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Tag: New Jersey

Wasting Away in Koreatown, and Island Spa

While I live for spring and summer (basically warm weather days), I will never forget that fantastic winter day we accidentally killed six hours at a Korean spa. It started off with…

While I live for spring and summer (basically warm weather days), I will never forget that fantastic winter day we accidentally killed six hours at a Korean spa.

It started off with a little cabin fever. At this point in the winter season, we had nothing to look forward to for major travel, so the days seemed unbearable (a good problem to have.) Our solution bloomed organically: Michael and I both craved some comforting food to battle the bitter cold, Michael sought the bustling atmosphere where he once lived, and I wanted to replenish some beauty products I bought overseas. This brought us to explore the reputable Koreatown in Queens, New York. It was our first visit to this location, but I have to be honest. Ever since visiting Korea last year, and comparing to how it is done here in the U.S., I was pretty much expecting my socks to be knocked off.

We drove in from our friends’ apartment in Brooklyn, so it took us about 40 minutes to get through the city and find parking on a residential street. It didn’t take long, however, to be surrounded by familiar signage and exciting atmosphere. We had arrived! OK, on the outside, it’s a grittier Koreatown than what you’d find in the ritzy Jersey ‘burbs, but to be fair, it’s New York. Actually taking time to walk through the large malls and cute boutiques, the grit washed away and we were back in Korea again!

grocery_koreatown koreatown_street_food

First, we explored the grocery, which was a mix of the always-impressive H-Mart and the Reading Terminal Market. Row after overflowing row fresh produce and seafood had my mouth watering and my imagination running wild with recipe ideas. As I inspected a large $2 bag of clementines, my eye caught Michael in line for a hot egg tart. Soon after, he found the line to enjoy freshly-pressed cream-filled pastries shaped like little fish, as seen on our travels. His snackmastery is nothing to scoff about.

fish_cake

We ducked in and out of clothing boutiques, too pricey for my wallet. I bemoan constantly that I didn’t buy as many cute and extremely affordable styles as I wanted to while in Seoul. Finally finding the trendy styles with incorrect grammar and spelling (not ironically) in the U.S., the prices shot up. “It’s from Korea,” the vendors would explain unapologetically. No, thanks.

One thing we didn’t compromise on that day was FOOD. After hitting a few beauty shops to grab a miracle hair product I adored (as well as some experimental “horse fat hand cream”), we grabbed lunch at Kimganae, a recommendation from a local-by-way-of-South-Korea friend. We went easy on breakfast — and by that I mean we split a gigantic egg/cheese/broccoli rabe bagel just a few hours before — so it just made sense that we easily battled the bitter January cold with some nostalgic staples: cheesy ramen (I learned that Koreans love their processed cheese), beef kimbap, cheesy dukbokki (thinly-sliced fish cakes and chewy rice noodles cylinders, drowning in chili pepper sauce), and hot, delicious barley tea. Michael has introduced me to many good things, but I say Korean street food is high up there!

kimganae_lunch

We left soon after lunch. I passed out in the car, emitting chili sweats, and woke up to the parking lot Island Spa in Edison, NJ, a Yelp find. It’s fairly new, and on that day we reaped the benefits. The place was practically empty!

When I visited Seoul last year, I enjoyed the amazing experience of Dragon Hill Spa, a jjimjilbang (Korean spa) that some locals actually scoffed at as “unimpressive”! I’d gone to a jjimjilbang in Northeast Philly before the trip; based off of that comparison in my head, I didn’t think I could find one that could genuinely remind me of Korea. I’m happy to say that Island Spa is the real deal!

island_spa1

I didn’t get a full naked body scrub, though I’ve been jonesing for one! It’s much pricier here. I was happy to pay my Winter Deal admission to the facility of $28. That gave us access to the split gender hot/cold tubs, showers, and steam rooms (naked here, clothed in the common space), as well as the communal area’s relaxation area, restaurant, multiple hot saunas, study cubbies, sports TV room, movie theater room, sleeping area (HEATED FLOORS)…takes deep breath…I’m pretty sure that’s it. I love a bargain, and it seems that in any part of the world, the jjimjilbang is something I can’t turn down.

Aside from the price, it’s the history of the jjimjilbang that I love. Korean bathhouses once existed as a public need — not every family had a bathing facility. A public bathhouse was an affordable necessity that has transformed into a bigger luxury, indeed; yet even so, in Korea, our payment was $12 for the evening, and something absurd like $30 extra for a full-body scrub. The lingering scene of nudity and of family and peers scrubbing each others’ bodies without hesitation is a beautiful reminder of the history, tradition, and community.

We spent six hours in that paradise of memories and warm, fuzzy feelings. We read books, took naps, and baked in the saunas. We each bought a bowl of spicy tofu soup and rice, and shared an amazing dish of shaved ice cream, which was pretty much shaved ice, layered with fresh fruit and beans, and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Kind of like the Vietnamese che ba mau, my childhood treat.

shaved_ice_island_spa

There’s no denying it, this find is definitely a keeper. I foresee multiple visits back throughout the year (maybe they have a spring special price, or summer, or fall…) I never thought I’d be a spa person, but take my money and take my clothes, and I’ll be set for six+ hours. Did I mention it’s 24 hours? We’ve definitely thought about pulling an all-nighter…

BEST. WEEKEND. EVER! If you’re looking to experience a world away from home without shelling out a $2k and vacation time, just go to Queens and Jersey with your BFF. That’s my professional recommendation.

Where to?

Kimganae: 3912 Union Street | Flushing, NY 11354
Island Spa: 1769 Lincoln Highway | Edison, NJ 08817

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Modern-Day Nostalgia: Atsion Recreation Area, NJ

I can’t swim very well, but I love water. I’ll be damned if the possibility of drowning will keep me away from cooling down on a hot, humid day. When I…

I can’t swim very well, but I love water. I’ll be damned if the possibility of drowning will keep me away from cooling down on a hot, humid day. When I was a kid, we’d would hop  over to the wonderful Hershey Recreation Center for a whole day of sun and fun. While my sisters would plunge majestically in the deep end, my brother and I glued our fingers to the sides, trying to avoid swallowing the dead Japanese beetles floating through the filters. More often than not, I’d spend the afternoon running through the onsite sprinklers, then whine for an ice cream sandwich or french fries.

The point is, these urges and abilities still exist today.

On Sunday, we had a hankering to enjoy the gorgeous, sweltering summer day in the most logical way: in water. Striking out with the Flying W pool (it was too full, apparently everyone else had the same idea), we decided to try Atsion Recreation Area, which is a swimming lake part of Wharton State Forest. We’ve passed the umbrella-packed beach a few times on our way to the usual favorite swimming hole, which in contrast is very private. I felt like being around people that day, so it worked out.

It only cost us $5 to park with the one motorcycle. We expertly crushed our lunch in the side luggage of Michael’s Kawasaki Versys, along with two beach towels, a board game, and Bananagrams — talk about being prepared! The main building was simple, housing a few water fountains, changing rooms, and bathrooms, including showers to rinse off. Other than the amazing snack stand I didn’t notice til we were about to leave (just as well; we snacked on local sugar plums and cherry tomatoes, instead) the rest was swim and sand.

From afar, the beach looks huge. Being in the sand, to me it was spacious enough, but definitely loud and chaotic, with kids screaming and parents screaming at their kids to stop screaming. We found a spot with a respectable perimeter, nonetheless, and managed to read, snooze, and lay out a looong game of Bananagrams in peace.

The swimming area is also surprisingly limiting up close. From afar, it looks endless, but of course it must be roped off for safety purposes. I could safely stand in the relatively still waters the whole time, but be submerged and flounder comfortably. Children are not allowed to play in the water past chest-level, which made for small seclusion further out.

Speaking of children, there was a SNAFU where a kid got lost, so everyone had to evacuate the lake and wait as several life guards combed the waters in a very impressive, and orderly way. It turns out the kid was probably in the parking lot or something, so no one was hurt. But I think it’s important to note that the staff seems very trained and professional.

All in all, a good experience. I think we still prefer our secluded water hole, but I really appreciated the nostalgic feeling of family fun and chaos. In contrast to my local pool memories versus the lake-side experience, it felt charmingly exotic, too! Maybe I’ll try to go once a year, but will make sure I get that dang ice cream sandwich next time around.

Where to?

Atsion Recreation Area: 744 US-206, Shamong, NJ 08088

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New Travel Buddies: Kids In Philly/NJ (And, Apologies)

Our weekends are completely packed with planned and unplanned adventures, and I love it. This summer has been amazing, and you on the internet wouldn’t even know; I’ve been doing…

Our weekends are completely packed with planned and unplanned adventures, and I love it. This summer has been amazing, and you on the internet wouldn’t even know; I’ve been doing a horrible job blogging about it. But really, can you blame me? I get enough of the internet during work hours. The last thing my body wants to do is to sit still and stare at a screen after 5 P.M.

Still. I solemnly swear to buckle down and dump these brain thoughts regularly. No excuses!

So, this past weekend, I had a dream come true: my lovely twin nieces came to spend the weekend with Auntie Keem and her dashingly handsome companion, Michael! The girls are seven years old, incredibly polite, hilarious, and always down to explore. They made for perfect travel buddies and we ran into no problems.

One would think that it is wise to dial back the itinerary when it comes to kids. We did not follow that sentiment. It was that mix of excitement you get when you want to show loved ones things you love, with hopes that they love it, too, and wanting to have an entertaining weekend ourselves. One major compromise: no motorcycle. Rental car, car seats. Everyone was cool with that.

See our below itinerary, given the stamp of approval from two clever, well-behaved young girls. Given the season, we opted to explore mostly outside of the city to enjoy nature; perhaps in cooler weather we will stick around and check out the great local museums nearby.

FRIDAY NIGHT

kids-philly-activities-8249-1024x768After taking a car ride, a regional rail train, AND a subway ride to reach South Philly, the girls needed to stretch their legs. We broke out our spare Razor scooters, snapped on their helmets, and trailed behind them while they zipped off into the sunset. Well, not really. It was time for dinner, and we were dying to show them the charming Passyunk neighborhood. Pizza at Marra’s was a hit, even though they were skeptical of the thick, chewy islands of mozzarella on their thin slices. I could tell they weren’t used to this kind of pizza, but the curiosity was there. One twin even ate a sprig of broccoli rabe, and politely declined more.

Dessert, where else? We zipped back to Broad and Oregon to enjoy Pop’s Water Ice, one of the famed spots in South Philly to grab those waxed paper cups filled to the brim with homemade water ice (the other spot is Italiano’s, yummm). We enjoyed our icy treats in Marconi Plaza, where the girls serenaded us with cartwheels and handstands on the dark grass.

SATURDAY

kids-philly-activities-8269-1024x768Kids wake up early. Totally fine with that, especially with the day we had planned.

Breakfast of the anything-you-want variety at Penrose Diner, where your junky breakfast dreams come extra crispy. There are a lot of other cool and hidden diner spots in South Philly, and we are so lucky for that. But at Penrose, it’s never a miss.

Scooter to the rental car, it’s time to hit Jersey! I discovered that the girls prefer to interact with us during car rides, and we don’t offer the option of watching movies. This time around, they entertained themselves through coloring books and complaining at each other. We’ve learned, since then.

First stop: Paw’s Farm Nature Center. They really, really, really wanted to see cute and pet cute animals, and this is what Michael dug up in his research. What a cool place! It’s a mix between petting zoo and the Please Touch Museum, but not as big, and admission is something absurd, like $7. When we arrived, there was a birthday party going on in the front building, and maybe that’s why the rest of the grounds seem so unattended and empty. We ran into a few farm keepers, but otherwise, we were allowed to feed goats and sheep, pet pigs, and follow swans around on our own. In addition to the cute animal aspect, there are themed playrooms, where kids can act out and learn the farm-to-table process (fake market, plastic cow-milking station [although I don’t think we were supposed to touch that part]) and a veterinarian experience (stuffed animals and old doctor toys.) It was perfectly quaint, sweet, certainly educational, and you get your money’s worth for two hours or so.

kids-philly-activities-8319Lunchtime. A few miles away, we stopped by a farm stand and said the girls could pick out their dream dinner tonight. Who would’ve thought that both kids chose corn, potatoes, and broccoli? Hot dogs and chicken, of course, later. But I was impressed! Photo of the stand is above. They chose a dozen ears for some fantastic bargain.

Across the street we could not ignore Evergreen Dairy Bar. I mean, that cut-out soft serve is a kid magnet. Just this once, ice cream for lunch. Sure.

After lunch, time for more fun. Back to our beloved swimming hole! As you might remember, this swimming hole connecting to the Mullica is stained, tea-colored. A New Jersey native told me it’s called Sweet Water. I was afraid the girls would be grossed out but they were fearless, and jumped right in. I’d never seen such child giddiness, and I won’t forget. The girls and Michael took turns on the Kammock we set up over the stream, laying above them plunging loudly, giggling uncontrollably. After a good three hours, we got dressed, picked a TON of blueberries nearby, and headed home to make that dream dinner they asked for.

Our weekend didn’t end there; we took them to a family party for more swimming and fun. But that was the end of our adventures, for now. I knew I always wanted to host them, but I didn’t realize how fun it would be, or how fearless children can be. I also want to acknowledge that to me, they are remarkably well-behaved and easy to manage. As a childless woman who is almost thirty, let me just say that this is definitely a sign.

We have GOT to have them over as many more times as possible! Being an aunt rules!

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Lazy Sunday on the Mullica: Wharton State Forest, NJ

Summer is escaping us quickly. And while we spoiled ourselves by hitting the beach almost every weekend at the start of the season, we began to feel deprived when two…

Summer is escaping us quickly. And while we spoiled ourselves by hitting the beach almost every weekend at the start of the season, we began to feel deprived when two weeks passed without a good blast of sun and splash. Luckily from Philly, not all worthy aquatic destinations are a hike and a half away. About one hour outside of Philly in Shamong Township, NJ, there is a fantastic swimming hole and beach, peacefully tucked away in the pine barrens. Well, at least it eventually got peaceful.

It really depends on what kind of mood you’re in. On one side of the road, but also part of the Wharton State Forest, is the comparatively glamorous Atsion Recreation Area, where the water is sparkling loud and proud, rainbow umbrellas are a-blooming, and lifeguards are overseeing mischievous kids in a sea of squirming families. Cross the road and head about a mile down the heavily-wooded and sandy hiking trails, you get to an empty beach clearing, leading down to the slow-flowing and darkly-tinted waters of the Mullica River.

beachview

When presented with the options of going to the established lake versus the backroads of the pine barrens, three factors helped me make my decision. 1) I wanted to be away from people and just enjoy some quiet exploration time with my bestest buddy. 2) I didn’t want to pay a cent to swim (Option A costs $5 – $10 per vehicle. Option B is my favorite deal: free.) And finally, 3) When someone asks you if you want to swim in a river that is as dark as Coca-Cola, you always say yes. Well, first you ask why it’s black water, and then you say yes.

For a second, I’m going to act like I know what I’m talking about: this section of the Mullica River is darkened due to the decaying vegetation in its surrounding environment. Because of the slow-moving currents, the released tannins linger longer than usual, and thus tint the water to be tea-colored. This isn’t dangerous to swim in, though I’ve learned to not drink lake or river water in a Q&A game of hypothetical life or death scenarios (“If I fell off this cliff and broke my leg, and we broke our water bottle, and you had to walk a mile to safety, would you drink from the first body of water you seewhyorwhynot?”). I would only suggest maybe not wear your best whites in to play.

Oh, did we play. The motorcycled fared well on that particular sandy road, so we parked atop the beach and wriggled into our bathing suits behind towels. There was a family and friends get-together already there, slightly unruly but to me, tolerable. We put up with the extra guests for about two hours on the beach; however, once dipping in the water and exploring away from the commotion, we were surrounded by overgrown nature and the ringing sound of insects.

At first glance, it looked like a swamp. We did in fact pretend to be alligators or crocodiles for a while, and even army-crawled on our elbows like soldiers through the black pool, getting tangled in hairy tree roots, and tripping on gnarled,toppled logs. But despite the wild look to it all, the water felt incredibly healing —  warm, not cold, it didn’t smell, and it wasn’t even infested (though a giant spider did crawl on my back. Eek.)

Back on the beach, when emptied out, I napped on and off for a good hour while Michael read a book. I got a good tan; surprisingly a decent amount of sunlight came through the clearing.

Soon it was four o’ clock, so we packed up our picnic goods and started to leave  — not before stopping to pick some blueberries on our way out. Not enough to fill a container for home, we shoveled them in our mouths, then finally headed home. Time flew by incredibly fast on that afternoon, but at least it’s not fall just yet.

mullica2

Where to?

Wharton State Forest: 31 Batsto Rd | Shamong Township, NJ 08037

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Abandoned Sand Quarry: Secret Spot, Nj

En route to Cape May for a friend’s birthday party, we took a turn off the beaten pine barrens to find this rumored abandoned sand quarry. Because we’d like to keep…

En route to Cape May for a friend’s birthday party, we took a turn off the beaten pine barrens to find this rumored abandoned sand quarry. Because we’d like to keep it as a secluded and special place, if you want to visit, feel free to contact me for directions.

As a city dweller, noise has become a big comfort to me. Unfortunately, it’s mostly related to safety. I once spent a summer in a quiet farm town, and got nervous walking down the pin-drop-silent neighborhood streets at night. Back in Philly, or any city, the occasional siren and too-loud conversations at 2 AM are much welcomed.

This secret quarry, however, so tucked away in the thick of tall greens and a sandy path, didn’t give me the heebie jeebies as other secluded areas tend to do. The trail looked exactly the same throughout, which for a second had me nervous for getting lost. We might have seen one other couple and their dog strolling down the path, but once we turned the corner, they never reappeared.

We didn’t have too much time to dawdle, as we were already running late for the party. Once we came upon the gorgeous views (there are two quarries a few minutes walk apart from each other) I made a special request to at least lay down on the pine needles for a few minutes. It seemed wasteful not to enjoy such a rare, private moment in this secret little paradise of ours. I could have happily died there, in the peace and quiet of it all.

But, instead, I decided to just save the possible assault in the city, where my naive comforts leave me quite vulnerable.

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