazine, in a short and snapy piece in its June issue, which I read right before our trip (just in time to build excitement for my taste buds).

What experienced and open-minded foodie doesn’t salivate at the thought of fresh ceviche?

While I’m not raving here about the guinea pig or alpaca ravioli I sampled, I will say that the home-cooked meals our porters artistically created on the Inca Trail, were as enjoyable in their own right, as the items we indulged in on the tasting menu at one of the best restaurants in Lima.

Spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village

A spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village.

One of the chef's staff at Central Restaurante came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

One of the chef’s staff at Central Restaurante in Lima came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

3 Peru has a rich and fascinating history, rooted and influenced by the rise of the mighty and massive Incan Empire. During the weeks leading up to and through our trip, I read Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas, which served up a 500 page dose of Peruvian history, starting with the rise of the Incan Empire beginning in the 1300s, well through the Spanish colonization of the 1600s. The facts I learned in this book came to life during time in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, along the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, as well as deep in the Peruvian Amazon. This book is a comprehensive and well respected history lesson for anyone traveling to the land of the Incas.

The Last Days

In April, The Hollywood Reporter published a story reporting that TV network FX is planning to turn MacQuarrie’s book into a miniseries titled, Conquistadors. THR reported, “The drama tells the story of Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, two Spanish Conquistadors who above all odds conquered the Incan empire of 10 million people with just 168 men, and Manco Inca and Cura Occlo, two teenage Incan royal lovers, who led one of the greatest rebellions in history.”

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Inca empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Incan empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America.

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced together stones

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced-together stones.

4 The Amazon (which represented nearly 50 percent of our overall Peruvian adventure) is filled with beauty, music, the elements and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings. Using pictures and audio, which often tell more appropriate stories than words, here is more on that:

Beauty: From delicate flowers and butterlies to playful, noisy scarlet macaws, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Beauty: From the hundreds of varieties of delicate flowers and butteries, to the playful, noisy scarlet macaws and the many species of their parrot friends, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce… listen for yourself with a clip I recorded outside our lodge….

The Elements

The elements: They call it a rainforest for a reason, even in the dry season. We learned this when we got caught out in the rain on an oxbow lake, doing some friendly stalking of some rowdy cowbirds. We must have hiked more than an hour in a heavy down-pour all the way back to the lodge. It took my soggy shoes more than 4 days to dry.

Wildlife: We had some once in a lifetime wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, the impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick, a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across the jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodent, the capybara.

Wildlife: We had some unique wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, an impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick (as photographed above), a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across a jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodents, capybaras (above).

5 Out Adventures, the travel group that my three travel mates and I went down to Peru with, executed a flawless Inca Trail trek and a magical journey in the jungle. Given that the Peru government requires Inca Trail hikers to go with a permitted group, I figured why the heck not try to find a gay group to go with. It’s not that men attracted to men always need or want to travel in packs, yet gay trekkers are going to be like-minded in many ways. Still, I was a little apprehensive going into the trip, traveling with a large group of  strangers.

Our trip was comprised of an interesting and lovable group of guys. From London to Vancouver, our group was diverse, including a soon-to-be father and the first gay marriage divorcees I’ve met. We shared experiences together in Lima, Cusco and on the Inca Trail that we will never forget. If I found myself in a city where any of my fellow trekkers reside, I would make it a priority to see them… (like I did last week when I saw uber attractive and all-around-nice-couple, Alex and Kevin, in their hometown of NYC).

I look forward to a future Out Adventures trip and I encourage fellow gay adventure seekers to explore their once-in-a-life-time excursions — from Croatia and Turkey to Nepal and Burma… and maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro sometime soon? (hint hint, Robert.)

Urubamba Valley

Machu Pichu

There are many more memories from my trip to Peru that I wish I could capture with words. At the very least, I will always have some of these stories to remind me of my adventure and the more than 600 additional photos on Flickr.

A perfect long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale

Every couple of years it’s nice use the time off around Thanksgiving for a little traveling. In the past I’ve used the time to explore Australia, lounge in Puerto Vallarta, backpack in Yosemite and Point Reyes, and rock climb in Joshua Tree. This year I spent my turkey day weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I had never been and knew very little about the destination, but I did a fair amount of research ahead of time and sketched out a light itinerary to assure a positive experience. It ended up being a beautiful, relaxing long weekend with good drinks and eats, and a lovely stay at a small, unique hotel.

If you’re interested in going to Fort Lauderdale or planning a short trip in the new year, here is a quick guide I’ve put together based of my stay.

To stay…

If you’re gay and open to birthday suit poolside sunbathing, stay at the Villa Venice. This guesthouse recently joined a property family with the popular Worthington and Alcazar resorts, and as a guest in one you have access to all three, each separated by a short palm-lined stroll. The Villa Venice seems like the nicest of the three, definitely the quietest when we were there, with the nicest lounge chairs (important) and a comfy poolside cabana. The rooms are modern and clean, and a basic but high-quality continental breakfast in the morning is the perfect way to start the day.

Villa Venice isn’t within walking distance to Wilton Manors, the gay neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, where the local bars are, but the location is ideal because of the proximity to the beach. I don’t know what other areas of Fort Lauderdale are like (because we were perfectly happy staying in our beautiful area) but the stretch along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. (1A) is a popular area, and not over run with tourism.

VILLA VENICE IN FORT LAUDERDALE

To eat…

We were recommended Casablanca Cafe by at least one person and it came up in our research as a top nearby place to eat. We ended up there twice because of the great outdoor seating and well-done American dishes. We highly recommend the rigatoni. We split oysters and two entrées for lunch on our first visit, which was the perfect way to dine. With spiked Arnold Palmers, on the patio and sun beaming down, it couldn’t be beat.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at Steak 954 at the W Hotel, perhaps the nicest place to eat in the area. The jellyfish in the waiting area of the restaurant are mesmerizing and memorable. Our food was good — the oysters, steak, and turkey dinner were all prepared well. There was a cool breeze the evening we were there so we didn’t sit outside, but the patio is spacious and would be inviting on a beautiful warm day or night.

We also enjoyed a dinner at The Plaza Bistro, a unique outdoor dining concept. Essentially they’ve parked a glorified gourmet food truck on an empty plot of land a few blocks from the beach, and thrown in a professional wait staff and proper seating and plating, for a pleasant and satisfying experience.

If you drive into the small retail / tourist trap area near NE 9th Street and Sunrise Lane, I would avoid pretty much all of the food establishments, as they’re all poorly rated. We stopped into SandBar for lunch and sat on their run down roof deck. We sent our poorly cooked burgers back and what they replaced them with (slightly better cooked burgers), weren’t any good either.

EAT IN FORT LAUDERDALE

To drink…

The W Hotel of course has a bar to have a few pre- dinner drinks but our favorite watering hole ended up being the dive Patio Bar attached to the equally dive Tropic Cay guesthouse. Friendly servers, stiff drinks, a juke box, pool table and ocean breeze, all combine for a great low-key cocktailing experience.

To beach…

While the guesthouses and towering luxury hotels have nice pools, don’t miss the opportunity to spend time on the beautiful beaches of Fort Lauderdale. The entire stretch along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. that we strolled and lounged along from Terralinda to Sebestian, is blissful. The gay area is near Sebestian Beach and I found it to be unpretentious and picturesque.

TERRAMAR BEACH IN FORT LAUDERDALE

To do…

Simple instructions here: when in Fort Lauderdale, focus on one thing – relaxing. It’s so easy to do. Beach, sun, warmth. Read a book and soak up some Vitamin D. Recharge and let your mind rest.

To explore…

At some point you may want to do something beside read, eat, sleep and sun. If you’re like me, maybe you will want to do a little exploring. Look no further than the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens. It’s a historic home sitting on a beautiful plot of gardens, once owned by some wealthy Floridians, and now featured on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

We explored the grounds, met a few monkeys, and strolled past all the key landmarks before joining a guided tour of the house. We were intrigued by the art, decor, style and history.

BONNET HOUSE FORT LAUDERDALE

I knew nothing about Fort Lauderdale three months ago but I’m now happily enriched by its beauty and getaway characteristics. Maybe it’s a wilder place during spring break or during the summer months, but for Thanksgiving it was the perfect getaway.

Mad love for OBX

Boy, the Outer Banks are not easy to get to. For me to get there required a cross country journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and a return travel day of more than 16 hours, door to door. As tiring as the journey was, I returned invigorated with gratitude for the adventure, and for the week of memories and moments yielded during my week in Duck, North Carolina.

I am grateful for being able to spend a week in a beautiful part of the country I knew nothing about, with a welcoming, colorful and loving family.

I am grateful for being able to spend a day learning about the Wright Brothers, Kitty Hawk and the history of aviation.

I am grateful for deliciously cooked meals and special occasion wine, learning to play dominos, stargazing in rocking chairs, and stumbling upon a bench made out of sand on the beach.

I am grateful for being able to spend time with someone special in my life and an amazing new little human who is not only adorable and a complete joy to be around, but also so smart. (I taught her to high five!)

I didn’t know much about the Outer Banks when I booked the trip, but I am happy to have had the opportunity to discover and enjoy a new and beautiful place, without even having to leave the country (which I think is often taken for travel-granted).

I know I certainly would like to go back. There’s still much to see and enjoy. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, wild horses, kite flying on the beach. Maybe not soon, but someday.

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Home base for the week was Duck, NC, a cozy little town only officially 10 years old.

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We made several trips up and down the beautiful boardwalk along the Currituck Sound.

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One of the things I love about the East Coast is the history. I haven’t spent much time soaking it all up but the Wright Brothers Memorial was a special treat for the American history lover in me.

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I’ve always loved lighthouses, probably because growing up in Michigan, you get to see so many of them when you travel around the Great Lakes. We tried to see one of the three famous black and white beacons, the Bodie Island Lighthouse, but it was under major renovations! Drats. I still enjoyed standing with its mighty presence and peeking through the scaffolding to see its stripes.

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The star of the vacation, little Amalie, with Uncle Glen. Being cute, always.

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It was like a Burning Man moment, strolling down the beach at sunset, looking for a place to sit, and then stumbling upon this handmade sandmade bench. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a cold beer in frosty mugs on the beach.

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On our final night, we enjoyed a delicious local dinner at the Blue Point, with a stunning sunset.

Some more photos here.

Could I have been an ornithologist?

Would you still be my friend if I became a bird watcher?

Maybe a hobby I should refrain from picking up for at least 30 years?

When I was in Florida this weekend I noticed a lot of interesting birds. I was especially intrigued by the huge cranes I saw, just hanging out on the side of the road next to the many, many lakes. I also took a notice to a lot of unique ducks.

When I was on the plane coming back home I wondered how much bird diversity there really is in Florida. So I looked it up and found out that it has the 6th highest bird species count in the country. Behind California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Impressive! (Well my source is a little sketchy, so if there are any bird experts out there, please feel free to correct.)

Then I went back to one of the other Google results that came up that I noticed when I searched “states with most bird species.” (Always interesting to see what kind of different results Google gives you.) The result was an article with the headline: Nearly a third of U.S. bird species in trouble. So of course I read the article, given my new aviary interest, piqued at Lake Lily Park. The article is old (from 2009) but I figure it was probably highly syndicated and shared via social media (animal activists are particularly active social media users) and therefore still worth reading…

American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), very popular around Lake Lily Park (thanks for the ID Jack!)

Turns out the article was about a report released by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Probably important, right? Wildlife watching and recreation generates $122 billion annually. Who knew? Also, more bird species are vulnerable to extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States. What? But I love Hawaii! and their birds! Before humans arrived in the Hawaiian islands, there were 113 bird species that occurred nowhere else on Earth. Since humans arrived, 71 species have gone extinct and 31 more are listed as threatened or endangered. What! Extinct? That’s horrible. This is a problem! Ok so now my interest is piqued in bird conservation…!

Hmm.

Birds might be more interesting than we think. There are more than 800 bird species in the United States. I wonder if there is a club for people that have spotted all 800+?

What do you think? Should I embrace my inner bird nerd?