My Panoramic Pictures from Around the World


Monday, August 24, 2015

A few sights around Seoul

Panoramic Picture near City Hall in Seoul (click on picture to enlarge)

We have been in Seoul now for a little over a year and truly have fallen in love with this city. It is amazingly efficient, modern and yet has elements that reflect its culture and history in every corner. Korean people are hospitable, polite and family-oriented.

Seoul Tower has a great view of the City

It is common to hear in the news back home about how connected and technologically savvy it is in Korea. It is another thing to be living in it and see how it relates to your every day life.

Let's start with internet. My internet connection usually clocks at above 80 mps download and upload. In previous homes we were lucky to reach 20 mps and often much lower. We are able to easily stream movies with HD quality without any hiccups. Koreans are truly connected everywhere whether on the subway, walking, or at home.

Then, there is transportation. The public transportation is ultra efficient and the city is easily blanketed with the subway and bus system. The subway is by far the best one we have seen with multiple lines covering most of the city. You can download a handy app on your phone and tell it where you are going and it will show you exactly which lines to take, where to transfer and what time the next train will arrive. Pretty cool.

Subway train station

Seoul is a very safe city. We feel safe letting our kids go on their own and our oldest one is now an expert on taking the subway to go with friends. Overall petty crime is very low and most expats feel very safe here.

There is much history to be discovered in Seoul. There are beautiful palaces to discover and many Buddhist temples to see. We have barely scratched the surface and continue discovering every day.

I love Korean food and could easily live on this diet the rest of my life. It is a perfect combination of spices and healthy taste. The emphasis is on moderate amounts of meat with many surrounding dishes to accompany the meal.

And finally, the people. As mentioned above, people in Seoul are friendly, polite and overall have been very accommodating despite our ignorance of their language and culture. We look forward to several years here at this great city.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

R&R in Costa Rica

Julie and the kids traveled ahead of me and visited friends and family in USA for a few weeks. This year I joined them in Tampa, after a long trip across the world just long enough to shake off the jet lag and seeing some friends.

Finally we made it to San Jose. As always, it is great to see family and friends and catch-up on what changes have happened in Costa Rica since my last visit.

Each time we go back to Costa Rica, we try to visit some tourist places we may not have seen in the past. It is amazing how much tourism has developed over the last couple of decades.

ZooAve Animal Rescue

I had never visited this place, although it sounds like they've been there for several years. It is mostly a bird sanctuary although they also have a mix of other local animals and even some non-local ones.

We enjoyed the place and it was a great couple of hours that we combined with a trip to Delicias del Maiz Restaurant. There you can get delicious typical Costa Rican foods, mostly based in corn. My favorite always is "chorreadas con Natilla", which are basically corn pancakes with homemade sour cream on top.

El Castillo Country Club

We had a family outing to wonderful country club. This is a nostalgic place for me, since I have visited it off/on since I was a kid. This is a large country club up in the mountains of Heredia. The main attraction is the old-fashion castle that is used as a haunted castle with workers scaring kids while they walk in the dark dungeons. The club has excellent facilities including pool, picnic areas, game rooms, tennis and the only ice skating rink in Costa Rica.  We had a fun cookout with the family.

Trip to Montezuma Beach

Each time we try to visit a different beach. Despite Costa Rica being a small country, it has many beautiful beaches and I have yet to visit every single one! This time I made reservations to go to Montezuma, which is in the Peninsula of Nicoya on the pacific coast. To get there, it is best to first drive to Puntarenas and catch the ferry, which takes about 1.5 hours to get to the other side of the gulf. It was a hot day, but the views were nice. From there it is another one hour drive to Montezuma.

Montezuma has a very bohemian feel to it. It is a small town, full of mostly foreigners. Even many of the hotel and store owners are foreigners. The hotel owner was German, the ice cream place run by Italians and the nice restaurant we had Mediterranean food owned by some Americans.

I had done some research and reserved a cabin at Hotel Amor de Mar. It received very good ratings from tripadvisor and we were not disappointed. The hotel is what I would considered a small boutique hotel with traditional setting but it has two large cabins for families. We stayed at the larger Luna Suite: a two story house made of local woods and decorated in a beautiful rustic manner.The first floor had 3 rooms and a full kitchen and the second floor a full size bed and a single bed, as well as a oceanfront balcony. It just couldn't get any better than that!

The beach at the Hotel Amor de Mar is mostly rocky, so swimming was mostly sitting on the tide pool that forms depending on the time of day. If you want to swim on a sandy beach, you can walk about 10 minutes to Montezuma. We had some beautiful views from our hotel balcony and many of the nearby beaches had stunning views as well.

Trip to Tortuga Island

While in Montezuma, we arranged a day trip by boat to Tortuga Island. It takes a little less than an hour by boat. Price was not bad, about $45 per person which included round trip, guide, snorkeling and even a nice lunch.  We had lots of fun snorkeling and saw many beautiful fish of various sizes.
The Island of Tortuga is not developed (it is mostly a National Park), so it has a virgin look to it.  This was a great day trip and I highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Montezuma Falls

Just across the street from Hotel Amor de Mar was the entrance to start a 20 min hike up the river to the Montezuma Waterfalls. The kids had lots of fund and nobody fell in the river while wading rocks. The falls are cool and were very refreshing after a hot day.

Every vacation comes to an end. This was a short visit to see family but we had a great time. The long trip back was tough, but we were happy to be back in Korea, back home.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Secretary Kerry Visits Seoul

Secretary Kerry recently visited Seoul for an official visit. During VIP visits, embassies are usually very busy preparing all the details to make sure everything goes just right. Many of my colleagues were extremely busy preparing for this visit. Since Seoul is a high-profile city, it is common to have high level visits. Thus, the people at the embassy are very efficient and prepared for these kind of visits.

This time, Secretary Kerry came to speak also at the Yongsan U.S. Army base where we all live. This made it pretty easy to take the kids for something this special. This was a combined event for U.S. Embassy folks and army families.

The kids got to pose with the Secretary and some of these pics made it into the international news because of how picturesque it was for this baby to be on top of his shoulders.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul is held every year to commemorate the birth of Buddha. We had the wonderful opportunity of having vip seats this year and were front row to witness this beautiful parade.

We got there early to ensure we got the best seats, and wow we were front row. The weather was beautiful and the kids were happy they could get some ice cream to pass time until the parade started.

The parade was a mix of traditional music and dance and many beautifully done lanterns and floats.  Some of the floats were extremely well done with a combination of traditional Korean legends and modern technology such as fire-breathing dragons or giants birds with moving wings.

As always here in Seoul, everything was done in a very organized fashion and the event lasted about two hours. Time went fast since it was a very enjoyable and comfortable evening.

The people participating on the events had beautiful smiles and the kids looked particularly beautiful on the traditional hanboks, which is the traditional Korean dress.

Julie and I often talk about how lucky we are to witness such unique experiences. This is one of those that we won't forget and I'm pretty sure the kids won't either.