I SPY: South Korea

Nov 30, 2017

If you've ever traveled from New York to Singapore you know that it takes more then 24 hours door to door?  Kills me!  Partially why when I went home to visit my family this past summer, I decided to stop over in Seoul, Korea for three days to break up my trip.  The other advantage is ticket prices were cheaper, and I got to go Seoul searching.

It was a win win situation, however Seoul was not how I envisioned it to be.  Not to be a travel snob, but I left feeling like it was a cheaper version of Japan!  In all fairness, much of South Korea was wiped out during the Korean War in the 1950's.  Thus construction is new, and can't be compared to the rich beauty of Japan.  However, to see a city who has boomed in the last fifty years, in becoming one of the world's top ten most economically powerful cities, is impressive.

When there, I found out Gangnam isn't just a silly song, but was an actual neighborhood.  The K - Pop culture was real!   Fashion was innovative.  The girls were pretty and the boys too!  Yes, many have had plastic surgery.  Every other block you saw a sign or ad for cosmetic surgery.  They are a vain culture, and not only do they undergo the knife, but they are also fanatics over their skin.  Hence why they are leaders in skincare products.  Hence why I took advantage of their non invasive facial spa treatments and left with a suitcase filled with skin products!


Their walls are lined with head shots of the Korean movie stars they have served.  Hollywood service?You would think it's a fancy place, but it's not!  Beds are lined up in a room, so you don't have privacy.  BUT, have trust.  You lie down, they look at your skin and they get to work.  Very little English is spoken in Seoul, so the aesthetician doesn't even bother to explain what they'll be doing.  Nothing invasive, or even probing.  Just slapping on a bunch of their own Shangpree brand serums, masks, and massage that proves amazing results when you wake up 2 hours later. Buy their masks to take home before you leave.  This brand is on to something!

Obviously anything at the Four Seasons has to be fancy and live up to Western standards.  But it went over my expectations.  My treatment room was the size of my hotel room!  With views of the city, and a full size bathroom with bath and shower, and tea and snacks served in your room after your treatment it was hard not to spend the whole day there!  Although they didn't use Korean skincare products, I really enjoyed the glass balls they massaged my face with.  It felt like ice because they were kept in the freezer, and really helped to de-puff and soothe my skin after my long flight.

Like you can call in an in room massage, you can get an in room facial in Seoul.  Not someone from the hotel spa necessarily, but a freelance aesthetician.  Ask your concierge service at your hotel if they can recommend someone.  I'm sure they can, because this is common practice for Korean's to have the aestheticians come to their home. The lady who came to my room, was recommended by a friends, friend.  She walked in, with waterproof sheets to line your hotel bed, her equipment, and not only did she give you a facial, she also scrubbed and massaged your whole body.  She worked on me for 3 hours.  I felt like kobe beef after!!!


A Buddhist temple located in the heart of the city.  Can't be compared to a Shinto shrine as you would find in Japan, such as the famous Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.  Bongeunsa just isn't as luxe, nor has the history behind it.  However for those who have never visited a temple, it is worth a stop.  The courtyard filled with lanterns are pretty, the big Buddha in the back has an impact, and the dancheong traditional pattern painted on the ceilings was of most interest to me.

For a taste of old Korea walk around this neighborhood.  I felt like I was walking through Kyoto, Japan. Love the architecture.

A street, walking distance from Bukchon Hanok village.  Filled with arts and craft stores, eateries, and their version of locks of love, but instead love messages.  You can find it in the alleyway at the top of Ssamziegil.

A modern museum, filled with contemporary art, with a resident Korean artifacts exhibit. and  Olafur Elliason, whom I became obsessed with after my trip to Iceland ,had an installation while I was there.  'Gravity Stairs' plays with the different perspectives and the trickery of the eye.


While my eating schedule was totally thrown off by jet lag, I ended up eating a lot of street food, Korean barbecue at random places whose names I couldn't read, and shopping center food courts.  It's Asia, their food courts are wayyyyy better then USA standards.  Needless to say, Seoul is a foodie city, with a big coffee shop culture, and you will never find yourself hungry with no place to stuff your face.  So it's safe to say you will survive with no restaurant recommendations.  But if you must, here are a few places of interest.

Even if your not daring to eat some mystery food, it is worthy to just walk through.  I never realized till then how many different versions of kimchi exist!  Beware if you try, their spice level is deadly.  Well for me at least!  But it was super tasty, along with the scallion pancakes.

Famous for their matcha green tea that is served from hot, to cold, and in shaved ice form.  Shaved ice is a popular treat in Korea.  Dig in, it's refreshing, and was not overly sweet which I appreciated.


This is the Sephora of Korea!  If you want to stock up on beauty products, facial products and cosmetics, this is your one stop shop.  Shop till you drop!

A wholesale shopping mall, but many stores allow you to buy individual pieces.  It's the place you go shopping when you have jet lag! Many of the stores stay open till 6am. It was nice to have somewhere to walk around in the wee hours of the morning, and it wasn't ghost town either. Surprisingly quite a lot of people were out at that time!

Korean fashion is big. This department store I think had the best selection. I was intrigued by it, and all the details. But I walked away without buying anything. It was a little too crazy and fussy for me.  Maybe if I was 20 years younger! But don't let me ruin your experience. Check it out!


I wanted to stay in the Dongdaemun District, because I knew I was going to have horrible jet lag.  That I did! But I wasn't left to twiddle my thumbs in the dark in the middle of the night. Instead I was able to escape my room and go shopping at 2am, since my hotel was surrounded by 24 hour shopping malls.  Location of this hotel was perfect just for that!  However, it is a business hotel, so not super luxe, or special. Other then my after midnight escapades, I found myself mostly in the Gangnam area during the day, so I think I would prefer to stay in that area next time.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square
279 Cheonggyecheon-ro
Jongno-gu, Seoul
South Korea


Beware that English is not readily spoken.  It's not so easy to get around! I have not given you any addresses, because from my own experience the taxi drivers did not understand anything I said when I read addresses to them in English! So your best bet is you get your hotel concierge to write out in Korean every address you wish to visit, including your hotel address, and you show the taxi drivers that to direct them correctly.

I left Seoul glowing, plump, and skin tight.  The R&R was the highlight of my trip!  This is the main reason why I will be returning to South Korea!  Next time solely for a spa-cation, and maybe a day trip across the boarder to check out North Korea?  OK...I feel a lot of eyebrows raising at me right now!  HA.

I SPY: Austin

Sep 30, 2017

What's the weirdest city you have ever visited?  Austin, Texas' slogan is 'Keep Austin Weird', but I found it not weird in the sense I was expecting, but quirky.  It was hip!  It was filled with small businesses, creating individuality, and a young artsy environment.  My kind of town!

Set in the rolling grounds of Hill Country, Austin is a lot prettier then what I know of Texas - referring namely to the vicinity of Houston.  Austin seemed intimate, you didn't have to drive everywhere as the South Congress neighborhood we stayed in was designed to walk around.  Sidewalks were filled with bars, cafes, coffee shops, and boutiques, giving a sense of urban street life day and night.  Far from hillbilly y'all!


It's a scrap yard; it's the back yard of a mans house; it's art!  The artist Vince has been collecting things since 1989, and over the years an evolvement of random things found and donated to him has formed this never ending growing sculpture slash maze.  It's genius!  Great place to play 'I Spy'!  Beware that Vince does not open his doors everyday.  Visits are by appointment only.  Drop ins are not welcomed, and you will be turned away or put in the pity chair!  HA.  Skip the embarrassment and call in advance.

Cathedral of Junk
4422 Lareina Drive
Austin, TX
T: (512) 299. 7413

It ain't Africa, but it sure was a lot of fun!  Enter 100+ acres if you dare!  Don't be scared, it's totally tame as long as you stay in your car.  You may feel some wet noses, slobber, or experience being car blocked, have buckets of food stolen, car chased by ostriches, a zebra gnawing on your side mirror, and a car trashed with pellets after.  But it was mad fun, and if that's not enough there's a petting zoo with a baby room there too!  Worth the two hour drive from Austin.

Franklin Drive Thru Safari
4324 W Hwy 79
Franklin, TX 77856
T: (979) 828. 5276

Ever tagged a wall?  Here's your chance!  A construction site from the 80's originally destined to be condos before the market crashed left walls up that were quickly turned into a canvas for artist to express their imagination.  Renowned street artist Shepard Fairey along with other famed artist have left their mark there.  But I didn't see it, because the walls change daily as others come to re-paint over the space.  This is a private property, so you do need permission and approval by submitting a sketch of what you will paint, before you can leave your mark.  You can get a paint pass on site on Saturday and Sunday between 11am to 4pm if you wish to participate.  Otherwise the park is open for free to walk through daily between 9am and 7pm.  Never seen anything like this before!  If your into street art, you will love this.

Hope Outdoor Gallery
1101 Baylor Street
Austin, TX 78703

Talk about weird…Austin is known for their nightly spectacular South Congress bridge bat show, from March through November of each year.  Crowds stand on top of the bridge, or in the park below the bridge to catch over a million bats shoot out from under the bridge into the sky at dusk. A swarm of black in the sky going at 60 mph that lasts for a good 30 minutes, if not longer.  It sounds creepy, but is pretty amazing to watch it happen like clock work.

100 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701


We attempted twice to try their much raved about BBQ.  First time we showed up half an hour before opening and the line was beyond infinity.  Next day we drove by 2 hours before opening and the line was already a couple blocks long with people hanging out on their foldable lawn chairs!  Seriously, do people camp out overnight there?  The line situation was extreme.  Definitely a no with kids in tow.  But you should test your luck and patience!  If you do get in you'll have to tell me if it really was THAT epic.  The brisket is what you must order, as Anthony Bourdains claims it to be the finest brisket he's ever had.  Open Tuesday to Sunday 11am till sold out.  Closed Mondays.  Remember that...Don't want you lining up on a Monday thinking you got lucky to be first in line!  HA.

Franklin's BBQ
900 E. 11th
Austin, TX 78702

A food truck with a menu filled with the best named donuts, such as Flying Pig and Naughty n' Nice seen below.  Served warm, and doesn't bacon make everything 100x better?  Worth the cheat!

1503 S. 1st Street
Austin, TX 78704

A coffee shop with a line outside to snap a pic with their famous wall.  Kind of ridiculous, and this is coming from a girl who loves walls!  But when in need of coffee, and you got time, get your cup here, plus your obligatory tourist pic! Not me!!

1300 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
T: (512) 444.3800

Fusion Southern food served in a converted gas station/ laundromat!  They did a good job with the decor.  Light and airy with a hint of Palm Spring vibes…and ladies you must check out the bathroom wallpaper.  It's so pretty in there!  HA.

2115 Holly Street
Austin, TX 78702
T: (512) 382.1599

The original, about half an hour away from downtown Austin.  This is the BBQ place I always rave about when the Big Apple BBQ fest comes to NYC every year.  The beef rib, brisket and sausage is a must, and slurp that sauce!  Got there half an hour before opening on a weekend, and there was already a small line forming.  So get there early or else wait with hunger pangs.  BYOB, and cash only.

Salt Lick BBQ
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619
T: (512) 858.4959

The gumbo!  Their duck and oyster gumbo was so tasty I ordered a second bowl!  Brunch cocktails were also a win, and the basket of complimentary warm mini corn muffins they drop on your table will ruin your appetite before the main course arrives.  Go easy on those freebies!

South Congress Cafe
1600 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
T: (512) 447. 3905

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Slightly too conveniently located across the street from our hotel.  We got taco'd out!

Torchy's Tacos
1822 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
T: (512) 916. 9025

Creative Japanese fare served in a modern zen ambience.  Up to par with Nobu.  The crudo dishes were amazingly fresh, light, and flavorful.  A good alternative when you need to take a break from the greasy Southern cooking.

801 S. Lamar
Austin, TX 78704
T: (512) 916. 4808

J'adore this boutique hotel!  The mixed vintage, mid century and modern interior won me over from the moment I stepped through the front door.  Perfect location, surrounded by plenty of fun street art, restaurants and shops in the neighborhood.

South Congress Hotel
1603 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
T: (512) 920.6405

How you feel about Austin now?  I really enjoyed our 3 days there this past Summer 2017.  It was a slight detour in transit to Houston to visit family, but it worked out well, because tickets from NYC to to Austin are a lot cheaper compare to direct flights NYC to Houston.  Plus we got to experience some really cool things.  With the art scene on the rise in Austin we may need to make this a regular pit stop on our way to Houston.  Next time I hope to explore the live music scene Austin is known for too.  I totally embrace the weirdness!  Bring it on!!

I SPY: Back To School

Sep 5, 2017

Hello there!  How was your summer?  We were all over the world!  Kids got punked in Singapore.  I turned 40 in Bali.  We all had such a fun time being completely off schedule that back to school crept up on us. We weren't ready.  At 8pm last night I was standing in line at Target getting a lunch bag for that cool lil' kid with the bleached mohawk.  His image would've been burned if he had to start first day of school carrying his lunch in a plastic bag!  God forbid.  But anyhow we made it off to 8th and 3rd grade smoothly this morning, how about you?

In all the chaos I did remember to take their annual back to school photos though, how about that?!!  That shirt doesn't even look oversized on my 8th grader anymore does it?  How in the world I already have a teenager taller then me beats me!  To add to the melting pot, in five years he is off to college…2022.  Holy crap!

In a blink of an eye things have changed.  Parenting too.  It's become more mentally challenging then physically.  Bed time is no longer at 7:30pm.  Life is revolving around their sports activities.  Homework is taking longer then the usual hour.  So all the quiet time I use to have at night…GONE.  It's a struggle.

Thus I need to shuffle things around to find ME time.  First hit the blog.  I am not quitting the blog, I am refining it!  I decided over the summer that since the main interest of this blogs audience is in our travels, I will turn i Spy Candy into solely a travel blog.  Yes I can do that, because we do travel that much for projects I've been assigned to and pleasure!!  So every last day of the month get excited to be inspired, feast your eyes, and learn about a new destination.

For those of you upset over the lost of new eats and what's happening in NYC, don't be.  That's what Instagram is for!  I now defer you to @she.is.never.home because it is precisely what my username states.  Always on the go, always playing tourist in my own city, and will never stop eating because it's my favorite hobby!  A picture tells a thousand words, and Instagrams curated platform does a fine job of that.  If you need more deets please hit me up.  That's what the comment box is for!

I look forward to continuing our daily relationship on Instagram @she.is.never.home.  Plus remember to tune into the travel blog www.ispycandy.com every last day of the month.  Up next on September 30…I SPY: Austin.

I SPY: She Is Never Home

Jul 11, 2017

How is your summer going?  We have not been around much, forever on the go.  Thus I've decided to change my Instagram account to @she.is.never.home

Appropriate right?  That's it...Just a quick update and hello!  Stay tuned with our moves on Instagram to catch us in Asia in a few weeks.  Or wait for the deets when I return in September and fill you in.  Enjoy the rest of your summer!

I SPY: Peace Out

Jun 15, 2017

Are your kids already on summer break?  It feels like everyone is already out of school except for us!  Mine still have another week.  We are already so DONE and ready to get out of here!  But still so much to do before we ditch town.

So I hate to do this, but I'm starting my annual summer hiatus a tad early!  I have a big project to wrap up this weekend, and feeling frazzled between work, kids, events and packing up.  Therefore, best I end on a high note then ruin my name by posting random pics of hamsters or something!  HA.

Catch me on Instagram @ispycandyblog if you want to be in the know.  Otherwise you'll get the low down when we return in September on my wanderlust trip to Bali!  Enjoy your summer.  Be safe.  Peace out!

I SPY: Jerkface

Jun 14, 2017

It's time?  Yes, it's time for famous street artist Jerkface's pop up exhibit!  I'm a huge fan of his nostalgic cartoon character works, such as Spongebob, Waldo and Star Wars themed walls I've shown you before.  His latest wall in NYC on Mott and Bleeker street is this donut number that pumps us up for his pop up solo exhibit entitled 'Donuts', that opens this weekend.

Fan of the donut? Well the word is that the first 50 people in line for the opening of his pop up gets a freebie.  Could it be donuts?  Maybe…because on National Donut Day he was giving out donuts!

The pop up opens this Saturday, June 17, 2017, from 5 to 10pm.  It only runs till June 23, 2017.  Hype is that there will be a bunch of new paintings released and a book signing on June 18, 2017 from 1 to 3pm.  If your a Jerkface fan mark your calendars and head over to his pop up located on 393 Broadway, NYC 10013.  I can't wait…it already looks super fun from the outside!

I SPY: Bang For Your Buck

Jun 13, 2017

It's my big 4 coming up, can you believe it?  Keep calm, it's just a number!  HA.  But nevertheless I've got my mega trip planned, and found my birthday suit at this place to ring in my new year in style!

Of all places I found it in the concept shop 'Trade' located at the new Public hotel.  You'll have to wait to see my vintage number!  But if you like the non run of the mill this shop has some fabulous vintage one of a kinds, along with a well curated selection of artsy home accessories.

Would you expect less from a hotel designed by Ian Schager?  The boutique hotels interior is equally hip with lots of cozy places to lounge, sip, enjoy rooftop vibes, party at the club, and eat.  Jean Georges new restaurant 'Public Kitchen' is there and on my list to try next!

Even though it looks luxe, rooms are cheap for NYC rates!  $150 a night.  Say what?!!  HA.  They believe in the philosophy that not only the wealthy should enjoy the good life.  AGREE.

The cost cuts were not made in design.  But there's no check in counter, you check yourself in with the iPads, and no room service either.  The bar and cafe in the lobby is open 24/7 to purchase food to eat communally or bring up to your room.  I can live with that!

And when your micro mini room feels claustrophobic, they've got a beautiful lush courtyard at their front entrance.

Very well thought out design.  It's location on the lower east side is also trending, and walkable to Soho too.  Bang for your buck guys!  Have out of town guests coming this summer?  Book them a room here!

215 Chrystie Street
New York, NY 10002
T: 212. 735.6000
i * SPY CANDY. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.