Ever since high school I’ve had an affection for turtles. So when I heard that there was a replica of a turtle ship in Yeosu, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what a turtle ship was, I wanted to see it. What I’ve since learned is that turtle ships, also known as Geobukseon (거북선), were a large type of warship used by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon Dynasty from the early 15th century up until the 19th century.
Between 2012 and 2013 I spent a total of about 7 weeks in South Korea. I was introduced to many things like sweet potato lattes, cute cosmetics shops, and K-pop. The latter remains a guilty pleasure and now, thanks to Netflix, I have a new guilty pleasure… the Korean drama.
This year felt like it was full of travel but when I got down to details I hadn’t visited a single new country. All the same I had lots of great new experiences. Just proves that it’s not all about ticking off countries on a list. This year seemed to be about basking in nature and also facing some fears.
Noraebang was one of those things that scared me about visiting South Korea. More so than any threats coming out of North Korea. Noraebang isn’t some adventure ride, scary looking food or any other traditional scary activity. It’s similar to karaoke boxes in Japan – you rent a private room, usually by the hour, and sing along with your friends to backing tracks. Sounds pretty tame right? For me it was intimidating because, you see, I don’t sing.
Every time I told Pierre that I wanted to visit a cat cafe when I was in South Korea he would tease me. I freely admit that I’m an unabashed cat lover. I have a big fluffy ginger cat at home that I miss every time I travel. We didn’t have much time in Seoul so it looked like I was going to miss my chance to visit a cafe again. Since Gunsan is a small city it was unlikely they’d have one. But lo and behold… what did a Google search turn up? A cat cafe just recently opened up in our fair city. There was much rejoicing.
I’ve been here in South Korea for a month now. Life is different but culture shock hasn’t been bad. It did, however, take me over a week to realize that there are no stop signs here at all. There are some other things I’ve noticed sooner, especially those that are so common you see them everywhere you go. Just like Canada has more Tim Horton’s than you can shake a stick at, South Korea has its own common sights.
For a fast, light meal in South Korea, gimbap (김밥) is one of my favourites. The word “gimbap” literally means “seaweed rice” – gim (김) being the dried pressed seaweed and bap (밥) being the word for rice. At first glance you might call it sushi but they’re very different aside from containing rice, being rolled in seaweed and sliced. Gimbap rice is usually seasoned with a little sesame oil rather than vinegar. Filler ingredients include veggies like cucumber, carrot, spinach and pickled radish. Imitation crab, tuna, ham, eggs or beef are popular protein options. The best things about gimbap other than being tasty is that there are a ton of varieties, it’s healthy and won’t break the bank. A basic roll from a street vendor will probably only set you back ￦1200-￦1500 ($1.07-$1.34) whereas tuna (chamchi) may cost ￦2500/roll ($2.24).
Gyeongbokgung (also known as Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace) is one of Seoul, South Korea’s five grand palaces. The history of this palace sounds a bit like Monty Python’s Swamp Castle. It was first built in 1395 but burned down and laid abandoned for almost three hundred years. It was rebuilt in 1867 and then burned down again in the early 20th century by the Empire of Japan. About 40% of the original buildings have been rebuilt again. Let’s hope fire stays away this time. The paint job alone must take forever to do.
It’s every traveler’s worst nightmare to groggily open one eye and look at the clock and see 4:36am staring back at you in big green numbers when you have a seat on a 5:00am flight. So…I missed my flight. First time that’s ever happened. I shot out of bed, yelling “oh God, oh God, oh God” as I ran up the stairs and went straight for my phone and computer. Even though the plane was already boarded my brain was telling me there was no time to lose in re-booking. It was hard to talk to the Expedia agent though with my stomach up in my throat. Keep calm and carry on, my ass.
Happy Valentine’s Day! And do I have a post for you…but first…you may want to hold off on reading this post until you’re somewhere not so public lest you shock your co-worker or that little old lady on the bus. Love Land on Jeju Island is South Korea’s first sexual theme park featuring over 140 sculptures that take a lighthearted look at sex. Come with a sense of humour and you won’t be disappointed.
I must admit that I hadn’t done my research before I found myself at a black pork restaurant in the Jungmun Resort area of Jeju, South Korea. I didn’t really know what to expect. Was the pork charred? Was it coated in dark spices? It’s actually meat from a breed of black skinned pigs native to Jeju. Don’t let their colourful past turn you off, black pork is delicious!
“We can only check your bag through to Istanbul,” the check-in agent in Dubrovnik told me. “But my final destination is Seoul,” I replied. “I can only check it to Istanbul,” she repeated. This is not going to end well. That conversation rang in my head as I stood forlornly at the luggage carousel at the airport in Incheon, South Korea watching everyone else on my flight flit off with their bags. Lost luggage. Foreign country. Just what I needed.
2012 was another year full of travel. I visited five new countries and even circumnavigated the globe like a boss. I pushed my limits and had some incredible experiences. I worked on learning some new languages and tried lots of great new foods. I can’t wait to see what 2013 will have in store for me.
Korean food surprised me in a few ways. I didn’t expect it to be so flavourful, so varied, so healthy, so communal or so spicy. I also wasn’t prepared for how many plates would end up covering the table by meal’s end or how small the bill would be. I even liked the kimchi…eventually.
Korean street food can be a great way to have a quick, cheap meal. But it can also be quite an adventure. There are delicious, recognizable food like gimbap, dumplings and fried potatoes. And then you have this mystery I snapped on the streets of Busan… it may be tasty but I have no idea what it is. I’m willing to bet that it’s seafood but can anyone accurately identify it for me?
Love locks are not an uncommon sight across the world these days. Couples attach padlocks to fences, bridges or other similar public structures to symbolize their everlasting love. The love locks in this photo were attached to giant metal hearts near the base of Busan Tower.
Seonim Bridge is an arch bridge over the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall on Jeju Island, South Korea. This was our third and final waterfall of the day and what a way to end it, standing 250 feet over the river on this gorgeous bridge, looking out at the ocean in the distance. What made this bridge really stand out, other than the height were the 14 nymphs (7 each side), each playing a musical instrument. The nymphs symbolize the Korean legend of the descent of seven beautiful nymphs from heaven at night.
Love motels often get a bad rap but don’t dismiss them just because they can be rented by the hour. If you find the right one, for less than a tourist hotel you’ll get a room that’s head and shoulders above. Think larger beds, jacuzzi tubs, huge tvs, free minibar and in room PCs for starters.