14 day Quarantine period in South Korea

The morning after my arrival, I was greeted with a phone call from the local government office. They had assigned a social worker to me for all my questions. I assumed he was in charge of all the international travelers quarantining in the area. He informed me about my do’s and don’ts during my quarantine.

  1. I was not allowed to go outside.
  2. I was not allowed to have guest over.
  3. I was to perform a temperature check every morning and evening.
  4. I was to keep my GPS on at all time.
  5. If I don’t move (If my GPS does not detect movement) for a certain period of time, I would get a random phone call or a visit.
  6. If my phone dies, the social worker would come check up on me.

Since I was planning on staying at the house by myself for the next 2 weeks, these were not a problem. He told me that the emergency kit will arrive the next day (2nd day of my quarantine) and that it would have information packets as well as the materials I would need. I didn’t have a thermometer and asked about #3 and he told me to just write in 36.5c in the app and in the notes section, write in that I didn’t have the thermometer yet.

He also asked if I needed food for the time being and I answered yes. He couldn’t tell me what type of food it was over the phone but told me it would be something I could cook with just the microwave. He assured me that all the materials will arrive the next day and I could start doing the temperature check as soon as it arrives.

Later that evening (1st night of quarantining), I received a text message, stating that I was Covid – negative from yesterday’s test. Even though I tested negative, I was suppose to stay under quarantine since there was the 14 day incubation period.

On my 2nd day of quarantine, as promised, all the materials were delivered to the house. It was delivered by the local office and they dropped it off in front of my house and called me to come out and pick it up. They had 1 big box and a small shopping bag. (On the box, it says “We can overcome Covid-19 if we are together” and it was from the Disaster Relief Foundation)

In the small shopping bag, there were the information packet, hand sanitizer, thermometer, extra masks, and hazard-marked trash bags. The information packet stated the rules again and had information about what to do on my last day. It was all in Korean. I assumed since the people who could quarantine outside the facilities are people with family in Korea, they would speak Korean. I do hope they have English versions available for 2nd/3rd gen. Koreans who are coming in to visit family. It also had official government forms with my personal information, stating how long I was to be quarantined at the written address. They were very thorough.

I was also surprised at the trash bag they provided. Normal trash bags in Korea are white or blue but this was bright neon orange. It also had the hazard sign on it. It made me feel like I was contagious and dangerous lol

As for the box, it was packed with food! There were rice, guk (soup), juk (porridge), and some side dishes. I was actually surprised at the amount of food. It looked like they made the effort to gave different variety of food so people don’t get bored and what to bolt out of their quarantine.

My father had to quarantine in August but he did not receive this box. I believe only foreigners get the food assistance and the content differs from family size and which district you were quarantining under. My father’s friend was under quarantine during the same time but in a different region and his box was more luxurious(?) than mine. I have been told that foreigners who are quarantining at the facility might get daily meals instead of pre-cooked food assistance.

I was actually just thankful to have free food for the duration of my stay. What I received above was my meal for the next 2 weeks. Of course since my parents lived hereby, if there was something I wanted, I texted the food to them and they came and left it on my doorknob. There are also lots of food delivery app in Korea and almost all types of food can be delivered. During quarantine, you can also order delivery but you cannot order food that would require you to return the dishes (aka. Chinese food). Just watch out for this.

And now that I got my thermometer, I had to check myself twice a day. My app would go off if I didn’t check myself on time. Usually the alarm would go off around 10 am, warning me that I have not submitted my morning checkup. And the evening one went off around 7pm.

The app itself is really easy to use. When you first download it, you have the option to select the languages. I picked Korean because that made it easier for the agents at the airport to set it up for me. (I had some issues downloading the app). When you need to submit your temperature, the circle would be red. You would tap the circle and the 2nd page opens and asks for your temperature as well as indication for symptoms. At the bottom of the page, there was a space for notes. Once submitted, it would take you to the main page and the circle would be blue. Simple.

They also provided me with a semi-therapist? The lady who called me was from a local community center and that she was in charge of my mental health/status while I was under quarantine. I’m guessing that a lot of people started to complain and maybe get depressed from being alone for 2 weeks. She asked questions about my wellbeing, mostly about my mental health, how I was holding up being alone, and if I needed anything to make me feel better. I told her I want to see people and be outside and she recommended that I put up the window curtain and talk to my parents from a distance. Not sure if this would help any elderly people under quarantine. But it was a nice gesture. She called me once a week but told me that if I felt anything, I can call at anytime.

After 2 weeks, I was FREE!!! On my last day, I got a final call from the same agent as the first day, and he went over my exit strategy. He told me that I need to take all the trash out in the orange bag and stray the inside and outside with the hand sanitizer. I was also suppose to re-wrap the orange bag with white/blue trash bag. Since I didn’t have any, I asked where I can get them, and he said I didn’t need to do it and that it could just be thrown out.

At 12pm, I was going to walk free, IF I didn’t have any symptoms. Luckily, I did not have any symptoms for the duration of my quarantine and I was able to just go. I had to keep the windows open in the house I quarantined at to circulate the air and the house had to be fully cleaned 24 hours after my departure.

It felt so nice to leave the house and I cannot wait to explore Korea!

Flight to South Korea

Hello readers! I’m currently in South Korea due to some personal matter and I just want to say that I’m amazed at the length the South Korean government is trying to take to make sure everyone, residents of Korea as well as travelers, are safe during this pandemic. In this post, I will summarize my trip from San Diego to Busan, and the process at the airport to my trip to Busan.

Flights. There wasn’t a direct flight to Korea from San Diego so I had to take a domestic flight to Seattle for a transfer. For internationally flights, I usually try to get to the airport 2 hours early and use the lounge if I’m left with lots of time. My first flight was using Alaska Airlines. I tried using the kiosk but since I was connecting to an international flight, I had to use the desk. The agent was super friendly, spoke clearly through the mask, and helped me check in. There was no line so I thought maybe there isn’t a lot of traveler. Boy, was I wrong. Once I was in the terminal, that is where I saw all the travelers. The stores and restaurants were full and lively. The lounges were all closed so maybe that contributed to the busy terminal.

There were signs on the airport terminal chairs on which seat to leave empty for social distancing. And solo travelers were abiding by the signs but family/friends traveling together were sitting together. The area near by gate was crowded and I figured that the flight might be full and I was correct. Every single seat, including the middle seat, was taken. The airline provided limited service in air for safety and requested that everyone on board keep their mask on during the flight. The crew walked around and if there were people who lowered their mask, they politely asked them to put it back on correctly. Luckily, my flight did not have any passengers who argued with the crew and it was a peaceful ride.

Once at Seattle, I had to check in with Asiana Airline for my international flight. They told me that I would have the whole row to myself and the flight was very empty. While checking in, they asked me to sign a form called “Agreement to Facility Quarantine”. I explained to the agent that I was staying in a place that my parents have prepared. The agent told me that I would have to explain my situation once in Korea but to board the flight, I would have to sign it. So I reluctantly did. The form had information on the 14 day mandatory quarantine measures, including the cost. After I signed the form, I was able to get my boarding pass.

There was only 1 lounge open (The CLUB at SEA) and they were also doing their best to social distance. For instance, all food was pre-packed and the food area was roped off. You had to ask a worker for the food and they would put it on the side table for you to pick up. They also had blue ropes on chairs to indicate which seat to keep empty for social distancing. The choices for the day were hummus with veggies, pita, cheese, fruit, and soup. The lounge was also empty when I visited and I was able to relax and stretch a bit before the long flight.

Because of the low number of passengers, the boarding process seemed short. And as mentioned before, I had the whole row to myself and the row in front of me was also left empty. The crew on board wore mesh covers, gloves, clear glasses, and masks, fully covering up for safety. They also asked people to keep their mask on at all times, excluding meal time, and to stay in our seats as much as possible.

I thought they would have limited services, similar to domestic flights, but they had regular service. They handed out their regular amenity, thin slippers and toothbrush and tooth paste. They also provided 2 meals (first meal was bibimbap! My favorite inflight meal. 2nd meal was chicken and potato) with drinks and came around frequently with trays of water and juice. I asked them to fill my water bottle and they were able to do so in the galley.

For entry documents, they added 1 more: Travel Record Declaration. They document had QR codes to 2 apps to download for the duration of my stay in Korea. I filled the form with my normal answers (eg. writing my parent’s address in the “address of residence”)

Once off the plane, there were 4 checkpoints leading to the baggage pick up area for international travelers. The 1st checkpoint was to download and setup the app. Since the Travel Record Declaration form had 2 QR codes, I assumed we had to download the 2 apps but it looked like they condense the app to one and only needed to download. There were banners with the correct QR code and an agent helping people download it. Once the app was downloaded, the agents at the checkpoint helped me fill in the information and told me not to exit the app because it will refresh and clear the information.

At the 2nd checkpoint, they verified the information written in the Travel Record Declaration form and the quarantine app. Since I was quarantining at a place my parent’s setup, I couldn’t use my parent’s home address but had to write down the address of where I would be under quarantine. They also called my parent’s to make sure the address was correct and to check if I was in fact their daughter. Once you pass, you got a Health Screening Certificate for the next checkpoint.

The 3rd checkpoint was the regular arrival checkpoint. They took my picture and fingerprints here and handed me the Entry Confirmation. Normally, it would end here but since I was not staying at the Quarantine Facility setup by the government, I had to go through one more checkpoint. At the 4th checkpoint, they asked for Family Registration Form (가족증명서), an official government documentation that verifies the immediate family tree. This was something that I only found out once I got to Korea and had to ask my parents to send it to me quick. Luckily my dad had a copy of it in his phone and he was able to send it to me right away. Please prepare this before arriving at the airport!

After the 4 checkpoints, I was free to claim my bags and left the area, only to find more checkpoints. There were 2 agents, fully covered, collecting the Certificate and asking where I would be quarantining. There were multiple areas that were directing people to different airport exits for different regions. Since I was going to Busan, they told me to go all the way to the end and follow signs for the KTX train. The international travelers who were staying in the Facilities were given lanyards and taken to a waiting area for their own bus.

The KTX area for regions outside of Seoul was on the other side of the airport so it was a bit of a walk. And on my way to the designated area, there were several restaurants and cafes that were open. I usually pick up my sim card at the CU convenient store and luckily, it was on the way. If you are staying in Korea for short period of time, I would recommend the sim card here and you can preorder for pickup from their website. Plus, grab some snacks and drinks! The convenient stores in Korea are definitely worth a visit.

Once at the designated area, there were more agents here asking where my final destination was. I told them Busan and they told me to wait for the next bus to take us to the train station. They told me that usually the bus operates 20-30 minutes but the there was a union strike that made it 40-50 minutes. And since the bus was coming from terminal 2 (half full), it can only take 15 people from terminal 1. Luckily, I was the last of that 15 and was able to get on the next bus.

They packed the transportation bus full and took us to the Gwangmyeong train station, which was about 40 minutes away. We entered from one side of the station and it looked like they closed the area to the public and was only using the entrance for international travels. Once inside the station, we had to purchase 2 tickets: the bus transportation from the airport (12,000 won) and the train ticket. My ticket to Busan was 54,000 won and I could not get on the earliest train and had to wait a little less than 2 hours for the next train.

TIP: In the waiting area, there were vending machines but not a lot of choices. A lot of it was empty since I arrived later in the evening. So please visit the restaurants/cafes/convenient stores inside the airport because taking the bus to the train station!

When we boarded the train, we were told to not worry about our seat numbers and just take any seat inside the train. There were 2 carriages that were only for international travelers and we had so much space. Everyone was good about keeping 6 ft apart and sat in various seats and we were told to keep our luggage on seats were weren’t using (I think they were trying to use luggage as indicator for spacing).

Once we arrived at Busan airport, we again separated into 2 groups: a group for people who had someone picking them up and a group for people who needed taxis (duribal). My mom was already at the station so I got in my respective line. We were led to the testing area and had to fill out more forms. We had to write down our contact information, our quarantine address (even if it was a hotel), and emergency contact. This was where I got my first test in Korea. They did both the throat and nose swab and told me that I would get my results tomorrow.

Once the test was over, an agent had to escort me to my mom’s car and gave her warnings about the quarantine. My mom and I were not to touch each other, we had to keep our masks on in the car, and she could only drop me off at my quarantine location. We followed the rules and she dropped me off and left promptly. If you were to take a taxi to your next location (quarantine location), there were duribal taxis waiting for people.

I arrived in Incheon around 5:30pm and got to my quarantine house at 1am. It took a long time but I was glad that they were taking the measures to keep everyone safe.

Day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Myself and 2 other friends decided to drive to Joshua Tree for a short getaway trip. This was planned semi-last minute but it was still a blast. I know the title says that it was a day trip and technically, it was an overnight trip but it was something that could be done as a day trip. Of course my biggest reason for this trip was to see the stars so plan accordingly!

We planned on leaving SD at 10am but ending up leaving around 11am on Saturday. We all met at the meeting location on time but rearranging the icebox and things took longer than expected. However, we did not have any concrete plans for the day so we took it easy.

The road to our Airbnb (located near Palm Desert) was pretty clear and we were able to make it in no time. On our way, we saw the field of wind turbines and wow! That was a sight to see. The waves of white windmills, row by row. When we thought the field ended, another field started. We saw one being installed and I personally was glad to see them go up! I am all for alternative energy.

Once we arrived, we messaged the Airbnb host. We had previously arranged to arrive early with the host but when we arrived, the host messaged us saying that the house was not ready yet. So we decided to drive around and find a good stop to chill before getting access to our rental. We searched the web and ended up at the Town Square Park in hopes to find some peace and quiet, and we sure did.

It was almost 100 degrees outside and we were the only ones at the park. I was hoping to see the fountain in action as google maps showed but it was turned off. There were benches and shades (thank goodness!) and we were able to just relax here until it was time for us to check in to our airbnb.

After we checked in, we put all our food in the fridge, and took a small break before heading out to Joshua Tree National Park. We wanted to get there before sun down to walk around a bit. We did not realize that it would take so long at the entrance to get into the park! There was a line of cars, waiting to buy the pass, and we had to just wait. Once it was our turn to purchase, we noticed that the ranger was fully covered (including masks and gloves) and she used a pick up tool to take the credit card from us. What a smart way to stay safe!

Once in the Park, we drove in until we saw a good spot and walked around. We noticed a couple taking wedding photos and a group of friends picnic-ing. I do have to say that there were lots of people not wearing masks here. Maybe it is because it is the outdoors but compared to the other Nationals Parks I’ve been to since the pandemic, this place was full of people just walking around without masks on. I kepted mine on most of the time (excluding short moments when I took photos) and tried to keep my distance.

The sun was starting to set and we were able to see some beautiful colors next to the weird joshua trees. I find these trees really interesting as they grow in all shapes and sizes. I especially like ones that are tall and has lots of branches.

While walking around, we found some people rock climbing! There were several young kids too! They were fully geared up and ready to climb. We didn’t have anything to climb up as high as them but we found a nice, small rock to get on top of to enjoy the rest of the sunset.

Once the sunlight was gone, we headed back to our airbnb. We brought lots of food to cook and was able to enjoy a full feast! The airbnb was lacking in some utensils and we had forgotten some seasonings but we made it work. We all brought things we wanted to eat hence we have several variety of dishes. Of course our main dish was the meat. What is “camping” without some BBQ?

After the meal, we waited until it was late enough to see all the stars and headed back to the Park. It was around 11pm when we left the airbnb. And we weren’t the only ones going to the park to stargaze. We saw lots of cars parked in the lots and on the side of the road. We tried several spots and tried our best to stay away from people. I had a really hard time getting my camera to focus this time but at the end, I did manage to snap some star photos 🙂 Not the clearest photo but I still like it.

It was getting really cold around 1am and we headed back. We didn’t really have any plans for the next day but I asked if the girls were down for a small trail and they agreed. I looked at several locations but some of the places were closed due to covid (for example, the Coachella Valley Preserve). I found a place called Tahquitz Canyon and saw that they had a hike to a waterfall. Since it was really hot, I thought this might be a good idea and we agreed to go after checking out.

However, we all ended up getting up super early and ended up heading to the hike around 7am. This was a good call. When we got to the Tahquitz Canyon, there was a sign that said that the waterfall was dry! Since this Canyon had an entrance fee, we did not want to pay to see a dry waterfall.

We ended up doing Cactus to Clouds trail. This was part of a long trail but we only ended up doing the short version of it. We only climbed to the first peak that gave us a great view of the city. And we were really glad we came early! By the time we got to the top, the sun was beating down on us. The air was still cool but the sun was unforgiving. I mean, it is the desert. Our hike was about 1 hour long and it was a lot of zigzags to the top.

I’m not all that fit but this wasn’t a bad hike and I’m glad we were able to do it together. We came back to the airbnb, ate quick breakfast, packed our things, and checked out. We slowly made our way back home. Since it was still early (around 12pm), we thought it would be a quick drive back but there was massive traffic all the way and ended up taking double the time. But we were rocking our playlist and kept our conversations going. We had a great time and cannot wait for our next trip together!

[Day 4] On the way back home

Today was our last day and we wished we could have stayed longer. We woke up in the morning, packed our stuff, and headed out. Before heading home, we stopped by the Glen Canyon Overview. It was walking distance from the hotel and this would have been a great place to see the sunrise/sunset. But we decided to hit it as our final destination before leaving Page. There is a small parking lot here and there was a small trail that led to the Canyon. The trail is a bit hilly/curvy and also has stairs.

The terrain here was really interesting and it was a bit challenging getting down. I tried to hold the railing but it was burning. The area was also dog friendly as we saw several dogs on a walk. This was a really short trail and I would recommend dropped by before leaving the city.

I wish I took a panorama photo to get the full canyon. The water was low but you could see the river connect all the way down. It would be amazing to see the dam open and seeing the water just pour into river. We sat on the edge of the Canyon and just took in the last fresh air and the view and headed out.

On the way home, we took in as much of the canyons as possible. We rolled down the windows as we drove by and we even stopped by the road to take some photos. Every moment was a different beauty .

We hade quiet drive to Las Vegas and we stopped by to have dinner with my college friend. We were on the outskirts of town and the restaurant we visited was great with social distancing and wearing masks. We took some time to relax, eat, and enjoy some good conversation. If we had more time and if everything was open normally, I would have visited some dessert places but we had to end on dinner. Till next time.

From Las Vegas to home, we stopped by the rest area to use the bathroom. From the highway, we noticed that only some rest stops were open and not all gas stations allowed the public to use their restrooms. We also carried a sanitizing wipe and cleaned everything before touching it. Best to be careful.

We didn’t get to use our Plan A but overall, it was a great trip! I would love to do this again and use my Plan A 🙂

[Day 3] Horseshoe bend and grand canyon

Today was our main event! We were planning on hitting 2 major view points in Arizona, Horseshoe Bend and Grand Canyon. The last time I visit this area was 4 years ago and at that time, we were only able to drive by Horseshoe Bend so this was my first time actually visiting. I was super excited for it.

Before heading out, we made samgak kimbap (triangular kimbap) for lunch/dinner/snack. It was our first time making it but it wasn’t too hard. We made Tuna-Mayo gimbap and kept it cool in the ice box. We weren’t sure what time we might arrive at Grand Canyon so we made sure to take enough food and drinks with us.

Our first stop was Horseshoe bend. There were several changes since 3 years ago! They now had a paid parking lot with a gate and had a $10 per vehicle entry fee. And the trail down to the overlook was all new as well. Before, there was no actual trail but a sandy path that people took. The new trail was great, with a few stopping points, as well as, semi-fenced path. The path itself took longer than before since it wrapped around but it felt more safer. This was also pet-friendly area as I saw several dogs on the trail, all leashed.

Once we got to the edge, I noticed that they fenced off the main area, making the place safer for families with children. There were several spaces, left and right, that did not have the fence and people were sitting on the edge, all enjoying the view. And I don’t blame them! It was beautiful.

We visited in the morning but I would recommend visiting during the afternoon to avoid the shadows shown in the picture. However, it was still amazing to see it in person. Just watching the boats go by and enjoying the sun and wind made things very serene. The horizontal line that split the canyon and the sky, the view of the river… I definitely could have just sat here for hours.

Also, visiting at 10am, there wasn’t a lot of people at the Bend. We were able to take pictures without people in it and enjoy the scene quietly. I cannot say for sure how busy the afternoon gets. But my guess is that it will be slightly more busy to see the Bend without the shadows.

After taking in the scene, we headed out to Grand Canyon North rim. This was my first time going to the North rim so I was super excited to see the difference. Everyone told me that they enjoyed the South rim more but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. On the way to Grand Canyon, we passed by the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs wilderness area. Only if we had won the lottery. I will have to try again next time 🙂

The drive to Grand Canyon was longer than expected but quite surprising. We were driving through the desert one moment and next, we were passing through a forest! There were so many trees! We rolled down our windows and enjoyed the cool, fresh air. Also, from the welcome sign and entrance booth, the canyon was another 30-40 minute drive! Due to Covid, they were not accepting cash/credit card at the booth. You had to purchase the pass from their website. The park ranger handed us a map with the website’s QR code.

We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the rim but we wanted to do at least do one trail. And there must have been several people who visited the Rim with the same idea because they had a sign for it!

We decided to do the shortest one so we can have lots of time for photos and it was the right choice. Once we were on the Bright Angel Point trail, every few steps, we ended up stopping and taking photos because it was just breathtaking. The depth, the colors, the ridges… it was all just amazing.

I really loved seeing all the red shades! Just wow. Just these simple glimpse were enough to make the trip worth it. The North rim had its own kind of beauty and I would not compare it to the South rim. However, personally, I think I prefer the North rim. Getting here is troublesome but the view really took my heart away.

We had to walk a bit more to reach the end of the trail. The trail itself is not hard but there are small ups and downs. Several area did not have railings and were a bit narrow as well. But the view at the end made it all worth the walk.

The camera does not do it justice! The 360 view of the Canyon was amazing. Plus, when we got to the end, there were only a handful of people. Most of them were wearing masks and just taking pictures. We ended up doing the same. It was amazing to see the red and the green together. We both stood here in awe for a few moments.

After taking in the view, we headed back to the parking lot and found a picnic area to eat our packed lunch. And the view from the picnic area was amazing too. We were able to eat while enjoying the Canyon and the fresh air! The openness really made my cabin fever go away.

On our way out, we saw some buffalo and deer. The cars in front of us stopped and for a moment, we didn’t know why. We only noticed when people started to get out of their cars to take photos. It was pretty cool. We didn’t want to disturb them so we drove off slowly. The sun started to set as we got out of the forest area and the way the sunset light was beaming on the canyon was something that just made us pull over.

Just looking at this, I was mesmerized. I started to wonder what the sunset would be like at the Grand Canyon North rim and told myself that next time, I will try to spend a night at the rim. Once the sun started to set, the light was gone quick! We ended up arriving at our hotel in the dark! But we both agreed that it was all worth it.

We took a break and rested a bit before heading out again. This time, to see the stars! I love stargazing and it is definitely better in the dark. We left the hotel around 11pm and drove into the darkness. And while driving out, we were able to see stars brightly shining in the sky. It was just amazing. We parked safely and viewed the stars. Because we were on the road, we had cars go by but only a few and it didn’t bother us. We were able to see the Milky Way with our naked eyes and it came out even more clearly in the photos. What a great way to end the night!

[day 2] lottery and onwards to page, az

Today was a big day! Lottery day for the Coyote Buttes permit. According to their website, the lottery would take place daily at the Kanab Center at 8 am. Luckily, the Perry Lodge was walking distance (across the street!) from the Center so it was an easy walk. There is a parking lot at the Center if you are bringing your vehicle. At 8 am, they open the doors for people to fill out their application.

Things you need to know about the application

  • Bring your own pen/pencil
  • license plate number
  • emergency contact (someone who is not traveling with you)
  • cash or check of $7 per person in case you win the lottery

I arrived around 8:15 am and there was already several applicants. After filling out my application, I decided to wait in the room and ask some questions about the lottery. The rangers told me that only 20 people can enter per day and 10 are pre-selected from the online lottery and 10 are selected during the in-person lottery. For the in-person lottery, they keep picking groups until they hit 10 people, not 10 groups. Meaning, if the first lottery picked has 2 people, the rangers keep picking the lottery until 10 hits. And if they are at 9 people, and the next group picked has a group of 4, the group can decided to pass their chance or kick people off their group.

While waiting in the room, I noticed a lot of repeat applicants from the day before. The ranger mentioned that they keep the application since people do come for second and third rounds. The ranger also told me that the day before they had 82 applications and it was their busiest day so far.

At 9 am, the room was packed with applicants and the ranger did a roll-call and gave every applicant their lottery number. Today there were 75 applicants and I was number 50. The ranger asked if everyone remembered their number and there were several people who could not remember and the rangers provided the numbers again. The lottery proceeded quickly from here and unfortunately, I didn’t win. Sad but I guess more reason to come back 🙂 The ranger recommended several different local spots we could visit so we decided to pick one and go with it.

After not winning the lottery, I headed back to the lodge’s lobby and pick up our breakfast bag. Usually they would provide continental breakfast but since COVID, they were giving out small lunch bag. The Lodge’s bag wasn’t bad. It had yogurt, pastry, fruit bowl, juice, apple, string cheese, granola bar, and a water bottle. Not bad. We thought it was perfect to take it for our hikes. We packed our things and checked out and headed towards the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

On our way, we made a pitstop to see the Sand Dune Arch. This wasn’t on Google maps but it was on the pamphlet that the ranger gave out. The direction on the handout wasn’t very clear so we got lost a bit but luckily, there was no one around and it made it feel like we owned the place. While following the google maps toward the Dunes, from HWY 89, you will make a left turn at Hancock road. From there, you have to park your car around 64B. Walk towards the bird-like rock (on google maps, this is the Lone Rock Overlook) and keep following the road to the left that goes down the hill. At the end of the hill, you should see the Arch. It wasn’t as grand as the name makes it to be.

It was a mid-sized arch. It looks pretty small in the picture but the hole in the center was about 5feet5inches. We spent some time here, climbing the Arch and looking around the area. But other than the Arch, this area was empty and no visitors. After seeing enough, we headed back to our vehicle and drove off to the Dunes. About 15 minutes in, we started to see the Dunes and lots of ATVs. And while driving, the GPS told us that we arrived but it was in the middle of the road?! Not even a parking lot! So we parked on the side of the street and walked into the Dunes. There were small trail like area so we followed that in.

Guys. The sand dunes are not something you should just walk into. We saw the high dunes and thought they were relatively close but it wasn’t. We ended up walking around 40 minutes to get to the bottom of the dunes. However, it was really impressive! The sand was really soft and as we climbed to the top, we kept sinking a bit. By the time we got to the top, we had sand in our pants and shoes! The sand waves were really pretty and from the top, you can see the other dunes and there were teams of people in ATVs and also sandboarding.

One thing to definitely consider is the sun. There were no shade and it was 98 degree sun just beating on us. After our climb, we headed back but we got lost. All the trails were starting to look the same and we ended up somewhere we didn’t pass. We were lucky we brought our water bottle but it was just too hot. We ended up following the sound of vehicles passing on the road and got out. I think if you were to walk, make sure you bring something to help you navigate (like strings you can tie around plants?).

After getting out of the maze-like Dunes, we headed to our next destination, Page, AZ. The drive to Page was very straight forward with lots of canyon views. The red colors of the canyons along the roads were a sight to see! And once at Page, we were amazed to see all the water from the Lake Powell into the canyons! We quickly checked into our hotel for the next 2 days, Sleep Inn & Suites, ate a quick lunch/dinner, and headed to Lake Powell.

We brought our swimsuits just in case and it was a good thing we did. The hotel gave us two options for swimming: The Wahweap Marina and The Chain. The Marina was a bit further but it has a beach and is part of the National Park. The Chain was more of a local people’s gathering area and was close to the dam. We decided to give The Chain a try and I’m so glad we did.

From the hotel, you have to follow signs/GPS to The Hanging Garden Trail. Do not park at the parking lot but keeping driving down until you see another parking lot (there is a small building at the end). Park here and you can follow the trail down to the bottom. It is about a 10-15 minute walk. Once at the bottom, you should see people swimming, fishing, and just enjoying themselves.

It was amazing to swim between the canyons! The colors were amazing and the water was just right. At some parts, it was shallow but it dips rather quickly so if you cannot swim, I would not recommend this place. On the deeper end, we noticed small motor boats driving by so watch out for those as well. This place was really peaceful and nice. No wonder the locals come here to relax! And I couldn’t believe we were able to swim so close to the dam! It was definitely an experience 🙂

We played in the waters until sundown. After getting out, we explored the area a bit before heading back. The view of the canyons along with the rock formations were just amazing. We didn’t want to leave! Plus, there were still several groups of people here when we left.

Once back at our hotel, we washed up, relaxed, and talked about our plans for the next day. Tomorrow was going to be our big day: Grand Canyon!

[Day 1] Off to Kanab, UT

We wanted to start the day early but after packing all our food in our icebox and moving things to the car, we ended up leaving the house around 10am. Our plan was to get to Las Vegas and eat lunch or late lunch and make it to Kanab around 9pm. I thought we would start seeing the fields but it wasn’t until we hit the border that I felt that we were truly on the road. We were prepared to be on the road for a while but I think the bathroom was our biggest fear. Our first stop was at a local gas station on Route 5 and luckily, they let us use the bathroom. Right before we hit the border, we also saw a truck stop that had a bathroom so plan accordingly.

We made our first stop at the Seven Magic Mountain around 3pm, a lot later than we expected. We also didn’t see the art installation until we were really close to it so I thought they were small. But once we parked at the lot and started to walk towards it, I realized that they were actually really tall!

We did see some people but most of them were wearing masks and people were distancing themselves as well. But it was still hard to get a picture with no one in it. The colors of the rocks were so bright, contrast to the bare sands of Nevada and really gave it that POP. We admired the work of Ugo Rondinone, took some pictures, stretched our bodies, and headed to the nearly picnic area (which happened to be in Las Vegas).

We brought some food that needed to be cooked and we needed a bathroom and picnic table and ended up in a park named Jesse Ellyson Picnic Area. It was a bit into the residential area but had a gazebo, picnic table, a grill, and a bathroom. However, the bathroom here was closed to the public. We took our what we needed and started cooking.

We brought my burner and camping equipment set so we had pans, pots, plates, and even bowls. We bought meat and veggie the day before and were able to enjoy our meals this way. I cooked some and my roommate cooked some and we both enjoyed it. We ended up eating around 4:30 pm so we assumed this would be our lunch and dinner and we would snack on the way if we got hungry. We filled up our gas and tried to use the bathroom at the 7-11 which was part of the gas station but they said that they were closed to the public (the horror!) but luckily, there was a gas station across the street and they had their bathroom open to the public (phew!)

Once out of Las Vegas, it was all desert again. The road went from 3-4 lanes to just 2 lanes and it got dark very quickly. And because of how dark it was, the stars were becoming visible. We ended up parking on the side of the road around 8:30 pm and just looking at the stars for a bit. And by the time we arrived at our lodge, it was close to 10pm.

We stayed at the Perry Lodge because it was walking distance from the community center where they would do the lottery in the morning. The check in was quick and the lobby area was very clean. They had hand sanitizer and were giving out masks for people who needed them.

The Lodge seemed pretty empty and they still had the vacancy sign on. They were being very careful with things so people won’t have to touch what other people have touched. So breakfast was going to be bagged and we would need to pick it up in the morning. And also, ice. They turned off their ice machine and if we wanted ice, we needed to ask front desk for a bag of it.

When we got to the room, we were surprised at how large it was. We had 2 king size beds and also had a fridge and microwave. The view out the window was just of the community center but still nice. It was very quiet and we were able to sleep in peace.

WEEKEND GETAWAY: SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK DAY 3

This was our last day here. Our original plan was to go back to the Park and do another trail but we decided to cancel that plan. We didn’t want to wait again to get through the entrance. Instead, we decided to go over to another recreation area that was close by called Slick Rock Recreation Area.

You can park in the parking lot but once it’s full, it seemed like you can park on the street. If you stay at the Lodge, you can walk to the stream as well. Once at the parking lot, you have to walk down to the stream area. We noticed that some parts were shaded by trees and some weren’t. It would be best to bring mats and tents in case all the tree shades are taken. We were lucky to find a small spot in the wooden area and setup our mat.

The water here was super clear and cool. You could even see little fishes swimming around. And I even saw a dragonfly just chilling. The water isn’t as deep as the Kaweah Recreation Area but comparing the two, I prefer Slick Rock Recreation Area. This place also seemed pet-friendly, as there were several dogs, small and large, enjoying the waters. Kai really liked the water and he was just jumping around, following his favorite ball.

We were able to have a slow, relaxing day, dipping our feet in the flowing water before heading back home. Perfect for that summer sun.

This was a short and somewhat impromptu trip but it was well worth it and I was able to spend some quality family time. This trip made me really want to see more nature! Time to plan my next trip 🙂

[Day 26] Last day in Europe

Today was the end of my long vacation and I was going to make the most of it. I really wanted to see at least one artwork by Gustav Klimt before leaving Austria so we decided to go see one. We didn’t have time to do multiple museums since my flight back was in the afternoon so we had to pick one. After looking at which museum or palace we should visit, we decided to visit the Belvedere Museum.

This Museum was a former palace and was separated into Upper, Lower, and Belvedere 21 and you had to buy tickets to each part separately. Lower Belvedere featured artwork and artifacts from Middle Ages and Belvedere 21 was for more contemporary art. The Upper Belvedere was the main part of the museum and we decided to visit here since they had Klimt’s work.

I checked out of my hotel and stored my luggage here. Make sure your hotel provides luggage storage service before booking! Some hotels in Europe don’t offer this service for free.

The Museum wasn’t that far from my hotel so I decided to walk. On my way, I passed by the Soviet War Memorial. Europe has gone through so many wars and this was to commemorate the soldiers who fought against the German fascist. There was so much history in every part of the city and I wish I had more time to learn all about them.

After seeing the Memorial, I headed to Belvedere Museum and met up with my brother and sister-in-law. The entrance and the ticketing booth was located at the Lower Belvedere. We had purchased our tickets online and just needed to walked through towards the Upper Belvedere. To get to Upper, you had to walk through the Belvederegarten and this was huge.

I really wished it was spring time because this Garden would have been an sight to see! With all the greenery, flowers, and the fountains, it would be a great place to just relax. However, since it was wintertime, the Garden was rather bare and the fountains were turned off.

As we got closer and closer to the Upper Belvedere, I was really in awe of the building. I really loved the teal dom tops and the symmetrical look. There was a line outside and a museum worker checking the time slots on everyone’s ticket. For Upper Belvedere, all tickets have time slots so if you have a set schedule, make sure you purchase tickets early to get the time slot you want.

The line outside did not take long since we arrived right around our time slot. Once inside, there was another line for security. They checked bags and this took some time. After getting through security, we had to check our bag and coat. It was nice to walk around without any baggage.

We decided to see everything, starting from the first floor and we started with medieval art and it was mostly religious artwork. Lots of statues of Mary and baby Jesus.

Where we mostly spent our time was on the 2nd floor. This was were they had the Baroque, Romantic, and Viennese artist’s artwork and they had a lot more than just Klimt. I actually did not do much research other than that I wanted to see Klimt but the Upper Belvedere surprised me with a famous artwork that I’ve seen in my history textbook for years!

Tada! I know you all know this famous painting of Napoleon. I did not know this was at the Upper Belvedere but it was really amazing to see it in person. The painting was a lot bigger than I expected and it had charisma. Just looking at it, you probably would want to follow him. There were also works by Vincent van Gogh and Monet and these were all good surprises.

Once we entered the Viennese artist section, we saw several tour groups surrounding the first Klimt painting: Judith and the Head of Holofernes. At first, I didn’t even realize that she was holding a head! It seemed so modern and she had so much sex appeal. It was always interesting to see how different artist interpret the same theme so differently.

And right around the corner was the painting I was looking forward to seeing: The Kiss. It was so beautiful. The painting was larger in person and you could clearly see all the details of the gold, silver, and platinum. The way she receives the kiss from her lover and how softly he caresses her. And looking at the different patterns Klimt used on their clothes was great too. Artwork is something you really have to see in person to get the most of it.

Lastly, the 3rd floor featured impressionism and realism. Some of the paintings here were a bit hard for me to understand and there were several pieces that made me tilt my sideways but they were still beautiful art. You couldn’t take any pictures here.

After seeing all the artwork, we headed to the back of the Museum to see every corner of this Museum. The man-made lake and the old Palace building looked so majestic. I really wanted to get the reflective shot that is on the Belvedere Museum website but it was too windy.

Walking around for hours and it being lunch time, we needed to find a place for our last meal together and we ended up at an Italian Restaurant named Pizzeria Pozzuoli. We were pretty lucky to get seated right away. It was a small, hole-in-the-wall sort of restaurant but the food was fantastic and the servers were really nice.

We enjoyed each others company as much as we could before I had to leave first to catch my flight. I was so glad that my brother and sister-in-law surprised me with a visit in Vienna last minute and I was really happy to share this experience with them.

I walked back to my hotel, picked up my luggage, called an Uber, and headed to the airport. The airport was pretty busy but I was able to check in and do some last minute shopping before heading home. This was the longest trip I’ve taken but it was so worth it. I wish Europe was closer to home so I can visit more often!

Until next time!

[Day 25] Exploring Vienna

This was my only full day in Vienna and I was going to make the most of it. I was going to meet my brother and sister-in-law for brunch so I had the early morning to myself.

My first stop was Karlskirche, a baroque cathedral. It was walking distance from my hotel so I thought of it as a morning stroll. When I got there, the square was empty and it seemed like the cathedral was closed. So I enjoyed the architectural details while walking around the square. I knew they had a huge Christmas Market here so I was hoping to see it but they had already cleared the market. But judging by the size of the square, it would have been worth a look.

You can also look at Karlsplatz station. They have the old station pavilion that serves as an exhibition hall. The actual station is underground but this pavilion served as a landmark. I really liked the old feel of it.

After looking around the square, I slowly walked towards Naschmarkt, Vienna’s biggest outdoor market for food and others (you can say everything and anything), and met up with my family. When we started to look around, I only saw restaurants so I assumed it was all food related but once you get to the end, they have vintage stalls for clothes, electronics, and even artwork!

The Market was bigger /longer than I expected! And it was packed with tourist! Navigating from one end to the other took some time and on top of that, it started to rain! So we decided to eat first. We did some quick google search and headed to Zur Eisernen Zeit, one of the restaurants on the Market strip.

The restaurant was pretty small on the inside but we were able to get a table. There menu also had information about the restaurant and I learned that this restaurant was the oldest restaurant at the Naschmarkt and that it started in 1916! They served mostly Viennese cuisine but they also had popular breakfast food during brunch time.

We ordered the Fiakergulasch and Wiener Schnitzel vom Kalb and they were both really good. It was a great combo: warm soup and fried veal. When we ordered the Fiakergulasch, we weren’t sure what it was going to be like and it was really interesting. Goulash with sausage and fried egg on top. We knew it had to be good and it was.

After a filling meal, we decided to walk around the market and luckily, the rain had stopped for a moment. The first couple blocks of the market was under a tarp so we were good. This area was mostly food and restaurants. And once the tarp ends, you could see a wave of stalls selling all sorts of goods. Most of them were vintage items and there were several people bargaining with the vendor.

One thing that caught my eye was the vintage camera stall. They were selling the camera body and parts and while they had newer styles and brands available, they also had vintage ones as well. There were lots of brands that I’ve never even heard of so it was a lot of fun looking at them.

We wanted to look around more but it started to pour so we couldn’t stay here anymore. So we started to look for something to do indoor and my brother found a sparkling wine cellar we could tour called Schlumberger Kellerwelten. It was about 15 minutes away from the city center and we took an uber.

They had a reservation section on their website but since it was off-peak season, they were able to accommodate us without a reservation. They had several different tour and tasting options and we went with the classic tour. The tour itself was a self guided audio tour and it took about an hour or so. There was a lot of history here and the cellar had several places that were used as exhibition space.

When you return to the lobby/bar area after the tour, you can start the wine tasting. With the classic tour, we got 3 glasses: Sparkling Brut, Rosé Brut and Grüner Veltliner Brut. They gave us all very generous pour and I ended up giving mine to my sister-in-law. I don’t know my wines and I usually prefer sweet wine so I thought I would enjoy the sparkling wine. However, they weren’t actually that sweet and quite strong for me. I still enjoyed the tour.

After ending the wine tasting, we headed back to the city center. We had booked a tour with Tripadvisor called Historical Hitler Walking Tour of Vienna. We wanted to learn some history on Vienna and thought this was our chance to learn more. The tour started at Albrechtsbrunnen and we walked for about 2 hours, learning about Hitler’s early years on how he wanted to become an artist to his rise in power, the relationship he had with Austria, and lastly, the Holocaust.

The guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out several building that influenced Hitler. One of which was the Vienna Opera House. Hitler used to draw postcards of the Opera House and sell them on the streets. The guide had a reprint of Hitler’s artwork and they weren’t bad. He was rejected from art school twice but history could have been very different if he became an artist. We also visited the institution that rejected him but it was under construction.

We also visited Heldenplatz (part of Hofburg Palace), the infamous place where Hitler made the annexation speech. Our guide point out exactly where Hitler made the speech and it was weird to know that I was looking up to where Hitler stood years ago. It was interesting to learn that when Hitler first came to Austria, many people welcomed him at the border. Austrians just thought that the power was being moved from one fascist to another. They did not know what was to come after the annexation.

And one of the last places we visited was the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial. The other name it goes by was “The Nameless Library” and you can see all the books that are on the shelf. However, no one can enter this library because there is no door knob and no one can read what type of books these are because the spine is on the inside. It represents the number of unknown victims and their lost stories and it was very hard and sad to hear this from our guide. It is part of our history and it is something we should never forget.

When the tour ended, we visited Cafe Central for a quick dinner but since the line was long, it wasn’t very quick. The line moved relatively fast and we were able to look at the menu before heading in. This cafe had a long standing history (opened in 1876) and became a famous meeting spot for key political figures in Vienna. They said that Hitler was also a regular here.

The cafe was huge! They had several sections and we were seated in the front side by the cake display. I was able to walk around and in the back section, they even had a live pianist playing some tunes. We ended up ordering several different desserts (Viennese Apple Strudel, Kaiserschmarrn, and tea cakes) and Viennese coffee and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Once we were done with our desserts, we headed to see our concert with the Wiener Royal Orchester. During my tour, I have seen several different concerts and I think this one was my favorite. This concert showcased classical music, ballet pieces, as well as opera pieces. I think it would be a great entry concert to the classics. For something we bought last minute, it turned out great.

After the concert, we ended up back at Albrechtsbrunnen and ended up eating some hotdog/Würstel at Bitzinger Würstelstand. This was a simple food stall and while they did not have seating, they had a small bar area to eat at. They didn’t have a full English menu so we ended up getting 3 würstel, all different styles, and just trying them. And it was really good! I would totally recommend this if you needed something quick and were on the go. They also sold alcohol here so a great combo could be a hotdog with a local beer.

We did not want to part yet so we ended up on the balcony of Albertina which was right next to the Würstelstand. The view of the Opera House from up here was really pretty and I could see people just relaxing up here. It was really too cold for us and we ended up just taking some pictures and heading out. It was really a full day!