Savannah, Georgia- August 2014

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I am blessed to have friends all over the world. I am also very lazy about visiting said friends. Ironic given my love of travel.  So when the opportunity came up to go to Savannah for a work conference, I jumped on it because I would be able to visit some friends.

I flew down on United Express, which I try to avoid, but luckily I got upgraded to First Class and I had super fun flight attendant who kept my wine glass full.

I booked the Andaz Savannah, which at first glance appeared to be a nice hotel. My friend Renee picked me up from the airport, we stopped by the hotel to drop off my bags and then headed over to Tybee Island.  As luck would have it, it started to pour rain as soon as we got there.

After a great afternoon of hanging out, I headed back to the hotel to get some work done. Yeah that thought lasted about 2 minutes. I headed over the Savannah Bee Company store to pick up a birthday gift.  If you like honey, go this store. If you don’t, I would not recommend it.

I spent probably an hour in this treasure of trove. I even did a Mead tasting

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High on Honey, I headed back out to see what other trouble I could find in Savannah.  Interesting fact, Savannah allows open containers on the street. So when in Rome……

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So back to the Andaz. Upon check-in they informed me due to my Hyatt Diamond status, they upgraded me to a nicer room. Great. Expect it faced the square, that had a street full of bars on it. So at 3am I could hear all the party goers, still going strong.  I made a new friend at breakfast as we were both complaining about the noise from the night before. So I guess something good came out of it!

Otherwise, I had no complaints about the hotel. I had booked a room for the night because I had read they had candied bacon at the bar. Well I had to try 3 times, before I was successful in securing said bacon, but man was it worth the wait.

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My friends Carrie and Nick, happen to be in town to celebrate Carrie’s birthday and we had a great dinner at Olde Pink House.

Due to my fish allergy it was kind of pain to eat in Savannah. I just have to remember to ask the important questions, like are the french fries fried in the same oil as the fish?  If anything its making me make healthier food choices.  IMG_1834

 

While I did not get to do much sightseeing, since I was stuck in the conference, I did enjoy my time in Savannah, especially getting to spend time with Renee and her family. I hope to get back one day.

A little history, a little sand and a little shopping

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I love visiting Christmas Markets in Europe. It’s not even about the shopping, honestly I don’t believe I’ve ever actually purchased something at the markets. It’s more about the electricity and excitement of the upcoming holidays, about spending time with family and friends.

Since I am on my quest to visit 50 before 40, I was originally planning on trying to go to Poland and Hungary in November/December.  But then I got a bee in my bonnet…..

I’ve been stockpiling my airlines miles and hotel points for some fantasy trip that I’ve been planning to take. I’ve now amassed enough points to bring a family of 4 with me on this trip, so maybe it’s time to start burning them?

Unfortunately, one of the bloggers I follow, Nomadic Matt, has been posting on pictures from his trip to Vienna on his instagram page.  He’s been making me hungry.  So I really wanted to go to Vienna for schnitzel.

So I started playing on United’s website……….

First off, I am willing to fly coach on United because of the economy plus, but I draw the line on partner flights. So ideally I was hoping to redeem my miles for a Business class ticket.  Second. I was only willing do a saver award, because I did not “need” to go anywhere, so I did not want to spend miles unnecessarily. So after a few hours searching around and 2 calls into United, this is what I came up with.

Capture flights

I fly to Vienna,Austria where I spend a day so I get my schnitzel on. Overnight flight to Addis Ababa, Ethophia, connecting on to Mahe, Seychelles. 6 days of relaxation before I head to Istanbul,Turkey for a day of shopping. Then I catch an evening flight to Brussels, where I will spend 2 nights, getting my chocolate and family fix! And then home.

Austria, Seychelles, Turkey and Belgium in 11 days! At least I was savvy enough to leave the shopping for the tail end of the trip!

I was able to book this entire flight in Business Class using 160,000 frequent flier miles and $151.70. I will be raiding my Hilton points to cover the hotel stay.  And again,thanks to the various travel blogs, I follow, I was able to build in a stopover to be able to see my family in Brussels!

Now I need to research what the heck am I going to do in Seychelles, by myself for 6 days?????

 

Kenya and Tanzania, February 2014 Part 4

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Although I love to travel and see new places, I do not like flying in small planes. But their is only 2 options to get to Zanzibar, fly or take a ferry. I opted to fly since it was faster. I flew Precision Air and it was not bad at all. Until I arrived in Zanzibar. There were 3 plane loads of Italians that did not understand the concept of queuing.  So I had to fight my way into something was looked like a line, only be skin to skin with people, because apparently it makes the line go faster? It was like 150 degrees and well it was a test of my travel patience. Being American, I needed to get a multiple entry Visa, which required me to have my picture taken. Well the immigration officer kept pointing to me and the camera, but some nice Italians felt they should not move, so my Visa picture is quite the beauty shot, mainly forward with a nice grimace.

I will not bore you with the details of trying to get my bag from baggage claim. Just imagine those same nice Italians not willing to move and this big  American acting like a linebacker because, well, she’s just about have had enough.

I was staying at the Doubletree Ngunwi, which is about 1 hour north of the airport. I had pre-arranged a driver and a tour of Stone Town before heading up to my hotel. My driver was a no-show, so I just ended up going directly to the hotel. I wish I had done the Stone Town tour, I was just too hot to think straight.

I was oh so happy to arrive at the hotel and just relax…….

 

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The next day was the Annual Turtle Release Day down the beach. It was interesting. There were local dancers. Funny enough I did not last until the release, because it was running on Africa time and after 3 hours I was hungry and hot.

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So something I was told with the Maasi, when they are courting a women they guy jumps for her, the one that jumps the highest gets the women. I am not sure if that is true, but these guys can sure jump.

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My time at the beach was too short. I had originally planned to take the ferry from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam, but given how easy the flight over was, I decided a 20 minute flight was better then a 2 hour ferry. Prior to going to the airport I asked the driver to give me a quick tour of Stone Town.  I wish I had more time.

I visited the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, the site of the former Slave Market Site.

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To see the conditions of the Old Slave Market was interesting. To know that they survived being held in that space for 3 days before being put on ships across the ocean is just amazing. I did not spend as much time as I would have liked, but I hope to go back on day.

My flight back stateside was not until the next day, but I decided to head back to the mainland so I could just relax before heading home. I stayed at the Doubletree Dar Es Salaam. I was heading home the next day, so I figured it finally time to get some serious shopping in. I headed next door to the Slipway.  When I say next door, it was literally right next door, however, it was advised that I not walk over there alone.  I was not about to take a taxi 2 feet, so I took my changes. I ran like my pants were on fire, but I did it alone!

The Slipway was like a modern shopping area you would find just about anywhere in the world. I wondered around for a bit, before breaking down to have an ice cream. I then teased myself by looking at the beautiful tanzanite stones. One must dream right?  I ended up buying  just a few shirts and headed back to the hotel, because the heat was just too much for me.

I decided to go swimming, which was odd because I am pretty sure that water was heated.  But thank goodness I did, because I otherwise would not have met my new friends, Katy and Russell!  Kindred spirits! They were just finishing up a safari trip, and we started talking about all things wonderful, traveling and jewelry.  They had done safari near Arusha, where tanzanite is mined, and Katy was telling me about what she had found. I mentioned that I had been shopping looking at stones, but I could never imagine buying one.  (HA)

I blame the sun and lack of food on what transpired next. I decided to get be “normal” and have dinner in the restaurant. I went to the indoor one and they suggested I go out to the patio for surf and turf.  Well I was still off beef after safari and well I needed to be careful with fish because I was having a situation with shellfish. (Disclaimer: after this trip I finally saw a new allergist and yes I have shellfish allergy and I really should not eat fish). So I probably should have just said no to the surf and turf.  I head to the buffet and help myself to what appeared to be chicken with maybe pineapple. Really? Pineapple? I am not in Hawaii.

Well it was not chicken…….  I spit out whatever it was, but it was too late.

I think the worst part of the whole experience, I still had to pay for dinner!  The best part, it reminded me that life was meant to be lived and I should be thankful for every experience. Oh and that I really wanted some tanzanite!

I really enjoyed my trip to Kenya and Tanzania. I hope to get back one day.

Kenya and Tanzania February 2014, Part 3

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After a long and bumping ride from Amboseli, I arrived back at the Hilton Nairobi.

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Like most capital cities, there were a lot people, car and buses. Organized chaos.  I learned my last lesson on my first trip to Africa and that was pack as light as possible. So I brought older clothes for Safari and I just left them at the camp. So now that I had room in my suitcase, it was time to go shopping.  That little excursion lasted 5 minutes. I could not deal with the haggling and come into my shop business.  The next day I had arranged a tour with a company that participates with Pack for a Purpose. The driver would deliver my donation to the day care, so it was a win win.

I started by day by visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  They rescue elephants that have become orphaned. They raise them and then eventually return them to the wild.

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After watching the elephants for about an hour, we headed over the Giraffe Manor

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The biggest draw? You can kiss the giraffe? I am way to much of a germaphobe to be feeding the giraffe, never mind putting their food on my tongue so it can grab it.

The next stop was the Karen Blixen House, her story was made famous with the movie Out of Africa.

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And the finally stop was at the Kazuri Bead Factory. Kazuri was started back in the 70’s to provide jobs to local single mothers.  They use the clay from Mt. Kenya to make jewelry. pottery and beads. Of course I had to support the local economy.

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Next up Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam

Kenya and Tanzania February 2014, Part 2

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My arrival into Nairobi was uneventful. I had pre-arranged transportation from the Hilton Nairobi, so once I cleared customs, I was on my way to the hotel. It took over an hour, due to the traffic. It was Valentine Day’s and people were about celebrating. Even the lobby of the hotel was decorated.

The next morning it was time for Safari. I had booked with G Adventures for a 3 day 2 night trip to Amboseli in southern Kenya.  My safari guide picked me up and informed me that I was the only one booked for this trip.  And that they get excited to see Americans coming to Africa.

The drive to Amboseli took about 5 hours, on mostly paved roads, but some unpaved. We arrived at the Camp around lunch time. The words camp and tent, don’t mean the same on Safari as it does in the say the camping world. This was my “tent’IMG_0784

complete with electricity and running water.  first drive was that afternoon and upon arrival at the park, my guide had to purchase entry tickets. So I was alone in the safari vehicle. Prime target for the Masaii women selling their wares.

Safari’s are basically driving around parks looking for animals in the their natural habitat. Usually you go on a 2 drives a day, morning and afternoon. This is due to the high heat of afternoons. So basically your average safari day is get up, eat, drive or drive, eat and then back to lodge for lunch, nap, drive, eat, sleep repeat.  Me personally 4 days would be my max.  Some people prefer longer to be able to see everything. To each their own. You’ll get to the point where you won’t even bother with your camera, because if you see another gazelle you might start to go hunting yourself.

I choose Amboseli because it overlooked Mount Kilimanjaro.  Of course as luck would have it, it was cloudy most of the time I was there, so it was not visible.

On my 2nd day, after our afternoon siesta, we headed back to the park. As luck would have it upon entering, we spotted a lioness. It was odd because she was alone and they usually travel in pacts.  She kept looking back so my guide decided to drive towards where she was looking to see if we could spot her family.  We see another group of safari vehicle, cameras clicking away, and nope. They were snapping photos of the gazelle’s. I said they must be on their first drive.  So we drove back towards where we had seen the lion. And then I saw what could only be called nature at work.  A group of Masaii cows had gotten loose in the park. This is not normal. Normally the Masaii will walk with their cows to protect them. Something was off that 20 calves were roaming around. The lioness notices and starts looking around to spot the Masaii.  She does not see them, so off she goes to get herself some dinner.

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If your a beef eater, you may not want to watch these video’s. I am still not over it……

Funny enough while that was happening the clouds cleared and Kilimanjaro became visible.

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Overall safari was great. I liked it so much I am going again next year!

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Stayed tuned for Nairobi, Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam…..

 

 

 

Kenya and Tanzania, February 2014 Part 1

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So to add a chaotic mess to this blog, I writing about previous trips but I will be adding new trips in as well. So I’ve added the month/year to the title of each post.

My first trip to Africa was in May,2013 and I feel in love. I was actually quite surprised that I enjoyed safari as much as I did. So when exploring warm weather vacation options for February, Tanzania come up on my radar.  To fly to Tanzania, the plane stops in Kenya. When I started looking into the different safari options, Amboseli in Kenya seem to fit the bill. So I flew into Nairobi and out of Dar Es Salaam.

United does not fly to East Africa, so I booked United to Zurich via Newark and then Swiss down to Nairobi. I had a  tight connection in Zurich, 45 minutes, so I starting watching the Newark-Zurich flight to see if had any issues.  I was scheduled to fly on Thursday evening, arriving in Nairobi on Friday night. On Tuesday I noticed a nasty line of winter storms were scheduled to hit the New York area, so I called and got rerouted thru Dulles ( Washington D.C. area).  Ok until Wednesday morning, I got notification that my flight had cancelled, that’s OK, I can go earlier, maybe bring my laptop and do a little work during my 4 hour layover in Dulles. I did not like my seat (bulkhead) so I keep checking to see if something else opened up. Around 11AM, eureka, flight’s wide open now, hmmm, sure is because it CANCELLED. I’ve been rebooked for 8am into Dulles. Well now that’s a really long day in the airport.  Around 3pm, I get another notification, CANCELLED. Ok no problem, let me call the UAL and figure out my option. The first lady, I get you on a flight to Dulles tonight, I said who’s going to Dulles? I am trying to get to Nairobi. Well we don’t fly there. Yes but your part of this group called Star Alliance and Swiss flies there. Well let’s see, I can get you to Newark, ok yes, I am have to go. Hung up and called again. This time the agent says to me, How quickly can you get to the airport? Can you make a 6:00 pm departure to Europe? It’s now 3.30pm, I still had to go home to get my suitcase. I said if you want to send a helicopter, since United is into jets that option did not really work.  So finally I got rebooked to go Wednesday night on Lufthansa to Munich and connect to Zurich, where I would have to spend the night and pick up my original itinerary. So made dash home, finish packing and head to the airport.

I had always planned on doing Pack for Purpose. But due to my itinerary change (no tight connection), I was able to check in a bag. So I ended up running over to Walgreens and buying a whole bunch of toiletries that the Day Care had requested. I had found an old suitcase in the garage that was perfect to just give with the donations.

So I had made arrangements for a taxi to pick me up at 7.15 pm. I had a 9.20 pm departure, but with having to check bags I wanted to get there with plenty of time. Taxi did not show up until 7.55 pm. To say I was stressed would have been an understatement. I get to the airport and I one to the last to check in the flight. Immediately the gate attendant says to me, I am sorry ma’am we do not have a business class seat for you, you’ve been downgraded. OK. I mean what else could I say? I needed to get Nairobi on Friday night, because I was scheduled to go on Safari on Saturday morning. But then she actually looked at my reservation, oh shoot, picks up the phone and says you have to find her a seat, argue, argue, thank you. Here you go ma’am, we were able to locate a seat for you.  Apparently, the seat I was given had been ” blocked” and they unblocked it for me. So when I got on the plane, my seat mate demanded to see my ticket because he was so convinced that nobody was supposed to be in that seat. Too bad for him.

So I fly to Munich, have time for a pretzel and then connect to Zurich. Have I mentioned how much I love flying Lufthansa?  But they sure do like to make their passengers get their exercise. When it was time to board my flight to Zurich, I was not surprised when we were bused out to the plane, then had to climb up to board. Upon boarding,  they were handing out Toblerone ‘s.  It was a 45 minute flight, they still served full meal. I was not really hungry, but I did not want to be rude. Something I learned in my previous years of working for an airlines, you eat when you are giving food, because you never know when a flight might get delayed, stuck on a runway, holding pattern, etc.

The meal would have been nice, but the flight encounter turbulence.  As a seasoned traveler, I’ve had my fair share of turbulence, but this flight was slowing creeping into my top 5 of bumpy flights.  As soon as the flight attend caught my eye, I gave up my meal, because I was not interested in wearing it.  No sooner did she get the carts locked down, did the pilots tell them to be seated.  I was in the first row, so I was facing the flight attendant jump seat.  She caught my eye and tried to give me a smile. At that point, I just closed my eyes and tried to focus on something positive.  As you know the plane landed safety, or you would heard the story by now. But it was by far the worse flight I’ve ever been on with turbulence.  The pilots were awesome about keeping us informed about what was going on, not that any of understood it, but just hearing from them gave the appearance of calm.  Funny enough, the flight attendant said to me, it was one of the worst for her.  If I recall correctly, the pilot said something about a storm coming out of nowhere when we were trying to land, and it was damned either going up or down, so they just brought us down.  I may have just had a crush before but it was now full on love for Lufthansa after that flight.

I had used my points to book a room at the Hilton Zurich Airport. It was short layover, and I had only packed warm weather clothes, so I pretty much just went from the airport to hotel.

Funny enough,  my original flight from Newark actually departed and my flight to Nairobi was delayed to allow those passengers to make the connection……..

Stay tuned

 

 

 

Seoul, South Korea- April 2014

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In 2013, I booked a trip to Seoul, South Korea. I mentally prepared myself to cross the other pond in coach, because it was a place I really wanted to visit. Then North Korea started playing with their missiles, and everyone advised me that maybe it was not the best time to visit. So I cancelled my ticket.

In 2014, armed with United Global Premier Upgrades, I decided to try my luck with Seoul again. I was aiming for Cherry Blossom Season, but I was off by about a week. It’s not really something you can plan on seeing unless you book a few weeks before hand.

So why Seoul? My uncle travels for work a lot and was always saying what a great place it is visit. And my cousin’s wife’s family is from there and they had just visited and their pictures looked amazing. And I was really interested in the DMZ area, being able to go into “North Korea”.

When I originally booked my ticket, I was scheduled to fly Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Seoul. Why connect thru Denver to get to San Francisco? This was the routing that worked that would allow my upgrade from coach to business class to clear.  Originally I was scheduled to depart at 6 am, a few days before departure I was notified that I had been moved to a direct Chicago-San Francisco flight at 7 am.  And then at 5 am, as I getting my bearings to head over to the airport, I get notified that my flight has been cancelled and I was now scheduled to depart Chicago at 9 pm, with a 10 hour layover in San Francisco, before heading to Seoul the next day. Hmm yeah, no. I called up United and had a conversation that sounded like code, so I am in ORD but I am trying to get to ICN, they have me overnighting in SFO, but I then I am a day late, can you check on the 13:00 to NRT, with a connection into ICN? Or maybe HKG?

Code Decodor: ORD– Chicago ICN– Seoul SFO-San Fransciso NRT-Narita Japan HKG-Hong Kong

Sure no problem says the agent, I can get on the 1:00 pm departure to NRT,connection to ICN, you’ll only be a few hour later then originally scheduled. I said great, until I remember I was on a coach fare with a upgrade. WAIT, tell me my upgrade is protected. I am not doing 13.45 in coach on a 747. Not happening. I rather stay home. Yes I am spoiled, yes I sound like a snob. Yes you can hate me just a little for that comment. But in all fairness, I fly a lot. Like over 100,000 miles in 2013. I know my limits. Thankfully, my upgrade was protected and all was right in the world again.  Well until I realized how sleepy I was because I had not really slept the night before, anticipating 17 hours of flight time.

Finally arrive in Seoul, only to have to stand in a really long immigration line. Something to note, if you have Global Entry, you can apply to get the Seoul version of Global Entry, which would allow you to bypass the crazy lines.  But it only makes senses if you fly to Seoul frequently.

This trip was booked before I starting dating Hyatt, so I was booked in at the Conrad Seoul. Because of my flight snafu, I arrived closer to midnight then late afternoon. And my dumb-ass had booked a tour with a 7am pickup the next day.  You would think I would learn my lesson at some point.    I was upgraded to a very nice room that had more buttons then I knew what to do with.  I am pretty sure that toilet was trying to say Hello in Korean.

So the next morning, came to soon, it was time to go to the Demilitarized Zone tour, or the DMZ.  Why?I wanted to say that I was in North Korea……

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We stopped to have Korean BBQ for Lunch, I was not sure what some of the choices were, so I kept mine simple. Which turned out to be a good thing, because apparently the kimchi may or may not have had shellfish.

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After lunch we headed to the Third Tunnel. At this point, I really wished I had signed up for the 1/2 day tour.  The Third Tunnel was built by the North Koreans trying to invade South Korea. The key fact, it was dug by the North Koreans.  They are not big people, so the tunnel maybe had a clearance of 5.8 in. And I am about 5.11.  You see where this is headed? But wait,  to get to the tunnel, you have to walk about 1/4 mile down, on a serious decline. Never once did it occur to me, that I would have to go back up on a serious incline.  Yeah……

So I make it down to the tunnel entrance, I manage to walk in about 1 foot and I had to turn around. I kept bumping my head on the ceiling. So I go out and waited for the others from my tour group. Then I looked up and realized that I had to walk up the hill to get out.  I will spare you the ugly details,  let’s just say there was tears, prayers, hyperventilation, begging, bargaining and all other cries for help you could image.  When I finally came crawling out, I look like I had taken a shower. Luckily I had some awesome grapefruit face wipes in my bag. I was able to cool off and refresh. And then I started offering them to other as they came out. Yep, I got a lot of strange looks.

I made some new friends at the hotel lounge, yes big surprise, so the next day they suggested I check out the City Bus Tour.  Some fellow travelers from my previous day’s tour were on the bus and suggested stopping at the War Memorial Museum. I have to be honest, I probably would not have stopped normally, but I was glad I did. It was amazing. We only spent a few hours,  but could have spent more. You probably need a few days to really see the whole thing. The best part, it’s free!

The next day, I was still not recovered from the jaunt to the tunnel, so I got back on the bus and checked out Insadong. It was an amazing spring days, flowers were in bloom and the shops were open. IMG_1180

 

Funny how I do not like to shop in Chicago, but in a foreign city, why not. South Korea is known for their cosmetics, and while I am not a big fan, I have friends that like stuff so I thought I would check it out.  Snail Mucus anyone??? I ended up buying a lot of hand creams, face masks and perfume. A lot because the prices were great and they products are also really nice.

So after I was shopped out, I headed over to Gyeongbokgung Palace.  Again beautiful day, flowers in bloom, HUGE palace to walk around. I managed a few pictures before I sought refugee on a bench and had a good cry because I realized I had to walk about 2 miles to get out of there.

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All in all I really enjoyed my trip to Seoul. I would love to go back for the Cherry Blossom Festivals if I could time it properly.