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Autumn Cherry Blossom and Maple Leaves Hunting

IMG_8409.JPGAutumn is here! The weather has cooled and the leaves are changing to a wonderful array of browns, oranges, reds and golds.

In Japan people flock to the countryside to enjoy the splendid selection of autumn foliage. This is called ‘momijigari’ which basically means red leaves hunting. I love autumn and adore red maple leaves so it’s an exciting time for me!

I’d read about a very unusual autumn phenomenon close-by in a place called Obara. It’s famous for Obara Shikizakura cherry trees. Whilst standard cherry trees only bloom in the Spring the Obara Shikizakura also bloom in autumn and are at their best at the end of November and start of December.

The cherry blossoms are interspersed with other trees including maples. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see something so rare, so despite being full of a cold, Ash and I got up early and set off on an autumn leaves and cherry blossom hunt!

We went to Toyotashi station to catch a bus (outside the front of the station by the roundabout) and found that lots of other people had had the same idea as us. We managed to squeeze ourselves on to the jam-packed bus and an hour and a half later (due to traffic) arrived in the scenic village of Obara Okusa.

There are a few different areas dotted around for viewing the sakura (cherry blossoms) and maples together and you can walk at your leisure, drive between the spots or catch a shuttle bus.

Here is a map for anyone interested in going (you can also pick these up at the site):We started at Fureai park, which was host to lots of food stalls and a woman singing in a Kimono, and quickly met up with our friend Alison who had already driven around the site. We got our first taste of Autumn Sakura and found a pretty shrine.IMG_8408.JPGIMG_8407.JPG

Being bunged up with a cold I wasn’t feeling too hot, so from the park we caught the tiny but extremely busy old fashioned shuttle bus up to Senmi Shikizakura no sato, which boasts some of the most spectacular displays. There were two pretty bridges, a temple nestled in the trees and some traditional food stalls. The main feature was the hillside covered in cherry blossoms and maples. It was breathtakingly beautiful so I took lots of pictures:

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As well as Sakura (cherry blossoms) we saw lots of other vivid coloured leaves on the surrounding trees.IMG_8429.JPGIMG_8428.JPGWe decided to follow the map and walk the scenic one hour journey back to the bus stop.  We followed the road and walked past farms and small roadside shops. At one point the roadside was covered in lots of cool scarecrows whose job it seemed to be to attract passersby in to a road side stall.IMG_8436.JPG

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IMG_8441.JPGWe got back to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare so sat outside eating cup ramens and then caught the bus back in to town. It was a really beautiful area and I’d highly recommend anyone in the Aichi area to visit Obara and enjoy the Autumn Sakura phenomenon.

Japan 2013 – Osaka, Nara and Kyoto

In Korea your school’s birthday is a big deal and all students and teachers have a day off to celebrate (if it falls on a week day). My friend Claire and I were lucky enough to have the same school birthday and this year it fell the day before the Korean thanksgiving holiday of Chuseok. A few friends and I had decided to visit Osaka during the holiday this year, so we decided to go out a day earlier together. We caught the train to Seoul on Monday evening and stayed at my favourite place ever – Siloam jimjilbang. We were up very early the next morning to catch the airport railroad to Incheon airport.

Our plane arrived in Japan mid-morning and we mistakenly got on the slowest train ever from Kansai airport to Osaka. Luckily about 40 minutes in to our journey at one of the millions of stations our train stopped at, one of the station conductors told us to get on a faster train and we got there in quick flash time.Image

Upon arrival our first task was to find our accommodation for that night.  We caught the subway (which was really retro and I loved it – apart from the price) to Shinsaibashi train station and then walked around the streets. On the first night we were staying in a capsule hotel, something I have always wanted to do so was pretty blooming excited about!Image

For the rest of the day we wandered around Amerikamura, an area with a lot of independent and vintage shops and a very relaxed feel. We also had a little walk around Namba which was close by and found lots of interesting streets and shops, saw a shrine down a tiny back alley with a moss covered Buddha and walked down tiny traditional streets.  It felt quite unnerving to not be able to understand any Japanese writing as I’m so used to at least being able to phonetically read Korean even if I don’t always know the meaning! With this in mind we went in to the first restaurant with a picture menu and ate there. In the evening we sat in the main square in Amerikamura for a while chatting before heading back for a night in our capsules.Image

1236669_10151886515543633_51023041_nIMG_5475IMG_5486 IMG_5488The capsule hotel wasn’t actually that far removed from a jimjilbang in that there was a shared locker room, changing room, toilets and sauna area for all the women. I found out afterwards that these actually usually just cater to business men and it can be difficult to find women’s capsules. Our actual sleeping areas were compartments with a pull down blind. I thought they were pretty comfortable although I did feel like I was in a space ship.IMG_5481

The next morning we were up and out early for a western breakfast (this doesn’t really happen in Korea much!) and to find our hostel where the others would be joining us later. We then caught the JR line (which is like an overland loop train) to Tennoji and visited Shitennoji temple. It was really beautiful and because it was a weekday was fairly quiet.  There was a lovely view across the graveyard of the skyline and Osaka’s famous Hitachi tower.IMG_5472

Next we headed back to Namba to meet my UK friend Mitch who now lives in Matsumoto and had come to catch up for a day or two. The three of us then went to Osaka castle, which is very pretty on the outside but not that thrilling inside. Afterwards we went back to our hostel to meet everyone, get changed, have a quick beer in the bonsai garden on the roof and then went out to meet Mitch in Namba again. He wanted to show us around Ebisu bridge and Dotombori, two of Osaka’s most famous sights.

The neon lights on Ebisu bridge were pretty amazing! The area was jam-packed and the streets behind the river featured lots of animatronic animals hanging above restaurants in the area. We were starving so decided on a restaurant and ordered lots of delicious Okonomiyaki, delicious pancakes with lots of fillings and cheese. We spent the rest of the night drinking beer in a tiny corridor bar and a rather strange shisha bar before heading home in the wee hours.IMG_5489

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Wonderful Nara

We had a bit of a lie in the next day as we were feeling a little delicate and had already decided to spend a chilled out day in Nara, about an hour away by train. Nara used to be a historic capital in Japan so features lots of famous sights. It is also famous for the tame deer that wander around the park and temple areas of the city.

The first sight we encountered as we entered the historic area was a picturesque pond with lots of turtles swimming in it. There was to be a lake-side festival taking place that evening so lanterns were being set up on the water. We saw our first of many deer here! She came over and nabbed Emily’s (unwanted) sandwich out of its wrapper and wandered off whilst we all squealed (and Keir WWOOOOOYYYEEEDD) and tried to stroke her.1378606_10153297698590343_359487124_n

The next hour or so was spent buying special biscuits and feeding them to lots of quite brazen deer as we walked through Nara Park.1379730_10153297697700343_297928006_n1255171_10153297697040343_1188406670_n 1375762_10153297696800343_59536414_nWe visited a couple more shrines, had coffee and then headed off for one of the main sights. Todaji temple holds claim to being the world’s biggest wooden building and oh my goodness it was absolutely enormous! The pictures unfortunately don’t do it justice. It took my breath away. What’s even crazier is that this temple had to be rebuilt after a fire and is apparently 1/3 smaller than the original! Inside the building is an enormous gorgeous bronze Buddha.IMG_41

After staring at the Buddha (mouth open in awe) for a while, we followed Keir on his mission to find a geocache. Up a hill nestled amongst the trees behind Todaji temple we found another hillside temple with stunning views of the sunset. There was hardly anyone around so the atmosphere was lovely and serene.

We were pretty tired after sightseeing but we wanted to see the lantern festival by the water so went and sat on the grass for a little while as it was really beautiful. After maybe half an hour nothing happened so we went in search of dinner.IMG_47 IMG_48 IMG_49We decided upon a restaurant which served a traditional set meal. Lots of small courses were delivered after each other. We weren’t entirely sure how we were supposed to eat it but an old couple opposite us had the same set so we copied them. It was yummy and included raw fish, miso soup, variations of tofu dishes and rice.

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Full of food and worn out, we headed back to Osaka on an evening train and chilled out in the hostel.

Kyoto – a glance in to the past

We woke up early the next morning to catch a train to Kyoto for another busy day. Not far from the train station we found a bike rental shop and decided to travel around by bike all day. Our first destination was Kiyomizudera temple. We had to walk our bikes up a really steep alleyway to get to the temple. There were beautiful women walking around the temple grounds in gorgeous kimonos and the temple itself which was stunning, was situated up on the hill amongst trees and overlooked the city.

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Next we cycled down to Gion, in the vague hope of finding a geisha. However it was blisteringly hot and we didn’t go to a teahouse, so we were obviously unsuccessful. We didn’t mind though because this area was very pretty, traditional and filled with kimono and souvenir shops. The buildings were all really narrow and made of dark wood.  We decided to splurge and eat a traditional lunch in this area. This time the food was served up almost like a bento box but inside a beautifully intricate bowl. Cue all of us taking pictures of our food!ImageImage

After lunch we cycled around a little and visited a few more vibrant red shrines and temples on our travels. We cycled up the philosophers’ path, a pretty cherry tree lined path and found a really cute café so sat with coffee and cakes soaking up the nice relaxed atmosphere. We were heading for another temple but by the time we had cycled there it was unfortunately closed. We started making our way back to the station, riding our pretty bikes along the riverside looking at all the attractive riverside restaurants and bars. I felt like I never wanted to leave Kyoto but it was getting dark, all the temples were closed and we were staying in Osaka so caught the train back.1382208_10153297691915343_1108613416_n

Once in Osaka we tried to decide where to spend the next few hours before bed and randomly ended up getting off the JR at Kyobashi, a random stop, because everyone thought it looked ‘fun’! The streets around the station were full of neon lights and it was pretty busy (it was Friday evening). There were row upon row of tiny bar/restaurants known as Izakaya, full to the brim with suited and booted Japanese businessmen letting their hair down. We chose a bar and ordered LOADS of side dishes. I can safely say that every single thing they put down in front of us (apart from the mushrooms because I don’t like them) was mouth-wateringly delicious! There were 5 of us and usually the plate had 6 pieces of whatever dish we’d ordered on it. We all loved them so much that we had to pay ‘rock, scissors, paper’ to choose who got the extra piece. I never won!

A day in Osaka

Our final day was spent in Osaka so we took our time having breakfast. Claire had read about a bakery which apparently sold British style cakes only one JR stop away so we decided to walk and follow the train line because it was a lovely day.IMG_5468This wander gave us a chance to see everyday Osaka life. We saw lots of very nice bikes, a variety of different shops, people’s houses (most of which were decorated with plant pots outside) and more ornate looking food and drink establishments. The area leading up to and around Tsuruhashi station was really interesting and full of exciting looking alleyways. The bakery was in an upmarket area and the owner was from Leicester. He’d designed it with a mod theme which we weren’t too sure about. We weren’t too sure about the cakes either, apart from an amazing apple pie.IMG_5487

Afterwards we caught the subway to Namba AGAIN as Keir had read about a craft beer festival being held in the area, which we quite frankly couldn’t resist (apart from poor Claire who doesn’t drink any beer whatsoever)!

After a lot of searching we found the festival being held by the river and boy were there lots of tasty beer selections from all over the world, including the UK.  I thought my holiday couldn’t get any better when Ash noticed someone eating blue cheese! After a short search we discovered a stall selling LOTS of cheese so bought some brie and some stilton with crackers and sat nomming them and drinking tasty ale with grins on our faces.

We split up for dinner that day because Ash, Emily and I wanted sushi, Keir wanted Octopus balls and to find a geocache and Claire wanted a bento box. Emily and I had seen a sushi restaurant nearby earlier in the day so went there. It was reasonably priced and we got to watch the sushi chef make our masterpiece of a dinner. The fish melted in our mouths and we all sat pulling faces and making noises of joy whilst eating.IMG_5294 1376535_10153297690160343_73898469_n

We went back to the hostel and Keir, Emily, Ash and I decided to pay one of the local tiny cupboard bars a visit for a final drink in Osaka. We had a lovely evening with a very hospitable barman before returning to our hostel to get some sleep in preparation for our flights home to Korea the next day.

Needless to say, this trip to Japan further cemented my love for this amazing and vibrant country.  So much so that Ash and I are now looking for employment in Japan when we leave Korea at the end of February. Fingers crossed eh!?

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Becky and Scott do Korea part 2 – Seoul

The following Friday was Buddha’s birthday weekend and a national holiday so we had a 3 day weekend. What better way to spend it than living it up in South Korea’s capital and my favourite place in the country, Seoul.

We caught the long train to Seoul on Thursday evening and waited around in the station for Ash who had to catch a later train because of dropping Betty at the pet sitter’s again! We met at about midnight. We were going to stay at Siloam jimjilbang again! I think Becky and Scott may have been a little anxious about getting sleep because we had lots planned for the next day and we hadn’t got much rest in a jimjilbang the week before! Luckily, Siloam is in a league of its own when it comes to sleeping areas. It’s definitely the best jimjilbang I’ve stayed in so far. There are separate quiet dark rooms with little individual bunks which allow for a perfect sleep! Well rested, we woke up the next morning to meet Claire who was staying in a hostel for the weekend.

Friday – Palaces, teahouses and Seoul cityscape views

Friday was a day jam-packed full of sights! First on the agenda was Gyeongbukgung palace, the most famous in Seoul. Because most people had the day off it was absolutely rammed and roasting hot (we are so English!), so it was pretty tiring walking around the grounds because it was huge. The really nice thing about the palace was the number of different sections to it. We would walk around a corner expecting a narrow passageway of traditional Korean architecture to find a lake and a gorgeous enormous building. I would say this is definitely a must-see sight in Seoul.

Gyeongbukgong palace entrance

Gyeongbukgong palace entrance

A very lovely and very very blue pool in the palace grounds

A very lovely and very very blue pool in the palace grounds

Brits abroad! Wandering through the palace grounds579347_10100507271566122_1415820917_n

The palace is very close to two other spots on the sightseeing map, Bukchon and Insadong so it made sense to take Botty (Claire’s nickname for Scott and Becky) there. Bukchon is a hanok (traditional Korean house) village with lots of pretty buildings and shops. It was quite impressive to stand at the top of one of the many sloping streets and watch old Korea meet new, with traditional houses nestled tightly together in front of giant modern sky scrapers.

Old Seoul meets new Seoul

Old Seoul meets new Seoul

It was mid-afternoon by now and we were all feeling weary, but Insadong was close by and is an area famous for old style teahouses and Korean arts and crafts so we didn’t want to miss it. We walked for a short time and then found, hidden away down a back street (obviously I asked tourist Information for a map!) a wonderfully cool and cosy teahouse, where we all ordered different types of fruit teas. Ash’s was by far the tastiest! Slightly rejuvenated, Claire was heading off to her hostel for a rest but we had other plans.

The lovely traditional teahouse in Insadong

The lovely traditional teahouse in Insadong

Becky njoying her persimmon and cinnamon tea

Becky enjoying her persimmon and cinnamon tea

Although we were really tired I felt that a trip to Seoul wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Namsan tower to watch the sun set over the city skyline. I obviously had some kind of romanticised image of what this would be like, because in reality it was CHAOS. We realised that we needed to hurry if we were going to make it before sunset, so we caught the subway and then walked at a fast pace to where we would catch the cable car and found the BIGGEST QUEUE EVER!!!!!! My heart sank. Ash and I had walked up the hill before (it’s quite an easy walk usually) and figured we could all make it if we hurried. Now I say that it’s an easy walk, but that is only if you go at a leisurely pace! It is still a blooming big hill! With time running out we had to run up the hill with no water. I’m sure Triathalon man Scott and naturally fit Ash were fine, but Becky and myself (Becky is much fitter than me!) were not happy! We got to the top and I was a sweaty, dehydrated, panting mess. To top it off at the top there were HUGE CROWDS EVERYWHERE! It was hardly the relaxing experience I’d had in mind, or experienced before! But nevertheless Becky, got some lovely photos of the skyline and we had a beer and some Oreos whilst watching a music and light show projected on to the tower.Seoul at sunset Seoul by night

Next we had to find a love motel to drop our luggage off. We went to Sincheon, which is close to Hongdae and has streets full of love motels. These motels are usually rented by the hour or the night for romantic liaisons, so it was difficult and expensive finding one that would put us up for two nights. Our rooms were lovely though! Ours had a bath in the corner and Scott and Becky’s had a tree in it! We were exhausted by the time our rooms were sorted, so quickly ate and then went to bed ready for an early start on Saturday.

The Demilitarised Zone

A few weeks previously we had booked places on a full DMZ tour and had to be at USO Camp Kim by 8am. We were feeling really excited and nervous about the tour because North Korea had been in the world media a lot and tensions between South and North had increased. The tour was split in to four sections:

The third tunnel – The 3rd tunnel is a tunnel 52km from Seoul that was built by North Korea and discovered on October 17, 1978. Other similar tunnels have been found along the border. Approximately 10,000 soldiers can move through this tunnel in 1 hour. When the tunnel was discovered, North Koreans insisted that it was made by South Koreans to invade North Korea! It was really cold and damp as we walked in to the tunnel. After maybe 100m it was sealed off, but we could feel how claustrophobic the space was. We had laughed about wearing construction helmets to go in but most of us banged our heads at least once!

We totally think we're in a band.

We totally think we’re in a band.

Mt. Dora Observation platform – This is close to the 3rd tunnel. Tour groups all hustled around telescopes to get a glimpse of the North Korean propaganda village and Gaesong business complex. It felt strange looking through the eye of the telescope and seeing this place that is so alien to South Korea yet so close.

Dorasan Station – Located 30 meters from the South Korean boundary fence, Dora Mountain Train Station is the northernmost train station in South Korea. Obviously, apart from coach tours the station doesn’t deal with too many arrivals. We bought a ticket to go on to the platform and had our photos taken underneath the sign and with the solitary South Korean soldier on guard there.photo(2) photo(1)

JSA (Joint Security Area) – This was the highlight of the tour and is the most famous part of the DMZ. The Joint Security Area is the only area where the North and South Korean military stand face to face and was the most nervewrecking part of the tour. Before entering the JSA we were given a presentation by the US army, there they warned us not to wave or point or use sudden movements when we got to the main area. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife as we walked out on to the steps in front of the borderline. Because tensions were high at that time we weren’t allowed to go in to the bunker which sat across the borderline, but were able to take pictures.

Tense times

Tense times

What you lookin at?

What you lookin at?

On the steps on the North Korean side of the border there was a soldier stood looking at us through binoculars which was really intimidating. At one point someone in our group made a sudden arm movement and some soldiers came over and warned them to stop! Finally something happened that helped to ease the tension. Bizarrely, a bright yellow steam roller began driving forwards and backwards across the top of the steps on the North Korean side, which was pretty funny!

A nice sunny yellow steam roller came along to lighten the mood.

A nice sunny yellow steam roller came along to lighten the mood.

After this we were taken on the coach to another viewing platform where we could see the North Korean propaganda village more clearly. Most of the tower blocks looked like shells and there are never lights at night, apparently not unusual in NK but our tour guide told us that they don’t think it’s properly inhabited. People do work on the farms there though, we could see people in the fields and even someone cycling along the road!

We got a glimpse of the peace/propaganda village in to North Korea.

We got a glimpse of the peace/propaganda village in to North Korea.

Once the DMZ tour was over the coach took us back to central Seoul and we went to the Bauhaus dog café in Hapjeong. Dog cafes are a very unique part of Korean culture. You arrive, buy a drink and some dog treats and then pet LOADS of dogs! We had a beer there and played with the dogs for a little while before going back to our motel to change and get ready for the evening’s festivities.

Mans best friend, as long as you're feeding them treats.

Man’s best friend, as long as you’re feeding them treats.

This is one of the funniest things I've ever seen! I think he looks like an old man!

This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen! I think he looks like an old man!

Av’in it large in Hongdae

It decided to start torrential raining just as we left our motel to meet Claire and our other friends Keir and Emily (who were in Seoul for a gig) for dinner. We were also meeting Seulgi and Julia, Becky’s Korean friends who had homestayed with her parents. After dinner we went to a macheolli bar, drank lots of rice wine and then walked around for ages until we found another bar. After a while Keir, Emily and Claire went back to their hostels but the rest of us stayed out. The next stop was a luxury noraebang where we made boozy slushes with soju in them. After that we were pretty pissed and in the mood for silly dancing so went to a club called I love KPOP and got even more drunk, danced around like crazy and had a great time! Not sure I would ever be able to find it again thought which is a shame!

Started out fairly civilised

Started out fairly civilised

Then started getting a littttllleee biiittt drrrunnkk

Then started getting a littttllleee biiittt drrrunnkk

and ended up like this!

and ended up like this!

When we left the club it was daybreak and in true Korean style we went to a 24 hour Gamjatang restaurant and ate delicious pork spine soup before returning to our motel for about 4 hours sleep.

We had to check out of the motel at midday and although feeling pretty rough and tired we managed to get back to Hongdae to look around, get some funny photos taken and eat before saying our farewells to Becky and Scott. They still had four days of travelling around but we wouldn’t be seeing them again. I’d not thought about this fact until the last minute and as they sped away in their taxi I felt really sad. We had the BEST time with them visiting! I hope that when we’re teaching in South East Asia we can do it all over again!

Thanks again for some of the pics guys!

Biseulsan azalea photos

Last Wednesday was labour day so we were off school. Some friends and I decided to hike up mt Biseulsan. It’s famous at this time of year for a plateau of Azaleas high up in the mountain.

The weather wasn’t the best and we were freezing by the time we got to the Azalea field. There was also a big ominous grey cloud in the sky so we decided to give the summit a miss, which means I’ll have to go back soon to complete the hike. Anyway here are some pictures:

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WORD A WEEK CHALLENGE – Orange

WORD A WEEK CHALLENGE - Orange

I tried to complete a photo a day challenge for every day in January but I’m nowhere near dedicated enough for that.

However I have a photo perfect for this week’s Word a Week Challenge – Orange.http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/a-word-a-week-challenge-orange-2/

The writer chooses a word from the dictionary each weeks and challenges readers to upload a photo so here is mine.

Orange shops are a regular site in Korea. They sell traditional Korean food such as gimbabs, bibimbab and jjigaes and are often open 24 hours to satisfy their hungry patrons. Not only is the food delicious, it’s also really cheap 🙂

3 hikes, 3 days, 1 city

I managed to fit three separate hikes in to last weekend. So for anyone in Daegu, interested in hiking in Korea, or if you just want to read about/look at pictures from those hikes here you go!

Day 1 – Friday Apsan night time hike

I’ve hiked and written about Apsan a few times before but only in the day. However, I’d been told about other people climbing up at night so some friends and I decided to go on an evening hike there last Friday. We met in the car park at about 6pm and set off knowing we had to hurry as sunset was at 7:15. If you walk up to the cable car building and carry on behind it you can take a nice hike up to the top and walk along the ridge between two peaks. We got to the top just in time to watch dusk cover the city. The view was even more breathtaking than usual and it was unusually peaceful as it was just us, compared to weekend days when there would be lots of brightly attired hikers trudging around. As it wasn’t totally dark yet we could still make out the many hills and mountains that surround the city as well as the hundreds of tower blocks that make up Daegu.ImageImageImageImage   Aware that night was drawing in we started walking across the ridge to the other main peak. The plan had been to catch the cable car down but that stopped at 5:30 so we realised we’d have to hike down in the dark. We’d bought Ash’s head torch to help guide the way but being the silly people we are forgot to check the batteries beforehand. As you can guess the headlamp barely worked but luckily Emily had a torch app on her phone. At the other end of the ridge there is a large white platform that is illuminated at night. From there we could observe the pretty lights below and hear the drum of the traffic and city life beneath us.Image It took us another half an hour or so to find our way down the mountain, after which we caught a bus and went for some yummy gamjatang before heading our separate ways for some well deserved sleep!

Day 2 Daegok/Sangin Sam pil san

On Saturday we met our friend Sam in his neighbourhood in the afternoon as he’d mentioned some nice trails nearby. Once equipped with water, we started by walking up through a local park on to a trail that skirted around a  pretty reservoir. Image The main part of the walk wasn’t too difficult as this mountain was smaller than Apsan.The path wound through the now lush green foliage, slowly leading us up once again above the city. ImageAlong the way we also saw a traditional Korean burial site which included burial mounds, mini stone pagodas and buddhas, its weird but I am quite fascinated by graveyards so I loved finding this. We continued onwards and upwards. I had stupidly decided to wear plimsolls so felt like I was hiking bare foot and really didn’t very safe as we scrambled to the top which was really steep and windy. At the peak there was little wooden platform and only one other couple again so we could take in the surroundings in peace. A very nice little local walk.Image

Day 3 hike near Paldal bridge northwest Daegu

Ash and I were a bit hungover on Sunday after going out the previous night for dinner and some drinks. We’d made plans to go for another long walk with Emily and Keir so hopped in to a taxi and sped across the city to meet them near paldal bridge. Along the way we were in fits of laughter watching Betty with her head out of the car window ears flying wildly behind her, she was in her element! ImageWe started off the trail walking through back streets following Keir (an avid geocacher who had found this trail before) and were soon walking through trees up a hill and on to a ridge from where we could see a small part of the city and a river. The trees are really green now and the view was pretty amazing actually, I don’t think I’ll ever grow bored of looking at mountains and beautiful scenery. ImageWe were tired from the previous night but despite a few hills the route we took was actually quite a nice gentle walk. Emily and Keir were literally our saviours, turning up with hot tea in a flask and snacks for us to nibble on along the way. The weather was glorious too and the sun was beating down all day. After a couple of hours we ended up on a helicopter pad and from there continued on down the hill to our final spot.Image We walked through vegetation to a small break out exercise area filled with old people lifting weights. After that Emily taught us about toad spawn (which incidentally is laid in a sack that looks like a worm) by picking it up with a stick! We ended up finally reaching a small water park. Once again Emily and Keir fed us yummy sausage and egg sandwiches (we are so unprepared but we will shout the food next time sorry!).  We also annoyingly got harassed by some really pushy and intrusive people from a local church who tried to tell us about Jesus and then started asking to taste my sandwich! I don’t think so!

Finally we sat and shared some Patpingsu, a Korean dessert consisting of milk, crushed ice, rice cake, red beans and various other ingredients dependent on where you buy it. Absolutely shattered we said our goodbyes for the weekend and headed home.

So yeah check me out with my three hikes in three days!

An update on Betty the beagle – The best dog ever

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Ok so we’ve now been fostering Betty for 7 weeks. We’ve had lots of interest from prospective adopters in that time so I don’t think she’ll be with us for much longer! We are going to be super gutted when she goes because we’re really close to her now, so as she is taking up most of my life I thought I’d write a quick update on her progress.

Since we’ve been looking after her she has gained 2.5kgs, has grown loads and is really starting to look more adult in her face. She now obediently sits and waits for you to say GO before eating her food or treats, is pretty much toilet trained (and tells you she needs it by standing at the door), sits at the curb most of the time when asked (for treats of course) and has generally become a local celebrity,with people in the area loving her. The dog owners we regularly see in Duryu park know her by name too, probably because of her amazing 360 jumping skills when trying to play with their dogs.

Because we’ve had a lot of interest I’ve started thinking about how much of a gap she’s going to leave behind her when she goes to her forever home. Sure, she gets hair over every single thing we own, is in to absolutely everything (mainly being obsessed with trying to grab an owl cushion I got for my birthday and my slippers), will take any opportunity to run around with our underwear in her mouth and thinks that every piece of food in the world has been reserved for her, but she is ADORABLE and come on who could be angry at this face.

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Lovely picture taken by my friend Justine.

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Here are just 5 things that are great about her. Sorry if I’m getting all obsessed and being one of those people who only talk about their pets/babies but I can’t help it!

  • She loves to love and give affection to us. She’s always up for a belly rub, being hugged and cuddling up whilst we watch TV.
  • She waits for one of us if we’re behind her walking down the stairs looking back and sitting down if we’ve not caught up yet.
  • She’s a really funny dog! Even when she’s naughty you can’t be mad at her as when being scolded she just rolls on to her back for you to stroke her!
  • She gets SOOOOO excited when we come home (we have to ignore her to reduce anxiety when we leave her next). She will follow you around until you give her some recognition and love.
  • Because she’s crated for hours each day we’ve started letting her sleep on the end of our bed and at 6am she crawls up and wedges herself between us to say hello which is super cute.
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She’s great and I’m so glad we’ve fostered her. She might not of had long left in the shelter and its made me realise how fostering really does save a dogs life. Who’d have thought the quiet, tired, doe eyed puppy we first met would turn in to the energetic, mischievious, funny, inquisitive dog we have now.

If you love dogs (or cats) and are considering fostering I would say 100% to go for it. It’s hard work and I’m not sure how I will feel when she leaves us or if I will be able to face fostering again this year but I will definitely do it again when I return to England (or live somewhere else).

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Betty in the post office bar at our friends party!

To anyone interested in fostering or adopting an animal in Korea check out this website which has lots of dogs and cats looking for homes: http://www.animalrescuekorea.org/IMG_3690 IMG_3691 IMG_3694

Spring is here! Cherry Blossom pictures

Finally the bitterly cold Korean winter has come to an end! Luckily it was mostly sunny when it wasnt snowing (which is better than UK winter), but it wasn’t half blooming cold! So I was as happy as everyone else in Korea when the first blossoms started appearing on the trees.

The cherry blossom season only lasts for two weeks in Korea. I didn’t realise this last year and so missed lots of opportunities to get out and enjoy it. This year though, I was ready and waiting for the blossoms to bloom, with IPhone in hand of course. Korean people love cherry blossom season too and there are festivals all over the country celebrating it. Unfortunately because we’re fostering Betty we couldn’t travel too far, so made do with Duryu Park which is really near to our house and is our regular walking route for Betty.

Here are some pictures I took:ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

An Indian Adventure 4 – Kochi, Nilgiri hill station and Goa

Kochi and Fort Cochin

We had a mosquito plagued night of restless sleep in Ernakulum, got up and had Biryani for breakfast. We took a short ferry journey to an island called Kochi. Kochi and Fort Cochin were under control from the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the British from the 1500s until 1947 when India was liberated. It therefore has a colonial and European feel to it, due to the mixture of these countries different style of architecture.  The fort was built to protect the rulers various commercial interest and also features Chinese fishing nets which are thought to date back to Chinese traders. We walked through the streets and stood by the nets watching mesmerised as men winched up nets of fish out of the sea.

We’d read about a restaurant on Kochi with a very good reputation called Dal Roti so went there for lunch. Its reputation was well deserved and it didn’t disappoint. The owner was very welcoming and the food was out of this world! If anyone visits Kochi they should go there.  After a pleasant afternoon’s wanderings we caught the ferry back. It is possible to stay on Kochi but lodgings we found in Ernakulum were much cheaper.

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That evening we were catching a train to Metupalaiyam, but first we had to go to Coimbatore to transfer. We had a two hour wait in the middle of the night but had researched and found that we could rent a pretty grubby sleeping room (for the cost of a hostel) in the train station. By now anyone reading will understand that I do not deal well without sleep so was willing to pay that price. We woke at four and caught the next leg of our journey.

When we arrived at Metupalaiyam we were going to catch the Nilgiri toy train, a miniature steam train which is a very popular way for tourists to travel to our next stop. The Nilgiri hill station town of Ooty. We queued for an hour feeling nervous. If we didn’t make this train (there were more people in the queue than seats available on the train) our journey from Ernakulum would be a waste of precious time because there was only one train a day! Luckily we managed to get a seat; unfortunately it was on the side of the train that had the poorer views.

It took the train 5 hours (with a couple of stops for refreshments and toilet breaks) to chug through the green hills. Along the way we saw hill after hill of tea plantations and hillside villages with houses positioned haphazardly up the slopes. The low of the journey was realising we were sat next to an unbelievably ignorant guy from London who kept shouting and being a general idiot. The highlight was when a group of men at the back of the train started singing and clapping and having a right old jolly!ImageImageImageImage

We were surprised when we got off the train at Ooty and felt a cool breeze! At one point I had to put a cardigan on. The climate in the hills differs greatly from other areas of South India. We were trying to find a specific guesthouse which was supposed to be cheap and scenic and were almost lost until a teenager on a bike offered his help. It’s bad to say this but up until this point we’d experienced so many people trying to make money off us for the simplest thing that we were a bit suspicious of his motives. This turned out to be total unjustified, as the pleasant teenager led us to the door chatting away and then cycled off without asking for anything. That taught us not to pre-judge people, even if that can be difficult sometimes. We found a man-made lake and relaxed there for a while, watching Indian families playing on peddle boats in the water. Ash still wasn’t feeling 100% and the guesthouse was on a quiet road away from the centre so we didn’t stay out too late that night. We were catching a bus early in the morning to start our journey to Goa.

We got to the bus station early the next morning. We’d been unable to buy tickets in advance so had to make sure we got there super early to avoid being stranded. Yep Indian transport can be a bit chaotic! Everything went smoothly and we sat at the back of the bus next to an open door surrounded by little children catching the bus to get to school. I really love travelling by train and bus; you get to see so much more. We were heading down to Kozhikode to get the train to Goa. Before getting there though, the bus weaved down tiny roads and took 15 terrifying but also exciting hairpin turns, sometimes with enormous drops on one side. My nerves were slightly on edge by the time we got off!

Going to Goa

A few hours later we caught the train to Madgoan in southern Goa. We’d done so much rushing around that we were looking forward to a few days unwinding before flying home. We arrived in the middle of the night and saw the most westerners we’d seen since Hampi at the station. After an hour of deliberating and a good five cups of ginger chai (nom) we walked a little away from the station (good advice if you’re not alone I think because the prices might be cheaper) and caught a rickshaw to the bus station. We waited for the first bus to Palolem, ate street snacks and people watched. It might sound scary waiting around in bus stations at 4 in the morning and I probably wouldn’t advise it if you’re alone and female, but there was lots of activity with people in the same situation as us and market traders setting up shop for the day.  The journey was only 40 minutes or so and the driver shouted when it was time for us to hop off.

 If taking the same route as us and catching the bus, please don’t be fooled by the bunch of rickshaws waiting by the bus stop like we did. We hopped in and out again in the space of five minutes! It’s definitely walkable. The accommodation on Palolem beach consists of beach shacks of varying levels of luxury. We looked for the cheapest shabbiest looking ones we could find and asked for a price. Ash’s infamous bargaining skills got us four nights at a very reasonable price. We spent the next four days on the beach with the cows, snoozing, swimming, souvenir buying, getting my hands henna’d, drinking beer and eating lots of food.  Basically it was just a really chilled end to a crazy holiday.

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Feeling a lot more rested but with a still poorly Ash in toe, I caught a 12 hour day train to Mumbai. I felt pretty sad that the trip was coming to an end. We were meant to have a layover on our flight in Istanbul for 12 hours, but I was concerned as Ash still wasn’t well.Image

Once at the airport we waited for a few hours before a customer services lady came over. She apologised profusely and told us our flight was overbooked. Would we consider staying in a 5 star hotel and receiving $500 in flight vouchers whilst they sorted us another flight? Hhhhmm let us think about that (for literally ten seconds!). We couldn’t really turn down an opportunity like this, especially with sick boy’s condition, so ended up at the Mumbai Hyatt Regency for over 24 hours. We had an enormous room with the comfiest bed ever and a bathroom with two showers, all you could eat buffets three times a day and a swimming pool! Ash had time to recover and we both had time to chill before flying back to reality.

I fell totally in love with India during that trip. Sure, there were times when being a westerner was a disadvantage and we were stressed when being hassled or ripped off, but we saw the funny side to all of these things! It’s an amazingly vibrant, stunning and really diverse country. It gave me crazy wanderlust and helped motivate me to get my arse in to gear for moving to Korea. I can’t wait to go travelling in 2014 and travel down from Nepal to North India and have another adventure, this time for longer.

An Indian Adventure Part 3 Kanyakumari and Kollam

Kanyakumari – The edge of India

We arrived in the early evening after  a 22 hour train journey and a few hours of standing at open train doors taking in the breath-taking scenery of lush paddie fields, streams, enormous lakes and dense forests. We needed to find somewhere to stay and although Kanyakumari is a really small seaside town, it’s really popular with pilgrims, so there are a fair few hotels. We found a cheap hotel, dropped off our stuff and went to find some food. The sleepy town was even more sleepy at night but we found somewhere to eat and then had an early night.

We woke up early the next morning so we could get down to the ocean so Ash could get some pictures. As we walked down towards the sea we saw lots of beautifully coloured houses and fishermen bringing their really bright and vibrant boats in. The view was unbelievable.  There was a lively fish market taking place in the small harbour too and in the ocean a short distance from the shore there was a giant statue of the hindu goddess Kanyakumari and a temple. Already, lots of pilgrims were taking the ferry to visit the shrine. Ash got some really good pictures here which do a better job of demonstrating the beauty of that morning than I can.

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We grabbed a tasty breakfast of thali with buttery roti bread and then headed to Baywatch, a water park which also boasted to being India’s first waxwork museum. We arrived, paid at the ticket booth and were led through a door into a small building and found ourselves in the museum. In three tiny rooms there were various waxworks which one could be forgiven for not recognizing. There were of course some famous Indian stars but also Charlie Chaplin and a scary looking Michael Jackson amongst others. We were led around by an old guy who would stop us in front of each waxwork and tell us their name, it was really entertaining.

Next we went in to the swimming park. Obviously as we were in India I had to go in to the pools totally dressed. The wave pool had a rope cordoning off male and female and it felt really strange not being allowed to stand near Ash! Some little girls came in on my side and were staring at me as they gradually paddled closer. All of a sudden they all started splashing loads of water at me haha. Little madams! We spent a couple more hours on the water slides and watching a group of boys dancing Bollywood style in some fountains, until I felt my alabaster skin could take no more of the intense midday sun.Image

We walked around the main centre, did some gift shopping and took some more pictures. At sunset lots of people, including colourfully dressed women went down to the shore and paddled in the water. A group of boys sat on rocks and got repeatedly pounded by waves whilst screaming and laughing and a woman walked through the crowd with her very beautiful little shaved headed girl sat on a ceremonial pony. They were all great sights to see in this great place. Kanyakumari is the place where the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal meet the Indian Octhree seas meet and was a really special place to visit. It felt quite off the beaten western traveller trail. ImageImageImageImage

We boarded a train the next day for a four hour trip north to Kollam in Kerala. I never tired of these train journeys as they gave us a glimpse of the fertile Keralan countryside, its culture and its people.

One night of luxury in Kollam

We arrived in to Kollam about midday. We’d spent most of our time up until then sleeping on trains (or platforms), or budget (but nice) accommodation. However, in Kollam we planned to rent a houseboat for one night and live the high life. After wandering around for ages with our big heavy backpacks we found the boat area and Ash bartered with some agents to get us a deal. With a deal struck we were led to our boat. It had a balcony, a lovely bedroom, and an open sided living room/ dining area. There was also a chef and a driver. Usually we wouldn’t do something like this as I don’t like the thought of servants but we felt this was different. These were all small local companies who made a living and who would have been out of pocket had we not booked a boat that day.Image

ImageWe sailed out into the peaceful Kerala backwaters and watched expert river fishermen using nets and swimming in the water, families going about their daily business on the river banks and lots of beautiful birds. As the sun went down that night we sat on our porch/dining room and listened to the sound of the backwaters whilst eating the most amazing dinner. We couldn’t stay up too late that night due to having to turn the lights off a ten and were so full of food we put our heads down early.

I woke next morning to a very poorly Ash. He had started feeling a little bit rough the night before but we both presumed it would pass. He had barely slept and I felt partly responsible for his condition. You are warned not to drink the water in India but we had totally forgotten that the street stall fruit juices were made with ice cubes which could be bad for us. Before we got on the boat we’d both ordered a fruit juice but in the end Ash drank both of them. I think this might have tipped him over the edge – sorry Ash!

I tried to tell the cook that he wouldn’t want breakfast but when we went to the dining room there was a gigantic meal laid out.  Ash, who is usually a human bin couldn’t touch it and although I stuffed myself silly I barely made a dent.Image

In the morning the backwaters really came alive. There were people bathing their cows, more fishermen and little children running alongside the river. As part of the boat trip we were going to be taken out on a tiny row boat by a local fisherman on a trip through the small canals to see more of what life is like there. We passed lots of tiny houses, someone climbed up a tree and sold us a freshly picked coconut each and our guide pulled a water lily up from the river as a gift to me.

When we got back they had prepared lunch. Although it was only for me (they realised Ash was sick and gave him tea) it was still too much. They dropped us back in Kollam and we caught a train to Ernakeuleum a little further up the coast and arrived exhausted in the early evening.

That night we planned the next leg of our journey. Because we weren’t doing any more sleeper trains we could book more easily with less advanced notice.

We had come to Ernakeulum for a specific reason, to visit Fort Cochin…