Thursday, February 15, 2018

Seoul: The War Memorial of Korea, Cruffins and Craft Beer

Seoul is the capitol of South Korea. It's a mix of modern and ancient with palaces and temples right up against skyscrapers and a modern subway system. And right now, as host of the Olympics, the world's eyes are on this capitol city. 

On my visit there last spring, I was able visit a dog cafe, take a day long tour visiting ancient homes, palaces, and temples, eat kimchi and donkkaseu, and drink soju. On one of our final days in Seoul, Mr. UR and I were on our own while our daughter was working. A few people had recommended we visit the War Memorial of Korea. I'm not much of a War Museum or Memorial type visitor. Military history just isn't my thing. What I really wanted to do was go up in the North Seoul Tower and see the awe inspiring views of the city. Unfortunately, the air pollution was so bad that there weren't any views. It was getting worse each day so we scrapped the tower idea and decided to heed the recommendations and head to the War Memorial. 

The War Memorial of Korea The War Memorial of Korea is part museum and part memorial. Entrance is free and there are lockers for your belongings along with a small cafe for refreshments. I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Korean War. And I have to admit that this was quite the museum.

Upon arrival you walk down the outdoor corridor with memorials to different troops including a state by state memorial to US soldiers. There are six separate indoor halls including a War History room and a large machinery exhibit. We concentrated on the Korean War Room which leads you through the North and South Korean conflict in chronological order. Next we made a quick stop to see The Turtle Ship - a ship used by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon dynasty -  in the War History room. Then it was time to rest our feet before taking in a few of the outdoor exhibits. One could seriously spend an entire day here learning and browsing.

Once again, I'm not much on military history but it is part of Korea's past - and now I understand a bit more about Korea and it's people by learning what they have been through. The museum is very tourist friendly with signs in Korean, English and Japanese and you can spend as much or as little time here as you would like.( And I'm told that the memorial service they hold each Friday is something to witness.)

Our daughter worked in the Gangnam neighborhood and we headed that way to meet her after work. Gangnam became famous when  K-pop singer, Psy, hit pop song gold with "Gangnam Style", a worldwide hit.  It's one of the most elite, upscale areas of Seoul with designer shopping, modern skyscrapers and clubs to dance in until dawn - and the plastic surgery capital of Korea. I was amazed to see at least 10 people walking the streets with bandages  covering their faces or necks.

Mr. Holmes Bakeshop
 Our first stop was the Seoul branch of the infamous Mr. Holmes Bakeshop. One of only two in the world - the first is in San Francisco - Mr. Holmes is known for one specific item - the cruffin. A cross between a croissant and a muffin (croissant texture and muffin appearance), we ordered one - we couldn't spoil our dinner, could we? - and a chocolate covered croissant.  The cruffin comes filled - we chose cookies and cream - and while it was good, I still preferred the chocolate covered croissant. But both were pretty delicious.

Pong Dang Beer Company
Seoul isn't exactly known for it's craft beer scene. But there are a few places to grab a cold one and Pong Dang in Gangnam is one. Their motto is "Never put off until tomorrow what you can drink today" We enjoyed a beer by the open window and did a little people watching.

Chicken and Beer
Koreans love their fried chicken - and they like it with beer. There are Chicken and Beer places all over the city - and we were about to experience it for our first time at Kkanbu Chicken. The chicken is fried and then different sauces are added along with some accompaniments. We had fried chicken - and spicy fried chicken, french fries and a nest - yes, a nest - of fried onions on top. With beer, of course. And I think they know what they're doing. It was one of my favorite meals in Seoul. 

A fun day - I learned so much at the museum, tried a cruffin and a craft beer and what's not to love about fried chicken?

How about you? Have you been to the War Memorial of Korea? Had chicken and beer in Seoul?

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Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond,  The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

STAY: McMenamin's Grand Lodge in Oregon

My friend Jo finds all the cool places to stay. When we went on our two week RV tour around Oregon, we had two nights that we wouldn't be staying in the RV. On our last night, before our flight out, she booked a night's stay for us at the unique McMenamin's Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon, about 25 minutes west of Portland. (We also visited McMenamin's Old St. Francis School in Bend - you can read about that here)
McMenamins, a family owned chain, recycles buildings, such as former schools and makes them into hotels, brewpubs, restaurants or music venues. The Grand Lodge started out as a Widows and Orphans home but after a few years, there was a bit of a divide between the widows and orphans. The orphans were phased out and it became an Eastern Star and Masonic Lodge. After it's purchase by McMenamin's, it was turned into the Grand Lodge - with 90 guestrooms, two restaurants, bars, a movie theater and my favorite, an outdoor soaking pool. While you're visiting, you can also explore nearby wine country - which we did - or you can visit Sake One, the leading brewer of craft sake in the US - which we didn't make it to.


As with all McMenamin properties, the Grand Lodge is decorated whimsically with unique artwork and ceilings full of different dome lights. Our room was on the 3rd floor - or the attic - and was absolutely huge. It easily fit two queen beds and 2 easy chairs. Painted in a dark navy blue, light came in through the dormer window. Our package was a bed and beer - it came with a craft beer flight along with the room. We enjoyed the beer at the Billy Scott Bar - named for one of the first students at the University of Oregon, who also happened to be a resident here - along with some dinner at the bar.


Legend has it that the Lavender Lady walks the halls. Some have felt her spirit - and some say the scent of lavender lingers after she's been there. I didn't see or smell anything - but one never knows!

After our beer flight and dinner, we donned the robes from our room and spent the evening relaxing in the soaking tub under the evergreens - which was a perfect ending to a fantastic trip!

How about you? Have you stayed, or eaten, at a McMenamin's? It was definitely one of the most different places I've ever stayed!

Rates at McMenamin's Grand Lodge start at $60 for 2 people on a winter weeknight with the Beer flight rate starting at $93

Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global,The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

California Road Trip - Napa Valley!

Napa Valley is the most legendary wine producing area in the United States. The legend began in 1976 when a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon beat out several French wines in a blind tasting at the Paris Wine Tasting that year. The rest is history as Napa Valley earned their place on the wine map. And as much as I enjoy wine tasting and wine countries - though I am certainly not a connoisseur - I had never been to Napa Valley.

Since Mr. UR and I were both Napa newbies, the first place we went was the Visitor Center. We had heard rumor that Napa was quite expensive so we were looking to find any special deals or goings-ons for the day.We needed to get the lay of the land, so to speak.  The nice lady there gave us a two-for-one tasting coupon for a winery - V. Sattui - and told us a few places right in Napa that offered Happy Hour deals. She mapped out a route for us - and we were off.

Our first stop was Oxbow Public Market. It's host to some twenty vendors selling food, beer, books, liquor and of course, wine. You can make your purchases and then meet in the middle to eat or drink or visit. I had one thing in mind to get at Oxbow - Three Twins Ice Cream. Known for it's "organic ice cream that is produced in a sustainable manner", Three Twins is one of the few certified organic ice cream shops in the country. As with most ice cream, it didn't disappoint. Fully satisfied, it was time for some wine.

We ambled off down the road to our first stop - Mumm Napa, home of sparkling wine. I happen to love sparkling wine and I loved Mumm. They offer 3 seated tastings in 3 different settings - on their patio or in the wine salon, reserved seating on their oak terrace or a tasting with a tour of the winery. Since we were getting a bit of a late start and hadn't made any prior reservations, I was very happy to go with the seated tasting on the patio. The tasting included table service and I enjoyed all the wines that I tasted. They also serve "still" wines and since Mr. UR isn't a fan of the sparkling, he went with the Chardonnay. The atmosphere was very chill - quiet and hushed with a view over the vineyard from the patio. I truly enjoyed Mumm and I would visit again and again. But it was time to venture off to our next stop...

Next up was V. Sattui and it was night and day different from Mumm. We were greeted by a full parking lot and an attendant who pointed us in the right direction for a tasting. Tastings are offered in their Marketplace and no reservations are required. You can also enjoy a Fireside tasting, a Terrace tasting, a Daily Tour that includes a tasting or  a Wine and Food Pairing - which all require reservations. The tasting room was packed but we managed to find our way through the Marketplace to the tasting bar. Our wine guide asked us our favorites and personalized our tasting for each of us. Visitors seemed to be truly enjoying themselves - and there was even some singing happening. We bought a bottle of Moscato to enjoy later but took a little break to enjoy the afternoon sunshine on the patio. Napa in the fall sunshine is pretty ok in my book!

Lunch seemed like it was days ago - and Happy Hour would be starting. The Visitor Center had recommended Napkins back in Napa proper so we found an outdoor table and enjoyed some of the early specials. There were chicken wings, macaroni & cheese and some zucchini bread. All were delicious. And after visiting only two wineries, I was done for the day. I guess you could tell I was a Napa newbie. It was time to get our beauty sleep so we could enjoy Sonoma the very next day (more on that later)

I've had many people tell me that they didn't enjoy Napa - that it's stuffy, wineries require reservations, there are high costs for tastings and dinners, that you must be a oenophile to visit. As someone who just came in off the street - literally - I didn't find that to be true. There were low-cost ways to enjoy a visit - you just had to dig a little deeper to find them. I'd definitely go back - and I know you've heard this before - but I'd stay a little longer. Cheers to next time!

How about you? Have you been to Napa? What did you think?

I'd love for you to follow me on:

Linking up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox,The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party and WATW at Communal Global!