The Soul of Seoul


Ok, I admit that the title sounds a bit big, huge even – and all-embracing, but I couldn’t resist.

Seoul is a city both quirky and cute. Fascinating, bustling, vast. A megacity of contrasts. And very much about taking a lot of pictures.

Spicy kimchi; the extremely busy Gwangjang market offering everything you could ever think of from black bean pancakes to electronics; shopping malls that are open 24/7; underground shopping malls; nightly food stands that serve late night shoppers; photobooths that are ubiquitous. So many cozy cafes, offering a wide range of imaginative coffee drinks (both hot and cold), such as sweet potato lattes. And divine egg tarts. It is funny that despite the fact that there is a café in every corner, many of them still attract a queue. Like did the 2D Café we visited in Yeonnam-dong 223-14: a hotspot for those who want the perfect IG shot in a cartoon-like setting. Try the red velvet cake: it was juicy and delicious.

I love to observe street fashion and I spotted a very popular trend on the streets of Seoul – and what makes this slightly peculiar was that it was in late December: a long padded jacket (either black or white) paired together with flipflops. No scarf, no mittens, no hat and above all, no socks!

Another unique dressing sight is the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress worn mostly at traditional occasions. It is characterized by vibrant colors and a bell-shaped form. We spotted young people dressed in it at the Changdeokgung palace area and in the Bukchon Hanok Village. There are also plenty of hanbok rental shops, especially near the famous sights, in case you want to try on traditional Korean style for yourself.


What else, what else? Seoul is safe, super safe one could say. We were sitting in a coffee shop (when in Korea…) and a young man left his wallet on the corner of a table when he went to the men’s room. And there it was, exactly in the same spot where he left it, when he returned.

And the food is purely delicious: Kimchi, tofu, Korean bbq, hot pots, the list goes on. I love Korean food.

Seoul is a fascinating combo of history, culture, Korean cuisine, pulsating energy, endless shopping opportunities, cute details and cuter cafes. I’ll share my best Seoul tips in my next post!

Discovering Antwerp, the Hotspot of Chocolate, Diamonds and Fashion


The city of chocolate, diamonds, fashion, art, antique and architecture. And beer! That’s quite a list of highlights for one city. We visited this Belgian gem two weeks ago and now I’ll share my selected tips.

Antwerp is convenient when it comes to getting there: a 2,5 hour flight from Helsinki and then a half hour train ride from the Brussels airport. We took the afternoon flight on Friday and were strolling along the cobbled lanes of Antwerp in search of an atmospheric mussels restaurant during (late) dinner time. And found a tasty one (Xaverius, Oude Koornmarkt 21)! Let’s dive into the culinary delights shortly.

First, must say that on Saturday, November 16, it was slightly tricky to find a nice and cosy late breakfast spot with two available seats as that day marked the yearly arrival of  Sinterklaas to Belgium,  an occasion we were utterly unaware of. The streets around the Bonapartedok were packed with families, strollers and children who had exceeded their sugar overdose for the upcoming week as well.

The Sinterklaas festivities begin in mid-November as he arrives by boat from Spain. In Belgium he always arrives in the port of Antwerp. Then he parades through the streets, the children are singing and the assistants of Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Piet, throw small spiced biscuits and candy to the cheering crowd. In the coming days children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or on the windowsill in hope that Sinterklaas will come and bring some presents during the night time. The anticipation culminates on the eve of the Feast day when the main Sinterklaas parties take place. This tradition has received criticism because of the Zwarte Piet character but based on what we saw that Saturday, the tradition, or at least the parade, is still very popular.


Now, back to my Antwerp favorites. The best restaurant, without doubt was Fiskeskur (Kattendijkdok-Oostkaai 20b). This place is excellent. We both had a fish curry: super rich and delicious, fireworks for the palate really. The wine list was delightfully impressive, the service was warm, and the mood was cosy and laid-back. Extra points for the Latin rhythms. We found the place by following the tempting fish aroma when we were walking towards the Port Authority.

The architectural wonder: the Port Authority Building. Its architecture combines tradition with futurism. The building is captivating, a real eye-catcher, and the stroll to see it makes for a good (and windy, in November) afternoon walk. Antwerp is Belgium’s biggest port and infact world’s fourth largest port complex and back in the day (like more than 400 hundred years back) it was one of Europe’s most important cities. On the way back the yummy fish curry awaits. Architecturally impressive is also the Antwerpen-Centraal train station, check it out!



The most interesting chocolate experience was the Chocolate Nation (Koningin Astridplein 7), which manifests itself as the Valhalla for chocolate lovers. The visitors are taken on an audio-guided journey to the history of Belgian chocolate. It was quite exciting: the execution was creative and interactive and I bet it appeals to both children and older chocolate aficionados. And, as one would expect, in the end we got to taste many different flavors, in liquid form. As they say, the only thing better than chocolate is more chocolate.

As for the diamonds, didn’t buy any (I’d rather save up for the next adventure, be it big or small); antiques (carry-on baggage pretty much excluded purchasing any antique dressers or mirrors) and fashion: I bought one beautiful leather hand bag from the Old town, an item which I’ll very likely use for years. And the Leonida’s chocolate ended up in a very safe place as did the Belgian waffles: the best one was purchased from a tiny cart on the street while we were on our way to the Grote Markt (market square).

My Compact Kyoto Guide

I love to take a bunch of pictures when I travel: of everyday curiosities and details (such as Hello Kitty seat covers on the train and key chains with a plastic omelette and nigiri decorations attached to them), of delicious food items and epic views and sights, of course. And still, there were many moments and experiences in Kyoto which essence and ambience was tricky to capture in pictures, such as the mood of the soft late summer nights of the tropic by the Katsura river. Frogs were giving their loud croaking concert, young locals were sitting and chatting by the river banks and enjoying a beverage, a beer and life, while others were sharing a late dinner on the wooden terraces built above the riverside brooks, lit by rice paper lanterns.

Of course, not everything needs to be captured in digital snapshots, the mental mementos are super special as well. But now, from these reflections let’s dive into my more concrete Kyoto tips!

First, I must say, that before we visited Kyoto, I had an image in my mind that the place is enchantingly idyllic. A colleague of mine had praised the soothing onsens and a Japanese friend had described the classic tea ceremonies he truly enjoyed. So was it, idyllic? Well, yes and no. There are such picturesque historical temples and shrines, traditional quarters where you can spot geishas in beautiful attire and atmospheric ryokans and inviting tea rooms. But, the very centre of the city is made of concrete and for the best, beautiful and traditional parts of the city you need to go a bit further, though not far. Now, let’s see, where to go!

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion


Now, be prepared to queue for a while to see this shining golden sight. This is described to be Kyoto’s most famous sight. And, it is impressive: the glittering gold pavilion shines in sunlight and is reflected in the pond surrounding it. I’d say that the temple is worth the visit, but you can plan other sights for the day as well, as this one is experienced rather quickly. We took the local bus there but then afterwards hopped into a taxi to get in time to the next sight (monkeys!). The temple is located in the far north west of Kyoto and is not close to the main train lines.


Fushimi Inari-Taisha



Fushimi Inari is a large and impressive shrine on Mount Inari, famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which seem to go on endlessly. Inari is the Shinto god of rice and foxes are Inari’s messengers. Hence there are many fox statues wearing red scarfs which guard the shrines on the mountain. The hike to the summit takes around three hours, given that there a many other fellow travellers and that you’ll stop for photos and a refreshing water break several times. The large red torii gates along the path are donations, given either by companies or private individuals, and the name of the donor can be found on the side of the gate.

This sight & climb combo was unique and sweaty, definitely worth a day trip. The entrance is free. And though there was a sign warning us of boars roaming in the area, we encountered none, luckily, as my how to meet a boar skill set is a bit rusty.




Kiyomizu Temple by night



This temple area, situated in the eastern Higashiyama area, was especially spectacular during the late evening: the red temple buildings, the tall three-story pagoda and the colourful bell tower were shimmering in the summer night. I read that the Kiomizu-dera’s large wooden stage standing on high pillars was installed in a special way, without using a single nail but wooden joints instead. Check out the web page of the sight to catch the special light-up occasions.


Iwatayama Monkey Park and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

You can climb up to Mt Arashiyama (about 15 min ascent one way) and visit the home of around 120 Japanese macaque monkeys. You’ll see the monkeys for sure, no doubt about that. The monkeys roam freely there, in their natural surroundings. You’ll likely spot monkey toddlers playing with each other. You can feed the monkeys from the feeding cottage but avoid taking direct eye-contact because that would make the monkeys feel threatened. I liked that the monkeys could run and hop around freely on their own hill.

What else did I want to I suggest? First, the Nishiki Market, a narrow shopping street market with countless booths, shops and restaurants. At this lively and bustling place, you can feast with fresh seafood (or dried seafood, if you’d prefer) and delicious ramen and find for example juicy tofu, all kinds of matcha treats from smoothies to soft ice, cookware and fruit (which by the way were quite costly). A busy yet pleasant experience and a great place to grab for example an appetizer (octopus on a skewer) and a tasty lunch (I enjoyed a rich ramen soup) in one of the compact restaurants right by the market. And not to forget the steak and shrimp key chains purchase. I wonder who needs to have one of those, someone who really likes steak, I guess.

Another tip for especially all the foodies out there is an abundant and instagrammable Kaiseki dinner. Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine, a tasting menu consisting of many small and beautiful portions, presented in an elegant way. Our Kaiseki dinner included for example a miso soup, a portion of shredded mushrooms, fresh tuna, delicious fried salmon and as a dessert two tofu-like squares served on a stick. It definitely was an experience, memorable and visual, but maybe more interesting than epic in a culinary way.

All in all, Kyoto really delivered.