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The Seoul of Korea

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Seoul

overcast 18 °C
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After a busy few days in Beijing, we were headed on to our second city on the trip - Seoul, capital of South Korea.

Getting up early in order to make our morning flight, we arrived at Beijing Airport to find Air China had seated us in different sections of the plane. Annoying, but at least it would only be for an hour or so. We then found after boarding, that this had happened to numerous people on the flight and we were both surrounded by other people also separated from travelling companions. Ridiculous! Another tick against Air China.

Winter Olympic Legacy

Winter Olympic Legacy

Nevertheless we arrived at Incheon Airport in Seoul by mid-morning, finding it still filled with lots of Winter Olympic merchandise, and enjoyed the free WiFi with our first access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Google Maps in days. After struggling to get cash out from the local ATMs we eventually made it onto the train and headed into the city. Grabbing supermarket supplies we checked into our hotel early, dropped our bits and headed out to explore the first part of the city.

War Memorial of Korea

War Memorial of Korea

Our first sight in the city was the War Memorial of Korea, where military equipment and memorials sit outside the museum. After a wander around the complex, we headed on towards the Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam.

World Peace Gate

World Peace Gate

After a quick walk around the shrines, we headed to the World Peace Gate, at the front of the Olympic Park. Walking past this gate and the eternal flame, we headed to the flagpoles, where the flag of each country that participated in the 1988 Olympic flies. This is particularly interesting as many countries have since changed their flags or disappeared entirely since the end of the Cold War, which are being kept here as a historic record of the event itself, and thus it was possible to walk past flags of the Soviet Union, Zaire and South Yemen.

Flags from the 1988 Olympic Games

Flags from the 1988 Olympic Games

After a long day, the last place on our list was Dongdaemun, the best preserved of the original city gates into the city. Starting at the modern Cultural Park just to the south, we made the short walk north to the gate itself, where I took a short walk up past the city walls for a vantage point over the area. After a long afternoon we headed back to the city centre, completing our loop of the outer city, and grabbed food before bed.

Dongdaemun

Dongdaemun

Having enjoyed our first lay in in days, we eventually headed out for our full day touring the rest of the city, beginning with the City Hall area. With a train just about to leave I jumped on it, to find Chris had got stuck behind some people and had missed it. Luckily the next train was just a few minutes later, and we eventually reunited not long later.

Emergency Supplies

Emergency Supplies

Leaving the metro station, which like others in the city also serves as an evacuation shelter - with its own food and medial supplies in the corridors, we arrived just in time to see the changing of guards ceremony outside the Deoksugang.

Ceremony at Deoksugang

Ceremony at Deoksugang

We got to watch most of it take place and even had a photo opportunity with one of the guards at the end, before we entered the complex itself to explore.

At Deoksugang

At Deoksugang


Cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon

After taking a look at the City Hall square, walking north, we viewed the gentrified Cheonggyecheon stream, walking past the US embassy where there were a few protests, before arriving at the Gwanghwamun gate of the Gyeongbokgung royal palace.

Gwanghwamun Gate

Gwanghwamun Gate


Bukchon Hanok

Bukchon Hanok

After having a walk around the entrance to the complex we then headed westwards towards the Bukchon Hanok, a traditional Korean village located in the heart of the city. Spending a bit of time walking around the area, we headed to the Changdeokung palace, resting outside before continuing to the Changgyeonggung palace.

Changgyeonggung

Changgyeonggung

We then started heading back, through some side streets in the jewellery area, making our way down to the Jongmyo shrine, before heading to the Insadong shopping street. After having bought our souvenirs, we then headed via the Jogyesa shrine back to our hotel having now toured the city.

Inside the Jogyesa Shrine

Inside the Jogyesa Shrine

The following day was our last in South Korea, and was planned to be spent the DMZ. However a couple of days before we had received an email to inform us that due to the upcoming conference between the leaders of both North and South, in order to prepare, trips to the Joint Security Area were cancelled for the next month or so. A real pity we wouldn't get to see the blue UN huts, but having managed to rebook our tour, we still managed to head to the border zone itself and see some of the other sights.

Heading back to the City Hall area, we checked in for our excursion and boarded the coach. Not long later we headed north, arriving at the first checkpoint around an hour later, and having our passports checked.

Dora Observatory

Dora Observatory

We began at the Dora Observatory, for views from a small hill over the border area. From here we could see not only the border, but the first parts of North Korea on the Kaesong area on the other side - including the North Korean Peace Village, with the huge flag pole. We could also hear the propaganda broadcasts from each side - although when asked, our tour guide stated that due to different dialects she couldn't understand what the North was broadcasting anyway!

Views of North Korea

Views of North Korea

After time to take in the views, we then headed towards the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This tunnel is one of the four that have been found, dug by the North Koreans into the south. Due to its location in this area it is now a major tourist site, being included as part of tours to the DMZ. Unfortunately today the monorail had broken and thus we had to walk down the 350 metres to the bottom before walking the length of the tunnel up to the border line, where it had been sealed with concrete barricades. With Koreans generally being smaller than westerners it was a struggle for myself to walk along the tunnel, and many of the taller visitors hit their helmets on the top of the tunnel.

At the visitor centre

At the visitor centre

After a strenuous climb back to the top, we headed across the road to the visitor centre, to watch a video on the history of the tunnel, as well as see models of the DMZ.

Inside Dorasan Station

Inside Dorasan Station

We then boarded the bus again and made our way to the Dorasan Station, a modern station complex built during the last period of cooperation between both sides in the last 00s. The station in the last on the railway line in the south and if peace is achieved it is hoped that the line will be reconnected to the north. However being located within Civilian Control Area, the only visitors are tourists. The station has a gift shop and many plaques, and we also went onto the platform to see the special DMZ train as well as signs indicating the distance to North Korea.

On the platform

On the platform

After visiting most of the sights, we headed to a restaurant outside the immediate border area in Imjingak for Bulgogi, and then taking a look at the immediate area, include the Bridge of Freedom. This whole experience felt very surreal, as the risk of conflict in this area is so high, and yet it was so touristy, with an amusement park and souvenir shops, this could be a theme park!

Overlooking the Bridge of Freedom

Overlooking the Bridge of Freedom

Heading back to the city, we chilled for the rest of our time before our early morning rise and finally heading to Japan the following morning.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 08:59 Archived in South Korea Tagged temple train memorial city tunnel border shrine war olympic eastasia Comments (0)

Sun, Sea and Salou

Catalonia - Salou & Tarragona

sunny 23 °C
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After a summer of weekend city breaks, and several years of adventures this holiday was going to be different. A week by the beach in Spain! The plan was to visit Salou, in Catalonia in northern Spain, where there was plenty of entertainment and a great hotel that I had stayed in over a decade ago.

After taking an early flight out of Luton on Saturday morning, we flew in to Barcelona Airport arriving around lunchtime. Although Reus was much nearer, there were no flights from Luton and this also meant we could have a weekend in the Catalan capital on our return. Annoyingly however, to get from the airport to the hotel, a series of unfortunate delays and irregular journeys meant the journey took four hours.

When I had booked the holiday, staying in this hotel was a no brainer, however when I came to book it, it had been removed from booking.com. Hurriedly checking the hotel's own website I found there was nothing wrong, and that it was in fact cheaper booking direct. A blessing in disguise!

In fact, when I was about to confirm the booking, it asked me if I was a member of the hotel's club. I wasn't but I was told that if I became one, I could access the 10% discount! Checking that there was no cost associated with this, just a simple registration and the receiving of newsletters, I joined and then entered my membership number into the system. On the next page it re-totalled and had given me a 15% discount! Even better, so I booked then and there before the price changed!

When we arrived at the hotel they asked me if I was a member of their club. I replied yes, and she smiled and told me that as I was, we would find something special in the room. Having been here three times previously I knew the rough layout of the hotel, and when we went towards the room I found it was already an upgrade, as it was pool side rather than road side, despite not paying £40 extra for the privilege. When we got into the room, there were two water bottles, what a nice bonus!

Pool view from the balcony

Pool view from the balcony

Next thing, a knock at the door, the maid was there with a gift in hand. I looked blankly and she double checked we were the right room. "Yes, it's for you" she confirmed. I took the gift and went back inside the room to examine. A small box of chocolates and a voucher for a free cocktail at the bar each! Not bad when I'd only signed up for a 10% discount in the first place!

Our special gift

Our special gift

By now it was 5pm, with dinner in just an hour and a half. We had wanted to make use of some of the facilities, but as we had arrived much later we didn't have time. So instead, we popped out to the supermarket to stock up on wine and snacks. After a short rest and a look around the hotel facilities, it was then dinner time. We had been excited about the big buffet dinners and they did not disappoint. A massive selection of food on offer, from chips and pastas to rice and noodles. Soups, salads, different types of meat, pizzas, breads and to finish off - cakes, fruits, ice cream, sweets, and tonight, a chocolate fountain.

Some of the desserts on offer

Some of the desserts on offer

Taking little bits of everything on offer we filled up until we ate too much. Popping back to the room we enjoyed a quick drink of wine before heading out for an evening walk.

When we arrived at Port Aventura train station, the closest one to the hotel, we found there was no machine to buy our ticket on return. Therefore we decided to walk to Salou station, only five minutes further walk to check if we could buy a ticket there.

After walking down a small back street we eventually got to the station. With a ticket machine, we decided to buy our ticket for our return to Barcelona on Friday now, as with just a few trains per day we didn't want to miss the correct train or have to walk further than necessary with all our bags.

Water fountain show

Water fountain show

After sorting this out, we then made our way on a short walk to the promenade, where as it was Saturday night, there were numerous water fountain light shows taking place by the beach. After watching these we had a stroll before making our way back to the hotel.

The following morning we went down for breakfast to find yet another big buffet of food. With bacon, eggs, sausages, breads, omelettes, pancakes, fruits and yoghurt and even champagne, there was plenty on offer. After filling up for the day we went back to the room to change into our swimwear for our first day of relaxation. We started by going to the roof terrace for a bit of sun lounging as well as sitting in the Jacuzzi with views of the nearby area, including the rides of the PortAventura theme park where we would visit tomorrow.

Theme park view from the jacuzzi

Theme park view from the jacuzzi

After sitting in the slightly chilly water for a while, we dried off and headed downstairs to lay by the pool. After sunbathing for a while we then attempted to swim in the outside pool, which again was a little too cold to be enjoyed.

After heading back to the room we had a few snacks for lunch before heading back out and heading towards the beach for some sunbathing and swimming. The sea was warmer than the outdoor pools, but today it was a little bit rough so after a fair amount of bobbing, we dried off and went back to the hotel via some of the shops.

With a few hours before dinner we decided to spend a little bit of time in the indoor pool, which was a lot lot warmer. Spending a bit of time swimming, we then had a rest in the warm Jacuzzi before enjoying the sauna and steam room.

After spending most of the day in the water, we then went back for a shower in time for dinner. Again, a full buffet, this time with fajitas instead of burgers at the live cooking.

Cocktails and flamenco

Cocktails and flamenco

Tonight the hotel entertainment was a Celtic-Flamenco fusion, and so we decided tonight would be the night we would enjoy our free cocktails, whilst sitting by the pool watching the show. Although it involved far more Celtic than it did Flamenco, it was still an enjoyable piece of culture.

After what felt like a busy day of relaxation, the following day we got up nice and early to make it to the theme park in time for opening, hoping to avoid the queues. Having bought the tickets in advance, we exchanged them for the real tickets before entering the park and going on the first ride - Furius Baco, a launched roller coaster. Although I enjoy thrill rides, Chris wasn't so keen, but nevertheless we both went on this first ride which ultimately neither of us enjoyed as much as we thought.

Shambhala's Himalayan theme

Shambhala's Himalayan theme

We then hurriedly made our way to the back of the park, in the China section to ride the two big roller coasters overlooking the entire area. Chris didn't fancy them, and so I made my way into the queue for the first one - Shambhala, expecting to be gone ages. But with a single rider system in place, I pretty much jumped the queue and in no time was already riding the coaster. Waving down to Chris and my bag, next thing I was enjoying views of the whole coastline at over 80mph. Coming back down to the ground, we reunited, as I then joined the queue for the next ride, Dragon Khan, which although busier was still relatively quick to queue for.

We then began our walk around the theme park, doing a loop and stopping at interesting rides en route - including a mine train and a hall of mirrors. We then got to a spinner ride, which seemed much more gentile than expected, and after riding another spinner ride not long after we needed a bit more time to recover. Despite the theme park now having been open for several hours it was still relatively quiet with many shops not (yet) open.

Tutuki Splash

Tutuki Splash

It was now time for the water rides, enjoying the log flume, rapids and log boat ride getting reasonably wet, but refreshing as the sun had now come out. Finishing the circuit, we walked towards the back of the park again, heading for Angkor, a water shoot boat ride, where neighbouring boats battle to soak each other with guns.

Angkor

Angkor

By now we had done a big loop of the park and after seeing the queue for Shambhala had increased substantially we decided to end our day at the theme park here, and head back to the hotel - we were coming back the following day anyway. After getting back we rested before going up to the roof top Jacuzzi again, now finding that over the course of the day the water had heated right up making it far more enjoyable to sit it.

After having a rest we then went to dinner. Having our fill once again, we quickly made our way down to the beach before it got too dark to have an evening stroll. After walking 14 miles today our feet were aching, and so we eventually made our way back to the hotel to sleep.

Jaume I statue on the promenade

Jaume I statue on the promenade

The following day we headed back to the theme park. Getting up a bit later we still arrived at the theme park less than an hour after opening, but with the weather being much nicer today we found it was substantially busier. Again we headed for the back of the park, and I rode Shambhala again, before we looped the park once more going on rides we found enjoyable, as well as watching a few of the shows and finishing off by taking the train around the park.

Staying much later in the park today we made it back with less free time before dinner. After a very busy few days, we had a much more relaxing evening, just enjoying dinner and then resting at the hotel.

On the Wednesday we decided to head over to Tarragona, the larger town up the coast. Heading up on the train from Salou station, we began by walking from the station in Tarragona along the coast and uphill towards the Roman amphitheatre. With nice views from the road itself we decided not to pay to go inside and instead carried on walking towards the main street, before exploring some of the old Roman town. We then headed down to the main roundabout in the town centre, and after missing the initial bus we wanted, made the following one not long after.

Roman Amphitheatre

Roman Amphitheatre

We took this bus just outside of the town to the Ferreres Aqueduct, a huge Roman Aqueduct built around 2000 years ago used to supply water to the Roman town of Tarraco. After walking along the top of the aqueduct we then made our way towards the next bus stop heading south. Although there was a bus stop right outside the complex, this was only on one side of the road. In order to take the bus back, we had to walk a mile to the next housing area for the next bus stop heading south.

Les Ferreres Aqueduct

Les Ferreres Aqueduct

Once we had taken the bus back into the town, we swapped to a long distance bus at the main coach station, and headed back to Salou. Stopping to get some more refreshments at the supermarket, we headed back to the hotel, before we changed and headed back to the beach for some swimming. Today the sea was much calmer, and after an hour or so we headed back to the hotel to chill before dinner.

20170921_120739.jpg

After another evening of chilling, the following day, Thursday, was our last full day at the hotel. Like Sunday this would be spent relaxing around in the hotel or by the beach. With the water outside getting vastly warmer in the afternoon, we spent the morning having a wander around the promenade and getting souvenirs. After walking along the beach, we then headed back to the hotel and headed to the outside pool before swapping to the indoor pool. After a little while we then headed towards the roof top Jacuzzi once more, where we met a Welsh lady who told us all about her life in the Valleys.

By the pool

By the pool

I then headed back down to the indoor pool, to make use of the sauna once more, before we changed for our last dinner at the hotel. Our last evening by the sea was spent walking along the promenade and watching one of the water fountains lit up.

Fountain

Fountain

After almost a week, the first part of our holiday was almost over. On Friday morning we made the most of our last breakfast, lashing our pancakes with chocolate sauce and having a glass of champagne, before going back to the room to repack our suitcase and backpacks.

Up until now it had felt quite sad, however after checking out of the hotel and walking towards the train station, it now felt quite exciting again. We were about to go on a weekend's holiday to Barcelona!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 09:59 Archived in Spain Tagged sea food beach hotel train catalonia swimming pool roman ancient flamenco aqueduct rollercoaster themepark Comments (0)

Sea Gods and Fairy Poo

all seasons in one day 11 °C
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Just a few weeks after Amsterdam, I was yet again on another holiday. Not to waste a Bank Holiday weekend, it was my fifth holiday in six weeks and I was headed for the Isle of Man.

Getting to the island was not the easiest, but as it was by train and boat I was able to book at short notice and still get a cheap rate. Having researched and found that I could see everything I wanted in just 3 days, I booked and just a few weeks later was headed for the island. On Saturday morning I took the train up from Milton Keynes to Liverpool, where after two hours, I walked through the centre of the city via the Liver Building to get to the ferry port, The ferry trip to the island coincided with the birth of the new British Princess, which gave us something interesting to watch on the TV screens during this three hour long journey.

Royal Liver Building

Royal Liver Building

Eventually arriving on the island, in the very heart of the British Isles, despite neither being in the United Kingdom nor the European Union, it felt very much like home. No immigration, same signage, and unfortunately the same weather!

Beachfront Hotel

Beachfront Hotel

Unlike the last few weeks, the weather had changed and was now pretty bad, with it raining pretty much all weekend. I therefore had to plan my days according to the weather in order to make the most of it, and so after checking in at my hotel on the sea front, the first place I headed to was the Manx Museum, just a five minute walk around the corner.

Manx Cat

Manx Cat

The museum was free entry, and had a wealth of history of the island that served as a brilliant introduction. It included a video that spoke about the sights on the island, a section on the history of the Tynwald - the world's oldest continuous parliament, another area talking about the use of the island as an internment camp in the Second World War, an area about the TT races, and another featuring stuffed 'native' animals to the island - including the tailless Manx Cat and bizarrely a wallaby.

Home of the Bee Gees

Home of the Bee Gees

Heading back to my hotel, past the street where the Bee Gees grew up, I spent the rest of the evening drying off my clothes before the next day's activities. Despite not being a particularly long day, I had woken up before Kate Middleton had even gone to hospital, and yet I was still awake after she had popped the Princess out, shown her to the world and gone home! I was starting to feel pretty unproductive!

Full Manx Breakfast

Full Manx Breakfast

Waking up the following day and having a filling 'Full Manx Breakfast' I headed off to Peel, on the other side of the island where there is a pretty castle, and a beach. Hanging about for just half an hour or so, I got back on the bus to Douglas, which went past Tynwald Hill, where the outside parliament is held once a year, along part of the TT race route.

Peel

Peel

Arriving back in the capital I boarded the bus to Laxey, where the weather had finally brightened up.

Laxey Wheel

Laxey Wheel

Laxey is the location of the Lady Isabella Wheel, one of the true iconic sights of the island, which for a small fee can be visited up close, as well as climbed on. Towards the back of the wheel is the old mining areas, and forests where fairies are said to live.

Laxey Wheel

Laxey Wheel


Mountain Railway

Mountain Railway

Heading back into Laxey village, I then boarded the Snaefell Mountain Railway, which took me to the top of the tallest mountain on the island, which on a clear day gives views of the four British nations, as well as the sea, where the sea god Manannan is said to live.

View from Snaefell towards Ireland

View from Snaefell towards Ireland

However this wasn't such a great day, and between the clouds some views could be seen, before even my hand disappeared before my eyes!

Douglas

Douglas

Heading back down and taking the railway back along the coast to Douglas I ended my final full day with just the capital left to see. Waking up to sunshine at last, after checking out of my hotel, I took a stroll up the promenade, before walking around past the Tynwald building and to the hill to the south of the town where there are some magnificent views over the capital and the Manx cliffs.

Manx Coast

Manx Coast


Douglas Bay

Douglas Bay

Before boarding my ferry home, I decided to buy a paper, but found some were not in stock, because the printing was late and therefore missed the boat - Island Issues!

Boarding my ferry back to Liverpool, I took a look around the gift shop, where there was a small selection of souvenirs for sale, including Fairy Poo - chocolate raisins. Along with printing their own money, and the fact the island is neither in the UK nor the EU despite being in the very centre of it all, I had finally realised just how bizarre this place was!

Just as the ferry out had coincided with the birth of the new British Princess, the return came at the announcement of her name. After another three hours of rolling news about this, I eventually arrived back in Liverpool, where I took a little detour to the Albert Docks, before making my way back to the station to complete the rest of my journey home.

Albert Docks

Albert Docks

The trip, albeit short was pretty busy and I saw a lot. The island is bizarre - sea gods, tailless cats, fairy poo, three legs, printing their own money, mobile roaming - but this all adds to its character and identity. Despite the weather not being great, I would highly recommend a visit to the island.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Isle of Man Tagged mountain train city island liverpool Comments (0)

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