England! and Scotland!

Well, we’ve made it to our 9th country of the year (Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, USA, Canada, Iceland, England, Scotland)! This is a personal record for me in one year, though not all of them (or even most) are new. Ideally, we’re going to get to at least 7 or 8 more before the end of the year, but we’ll see!

We’re staying with Luke’s mom (and sister) around Huddersfield (between Manchester and Leeds), but we just got back from a trip up north to Edinburgh (Scotland) and Lindisfarne/Northumberland (England) with Luke’s dad and his wife. It was the first time I had met either of them, but we ended up having a very nice time. Here are just a few pictures from the trip. 

New Lanark, a communist/socialist mill town from the 1800s

A church in Edinburgh’s city center

Edinburgh Castle, probably the inspiration for Casterly Rock from Game of Thrones

Alnwick gardens, which we walked through on our way back south

Alnwick Castle, where Harry Potter and Downtown Abbey have both filmed!

Luke at Lindisfarne castle

All in all our was a great trip and I’d love to go back to Edinburgh again to see Holyrood Palace (the royal residence in Scotland ) and more of the outskirts of town.  Another trip to Lindisfarne would certainly be interesting,  too!

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Takeoffs and landings (but mostly layovers) 

One of the things about being super budget travelers (which we are) is that you sometimes find some very odd flights with interesting times/caveats to them. In order to get to London from Detroit for under $300 each, we had to have two layovers; one in Boston, Massachusetts (USA), and one in Reykjavik, Iceland. Oh, and each was 9.5 hours. Since we knew we didn’t need to be up and running right away, we decided to go for it.

Boston was great. The public transport made it easy (super easy) to get in,  get around,  and get back out. The weather was lovely and after some lunch,  we decided to go on one of those hop-on, hop-off tours. Typically not our style,  but when pressed for time,  it was the perfect option (plus a Groupon and some deals from the organizer made it very affordable).

 

Old Ironsides, aka the USS Constitution

“Nevermore!” Edgar Allen Poe and a raven, appropriately.

The harbor area from our tour bus

So we wandered around Boston (mostly via bus,  but Luke had his backpack and a computer bag, so it wasn’t all easy)  and headed back to the airport around 6:30 for our 9:30 flight. Our flight from Detroit was at 10 a.m., but we were anxious and hadn’t slept much the night before,  so we were fairly exhausted after our day in the city. Add to that a desire to try to get on English time and I’m sure you can see where this is headed.

Feeling bogged down with the backpack, we grabbed some jackets and our Kindles and checked the bag. Our thought was that we had done so well in Boston that Iceland could only be better, so why bother with the weight.  We got a snack and got ready for our flight to Iceland!

Well,  fast forward 5 hours and we had one of the bumpiest landings either of us has ever experienced. Even after the wheels touched down and we were sitting at the gate,  the plane was still shaking from side to side. And there was rain, SO MUCH RAIN. It was 6:30 am Iceland time, and we were already exhausted.  I had tried to book a trip to the Blue Lagoon, but the only entrance time was at 8 am, and we weren’t convinced we’d make it through immigration and customs in time to get the bus (but of course we did, so that was pretty disappointing). So, instead of a relaxing morning at a natural hot spring, we braved the cold (5°c!) and rain and hopped a bus into the city.

 

Leif Erikson and an ultra-modern church in Reykjavik 

 

A view of Reykjavik from the top of the church

The first thing we came to was a huge church (Hallgrímskirkja). While neither terribly old nor ornate, it was certainly an interesting contrast to the more quaint buildings surrounding it. We ended up going up to the top (for about $9 each, but it would’ve been easy [if unethical] to avoid paying) and the view of the surrounding area was great. The wind, however, made it sound like there were sirens in the top of the tower and the rain and cold had us running back inside very quickly.

 

Cute Icelandic row houses

 

Toast! Delicious, but this meal cost us nearly $30 USD

We walked around a bit more and got some breakfast, but it was expensive, lacking in substance, and not that tasty (and super expensive). Overall, the jetlag and rain/wind drove us out of Iceland quickly. We went back to the airport, hunkered down by a heater, tried to dry off, and took a nap before our flight. Little did we know that would be the most sleep we’d be getting for the next 24 hours…

Back at it (again) 

Well,  let’s see… I’ve left Korea (for the time being) and am currently on the road with my boyfriend, Luke. We spent 5 days in Taiwan before heading to Michigan to see my family. We went tubing down a river,  swam in lakes,  ate too much good food,  probably drank too much good beer, saw my grandparents,  went to Chicago,  Montana,  Niagara Falls, Cleveland, and Boston.  It was a fun, if exhausting, 5 weeks. 

At Lake Michigan

With my family 🙂

 

Playing some mini-golf in Chicago with friends Max and Meaghan

Enjoying a Montana sunset with Tory

The view heading into Niagara Falls (horseshoe falls)

Currently, we’re sitting on a train heading north on the lady leg of our journey from Ann Arbor,  MI(my family) to Huddersfield, UK (his family). We left at 7:30 am, Tuesday October 4th  Ann Arbor time and will get in at about 2 pm on Thursday,  October 6th UK time, about 49 hours later. We had two long layovers in Boston,  Massachusetts and Reykjavik,  Iceland,  and we were in a hotel last night,  but hardly slept due to a bit of a crazy incident (and the impetus for restarting blogging).  After arriving exhausted from Iceland, we took an Uber to our hotel.  Long story short,  the parking aisles at Heathrow are not lettered alphabetically and we had quite a time finding our driver. We checked into the hotel, changed, and decided we’re hungry enough to go out.  Found an amazing Nepalese place and had lamb, shrimp, and chicken,  plus beer,  for super cheap. Got back to the hotel, showered, and passed out. Suddenly it’s 3 a.m. and Luke and I hear a noise.  Our room had an outer door and a room door. It sounds like someone just opened the our outer door and is shouting. Luke gets up to check,  and yes someone has opened it,  but the chain lock stopped them from getting in.  They are clearly drunk and yelling at us to get out of “their” room.  Luke tells me to dial reception and while I’m doing that,  he talks to them through the door. They ask if we’ve reserved this room,  and he says yes,  we have. I’m trying to dial reception but the phone isn’t connected (of course!). They agree to go back to the desk and Luke and I debate going to the desk, too. We don’t want to walk out, in case they’re robbers and about to mug us,  but we don’t want to leave the room, in case they try to break in while we’re gone. Finally, we agree to just go to reception together and it turns out they double booked the room, gave these people a second key,  and scared the pants off of us. All was fine in the end, and we got the room comped for the night (in the morning, after talking to the manager who seemed horrified). However,  we were so freaked out,  angry,  and so confused on time that neither of us really got back to sleep (after a day and a half of traveling and not sleeping much) .  

To continue the adventures,  when we got to King’s Cross Station. This morning,  our train was canceled! We got bumped to one 30 minutes later,  but with no reserved seats. Unlike in Korea,  there is no “show up and get a seat” policy so we fought/sprinted our way through the crowd to be sure we got seats. Finally, we’re  on our way north to Luke’s family. Definitely an exhausting trip! 

Red Clay Trail

I’m well aware that I’m a terrible blogger. No posts for nearly two months?! What is this business…Yes, I’ve been busy with work (I just picked up another class and we had student reports due), but I’ve also been busy living life in Korea. Sometimes it gets a little wild.

Almost a month ago now (!) I went on a nice hike (organized, once again, by my favorite Korean tour guide). Again, we went with the KJ touring company, but our destination was a different trail that I’ve wanted to do for some time now: Gyejoksan. Gyejoksan is a special mountain that is home to the red-clay trail. A local soju distillery has an eco-partnership with the community. What this means is that they spend time and money to maintain the mountain as a way to offset some of their less environmentally-friendly activities. In 2006, they installed a clay-trail that leads up the mountain and turned it into an eco-park. The park is only maintained for a few months out of the year, so I’m glad I got a chance to hike it.

This sign highlights the "benefits" of walking the trail.

This sign highlights the “benefits” of walking the trail.

The trail is described as “soft clay,” and I think I was expecting dry clay, not wet clay. They come by and hose the trail down every few hours or so to keep it mucky. If you’ve ever touched clay before, you know it can get pretty slick, and there were times when I was really afraid that I would just bite it (we saw a few kids wipe out pretty hard…).

Red clay trail on the right.

Red clay trail on the right.

I love the clay trail :)

I love the clay trail 🙂

All our gross, clay-covered feet.

All our gross, clay-covered feet.

The trail was pretty tame, as far as Korean hiking trails go. No super steep inclines, very well maintained, and, despite the fact that it was the weekend, pretty empty (by Korean standards). That all changed when our guide said “Let’s go see the top!” I’m pretty sure that we could’ve stayed on the same trail for another few miles and reached the top, but he decided we needed to take the shortcut in order to get back to the bus on time. His job keeps him very in shape and he was more or less running up one of the steepest, rockiest, most difficult inclines I’ve ever done in my life. I managed to make it to the top and there, at the top of a 4th century fortress, we found a beautiful view of Daejeon.

The view from the top

The view from the top

I'm pretty excited about having reached the top

I’m pretty excited about having reached the top. Maybe this will be my new header?

Victory makgeolli! All the Koreans drink this or soju while hiking. (L-r, Christine, me, Angelica)

Victory makgeolli! All the Koreans drink this or soju while hiking. (L-r, Christine, me, Angelica)

After taking a bit of a break, we headed back down (this time with our shoes ON; the clay was quite a workout and it was very hard to stay standing) and soaked our feet for a bit while listening to a live opera being performed. It was a little odd to hear Puccini in the woods, sung (poorly) by Koreans, but it was a very neat experience.

Cooling and rinsing our feet in the little foot pool. You can't really see here, but the water was a gross red/brown color.

Cooling and rinsing our feet in the little foot pool. You can’t really see here, but the water was a gross red/brown color.

As we headed out of the forest, we saw a few more beautiful sights and reflected on how much fun our day had been. It was certainly one of those “only in Korea!” sort of things, and I’m once again so thankful for having had the opportunity to join in on these adventures.

The raised trail on the way down.

The raised trail on the way down.

A very pretty scene between the trees on our way out

A very pretty scene between the trees on our way out.

No promises on when I will write next, but I will keep having my adventures. Maybe there is even a knitting update in the near future….

Korean food (so far)

This is now the second in what will (hopefully) be an ongoing series on Korean food. The first post was dedicated to my first experience with makgeolli (and beondegi), and you can read about it here. This one is more of an overview of the things I’ve been eating. Food is often very inexpensive in Korea. While it is true that you can get meals for $3-5 USD, most meals are slightly more coming in at the $7-10 range. Still VERY inexpensive! I still try to cook at home a good deal (because, if I eat vegetarian, it is cheaper to eat here), but I certainly eat out much more here than I did back in the States. This could also be due (in part) to the fact that Korean food is just so GOOD! So, here is a fairly incomplete list of things I’ve eaten recently, in order from least to most formal meals.

Hotteok in Seomun market

Hotteok in Seomun market

First up, we have the street food. Korea is well known for having some great street food culture and there is no keeping me from it! Above is the hotteok (Korean doughnuts, but waaaaaaaaay better) cart in Seomun market. They average 1,000 won/each, so it’s a pretty good deal (especially on a cold day)

Below is my favorite twigum lady. Twigum (pictured just out of frame, on the left) is fried food. I don’t know if it refers to anything specific, but I typically see peppers, squid, eggs, squash, and kimbap pieces. Prices range from 500-1,000 won/piece, and many places have specials if you get 3 or 5 pieces. Her stall (which is, conveniently, set up right outside my office) also has odeng (the squiggly fish cake in the center), grilled chicken hearts and intestines (I’ve had the hearts; they’re a little iron-y), and a variety of other meats on sticks.

My twigum lady

My twigum lady

Next up, we have the more cafeteria-style foods. The two major stores near me, Emart and HomePlus, both have lovely cafeterias and I’ve always been very impressed with my meals. Below is my udon (thick noodles) set with kimbap (just plain rice with seaweed around it). The food was good, but the real star was the ojingeojeot (dried squid kimchi). The dried squid gave it a slightly sweet taste and really helped to round out all the spice. The whole meal set me back about 3,000 won

Emart lunch; I think this was a kimbap and udon set

Emart lunch

Emart’s main competitor, HomePlus (owned by the British company, Tesco) has, in my opinion, a slightly better cafeteria. I went the other day and got a bibimbap (rice with stuff on top) set that was very good. They gave me enough food for two people and the rice was perfectly cooked. The toppings were generous and well seasoned. My only complaints are that the egg was fried through (I like a runny yolk) and I was turned down when I tried to refill on the fishcake kimchi. This lunch set me back 5,500 won, so it was still VERY budget friendly.

HomePlus lunch; bibimbap with soup

HomePlus lunch; bibimbap with soup

Next up is tent-food. Maybe this one would better fall between street-food and cafeteria food, but I’m also including atmosphere. I’ve posted this before, but after a somewhat cold, rainy day of hiking around town, this meal really hit the spot. Big bowls of udon and some bulgogi (marinated beef) made for a lovely meal, despite the drunk high schoolers near us. This meal was maybe 5,000 won (again, so inexpensive!)

Tent dinner! Udon with bulgogi

Tent dinner! Udon with bulgogi

And now, onto the restaurants! I get out of work at 10 pm, so sometimes I’m really too tired to cook. Enter Okaduk. Koreans do chicken like you wouldn’t believe. I typically like their oven-roasted chicken (the skin is super crispy and a little sweet, whatever they put on it is MAGICAL), but they also have really good fried chicken. A typical meal is between 8,000-10,000/person, and they always give enough to share. Add in the cheap pitchers of beer, a convenient location (literally right around the corner from school), and it’s not hard to see why we frequent this place. My biggest complaint is that the meal is usually only chicken. No rice, no veggies, nothing. They do give out sides of moo (daikon radish), but that still doesn’t feel particularly healthy.

Okaduk chicken, a work favorite

Okaduk chicken, a work favorite

One of my favorite parts of Korean meals is that they come with banchan (side dishes). Typically these can be refilled as many times as you want (and you will want to refill them), but sometimes they bring out a special dish and you only get one. I went out to sushi with a friend a while back and they brought us out a whole grilled fish before we got our sushi! The sushi itself was “meh” at best, but the banchan fish was incredible. Very fresh and grilled to perfection, we ate every single bit of that dish.

Some banchan before a mediocre sushi lunch

Some banchan before a mediocre sushi lunch

I went on a bike ride last weekend and afterwards was quite hungry. Luckily, I was in an area primarily populated by students, so cheap eats were easy to come by. I sat down and ordered what I thought was one soup, but turned out to be another (probably better) one.Yukgaejang is a Daegu specialty. A thick soup with lots of pepper paste, bean sprouts, and shredded beef, it is simmered for hours so the flavors really meld together. Add in the generous portion of rice (or use the seaweed to make mini wraps) and you’re in business. This meal set me back a staggering 7,000 (including the soda). I’m pretty sure this is what Korean dreams are made of…

Yukgaejang, maybe. If it is, it is a Daegu specialty

Yukgaejang, maybe. If it is, it is a Daegu specialty

And finally, my newest love; shabu-shabu. I always love hotpot meals, but Korea has Vietnamese style places that take it to a whole new level. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish that has spread around the world (for a very obvious reason; it’s delicious). So I’m eating a Japanese dish in the Vietnamese style in Korea. Confusing, right? BUT SO GOOD. There are three rounds to shabu-shabu, so come hungry. Round one is the wrap round. They bring out a plate piled high with veggies and you can add some into the pot of broth (especially the mushrooms and greens), and start adding meat very slowly. Once everything is nicely cooked, you take a rice paper wrapper (the circle things), dip it in hot water or broth, set it on your little plate, and start adding uncooked veggies, sauces, and finally a piece of meat. The key is not to add too much, because then your roll won’t close! I’m guilty of this all the time…

Shabu shabu, aka the new love of my life

Shabu shabu, aka the new love of my life

After you’ve eaten your fill of rolls, they will bring some more broth to add to the pot (it gets low, some people like to just eat the broth as soup) and dump in the noodles. Sometimes rice noodles, sometimes delicious homemade buckwheat udon, they create a soup that is to die for. Remember all the meat and veggies that were thrown in earlier? They have now cooked down and imparted their flavor into the broth, so it tastes a little like heaven.

I really really love the noodle part.

I really really love the noodle part.

Round three involves the host pouring out most of the remaining broth and adding in rice, more veggies, and an egg to create a porridge-like ending to the meal. Usually I can only eat a few bites of this, but the rice is really delicious (I need to remember to save room for this!). And there it is, a three course meal for about 10,000/person.

This concludes my essay on Korean food (so far). I’ll make sure to update on things I eat in the future, since I clearly like to eat 🙂

Wherever you go, there you are*

*The title of this post is meant to reference the works of the Buddha and not a 1980’s movie.

I couldn’t tell you the exact point in my life when I decided I wanted to come to Korea. There was no single moment where I said “Yes! This is where my life is headed.” It was certainly on my radar for a number of years before I took the dive and flew over, but there was never one of those “ah-ha!” moments for me. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, especially amongst my fellow expats. Korea seems to be full of people who are searching for something. We come here with the intent of escaping any of a multitude of sins back home:debt, ex-loves, responsibility, etc.

I don’t know if I knew I was running when I left. Maybe I thought I was simply leaving something behind, but, then again, maybe we spend most of our lives running: sometimes away from one thing, sometimes towards another. I want to think that, after years of running away, I’m finally running towards something. There is not, as of yet, a way to tell what I’m running towards, but I feel a definite shift in how I see the world these days.

A lotus blossom handed to me by a monk on my way in

A paper lotus blossom handed to me by a monk.

One of the most noticeable changes is that I am learning, slowly, to be happy with myself. Most days, I am content to keep my own company. While there are the bouts of homesickness, loneliness, and those hollow, empty days that are (inevitably) part of life (and the experience here), I don’t spend time dwelling on those feelings as much as I did my first few weeks (months) here. At 27, it feels like I am finally learning to be happy with me (my hope is that this growth will continue, and in 10 years I’ll look back on what I wrote here and go “WHAT WAS I EVEN THINKING?!”).

I don’t know if there is a point to the above rambling, except as a way to say that a few weeks ago, after having every weekend scheduled to the brim with events (all good! But still busy), I needed some down time. I intentionally planned to spend some quality time with myself and had nothing on tap except maybe heading to a park to partake in the Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. I spent a better part of the day just wandering around in Duryu park.

Around 5 p.m, I headed to the outdoor amphitheatre to take part in a floating-lantern ceremony for Buddha’s birthday. The event was combined with a memorial for the victims of the Sewol ferry-boat disaster, and it made for a very moving and beautiful evening.

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha's birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha’s birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns lined the park and there were various choirs performing on the large stage up front. As people filtered in, they handed out rice balls (a sign of generosity and peace) for people to snack on, and each person was given a lantern and candle.

This girl and her mom were so sweet together

This girl and her mom were so sweet together.

As the sun started setting, a performance group took the stage and brought offerings to the idol on stage. There was more singing and chanting, some speeches (to acknowledge the deceased, I think), and then they dimmed the lights for the lantern send-off.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Group after group of people around me started to send of their lanterns; each inscribed with a message of peace or love. It was quite a sight to see 5,000+ lanterns heading off into the night sky.

Lantern send-off.

Lantern send-off.

A lantern floating off into the night.

A lantern floating off into the night.

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Korea is never what I expect, but (slowly, slowly) I’m finding my way. Thanks for sharing this journey with me 🙂

Windy Hill (Geoje Island Area)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with some members of the Daegu Hiking Club (facebook link) and explore the Geoje Island area. The original plan was to explore the hilly area on one of the islands for a bit and then take a ferry-boat to Somamuldo Island. However, because of the recent Sewol disaster and a bit of a rough chop on the seas, our day was cut short and we were only able to explore the Windy Hill area.

Hiking in Korea is a lifestyle. People here form clubs, don matching gear, and rent (or BUY) charter busses to take them to different hiking destinations. The Daegu Hiking group is maintained by a Korean who connects the group with different touring groups (mostly KJ Hiking Club). It helps them fill up seats on their bus (keeping their costs down) and lets foreigners see a whole new aspect of Korean culture. Win-win, if you ask me.

Our day started bright and early at 7 am. We met up downtown and boarded our bus. About 45 minutes later, we made a stop and had some Korean-style breakfast (part of the fee for the trip). Korean breakfast is delicious; seaweed and soybean soup over rice with kimchi and a few other types of banchan.

Breakfast amongst the azaleas

Breakfast amongst the azaleas

Breakfast was provided by the tour group and I found out later that there are kitchens who sell “hiking breakfast kits” to the various groups. The group tells them how many people and a price-point and the company sends boxes of rice, soup, banchan, and utensils. The fact that a service like this even exists should tell you how popular hiking is in Korea.

After filling up, we got back on the bus and headed further south towards the coast. I have to admit I slept for most of the ride; I was dead tired from being up so early. When I awoke, I was greeted by some very tropical-looking scenery. Maybe it was just the contrast from being in the city, but it just seemed so green. All around us were amazing coastal vistas, lush forests, and hills that seemed to sprout up right from the coastline.

Just before we got off the bus; this was one of my first views of the area

Just before we got off the bus; this was one of my first views of the area

At this point in the day, we were fairly certain we wouldn’t be going to the island to hike, so they gave us a bit of extra time to wander around the area. The area known as Windy Hill is a thin strip of land that rises up and connects one part of an island with another part. It is barely a mile from one side of the island to the other (width-wise), but the climb up the hill makes it feel much much much longer. The coastline is rocky and reminds me of Spain quite a bit. We had great fun exploring each side, before heading back to the bus.

The coast on the right (eastern) side; we went out to explore the rocks on the left-hand side

The coast on the right (eastern) side; we went out to explore the rocks on the left-hand side

A closer view of the rocks from the beach.

A closer view of the rocks from the beach.

Our intrepid leader (name withheld to protect the innocent!) and Angelica on the eastern side

Our intrepid leader (name withheld to protect the innocent!) and Angelica on the eastern side

Another view of the coastline on the eastern side

Another view of the coastline on the eastern side

A boat tied up in the western harbor.

A boat tied up in the western harbor.

This old woman was selling all sorts of sea creatures for people to snack on. I tried some, but was not entirely impressed. They needed to be cleaned a bit better to be really enjoyable.

This old woman was selling all sorts of sea creatures for people to snack on. I tried some, but was not entirely impressed. They needed to be cleaned a bit better to be really enjoyable.

The coastline on the western side; it was significantly windier on this side

The coastline on the western side; it was significantly windier on this side

It was REALLY windy!

REALLY windy! (Photo c/o our leader, whose name I cannot put on here because of his top-secret job 🙂 )

All in all, a really lovely way to spend a Sunday. Despite not getting to go on the hike, we had a very nice time hanging out by the water, climbing rocks, and taking in the scenery. Thanks again to KJ Hiking Club for a great day!