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A Casual Day at the DMZ/North Korea

We have a scratch off map at home with all the countries we’ve been to, and I’m having a serious moral dilemma. Can I scratch off North Korea now that we’ve been to the DMZ?!

When we were in Korea a few weeks ago, we booked a tour to go to the DMZ – the area between North and South Korea that serves as a buffer zone. The tour included stops at the Doransan Station, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, Imjingak Park. The tour itself was $40 – so quite a good bang for your buck, in my opinion. Now let’s break it all down.

Dora Observatory

The Dora Observatory is an observatory (duh) that you can see North Korea from. Well, usually. The day we went was extremely hazy so this was the best that we could do.

View of Dora Observatory

According to our tour guide, on a clear day, you can actually see a North Korean town (although she claims it’s a facade and not an actual town). From the viewing deck, you can also hear North Korean propaganda music!

South Korean Artwork

Downstairs, they had videos playing about North Korea, as well as artwork made by South Koreans. All of the art centered around how it felt to lose family in the separation. The picture above was one of my favorite pieces. (For anyone looking for a latte – this is the one of two stops on the tour where you can get one. You’re welcome, in advance).

Imjingak Park

I will preface this by saying this is the second stop on the tour where you can get your coffee fix. Aside from that, this park is located in Paju, South Korea and is known for the Freedom Bridge there.

Train shot by North Korean military
A train that was shot by North Korean military that sits within the park
Train sign to North Korea
Prayer ribbons
Prayer ribbons put up by vistors
Prayer ribbons
South Korean army man
Obligatory South Korean cheerful army man near the entrance to the bridge

While Imjinak Park is an important landmark, as an outsider it was just an okay stop along the way. I think my favorite part would probably have to be seeing all those prayer ribbons, because it made the war and the separations that followed feel real to me. It made me understand that there are people, to this day, that are hurting because of it.

Dorasan Station

The next stop was a train station. Random, right? It’s actually the last train station in South Korea, and if trains were allowed, it would continue on to North Korea. Not so random after all, my friends!

Dorasan Station map

At the station, we learned that South Korea refers to itself as an island. If you look at the map above, if it weren’t for the inability to go through North Korea, you could hypothetically travel Europe via train from Seoul!

Dorasan station and tickets

At the station you can purchase a “ticket” to get inside the station. I guess it was cool to see where we would hypothetically catch a train to North Korea.

Ticket to Pyeongyang
The ticket – pretty official ya’ll

3rd Infiltration Tunnel

After the Armistace Agreement, South Korea found a series of tunnels that the North Koreans dug into South Korea. Most of them routed themselves to Seoul, making the South Korean believe that they were planning a massive attack on their largest city.

DMZ sign
Peep the soldier with the peace sign between the M

Interestingly enough, North Korea claimed they were mining for coal, and after getting caught, painted the interiors of the tunnel black to look like coal.

DMZ

We decided not to go down into the tunnel as it was incredibly crowded but did watch the video that South Korea made to discuss the tunnels. Holy propaganda guys! If you get the chance, go to the tunnels and watch the video. Bring some popcorn. It’s pretty damn amusing.

DMZ chocolate
Didn’t purchase this, but was mildly amused by it.

Also – pro tip, buy the hoodies at the gift shop there. They are the comfiest hoodies I’ve ever owned.

In Conclusion…

No travel post would be complete without a food pic, so here ya go! For lunch that day, we had a choice between bulgogi or bimbimbap. We both went for the bulgogi and it was surprisingly delicious. Lunch was served in what looked like an old government building and was buffet style. I would just like to point out that they had cherry tomatoes in the dessert section. I did not snap a pic because I was too infuriated by the fact that someone could call tomatoes a dessert.

Traditional Korean lunch

At one of the many gift shops, we picked up a bottle of North Korean liquor. It was fine. It tasted like plum wine and communism.

North Korean liquor

That’s all folks! I personally enjoyed the tour, although I don’t know how much of that is just because I can now (kind of) say I’ve been to North Korea. If anyone is looking to book it, book it far in advance as they do tend to sell out! We went through a tour group called Kooridoor, although there are numerous other tours that go out that way.

48 Hours in New Orleans

I don’t drink. Parties give me mad anxiety. Bedtime for me is around 9:00pm. NOLA sounds like the perfect place for me to visit, right? Scrolling through Google flights one morning, I found flights for $100 roundtrip and I was sold. A few months later and we were off!

Usually, I plan trips out. I have color coded Excel sheets, highlighted copies of Lonely Planet and dozens of websites bookmarked. This trip was an anomaly. The day before the trip, my friend and I still had no clue what we were going to see or do. All we knew was that we’d be eating copious amounts of beignets (which I finally figured out how to pronounce correctly: ben-yay).

We took a flight out late Friday night and arrived in NOLA around 1am. We promptly found our AirBnB and passed the feck out. The next morning, we put together a rough plan of what we were going to do and got to it. We did the same thing the next day. Instead of going through every last detail, I’ll give you the highlights of what we fit into 48 hours in NOLA (other than the 8 episodes of Yummie Mummies we binge watched at night). 48 hours was a perfect amount of time to spend in NOLA. The weather cooperated, we were not stuck in snow or cold and the food was on point. I would say it was a successful trip!

#1. New Orleans Holocaust Memorial

While browsing online, I found a beautiful Holocaust Memorial. It wasn’t out of the way of other sites we were visiting, so we set out to visit it first. After a half an hour of walking through the city, we came to the site, and this is what we found…

Me, with what should be the Holocaust Memorial

Unfortunately, the panels that were part of the memorial were down for renovation. So while this is listed as #1, it was kind of a fluke. If you are interested in seeing the memorial, it said it would be up in the next few months!

#2. St. Louis Cathedral/Jackson Square

After not seeing the Holocaust Memorial, we wandered towards the St. Louis Cathedral, which is in Jackson Square. The energy from Jackson Square could be felt a mile way (okay, more like a few blocks away but tomatoes tomatoes). You hear Jackson Square far before you see it and when you see it, you’re blown away by it. There are people everywhere – dancing, singing, playing music, and selling their art work.

St. Louis Cathedral is known for being the oldest cathedral in North America. It was founded in 1720 and still used today!

#3. BANKSY (cue fangirl)

The film Exit Through the Gift Shop was released while I was in high school, and we watched it during English class. The film put Banksy on my radar, and made me dream of the day I would see one in real life. When I found out that there was a Banksy piece in New Orleans, I fangirled -hard. Banksy came to NOLA in 2008, post-Katrina, and left about 14 pieces scattered around the city. The rain girl is the only piece left! Many had been sold, or unfortunately, destroyed. The piece that remains is covered in plexi-glass, but you could tell that people had attempted to spray over it. Seeing the piece was almost surreal, and absolutely a highlight of the trip for me!

#4. Studio Be

This spot surprised me. It wasn’t on my mind, I had no clue what it was. I was searching on Saturday morning for cool things to do (actual Google search), and stumbled along the website for Studio Be. Studio Be is the studio for the artist Brandan Odums, a popular street artist in NOLA. His gallery is open to the public from 2pm til 8pm, and it is SO worth checking out. It’s near the Banksy piece, and the walk between the two is filled with piece after piece of street art.

The actual studio is in a large warehouse, with four or five massive rooms. Each room is filled with paintings, street art and other pieces that centered around the artist’s learnings over the years.


If I could take my students to see this gallery, I absolutely would. This was a true highlight, and I was so lucky to have stumbled upon it! It was beautiful, but above that, it was powerful.

#5. Cafe du Monde (and an assortment of other beignets)

You can’t go to NOLA and not eat your weight in beignets. Cafe du Monde coffee is something that I had grown up on – a mix of coffee with chicory for flavor. However, Cafe du Monde beignets were not something I had had before.

So… how were they? They were everything good in the world, fried into a little ball then slathered in sugar. The first beignet we had was at the original Cafe du Monde location in Jackson Square. The line to be seated was long, but the walk through line was even longer. We got seated, ordered beignets and a coffee, and watched our life change before us. They were magical. After trying those, we tried several other spots around the city. None could compare to the ones we had at Jackson Square in Cafe du Monde.

Disappointing “biscuit” beignets

#6. Magazine Street

On our second day, we walked over to Magazine Street for brunch at the Broken Egg Cafe (note: not worth it). When we got their, it was a 45 minute wait, but thankfully Magazine Street was ahead. Magazine Street is a street full of cute stores that seemed to be popular for tourists and locals alike. As we waited for breakfast, we wandered through the stores. The area was lively, but not in a drunken Bourbon Street way. If you have some time, this was a cool area to explore! There seemed to be an enormous selection of food around as well!

While we were there, there was a parade being held, in honor of feeling sad about their team not going to the Super Bowl

#7. Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

While I was in Texas last month, we visited a sculpture garden that ended up being a highlight of the trip for me. NOLA has a similar garden in City Park, an enormous park on the north side of the city. The park is also the home to the Museum of Art and the Botanical Gardens. The sculpture garden had some beautiful pieces, however it was not very spread out. You could see all the art in less than ten minutes. This spot is worth checking out, especially if you are a a fan of modern pieces!

Another reason to get your booty up here: they have a Cafe du Monde food truck! While the quality was not the same as the OG cafe in Jackson Square, it was a welcome sight to have more beignets! The coffee there wasn’t great or fresh, but the NOMA museum cafe made a great latte!

#8. ALL THE STREET ART!

If you can’t tell from this post, or from previous travel posts – I LOVE ART. Street art, in particular, strikes my fancy. New Orleans was a city filled with it. You’d see pieces on alleys, on store sides, heck, even on people’s homes. It made walking through the city fun – as if we were on a treasure hunt.

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#9. Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras in New Orleans sounds terrible for me. I don’t like crowds or drinking. Parades aren’t fun when you’re 4’11”. However, Mardi Gras World was worth checking out. The tour is set in the factory that creates many of the floats for Mardi Gras parades throughout the city. It gave us a much better understanding of why Mardi Gras is so big in NOLA, and an insight into just how much planning, preparation and money goes into them! It was fascinating to see the various stages of float preparations and the array of floats they had. Tip: Groupon had tickets for about $10 less!

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We ended our trip yesterday, with a 6:00am flight home, which called for a 3:45am wake up call. Silly me talked myself into thinking our AirBnB was haunted and got approximately 2.5 minutes of sleep. Now I’m back in rainy, dreary Chicago, tired and reminiscing hard on those damn beignets. My advice: go to NOLA. You’ll leave feeling inspired, and well fed.

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36 Hours in Denver

I have a LDBF (long distance best friend, for those of you who aren’t aware) who lives in Denver, which happens to be one of my favorite cities. One of the reasons that this LDBF relationship works so well is that roundtrip tickets from Chicago to Denver (and vice versa) are often less than $100. Shout out to the real MVPs – Spirit and Frontier! If one of us lived in the middle of nowhere Kansas, where flights are exponentially pricier, this friendship likely wouldn’t be a thing. So anyways, I booked a flight out for this past MLK weekend.

A few days before my flight is due to leave, Chicago gets a winter warning for a storm that will drop oodles of snow on us. Airlines start canceling flights and allowing for passengers to make alternate plans. My flight wasn’t canceled, so I decided to wait until the day of. I wake up Saturday morning, and the flight is on time. Sweet! As I’m packing, I get a notification. Flight is delayed three hours. Okay, that’s fine. Another hour passes, and it’s delayed five hours. Thankfully, that was the last delay. My 41 hour trip to Denver has been reduced to 36 but that’s fine! I got to O’Hare and was blown away by how empty the airport was. It looked like a ghost town. Despite the shut down, I get through security in less than 5 minutes. That is unheard of for Chicago! There wasn’t even a line at Starbucks. To make it even better, my flight was half empty.

So here’s what I got up to that weekend. Keep in mind that I’ve been to Denver 5 times over the last 3 years, so this was definitely not a tourist trip.

Saturday: My LDBF picked me up from the airport. The one thing that always amuses me about Denver is how nice the drivers are. There’s no honking. There aren’t cars weaving through traffic like the jerks in Chicago do. Everyone keeps their distance from the car behind them. They’re just so dang nice. We stopped at a tea shop, then headed to her place. She and I are both trying to figure out our life’s purpose, so we made vision boards. Both of our vision boards ended up with a lot of yoga and travel inspiration, due to our limited magazine choices. A year of flexibility and airplane rides is a-okay with me! We rounded out the evening with some dank steaks (have you ever had a steak from a Traeger grills?) and a bad game of bowling.

Sunday: We woke up the next morning and wandered around Denver for a bit. We grabbed breakfast bowls at a spot called Illegal Petes and then continued on to drive up to Boulder, which is the cutest town ever. I picked up a few mugs, and some CBD oil from the most enthusiastic man I have ever met. I never mentioned dogs, but he ran through a 10-minute spiel about how good it is for them (for the record: I am not an animal person). We ended up at the casino because her dad is an MVP there and we could get free food. My friend and her boyfriend killed it at blackjack, while I lost $20 on dime slot machines. Gambling is a vice I will not be getting behind. That night was the blood moon lunar eclipse, and we ended the night with that!

Monday: My flight was due to leave at noon so we started our morning rather early with a hot yoga class. The class was very meh. The instructor didn’t cue well and the music didn’t fit at all. (Note to self: go to more yoga classes). She also mentioned Martin Luther King a ridiculous number of times. We went back, showered, had smoothies and coffees, and then she dropped me off at the airport with a bag of snacks, like a real best friend does. A quick two hour ride later, and I was back home with a full heart!