South Korea – Day 4 – A lazy start led to a day of drunken rice and k-pop dancing

We started the day nice and well, late. I had forgotten to set an alarm the night before we woke at 12.02pm. This was slightly concerning as it was our last full day in Seoul but luckily we had brought some bread/pastries the day before we were able to have some food at the AirBnB before heading out.

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A lazy breakfast (after midday!) and then we were off to find lunch at a street market.

Our main objective was to purchase some glasses as they are ridiculously expensive in the UK to be able to get Asian fit so it made much more sense for us to go to Asia. Having completed some research online, it appeared that Davich Optical in Myeongdong was the way to go. I had previously purchased some in the market but the selection was limited and after 2 years, my favourite pair were looking very tired so I figured we should go to a proper store to get some that would last.

But before that, we needed to power ourselves up. James had previously read about a dumpling place that was close by so we headed there. There was a queue and we knew we were in the right place. You could see an army of women in the kitchen making them and at the front, they brought them out and they were selling out straight away.

We had wanted to purchase 2 small dumplings and 1 large one but with the language barrier we ended up purchasing 5 small dumplings. They had pork and something green in the inside and were super hot to hold but at the same time we felt they should be eaten immediately.

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These dumplings were constantly being made and selling out, we could understand why from their deliciousness even if we had to order 5 of them from the gamekol son wangmandu stall.

We were fuelled up and ready to go glasses shopping which was a welcome respite from the sun despite us only being outside for all of about 20 minutes.

On arrival at the store, a rather helpful sales assistant approached us and I fired all my questions at him. First, how long does it take to make glasses, answer = 1 hour (although when it came to ordering them later on, it turns out my ones took 3 hours as I have such a strong prescription). Secondly, how much would the lenses cost, answer = KRW 50k for James to have them thinned to 1.61 index and KRW 90k for me to have them thinned to 1.76 index. Thirdly, did this come with the anti scratch and anti glare coating, answer = yes.

With our questions answered, we were ready to start trying on glasses. James was relatively straight forward as he has a tried and tested style that he has stuck to for many years <Editors note – actually after yes trying my usual style that has kept me going for the last six years I went bold and crazy with my actual purchase … something new… find out what that choice was in later blog entries>. The assistant was very helpful at finding glasses that would fit his big head. I only the other hand, tried on a lot of glasses and definitely knew I was drawn to the half plastic half metal giant frames. As they don’t look particularly professional, I also had to try on some boring frames that were work suitable <Editors note – I had to help In San understand what was and was not work appropriate, ‘but this is boring’ ‘Thats the point In San, thats the point’>.

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James didn’t have much to choose from seeing as his usual style of glasses have been the same for the last however many years, me on the other hand, well I had to try everything seeing as they were all Asian fit, it seemed rude not to.

James surprised me and ended up going for some hipster geek chic glasses <Editors note – they were just normal glasses just not the same as usual> and I ended up with some fun glasses, serious glasses, cool sunglasses and an extra pair of frames <Editors note – so many that the salesperson was amazed!> so that I could put lenses into my my prescription next changed.

After this, we cooled down with some mango shaved ice, it was a pretty sizable portion and gave us a much needed sugar boost.

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James needed to cool down with a mango shaved ice dessert.

We headed off to Hongdae for a makgeolli tasting session we had booked on AirBnB experiences. Our host, John (aka drunkenpig72) was very friendly and got us to draw each other on our information booklets before beginning. It was a speed sketch so the pictures weren’t that flattering.

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We drew each other based on looks and personality, James captured my grumpiness and I captured James’ friendliness.

John talked about the history of makgeolli and how to make it at home (a quick and less quick method). It seemed pretty simple although did take a bit of effort with the shaking.

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Step 1 – mix dry ingredients together

James was pumped to be shaking to gangnam style for 4 minutes.

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step 2 – shake shake shake

As the fermentation would take 2 weeks, John allowed us to taste a batch from another group who took the course 2 weeks ago. It was particularly sour and not pleasant.

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Step 3 (fermenting) and step 4 (resting) – missed out. Step 5 – tasting.

With all the learning complete, we were then onto blind tasting. This involved tasting 6 makgeollis and rating them on smell, sweetness, acidity, aftertaste . and how much we liked them.

We were then talked through the drinks and their tasting notes with his instructions.

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The blind tasting begins!

The tasting was surprisingly informative which we liked and it was fun having a bit of competition where we had to guess which had the highest alcohol content (I won) <Editors note – It was .2% higher than the one I chose> and which ones had artificial sweeteners. John told us many things, the most interesting was that the Government tried to change the English translation of makgeolli to drunken rice but this hasn’t taken off.

After this, we were provided with dinner, this consisted of homestyle food which we wouldn’t have ordered in a restaurant and was really tasty. The tteokbokki was chewy and not over spicy (hooray) and the pancake had octopus in it.

With our meal, John brought out 2 special makgeollis for us to taste. One was a really thick version, almost like honey and had a pleasant creamy texture. The other was a cheesecake flavoured one, this one did not go down well.

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Dinner included octopus pancake, seafood tteokbokki and a special cheesecake makgeolli to try.

We decided to head to Hongdae after the meal as it was only a 15 minute walk away. We were glad we did as we were welcomed with street performers, in particular, a boy band act caught my eye. They had all the moves, not entirely synchronised but pretty good and they put on quite a show. They only asked for money once near the end and even stayed around to take selfies with all the fans.

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Hongdae provided boy band entertainment, it certainly took me back to the nineties.

We wandered round and saw a bubble wrap stall, we had wanted this for ages in London but the queue was always so long ( >45 minutes) and here there wasn’t one so we had to give it a try. I chose a plain wrap and James insisted on chocolate ice cream (personally I would not have had any ice cream), when James was given the option of a flavored syrup he was smart enough to ask for no whipped cream, because of this I suspect we were given the extra toppings 🙂

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The bubblewrap was pretty exciting as we were given so many toppings, even the little spades to eat them with were cute.

All in all, it despite the slow start, it was a satisfying day full of tasty food and Korean pop culture.

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Korea – Day 3 – Bukhansan, a tale of wonder and deceit

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Our alarm went off early [editor’s note – it went off at 8.30am which wasn’t actually that early] because we had a long walk planned, In San took the ‘executive decision’ to turn it off so we had an extra half hour lie in, we were still tired out by our previous adventures.  The baked goods we had acquired the night before for breakfast were not enough to sate our hunger so we went exploring. It turns out there are several tasty looking bakeries in the area however they are also a little pricy. Feeling the pressure as it was getting later and later we bought some bread and beef jerky … a worrying choice but we had limited options available (we were not going to pay KRW 8K for a tiny sandwich). There are no photo as In San is getting used to her role as holder of the (phone with the best) camera and forgets to photograph everything. She is improving. [editor’s note – she is awesome, James just insists on taking photo of everrrrything].

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A quick metro and a bus (and another bus after we when too far) and we arrive!

After a shaky start (arriving late because we were distracted by bread and because we missed the bus stop, our tactic of following the person with the lariest hiking gear failed us) we arrived and acquired some kimbap for later and marveled at the large selection of hiking stores.

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In San initially did not believe that the sketchy un-manned store would sell anything, fortunately it did

Starting the climb we were in high spirits. Excited to explore, despite a little concern over missing the bus stop we ignored this ill omen.

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We were ready to start our adventure

Although where there was signage it was very clear it was a little eccentric in its placement, normally you needed to randomly pick a path and walk down it for a few minutes before you came to a sign congratulating you for the correct decision. Also it tended to forget about some locations every so often. However we were just grateful for any help in English.

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Either the signs stopped half way or we got hilariously lost …

We were enjoying the scenery and taking in the sights, it was a glorious afternoon tramping around in the woods.

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As it started to get sunny it was time for serious hat bizniz. 

After a while we got a bit peckish and decided to try our lunch of kimbap, it wasn’t the best but it was still tasty. [editor’s note – it was also not spicy which we were grateful for]

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The kimbap was tasty, and the various bear based signs amusing.

We headed up, In San amused herself by taking pictures of me in compromising positions and stalking a random buddhist monk for a while taking photo from a distance [editor’s note – it was not stalking, he was merely in front of us for a while and we could not overtake].

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As we got higher and higher the way got more and more treacherous, we were glad of the ever-present steel rope to hang onto.

After a while we hadn’t seen any signs for a while and the trail seems a liiiiiiiitle bit … unclear but we pressed on. Just at the point where In San was considering whether she would have to eat all the snacks and leave me to starve we found a sign. For a different peak.

It turns out that we had got a little lost and ended up on the expert level route, unfortunately after walking most of the non expert route (and quite a bit more) as well (which is why a 4.7 Km + 1.8Km = 13 Km). This route was very interesting, took you up another peak and involved some upper body strength work-out as your hauled yourself along cables over rocks.

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After all our toil and heart-ache we finally reached the summit … of a different peak. Seeing our true objective rising up in the distance we broke out the emergency beef jerky.
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So close but yet so far … The steel rope was vital to navigate such treacherous terrain

However now that we were back on an actual route we pressed on, stopping only to let ancient Korean grannies power on past. How they managed to go so fast (or even survive) on such challenging terrain we do not know (now we know why everybody is afraid of them and leaves them their seat on the metro). The peak was in sight … at a distance. Unfortunately we needed to go down before we could go up which was upsetting for In San. However many many cliff faces and ropes later we powered to the top.

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It was a tricky ascent (fairly vertical) but the views were worth it.

Lucky for us the sun had come out and the views all around were amazing. It was definitely worth the grueling trip up here for this.

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After enjoying the view we sat down, relaxed and had a bootleg Korean Kitkat [editor’s note – James went for the kit kat, I on the other hand rather sensibly went for a nut bar]
We decided to be lazy and take the ‘quick’ route back. Not realising that a) it wasn’t actually that quick b) it took us to a completely different entrance on the other side of the park. Oh no, non circular route. This could be dicey.

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Our suspicions about Korean sign distance accuracy was confirmed as a ‘1.8 Km quick route back’ ended up being somewhat longer and more painful. At least we had a delicious blueberry smoothie to drink while we waited for the bus … or could we?

Everything seemed fine as we waited by the bus scedule drinking a blueberry smoothie, until the bus didn’t arrive. It turned out that we needed to walk to the main road 3 Km away, so off we went. Fortunately in the end we didn’t need a bus as we found a new Metro line that had just been opened that sped us back into town.

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Fried Korean Fried Chicken (above an actual) KFC, nugget Ale (better than it sounds), In San was so hungry she couldn’t even wait for the camera to focus.

After all that walking we wanted something dirty, fried and crispy. So Korean Fried Chicken it was. We went to Kyochon chicken, it had good reviews and had very crispy chicken but it wasn’t garlicky enough for our tastes, good but not great. The actual chicken was succulent though.

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We explored the sights a little then picked up some breakfast for the next day.

We staggered back, tired and looking forwards to a shower and bed, ready for a day of excitement tomorrow.

Korea – Day 2 – Mountain trail but no mountain snacks

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We were woken up by my 8am alarm and surprisingly, we did not feel too rough. On our previous trip to Seoul, I had woken up and been sick and was not able to eat much for the first few days so I had mentally prepared myself for this happening again.

It was our first day and so we headed out for breakfast, as it was a Sunday in Itaewon (an international area), we decided to go to a safe generic cafe nearby. Holly’s coffee was open and so we popped in and got ourselves a Danish pastry for breakfast, the choice was potato, bacon or cheese and so naturally James wanted bacon and it look like the pastry had all 3 so I wasn’t sure why a choice was given to us. This breakfast experience cost us around KRW 14k, it wasn’t cheap but we knew as much based on the location and niceness of the bathroom.

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We entertained ourselves over breakfast with planning our route and watching a man stealing electricity from the mains using a long stick and a hook.

We decided to walk round the city wall, there were a few options for trails and we opted for the Baegak mountain trail. This covers the northern most part. However before this, we needed lunch as there would not be any food along the way.

Our lunch choice was Jaha Sonmandoo, a lovely dumpling house near the start of the trail at Changuimun gate. It was the traditional kind where you took your shoes off at entrance which we liked as our feet would otherwise have stayed enclosed in their shoes. The menu was simple and being a dumpling place, we ordered dumplings. The ones in the soup came with rice balls which had a satisfying chewy texture. The other ones were simple and were meaty enough to make them tasty. This meal felt like a bargain at KRW 21k.

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The dumpling restaurant was right by the starting gate and was delicious, <Editors note – In San’s favorite was the rice balls inside the soup, she couldn’t get enough>.

So with our stomachs full, we headed up the trail but before we could begin, we needed to get an application form completed as well as handing over our passports for inspection. Turns out a North Korean special forces unit infiltrated Seoul in 1968 though this area so public access was limited, it was finally opened to the public in 2007 <Editors note – This meant there was soldiers, sensors and cameras EVERYWHERE also no photos in most areas so we had to be sneaky>. It also meant we were given ID badges which we had to wear and have visible at all times on the trail. James was jammy and got himself one with a number one so this made him pretty chuffed with himself despite there not actually much of an achievement apart from luck.

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<Editors note – Like it or not for two hours I was officially no 1 thanks to the Korean government, The last picture was a little rushed as it turned out we were photographing next to one of the military outposts, they came out mid photo to tell us off>

Turns out the trail we started on is steep and uphill and then slowly descends, we may have been better off doing this in the other direction as we did walk past a lot of other people but at the same time we had a hard start and an easy finish. Unfortunately, as the area is monitored we weren’t able to take photos at the best spots. We did however get a photo of James next to a wooden statue however we were immediately told off by a guard so decided not to risk any more photos.

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I tired my-self out jumping
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James was was a hot (sweaty) mess, he was not the only one.

When we finally put our cameras away, it turns out we were 10 meters from the end of the guarded area so we were able to get it out again. The trail was only 4.7km so short but sweet and we took 2.5 hours to complete based on stopping at each of the rest points. This was necessary as it was a hot day for us but the local Korean’s may have found it much cooler based on the fact some of them were wearing layers.

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The trail was nice and had scenic points, there were speakers playing classical and calming music as well which was different and actually quite welcome.

When we finished, our first thought was to find snacks and we expected them at the end of the trail at Hyehwamon Gate alas, there was nothing. I was very hungry at this point so we <Editors note – ie. In San decided for both of us> made the decision to head to a subway that would take us to Namdaemun market seeing as it was the oldest and largest market in South Korea so we knew it would have street food.

On the way we saw a vending machine and remembered about the delicious nutty drink from our previous adventure <Editors note – In San was so hungry she forgot we were 10 mins from a market>. We couldn’t remember the Hangul, but I did remember there were three characters (James thought it was the one with four characters). My 300 KRW paid off and we were rewarded with a cup of sugary goodness.

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Vending machine … of dreams!

This time, we were not disappointed. The first stall to catch our eye was one that sold hotteok, this is something James has been craving for a while and something I stopped him buying the night before when he was super full. We went for the sugar one for KRW 1k and we were lucky the people in front brought both hotteok that had been sitting there and we were able to get one which had been freshly fried. The only problem was that it was still ridiculously hot. The sugar in the middle was like caramel, it was hot and calling to me but at the same time I knew it was dangerous. As usual, James and I argued about how big each of our halves were so this was a good sign <Editors note – This is one way of looking at it, another was was that you ate half of the hotteok, then shared the rest half and half with me, sneaky. We then got another one for me … which you eat half of again>.

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So much choice!
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Heavenly Heottok

We walked 25 meters down the road and James couldn’t resist buying a hotteok from a different stall, this one specialised in sweet hotteok only and was fluffier although with less filling. We were happy with both choices and so were our tummies.

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We did not enter the cat cafe, it did amused James. The people were queueing up outside for bread that had been just baked. They only started queuing when the bread was ready (every half hour).
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Namdaemun Market was busy and interesting.

The market wasn’t too busy and before we knew it, it was nearly time for dinner. We had already decided on the night market at Cheonggyecheon and so we needed to ensure we visited some facilities before this. The only option was to go to a cafe, we were in a trendy area and headed up some stairs to find a magical world where the owner had clearly gone and brought whatever random crap he could find. It was a bit too trendy for James and I but it did have kiwi juice which turned out to be super tasty and not sour.

Once we had our break, it was time to head to the night market although there was a slight detour to the bank as our cards had both been declined and we weren’t sure whether there’d be a problem taking money out or with future transactions. Luckily all was fine and so we went on our way.

The night market was very upmarket, it turned out to be full of proper food trucks rather than stalls and they were even taking card payments. To be honest, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting but we stuck with it as everything did look tasty. We started by purchasing a pork skewer, the bbq it was being cooked on drew us in and the sweet sticky sauce made it.

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We selected based on the amount of fire and smoke = delicious smokey taste

We weren’t sure what we wanted but as soon as James saw the fried chicken van he insisted we get some so we went for the honey version which was their recommended one. Their system for keeping the tickets under a mat whilst it got shifted along could have been improved, we were waiting for a few minutes but during that time the tickets were dropped so that a few of them got mixed up and then another time one ticket dropped and the server didn’t notice but was confused about the orders. The chicken came with potato tots on top and hidden tteokbokki at the bottom, it wasn’t the hottest (temperature) chicken but it was crispy and the extras added to the dish. Another winner.

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<Editors note – In San was ready … for chicken (even if it was cold)>
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<Editors note – Their weird cold technique meant that it was super crispy and not at all greasy>

Wandering around, we wanted a carb but there just weren’t any. So we made the decision to get a watermelon juice to tide us over until we got home and would go get some doughy carb from the station especially as it started to rain.

Unfortunately for us, the doughy carb stall we were both thinking of didn’t exist at Itaewon station which made us really sad <Editors note – We were both convinced of this, so where was this stall actually maybe we will find it tomorrow>. At this low point we even tried the Turkish bakeries but the one with simit had sold out for the day.

Walking back we realised that at the top of the road was a shop selling gimbap so we were grateful it was still open. For KRW 3,500 we got ourselves a fishcake gimbap, it was slightly spicier than I would have liked but it was great value especially as it was made to order <Editors note – It turns out that this place ‘Ottos’ was actually in the New York times as an random delicious food find. However we found it by luck (and proximity)>

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Go go Gimbap to the rescue

All in all, it was a rather exciting first day.

Korea – Day 1 – The Mini Adventure Begins

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We decided to go on a rather impromptu trip. So rather than the usual months of planning we winged it somewhat. Leaving after a full day of work straight to the airport we started to wonder if we had bitten off more than we could chew as the flight was delayed by an hour …

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Tasty make your own BiBimBap for airplane food – Good, Underwhelming cookies -Bad, Free slippers – Unexpected.

Our travel snacks (going away from the usual Travel Biscuits [Tesco finest chocolate covered ginger biscuits]) were disappointing and we were stuck on the tarmac … was this holiday doomed from the get go.

Everything was turned around by the lovely service (free drinks whenever you wanted in economy!), tasty food and excitement as we finally realised what we had started … a mini adventure.

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After acquiring adorable travel cards we set off in search of our Air BnB based on a whimsical set of instructions (turn left at the Kebab shop, turn right at the red stairs). We found our way there.

We accidently ended up spending double the normal price for our T-Cards but they were extra cute so we didn’t mind too much. Then we had to find our AirBnB, as is usually the case the detailed instructions were surprisingly hard to follow yet obvious when you worked out the correct route.

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The door for the AirBnB is representative of its … lovingly homemade construction.

After dumping our bags it was time to explore … as soon as we had some food. Vetoing the idea of going half an hour to a night market “I will not last that long” In San suggested a local Korean BBQ place

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We might feel a bit underdressed … lets explore Itaewon!

Despite feeling very underdressed compared to everybody doled up (male and female) to the nines we wandered round Itaewon, one of the trendy parts of Seoul.

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When in Korea … you have to have Korean BBQ at least once. Unfortunately In San does not have my discipline so she only took photos of the first few steps then was too distracted eating. Weak.

 

Although a little pricey it was delicious and a good safe (and close bet) for a first night meal. Particular favorites were the marinaded beef rib: InSan – “It tastes … really … like meat” high praise indeed. Pork shoulder was also delicious. We forgot about all the side dishes you get for free so this was an expansive meal. Too much for In San who fell asleep straight away on returning to flat, leaving me to write all of this up.

Unfortunately In San doesn’t have my honed skills for photographing everything so we don’t have a complete record of tasty tasty BBQ but it was delicious. After a shaking beginning we are off to a good start.