A stroll through the Olympic Park in Seoul, Korea (photoset)

Since we’re at the height of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, I’m taking this opportune moment to look back on previous Olympic venues — like that of Seoul (host of the 1988 Summer Olympics), and a look forward to the next Winter Olympics (to be held in PyeongChang in 2018):

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It’s incredibly easy to go to Seoul Olympic Park (or Olpark) – just get off at Mongchontoseong Station (몽촌토성) situated at line 8, exit 1. From the city center the journey via subway (pink line) takes 45 minutes.

You can see the signages leading to the park within the subway station, already emblazoned with the 2018 Olympics!Image

A few more steps up, and you will be greeted with a fabulous sight – the World Peace Gate:

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Designed by Kim Chung-up, the arch stands 24m high, 37m wide, and 62m long, incorporating aspects of traditional Korean architecture, with colorful mosaic inlays beneath its “wings”:

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There is an hourglass sculpture once you pass through the arch, surrounded by a gallery of flags symbolizing the nations that participated in the games:

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You may not notice at first the stones formed neatly in a circle (at the foot of the hourglass) – these were actually brought in by the individual countries to be placed there — adds a neat touch to signify unity.

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There are these cute and crazy totem poles on the sides of the entrances to the main areas (doubling as street lamps):

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The sun was up while we were there, with a wonderful breeze it was perfect for a stroll in the park. I spent quite a while going through the length of the parade o’ flags and trying to identify each country:

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Behind the flags is a sprawling park, with a pond, fountains, foot bridges and green scenery.

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It had a very relaxing vibe – this place would be pretty lovely in autumn 🙂

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There are grand inscriptions of the XXIVth Olympiad at the walls facing the pond (just at the bottom of the flags as you may recall):Image

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High noon in the park but didn’t have enough time to explore the major stadiums, arenas and such surrounding it. Maybe next time!For the curious, you can sneak a peek through the official Olympic Park website’s virtual tour.

Returning to the station, I cannot resist a photo op with (the image of) Kim Yu-na 김연아, world-famous figure skater (in fact, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Gold Medalist) whose star power was instrumental for PyeongChang‘s winning bid. (Definitely excited to see her compete later this week in Sochi, and I wish by 2018 she’ll still have her skates on for hometown glory!)

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Still a dream of mine to be front and center of an actual Olympics. Rio (2016)? PyeongChang (2018)? Tokyo (2020)? With a bit of planning and funding it just might happen!

Mesmerized by Macau

The Ruins of St. Paul, Macau's famous heritage landmark

The Ruins of St. Paul, Macau’s famous heritage landmark

I still dream of Macau.

Up until I had history class in high school I had little awareness that such a place thrived in East Asia. That until the penultimate turn of the previous century it was under Portuguese rule for over 400 years. That now, much like Hong Kong (an hour by ferry away) it is China’s SAR (Special Administrative Region). This colorful backdrop probably paved the way for the modern-day grandiose and allure of the city.

Yes, ply the tourist route and hit all the heritage corners — The Ruins of St. Paul, Senado Square, St. Lawrence’s Church, A-Ma Temple, Taipa Houses, et al. Even do the bungee up in Macau Tower if you must. I’ll be saving the day tour for later (though I must extol the virtues of pasteis de nataegg tarts— which is probably Macau’s best specialty, best bought and eaten near the Ruins’ steps).

For now I’ll breeze through and tell you what I appreciate most about Macau: nightfall.

It is at dawn when the city lights up and takes on a different, exciting vibe. The cold air is more pronounced; the people, both local and foreign, stride in fashionable gear. The narrow streets fill up with crowds in search of a delicious supper. And must I leave out the CASINOS?

Arguably Macau’s milking cow of an industry, casinos emerge with a life of their own and loom ever higher and brighter at night. It is as if you are thrust into a different world, where you succumb to intoxicating pleasure and there seems to no turning back.

In full disclosure: I have no gambling habits to speak of, just a blatant obsession with all places modern and glamorous! I’ve never been to the insides of casino hotels before this, so I definitely had a blast shuffling in and out. Mind you, there’s more to it than gambling and haute living, part and parcel of these five-star hotels are the most fashionable shopping arcades, theaters, restaurants and food courts, and recreational/lifestyle areas. The luxurious interiors of these hotspots for me are already worth checking out, and can get blissfully lost into. So many hallways and passages, it’s like I’m Alice in one hyperactive wonderland! Adding to the convenience are free shuttle buses which can take you from one casino destination to the next, so I bet by two days you can say you’ve explored the Vegas of the East!

The following is a photoset of what I deem Macau’s very own Sunset Strip:

The Venetian Macau strip, with a bit of City of Dreams on the side

The Venetian Macau strip, with a bit of City of Dreams on the left

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At the heart of Macau Peninsula, the legendary Grand Lisboa (casino czar Stanley Ho’s flagship)

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The Wynn Macau (where I played a bit of slot machine, but unfortunately)

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My favorite lobby entertainment exhibit: Wynn’s Dragon of Fortune

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The MGM Grand Macau, making you feel a million dollar Vegas

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The Galaxy Macau (which hosts other hotels like Banyan Tree and Okura), my favorite among all so far

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Galaxy‘s lobby showcase, Fortune Diamond, beckoning me to come back on our last day there

Our last visit took the full maximum of two days only, short but sweet. Here’s hoping I return for more and get lost all over again.

Nós nos encontraremos mais uma vez, meu amor…

the Marina Bay Sands, and why I’m here

the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complex, Singapore

This was one of the first sights that triggered my penchant for traveling — the spectacular Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore. Encompassing the Helix Bridge, The Sands Hotel, and the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum, these provide an ultra-modern backdrop against The Lion City’s skyline. I remember seeing it on photo when it was launched, and wishing I could see it before my eyes.

[Two trips later (and another one in the works), it still never ceases to amaze me! 🙂 ]

In other words… Hey everyone! Welcome to my first ever travel blog, Free At Leisure. I cannot wait to share my adventures (erstwhile or otherwise) and let you seize the world through this happy portal. Come on board!

-Ellie