Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mountaintops and Riverwalks South Korea Style

Since we were only spending a few days in Seoul we wanted to be sure and see the highlights. People watching, browsing local markets, and coffee in a local cafe are always on the agenda when we travel, but I also want to see some of the sites a city is known for. I'm a big fan of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides which are easy to use and have pullout maps of cities and subway systems.

If you have a short window of time to spend in a large city the DK Eyewitness Top 10 guides are especially good at steering you toward the 'don't miss' stuff. When you're using an underground metro system it makes sense to plan your day a bit so you don't waste time criss crossing the city unnecessarily and we used the Top10 Seoul guide to help plan our days.

We had beautiful weather the three days we were in the city. One thing you need to know about S. Korea is the air quality is not always good for outdoor activities. There are days you're advised to stay indoors and we do, which might explain the abundance of cafes and coffee shops here. We've had several poor air quality days since arriving, but the weekend we spent in Seoul was gorgeous.

Friday we slept in because that darn cold-ugh! then grabbed coffee and pastry at a nearby bakery. Actually hubs had coffee and I had the famous Korean milk tea which was scrumptious! This bakery offered the tea warm or cold, but the girl behind the counter told me cold is the way to go.

She was right-so good!

After breakfast we walked up the hill to get on the 'tram' that would take us to the cable car that
would take us to the elevator that would take us to the top of Seoul Tower.  If you read here you know how I feel about cable cars but when in Rome...

Seoul Tower sits atop Namson, a peak in the mountains that make up Korea. There are fabulous views from the tower observation deck and several dining and shopping options at the base and up top both. There's also apparently a Teddy Bear museum but we missed that.

When you get off the cable car, but before you enter the elevator taking you into the tower itself you see trees and fences and railings covered with padlocks.  Couples buy a lock and attach it to one of the 'trees' then throw away the key, symbolizing eternal love. It's a colorful sight for sure.

Way back when, during the Joeson era, Koreans used smoke signals to communicate, and Namsan was at the center of a network of chimneys used to signal warnings.

Depending on the threat anywhere from one to five beacons would be lit and then copied on successive mountains all the way up the coast to the Chinese border.

The communication and observation tower was built in 1971, stands 774 feet high, and has spectacular views from the top.

After leaving the tower we went back to our hotel for a small siesta then rode the metro to the well known Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in South Korea, to see what we could see.

Fish. Lots of fish. And people dining on everything from live squid to blood sausage and pig intestines. We stuck with less adventurous fare and sampled the mung bean pancake (Bindaetteok) and seaweed rolls (Mayak Kimbap).

The market was bustling and filled with locals on their way home from work on a Friday night, a fun place to explore.

After we left the market we walked along the Cheonggyecheon Stream to see the Lantern Festival.

This is a two week festival beginning on the first Friday in November each year and definitely worth seeing if you're in the city during its run.

The theme this year is "Your Seoul, Light Through Dream" and features Korean characters from Korean folk tales and stories-

Fairy tales from around the world-

and more-

It's beautiful and the walk along the stream really is so dreamy.

A magical way to end the day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Heart and Seoul

Still here in South Korea, and still enjoying time with our newest grandson and big brother. Everyone is doing great and I'll have more to say about our little men another day, but today I want to talk about Seoul. 

Hubs and I spent three nights in the city last week to give the family of four a little time on their own and also give me a chance to see the sights. I absolutely loved Seoul! The city is clean, modern but still old world in places, friendly and so interesting. Also, the women here are beautiful, and oh so chic! I wish I could pull off trendy the way some of the Korean women do. 

My daughter lives less than an hour's train ride from Seoul Station and we booked tickets ahead of 
time online so easy peasy.  More or less. Once we got the hang of the system it was easy peasy. Bonus they assign you a seat which I appreciate. 

Once we arrived in Seoul Station we hopped the metro in the direction of our hotel, got a little turned around and ended up taking a cab a short distance. People like to say English is everywhere, but not true. Yes there is some English here but there's also a fair amount of pantomime and finger pointing at menu pictures or your neighbor's plate to get what you want. 

We stayed in Aloft Seoul Myeondong and I would highly recommend. The location was perfect, and the staff was wonderfully helpful and kind. Probably the best front desk experience I've had in a hotel in a long while. From our hotel we could walk to several nearby metro lines and to many of the city's best known sites. And walk we did. According to my phone app we walked 20 miles in three days which was probably a good thing because see below-

Once we were settled into the hotel we made a bee line for one of our favorite foods-Mandu aka Korean dumplings aka pure deliciousness. After lunch we ventured into the subway and more or less figured out which line to take (with a bit of help) to get us to our destination-Gyeonbokgung Palace. 

The original 'Palace of Shining Happiness' was completed in 1394 and was the main royal residence of the Joseon Dynasty.   

Side note-traveling somewhere new always reminds me how much I don't know about so many things particularly in this part of the world.  

In the early 20th century much of the palace was destroyed, but since that time the original palace continues to be gradually restored. 

The complex also contains the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum, the latter of which we visited and really enjoyed. 

On the down side, we've all been fighting colds and in my case the cold is winning so by late afternoon I was running out of steam. We went back to the hotel to rest before walking to dinner at a nearby spot the hotel staff recommended, then called it a night soon after. The end of a fun full day in this fabulous city. 

Tomorrow Seoul Tower (or how I always end up riding a cable car in a foreign city) the lantern festival and more...

...because there always is on From This Side of the Pond. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Anyang Hasseo aka Hello

Greetings from the land of the morning calm. Obviously not America-ha! I don't always write when I'm traveling, but since I've got people and dogs in my house this trip it feels okay to blog in real time-ish. I'm
alwaysusually behind here on From This Side of the Pond, so 'real time' is a relative term, but I'm determined to get some words penned before Christmas rolls around and fall happenings feel like old news.

My daughter just told me I'd probably spend the first three paragraphs explaining why I haven't written lately, and another couple talking about the flight over and by then the post would be so long I'd  feel the need to wrap it up without ever really getting to the heart of the matter, which is this-

A brand new baby boy to love.

In South Korea, which is a long way from the Palmetto State but still! He's here and he's perfectly perfect with his head full of dark hair and  the most deliciously squishy cheeks, and we are already head over heels.

His mama is a rock star y'all. Giving birth is always a bit scary, but giving birth in a country not your own where English is not the language of the day requires a heaping helping of faith, strength, and courage, and her well runs deep.

So let's talk for a minute about the trip over because my daughter knows me and she's right when she says I'll overstate it. She also knows doling out a million unnecessary details is kind of my jam, and isn't that why you read here?

The days leading up to our trip around the sun were only slightly crazy. 9,717 miles since October 2nd kind of crazy but whatever. Here's how it rolled out...

The week before we were due to fly east hubs, Daughter2 and I drove to Maryland for the wedding of a boy whose family we've known and loved since our kids were small. We spent the Friday night before the wedding with hubs sister and family, then attended the very lovely ceremony in Annapolis on Saturday. We got up at the literal crack of dawn Sunday to get Daughter2 on her flight back to South Carolina and hubs on his flight to South Dakota for a long planned pheasant hunt and me on the road for the drive further north to my mom's in NJ. I was more or less 'in the neighborhood' and believe it or not this made the most sense.

I know it all sounds nuts and it kind of was, but we tried to just take it one trip at a time, vowed to enjoy the moments as we lived them, and never allowed ourselves a look at the month in it's entirety so as not to lose our minds. We mostly succeeded.

Hubs arrived back in Maryland Thursday afternoon and hopped in the car as I buzzed the airport arrivals lane, so we could hit the highway home. We made it back to SC just before midnight, spent Friday doing laundry, unpacking, repacking, having my hair done (priorities!) and then were back up with the birds on Saturday for our flight to South Korea.

Bring on the Morning Calm please.

We were able to get a direct flight out of Atlanta and a mere 14+ hours later were in the airport in Seoul waiting on our driver for the hour and a half ride to our daughter and son-in-law's home. Easy peasy. And bonus, we beat baby boy here which was such a blessing as we were able to stay with the mancub while his mom and dad brought his brother into the world.

We're Tired. Yes with a capital T. Jet lag is for real when you're in an upside down time zone, and five days in I'm still waking up at 3 AM and nodding off at 7. But!! we're here and we're so grateful for so much.

For the miracle of new life, and for strong willed little girls who grow up to roll with whatever life brings...

For new experiences and the blessing of time...

...the way our hearts expand and grow right along with our people.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Rearranging That To-Do List

It was a beautiful fall day here yesterday, and even though we have no business doing anything but taking care of what feels like a million things that need taking care of, we decided instead to carpe diem. 

Because sometimes you just must.

I find a walk in the woods is the best way to clear my head and should regularly be at the top of my 'to do' list. Pretty sure the world would be a nicer place if we all spent more time in the hushed stillness of God's green earth.

Hubs and I packed a lunch and headed to nearby Whitewater Falls because we haven't seen those up close and in person yet. We only argued a little as to which blue blaze trail marker was the correct blue blaze trail marker, and of course hubs was correct because he's always correct in matters of direction. Why does he even ask me which way I think we should go when he knows I'm always pointing left when we need to go east or up when we need to head south? He likes to talk about where the sun is in the sky and blah blah blah.

Let's just walk, k?

For the record, I don't mind getting a little lost, figuring it out as we go, maybe seeing something unexpected, and just enjoying the sun on my face and the silence of the forest. Hubs however is a man on a mission and we must get to those falls in a timely manner or die trying.

We began the day at the Upper Falls overlook which is a short easy half mile trek (plus 154 steps) to magnificent.

Did I mention we had the pup with us? He only wrecked my zen a little and had an absolute ball. He ran most of the way all day long and could have done another six miles if hubs and I had said let's go.

We did not.

Because the lower falls trail (once you're on the correct path, ahem) is steep and we were tired. I'd visited the website to get some approximate directions prior to leaving home and the lower falls hike was described as roughly two miles in and out. We must have hopped on from a different starting point because our hike was roughly six miles in and out.

We moved the car to catch the lower falls trail which was a mixture of an up and down wooded path, rocky in some spots, a few downed trees to climb over or slip under in others, tree roots to trip you up if you weren't careful, and a brilliant blue sky overhead reminding you no matter what you're walking through beauty is found when you look up.

I thought we'd see more color here but autumn is rolling in to the Upstate ever so slowly this year. It has been hotter than the double hockey sticks and temperatures plus the humidity level have only recently begun to settle down.

One of the prettiest spots on the lower falls trail was right here-

In fact one of us would say it was their favorite part of the day-

He would have been happy to stay right here all day, but we still had a mile and a half-ish to go so we crossed the bridge and carried on.

And as we walked I thought about some stuff. Thinking deep thoughts and hiking go hand in hand which is one reason I enjoy hiking. It's hard to think deep thoughts when you're staring down your to-do list and see a floor that needs vacuuming and clothes that need washing and suitcases that need packing.

Soul searching comes naturally when you're away from it all.

It happens when you're walking along a mostly flat, mostly clear path until suddenly you're not. You encounter rocks and roots that can trip you up and irritate, and the easy pace you were enjoying begins to feel like a slog you need to just get through.

Your destination begins to feel further and further away, but if you put your head down and press on you'll discover those rocks and roots and irritating big and little things you had to get around or over were part of your journey to something beautiful.

Life, y'all.

Then your hubs the planner whips out his little camp stove and makes you a cup of hot apple cider on the spot...

And you're so glad you didn't quit before you got to where you were meant to go.