Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

I think the last time I actually celebrated Saint Patrick’s day was in 2018? I was visiting Toronto for a conference and the parade just happen to pass through the street my conference center was at.

This year was a bit special. One of my best friends was getting married this weekend in Chicago and I knew Chicago was known for their Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Of course, I knew I couldn’t see the parade that was happening on the day of my friend’s wedding. However, I thought I could see the green river afterward.

I have never seen it in person but I have seen it on the news several times about Chicago turning their river green for Saint Patrick’s Day and I was just so excited to see it in person! The tradition of turning the river green goes back to 1962 (so much history) and this year was their 60th anniversary.

pic: Green Chicago river

My friends and I didn’t know where would be the best place to see all the greenery but once we got to the river, we realized anywhere on the river is a great place. It was all green!

I love looking at Chicago architecture and have done with Architecture River Tour previously (I highly recommend this tour) and seeing all the different styles with the green river was just gorgeous.

You can view from the street side but we decided to walk down to the River Walk for a closer look. I was surprised to see kayaks on the river!

Pic: 2 kayaks on the green Chicago river

We walked about a mile on the River Walk and there were several areas to sit and just view the river as well as exits back to the street side. Just walking upstream and seeing the green Chicago river was like looking at emeralds. The pictures don’t do it justice (This was all taken with my phone).

Pic: green Chicago River with a cityscape view

I hope you enjoyed the green Chicago River because I did! It was a beautiful day to see such an amazing view. This only happens once a year and stays for a couple days so you have to plan it accordingly.

Beyond Van Gogh: The immersive experience

For a while, I have heard about this exhibition traveling in the US and I really wanted to go. I saw they had LA on their list and I thought about driving up to see it. But when I found out that it was coming directly to San Diego, I knew I was 100% going. I have always admired Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork, especially The Starry Night and Cafe Terrace at Night. I was fortunate enough to see some of his pieces in person at the National Gallery in London, as well as at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

So I asked my girls if they would like to join me on this quest and they all said yes! So we booked our tickets and waited for the day to come. The ticket prices varied depending on the day of the event and we decided to go on a weekday evening. The tickets were $36.99 per person for the off-peak days, plus a $6 ticketing fee. On the day of the event, we drove separate cars but should have taken 1 car! There was a parking fee of $10 per car at the entrance of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

pic: entrance of the event hall

From the entrance, I was already excited! It was my favorite piece and it was so inviting! Well… to me it was at least 🙂 Once you enter, you are welcomed by an attendant who will check you in, as well as a giant self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh. From here, there were photo spots you could take part in. It was already starting to feel immersive.

Pic: Me inside The Starry Night painting pop-up

Once you pass the entryway, there were lots of information about Vincent Van Gogh and it was backed up by letters Vincent sent to his brother, Theo. They had a great relationship and kept in touch wherever they went. You could tell that the brothers really loved and supported each other.

pic: inside the exhibition, showing the curatorial text

The text covers Vincent’s life, his ups and downs, his decision to go from an art dealer to an artist, and also his struggles with depression. Reading the letters made these issues feel so raw and I felt like I got to learn more about the artist. It isn’t a lot and doesn’t go in-depth, it gives a great perspective for people who are new to the artist.

Once you pass the wall of text, you are able to enter the immersive section of the exhibition and wow. The music and the moving images really took my breath away. The artwork I was familiar with made it easier for me to immerse in it. And the music was a perfect fit with all the images and I really enjoyed the moment. The immersive portion was about 40 minutes and we all just took up a spot and just became part of the show.

The space was pretty big so I kept moving around to find a place to see the whole room but every corner or even the middle of the room provided a great viewing spot. I think with the music and the moving images, I could have just stayed a long time. It was really relaxing and I think it was worth it for the experience.

pic: Me in front of self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh

For videos of the event, please see my instagram! And for tickets, go to the Beyond Van Gogh website 🙂

[day 2] Hiking in Mount Laguna

Waking up in the morning to the sound of birds and also your girls talking about breakfast was perfect. When I got out of my tent, the girls were all up (I like to sleep in on weekends!) and they were all cooking breakfast. And it was legit breakfast. They all had their burners out with their skillets, cooking bagels and scrambled eggs! What a perfect breakfast!

Pic: Individual burner with a skillet pan, cooking a bagel

We needed to make sure our bodies were ready for the 6-mile hike and once we were done with breakfast, we all geared up, packed extra snacks, and headed out. We figured it would be about 2-3 hours with lots of rests in between.

We didn’t have to drive anywhere because the campground we stayed at connected to the trail we were going on. We were going to walk the “Big Laguna Meadow Trail” and to start off, it was really nice. Also, we were having the perfect weather for a hike. Lower in the temperature with lots of sunlight, with a little bit of a breeze. Perfect.

Pic: One of my ladies, leading the hike

We had to walk through some forest to get to the actual trail but it seemed like a lot of people used this path as well. It was very easy to get to the trail from the campsite. And trees! It was so nice to be surrounded by green trees again! I’m not 100% but it also looked like this was part of the pacific crest trail. So I can say that I hiked the PCT?

There were also a lot of other hiker and bikers! The trail had lots of bumpy roads and I was so surprised to see so many bikers. Everytime we saw them coming, we moved to give them space, and if they came from the back, we heard the bell. ring-ring. Everyone was so nice to each other, with lots of “good mornings” and “have a good hike.”

Pic: biker coming down the trail

After about an hour or so, we took our first break. We found a flat area with some rocks so we all just plopped down and unpacked our snacks. It was just nice to relax a bit, take off some layers, eat some snacks, and share stories.

Pic: camping ladies group photo

We literally looked photoshopped here! But that is how beautiful it was that day. After snacking and resting, we had to get up and finish the trail. As we kept following the trail, we did end up at a fork and did take a wrong turn, and with our internet not working, we were all making educated guesses but eventually, we were back on the trail.

On the trail, we took in the forest and mountain view, the crisp air, and all the little critters we saw. There were part of the forest that was burnt down and the water hose was still looming around. We were careful walking but it was interesting to see all the brunt down trees and right next to it, there were already new saplings.

Pic: one tree surrounded by ashes

I think I really slowed down the group because I wasn’t so used to walking. I think I was prepared for the 6 mile but I think our hike ended up being around 9 miles? My body was not prepared for that. I was glad that the ladies all waited for me every corner. Eventually, we got back to our campsite and I think it took us about 4 1/2 hours. This is with our snacking time and me being a slow walking. But we stayed on the trail, stayed strong, and finished it!

Once we were back at our campsite, we were met with a mess! Some birds got into our bags and threw some of our paper plates and napkins all over. We quickly picked up all the trash we saw and cleaned it up. We were surprised because there wasn’t any food out. It was just utensils but now we know to even put those away.

We also made the decision to pack up and leave a day early because of the temperature at night time. I was very glad because I thought my toes were going to freeze the previous night! But we wanted to enjoy it until the very end, so we decided to see the stars for the last time before leaving. We put our tents away, started a fire, and just relaxed.

This time, we had a campfire favorite! Smores~ I was so excited! We used vegan marshmallows and it was just as good! I like to keep mine slightly away from the fire and roast them with time. My friend on the other hand, just stuck hers into the flame and made them super crispy!

pic: roasting marshmallows in campfire

They say there are two types of people…. haha. Overall, they were all just so good. And while roasting by the fire, we started to play a card game called “Do you know me?” It asked lots of interesting questions and we got to learn more about each other. If you haven’t played the game, you should! It is a great icebreaker game as well as a getting to know someone better. We had some hot seat questions that made the conversations all the more interesting! (Clik here to find it on Amazon)

We finished up the questions, looked up at the stars more, tried to take some pictures of us and the stars and not getting it quite right. Overall, I think the trip was a success and we all had so much fun! I cannot wait until our next trip together!

[Day 1] Camping at Cleveland National Forest

My friend invited me to a local camping trip and at first, I said no because I didn’t have any camping gear. But when she offered to lend me some, I just had to say yes! The last time I actually went camping (like legit camping) was when was 12 and was on a cross-country trip with my family. I was excited to get back into camping but I haven’t had a chance to do so. So I took this invitation as an opportunity to learn how to camp again.

We were heading to Cleveland National Forest and camping at El Prado Group Campground. I was going to carpool with my friend so I headed over to her place. She has a hatchback and thought it would be enough space but we ended up moving everything to my Tuscon. And good thing we did because we filled the backspace!

Gif: packed trunk space

The two of us had a lot of stuff. I think we had 2 tents, 3 sleeping bags, 2 sleeping mats, 1 box of arts and craft things, 1 icebox, 1 box of cooking utensils, a guitar, 2 folding chairs, and our clothes and shoes?

We took the 8 for about an hour and a half and made a small pit stop right before heading into the Park. Once you get off the Sunrise Hwy exit and take Old Hwy 80 to find the last supermarket and gas station. We followed signs for the gas station but if you want the actual pinpoint, use Mountain Super Market. We ended up getting ice here and noticed it was already really cold.

We wanted to get to the campground before sunset so we were rushing but when we saw something amazing, we stopped to take pictures. And that was right before getting into the park. There was a viewpoint and the sunset was just beautiful. We took a moment to take in the beauty before getting back on the road. If you have more time, drive slow and enjoy the mountain views.

pic: mountain view from the viewpoint

Once we got to the campground, the sun was already gone. So we pitched our tents as fast as possible. It got dark really quickly and it was also very windy. My tent almost flew away! Thank goodness a tree branch caught it. After pitching the tent, I got to meet the other ladies. They were all friends of my friend and they were all awesome ladies! They all pitched their own tents and all brought an abundance of camping gear, including snacks 🙂

The sun was gone instantly and we started our firepit right on time as it got to freezing really fast. We all sat by the fire and got to know each other and talked about life. It was really peaceful. Because it was still winter, there weren’t a lot of campers. When we were all sitting in silence, the sound of the wind, the branches brushing against each other, birds and other animals, and the firewood crackling, were all sweet sounds of nature.

pic: campfire

We ended up going to bed a little early to make sure we were prepped for the hike the next day. Once I was in my tent, the temperature hit me so hard. It was FREEZING! Even in the below 0 degree sleeping bag, my toes were not heating up. Plus, the high-speed wind that was shaking my tent didn’t help. It took a while but I think eventually, I passed out. If you are going camping during the winter, make sure to pack thick socks to keep your toes warm, maybe double layer your sleeping bag, and take some heat packs to keep you warm. (This is my notes for future events)

pic: my tent under the stars

Right before going to bed, I took this picture. The wind was so strong that even on my tripod, my phone couldn’t standstill. But I really loved being able to see so many stars with my naked eyes. Not my best photo of stars but I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone 🙂 I hope you are celebrating with your loved ones!

I haven’t written in a long time so I have a lot of catching up to do but I first wanted to write about a trip I took to Julian for Valentine’s Day.

If you don’t know Julian, it is a small miner’s town about an hour outside of San Diego. During the 1800s, a lot of people moved here for the gold mining rush! Of course, they don’t use the mines nowadays and is more famous for the apples.

public parking space but it was $3 an hour. So if you want free parking, come early. For us, that was arriving before 10am.

The town is really cute with lots of historic buildings. The shops and restaurants all have some history to them. And because they are a town known for apples, they have lots of apple related items, such as apple scented candles and bath bombs to apple butter and jams.

Pic: Main street at Julian, California

My favorite store was The Warm Hearth (address: 2125 Main St.) because it had everything. From cooking items to vintage signages, it was really an all-in-one shop. I really enjoyed looking through all the vintage signs, playing giant size games, looking at backyard water features, and more.

Pic: Downstairs portion of The Warm Hearth

I loved that everything was within walking distance of each other and since this is off-season (not apple picking season), it didn’t feel like it was too crowded. Some of the apple pie restaurants had some lines but it wasn’t too bad. Also, every time I walked by the pie places, the smell of fresh apple pie was just mouth-watering.

For lunch, we went to the Miner’s Diner, which was just across the street from the shop. The shop feels like an old diner and I loved it. It has character 🙂 At the entrance of the shop, the old miner greets you, waving his axe and drinking his soda.

Pic: the animatronic miner

They have several sandwich and burger options and you can also split an order. We ended up getting a split Reuben because we were going to get something to eat later as well. As we were dining, the toy train moved around the restaurant, just choo-chooing away.

There was another cute candy shop inside the Miner’s Diner. It is small but very cute and there is a small metal miner, ready to detonate dynamite in the mines. How cute!

Pic: Metal figure holding a bucket of candy

There were also museums and old mines you can visit to learn more about how the city started and to see how people lived during the time. Most of them had small fees but if you are a historic buff, I think these places would give you a lot of insights.

Pic: Julian Piooneer Museum building

After walking around the town, visited the Julian Tea & Cottage Arts for their Valentine’s Day Tea event. This place was fantastic! If you are a tea lover, you need to visit this place. The store itself is pretty small but it has indoor and outdoor seating and has lots of different things they offer.

Pic: Colorful teaware

We were here for their Valentine’s Day Tea party and it was really good! It was a special set menu that had some romantic flair. A four-course (almost) meal starting off with soup (Tomato or Pumpkin) and a variety of finger sandwiches, followed by some scones with different jam, and lastly a dessert plate.

Pic: Valentine-themed finger sandwiches

And they have a list of tea you can pick for your drink and you can switch out to tea at any time. It was an experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat! If you would like to see their future events, visit their webpage (https://juliantea.com/)

Before leaving Julian, we had a final stop. We needed to get apple pie. There are several ones to pick from but we ended up going to Mom’s. They had several different pies but I wanted to focus on the main one, the apple pie. Also, you can get your crust in 2 ways: Flakey or in crumbs. I wanted the most basic one for my first trip, so a flakey apple pie.

Pic: Flakey apple pie within the box with instruction

I brought it home and ate it but you can freeze them and the box has instructions on how to reheat them. Overall, excellent pie. I loved the buttery crust!

Julian is definitely worth a trip. You can do a day trip or if you want to hike around the area, an overnight trip would also work.

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!