Venice for the weekend

One rule of international living is you don’t waste a 4-day weekend, so last Children’s Day we rounded up some friends and flew to that great jewel of the Northern Adriatic, Venice, Italy. AirBnB hooked us up with another charming apartment, the weather stayed sunny and warm, and the tide was kind to us. Rather than write a bunch, we though we’d let the pictures speak for themselves: (click on them to enlarge)

Venician Window Garden

Venetian Window Gardening

Venician Garden

Venetian Balcony Garden

Howdy

A quick howdy from a lovely plaza

The Grand Canal

View from the Rialto Bridge of the Grand Canal

Tiramisu

That Italian staple, tiramisu

 

Mike looking at boats

Mike pondering life and stuff

Even the laundry is pretty here

Even the laundry is pretty here.

Sweets and Susan

Susan and Akasha eye the sweets

Mary

Mary – detail from a mosaic in St. Mark’s Basilica

Friends on the terrace

Friends on the terrace

Singing boat ride

A gondola-ride serenader

Lions of Venice

Lions of Venice on a bridge keystone

Sarah

Sarah reviewing her photos

Jeff and Mavis

Jeff and Mavis and their chauffeur

Patio garden

Patio garden

Hyacinths

Hyacinths were blooming all over the city

pigments

an entire spectrum of pigments for sale

Candied Clementine

Candied Clementine in dark chocolate.

Produce delivery

Everything comes on a boat in Venice – including the produce

Wedding photos

Wedding photo

Gondola, at rest

Gondola, at rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was more beautiful than we could have expected – a great weekend of wonderful food and great friends. Thanks Mavis, Jeff, Susan and Sarah!

Up next: The giant heads of Nemrut. (duh-duh DAAAAH!)

A day trip to Düzce

Last Sunday we took a day trip to Duzce, in the Black Sea region for a quick hike. Unfortunately, Remi had to stay with friends back home, but he had a good time investigating everything at their house.

The trip is organized by Nadide, who takes groups out exploring the region every Sunday. It was a lovely area noted for waterfalls and being on a very busy bird migration route.  The rains made the waterfalls extra special, so we were kind of lucky.  We were surprised to run into my co-worker on the bus out there. Kristen took better pictures than we did and was great company.

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It was drizzly, rainy, and foggy all day long, but that just made the views magical. We went for the waterfalls and they were stupendous. Take a look.

Devils run in Georgia

We were feeling low on pork and good beer, and had a four-day weekend to burn, so we grabbed a group of friends – fellow teachers, mostly – and went to Tbilisi, Georgia.  Sights were seen, food was eaten, history was learned, and very good beer was drunk.  Here are the recaps:

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, lies in a valley that stretches along a beautiful high-bluffed river. During most of the 20th Century, Georgia and the entire Caucuses region was in the Soviet Union, so there are lots of reminders of that era. Like many old cities, there’s a fortress on a hill. We took the funicular – which we’ve taken to saying instead of gondola lift – up to the top of one of the hills.  Here, we saw the spirit of Mother Georgia, a grand socialist style statue with a great view of the city. There was also an old church, remains of the old fortress, and ice cream vendors. One of the most comforting things about traveling the world is there are ice cream vendors are everywhere. It’s hard to feel like a stranger in town if you’re eating an ice cream cone.

loved these guys at the flea market

loved these guys at the flea market

We walked down the hill and into one of the main parks, where we had a great time, especially at the flea market.  It was as if every person who’d ever been forced to buy and use Soviet paraphernalia had dragged it from their attic down to the sidewalk to sell it off and be rid of it forever. There was so much to see, we went back twice.Some of the items – like the Smyrna, Georgia yearbook- were hokey and not worth purchasing, but there were so many interesting items I would have loved to have brought home. Mike wanted to buy hand-painted portraits of Stalin and Lenin for his office, but exercised strong self-control. There were also old record players, sewing machines, coins, knives, hats, uniforms, and busted guitars. In the end we settled for a map of USSR industrial regions, antique postcards, and jewelry.

Georgia’s history is deep and dynamic and the more we saw the more we all commented that we know so little of our world.

Mavis in her element at the flea market

Mavis in her element at the flea market

We spent a lot of time wandering amongst the old churches. Georgia’s religious history is (yup) deep and dynamic; they were one of the first countries to convert to Christianity, and every few blocks you’ll find an old orthodox church. Their architecture is distinctive – lots of piled up wings, roofs jutting out everywhere, generally narrowing to where a tall cylinder ends in a cone-shaped dome.

Since the fall of communism in the 90’s, religion has made a remarkable comeback in Georgia. We saw Zoroastrian churches, which I hadn’t heard of since my classes with Barbara, remnants of the cult of Mithras, indicators of mosques and old arabic script, synagogues old and new, and lots and lots of churches. Icons were for sale everywhere.

The food was fabulous. There were many signs of Turkey’s influence in Georgian cuisine including pork shwarma, wood fire kebabs, and restaurants with evil eyes. We saw cevizli sucuk everywhere.  It is made from grape molases and nuts.  While it is funky looking, it is not my favorite…

Cevizli Sucuk

Cevizli Sucuk

We hired  a driver for an afternoon, and he took us out to Jvari monastery, then down into the old village of Mtskheta (No I can’t pronounce it either.) This was a trip made more interesting by a group of, we think, teenagers on a graduation field trip. The boys all wore black pants and white shirts signed in sharpie by classmates, and the girls all wore black dresses and white aprons. It was quaint things to these energetic kids running around the yard where in the 4th century Christianity took its foothold in Georgia.

We also went to the Gabriadze marionette theater to see a show called Ramona. It was a tragic love story about two train engines who fall in love but are separated by fate. It was performed in both Georgian and Russian, with English supertitles, so it was pretty easy to follow along.  This marionette theater is one of the treasures of Tbilisi.

We should give a shout-out to our traveling partners as well – they were generous and awesome, and it took a great load off the what-should-we-do-next doldrums that can plague traveling in pairs. Someone always has an idea! We even worked out a no-work-talk rule whose penalty was a bottle of wine for the table. Thanks to this simple rule, our conversations were remarkably happy and positive! Don’t worry, we still found reasons to buy the wine, though. We couldn’t just let it sit on the shelf gathering dust, could we?

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Palaces and Baseball: a weekend in Seoul

Well, we spent another weekend away, this time up in Seoul. We left the dog at our local vet’s, a very sweet man with a very nice shop, and headed north Friday night with the hopes of eating some western food and catching a couple of baseball games. We weren’t sure we’d be able to since Akasha had attempted to buy tickets on-line and discovered they were sold out. But, trusting to fate, we went on up anyway.

Deoksangong palace grounds

Our first night we stayed in a nice little motel near the train station, a sweet little find that only cost us around 30,000 won (25 USD). Rested up, we set out in the morning to find some lunch and visit temples. We walked through the Nangdaemun market and into the Deoksungong Palace, one of the five main palaces of old Seoul. This is a nicely wooded site with the typical low, one-story palaces with elaborately painted pagoda roofs.

Embassy street.

Also on the palace grounds is the National Museum of Contemproary Art, which was showing paintings of Lee In-sung, who was an important artist of the 1930’s. He was important for helping Korean artists transition from the old traditional forms of painting to the modern, western style, though under circumstances – the Japanese colonial period – that were no doubt very difficult, if not tragic.

Outside the palace grounds, we took a unique walking tour through the Jeong-dong area, a nice old neighborhood that was one of the first places opened up to the west in the late 1800’s. Here the first missionaries built churches, and the Russians and other foreign countries opened their first legations to what had been known as the Hermit kingdom. It’s still home to a few foreign embassies, and it’s a beautiful, hilly, almost meditative walk.

Mokdong Stadium

Then, we went to the ballpark! We’ve been trying to visit all 7 stadiums in Korea.  As of this trip we have 4/7!  Mokdong stadium is the smaller of the two stadiums in Seoul, where three teams host ball games. Mokdong is the home to the Nexen Heroes, and seats only around 18,000 people. Despite there being no tickets available on-line, we were able to get a couple of nice seats at the box office for 16,000w ($13)! We settled into the first base side only to discover that we’d picked the cheering section of the Hanwha Eagles, the visiting team. We decided to cheer for them anyway, and were rewarded with a win when, in the late innings, a pinch hitter stepped to the plate and drove a liner over the right field wall for a go-ahead home run. The crowd, unusually heavy with fans for the visiting team, went crazy.

Jamsil Stadium

The next night our friend Alice took us to a delicious Thai restaurant that made us homesick for Sen Yai Sen Lek and Joe. We went out to Jamsil stadium, which is the home stadium of Seoul’s other two teams, the LG Twins and the Doosan Bears. It is nearly twice the size of Mokdong at 30,000 seats, and is quite a bit louder. Tonight was the Bears turn to be home team, and the opponent was the club from Busan, the Lotte Giants. Despite Busan being on the other end of Korea, once again the visitors had a large, rowdy contingent on hand. For much of the first five innings, while Lotte belted out four early runs and Doosan remained hitless, the visitor’s crowd was in a frenzy while the home crowd seemed to have given up all hope. The final score was 7-1 Lotte. Once again, we’d brought in lousy luck for the home squad.

N Seoul Tower

That night we went to the Seoul Tower, the highest structure in the city. There’s a cable-car that takes you up to the base, but the line was long and we needed a hike, so up the stairs we went. It’s quite romantic, with a great view of the city spreading out below. There’s a tradition that couples in love bring a padlock and lock it to the fence, so over the years quite a few thousand padlock have built up. It’s kind of romantic, but also kind of heavy metal-looking, but mostly it’s a sweet tradition.

Mmm.. Pale Ale

From there, tired though we were, there was one more destination: Craftworks Tap House in Itaweon. This bar is one of the few brew-pubs in Korea, and one of the only places to find a good Pale Ale, which is one of my (Mike’s) favorite beers. So, we settled in, found a nice spot at the bar, and had a drink. Akasha ordered a Weiss beer, and we chatted with the bartender and waitress, in English. It felt for a while like we were home. They also poured some beer into growlers for us, and we carried them home to enjoy in Mokpo.

Well, that’s a brief summary of our trip up north. We’re back now and enjoying the more bucolic pleasures of Mokpo, but we’re looking forward to August, when we get to hop the Pacific and hang out in Minnesota for a few days. See you soon!

Day trip: Seawater Spa

Last weekend, we hooked up with Pedro Kim of Lonely Korea for a trip up the western coast that involved a buddhist temple, a drive along the sea, and a stop in a traditional Korean sauna.

We arrived in Gwangju just after ten a.m. to meet up with Pedro and the rest of the travelers. There were nine guests total, from places as varied as Missouri, Nova Scotia, and North Carolina. We left Gwangju and headed west, towards the coastal region of Yeongwang-eup and Bepseongpo temple. This is where Buddhism was introduced from India to the ancient Baekje kingdom, in the 6th century. The area is secluded and remote; Pedro parked the van in an empty lot, and we walked past a modest house where dogs were play-fighting over a chunk of squid near the shore. Fish had been tied up in yellow twine and hung to dry in large masses, mouths gaping, eyes staring at the sea from where they’d been taken.

A wave of fish

The view from the temple

The temple was up and over a low rise, standing on a hill overlooking a bowl of smaller structures, facing a wide estuary and mountains in the distance. Truly a spot to sit and contemplate history, and the future. The architecture is notably Indian, and not very similar to the Korean temples we’ve been at except for the elaborately painted pagodas in bright colors.

We took a drive along the coast, and though it was foggy the coastline was lovely, and wavey, which we haven’t seen in Mokpo, where the thousand islands dampen waves long before they reach our shores. Pedro took us to a secluded spot, where we had a waffle and coffee in a cafe that was done up in Korean Christmas style. Then, we headed down to the spa.

The sauna wasn't much from the outside.

Korean seawater spas are different from what we’ve experience before in what are called Jimjaebangs. Those are more like standard hot-tubs and saunas, but the sewater spa is a different experience entirely. Here, we changed into spa clothes in a small room with cedar lockers, then walked into a small room with two cut-out holes in the floors where the water was kept. There was barely enough room between the walls and the holes for one person to sit comfortably, but all ten of us managed to squeeze in.

On top of the water was a bag of fragrant sticks, and a jute mat. We were warned – don’t go in the water; it’s an extremely hot 80 c. The room itself was not much warmer than the outside temperature, which was in the low sixties. And, unfortunately, it was too humid and wet for us to bring in any cameras, so my description will have to do.

As soon as we’d settled in, an attendant brought in a shovel loaded with white-hot stones. He carried them carefully across our outstretched legs, then dropped them into the pools. The white-hot rocks hit the seawater in a spray of steam that immediately gathered in the room, a dense fog that blocked our vision completely. Then they brought in more hot rocks; four shovels full for each tub, and we sat in the dense fog as the room heated up.

Eventually, the water cooled to below boiling, and it was at this point that the magic of the spa experience began. Pedro showed us the way: Dip a towel into the incredibly hot water, squeeze it out, and when you can stand to touch it, wrap it over a partner’s shoulders. The heat, barely where you can stand it, immediately sinks into your muscles, loosening your muscles and relaxing them at the same time as the steam is cleansing your lungs. It was very calming, especially with the herbs that had been put in the water beforehand.

We stayed in the sauna for about two hours, repeatedly applying the hot water towels to ourselves, and as time passed the water cooled, lessening the need to cool off the towels before wrapping our legs, or arms, or heads, in the salty water. Eventually, we soaked our feet in the water, and then, pruny and satisfied, and feeling a bit like salted dried fish, we changed back into street clothes and went back into the cool, cloudy day.

A visit to Seoul

They call him "Chopstick Jim"

A few weeks ago, my (Mike’s) dad came to visit. Dad’s a pretty lively guy, so I thought it would be nice to go up and have him help me take a look around Seoul, Korea’s lively, super-populated capital city.

My first challenge was finding a nice neighborhood in the massive sprawl. Something nice but not too expensive, something exciting but not a 24-7 party. Dad likes adventure, but he’s not much for disco. After consulting one of my favorite websites for travel, hostelworld.com, I found a place called The Golden Pond, near the Hwaewa metro station, on the northeastern edge of downtown.

On arriving, I was pleased to find a quaint little neighborhood not unlike what I’d left in Mokpo. I’d been expecting a shoulder-to-shoulder madhouse from the pages of a National Geographic article on global overpopulation. But the neighborhood up there has a distinct small-town feel, and it’s a bit edgy and young, tucked as it is between two universities. Dad had found it first, of course – he’s intrepid and never fails in a travel challenge –  and when I found him he had settled in to the bed and was working a sudoko puzzle. After a brief hello, and a good night’s sleep, we were ready to conquer Seoul.

In the morning we ate at the Dunkin Donuts. Yes, Dunkin Donuts are everywhere in Korea. They serve a nice cup of coffee – (all espresso, though, no drip coffee. Drip coffee is an American tradition that never caught on outside North America) – but the donut selection is not quite the same as America. They have bagels, a couple of chocolate donuts, but the rest of their display case is filled with things like grapefruit chewisties, glutinous rice snacks, and bean-paste filled things. Eatyourkimchi.com has a nice run-down, if you’re interested in more details.

Then we headed out to see a couple of the five great palaces of the Joseon dynasty. First up was Changyeong Palace, which was a secondary palace of the ruling dynasty until a fire destroyed the principle royal residence in the 1590’s. Being great adventurers, we tried the first gate we found, which turned out to be a service entrance, and as we began to admire the beauty of the grounds, we were chased down by a nice woman from the back office and told to leave. Chastened, we went down the road, and paid the entrance fee (about 2 dollars) and walked in the main gate.

This brought us to the main palace grounds, which are a rectangle divided into a series of courtyards by a succession of large gates, with a central corridor lined with markers like small headstones. These large, football-field sized spaces eventually lead into the large pagoda-styled building that hosts a relatively modest throne. Outside the palace walls are some more residencies, and beyond that, through a

A reflective pond near Changyeong palace

peaceful grove of trees, right near where we’d tried to sneak in, lay a small lake with an island, lined by electric lanterns that at night would have been a beautiful, romantic place for the royals and their coterie to gather, drink, and write the poetry that was considered essential for the ruling class in those days.

Down the road was Gyongbuk palace, known to all English teachers who use the national curriculum as the star of chapter 5 in the text book – Where’s Gyongbuk-gong?

Changing of the Guard

We arrived at the exact time they were doing the symbolic changing of the guards. A colorful progression of men in shiny silks walked across the yard accompanied by the beating of drums and the sounds of long pipe-style instruments that reminded me, for their wavery droning, of bagpipes that had been removed from the bag and used as solo instruments. But they still had a distinctive Asian sound as well, a sound designed to carry up into the village and up the mountains. The soldiers carried long flags on their backs and solemn faces. It was an impressive display for the hundreds of tourists lining the central walkway that led from the main gate through a large dusty courtyard to the  inner gate that led to the palace grounds themselves. On the one side we could see the tall blue buildings of modern Seoul, while to the back stood the mountains that provided ancient Seoul with it defense.
Inside, we mingled with the tourists and hordes of local

Middle School kids asking for help.

school kids on field trips. Korean school kids act funny around tourists. They are encouraged to talk to foreigners, first of all. Which meant that the average foreigner was approached perhaps a dozen times by kids, whose minimal English skills didn’t lead to much of a conversation. Your typical question would be: Hello. Where are you from? Do you like Kimchi?

Their simple questions were often baffled by Dad’s more complicated, above elementary school grade answers. Where are you from? They asked, and he’d say something like, “Well, I call Minnesota home – have you heard of the Twins?” They were sports about it, though – giggling their schoolkid giggles, then running off to their group, and then, unfazed, off to talk to more foreigners later.

Straight south of Gyoengbuk Palace is the Great South Gate, which was a huge stone fortress from the days when Seoul needed defending. A few years ago, it was burned to the ground by an arsonist, and is now a large, tented construction site as it’s being rebuilt. But just above where the Great South Gate used to stand is the neighborhood dominated by Namdaemun markets, nearly a square mile of shops delivering everything from t-shirts and suits to cameras, pig’s feet and red bean waffle fish. It’s a staggering display of consumption that puts the Mall of America to shame.

Market stalls between the market stalls

Of course, we visited many other places: The National Museum, the Folk Museum, the Electronics Village near Yongsan station, Jogyesa temple, and, I would estimate, 50 to 100 camera stores that appeared around nearly every corner and the top floor of the Yongsan train station.

We even went up to Itaewon, infamous home of all foreign activity in Seoul. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a Korean pop song and video that touches on what the Itawon neighborhood means in the Korean consciousness:

I should say it wasn’t quite that crazy, though it was crowded, and filled with more foreigners than I’d ever seen in one place in Korea. I might not have even gone, but for one of my primary quests in coming to Seoul: a decent hamburger. I’m not sure Dad appreciated this quest, as he’d only been away from America for about 24 hours, but I’d been here about six months by now, and my cheeseburger blood levels were dangerously low. Dad understands this, and accompanied my humor like the excellent co-traveler he’s been on many an occasion.

So we wandered streets crowded with non-Korean faces, shopped for English language books, and found a nice Irish pub called the Wolfhound. Inside the Wolfhound, we had cheeseburgers and Guinness (well, I had the Guinness, dad was happy with water). It was the best burger I’ve had in Asia, by far! On the TV, a rugby match featuring England and France, which held the crowd entranced. It was a nice bit of home.

The next morning, we re-visited the Dunkin Donuts, headed for the KTX train station, and in a few hours were in Mokpo, where Dad continued his adventure!

Quick weekend trips #2

As you well know, it takes hours to get to a small city like Duluth from Minneapolis.  It is about 8 hours to Chicago or St. Louis and about two days drive to a western city.  But South Korea is a small, dense country, and all the cities are close together, and they have an excellent, cheap transportation system, so day trips are much more convenient. We have been taking advantage of this by taking several short trips. Here are brief descriptions of a few of them to whet your appetite for Mokpo and its surrounding beauty:

Muan White Lotus Festival

In July we went to Muan, a small city like Duluth, MN, for the Muan White Lotus Festival.   Muan boasts the largest white lotus pond in Asia, at 330,000 square meters.  Mike and I split a cab, driven by our neighbor, with two friends. The 30 minute ride cost us only $25.  The festival grounds are beautiful, and the spreading lotus leaves are larger than chair cushions! We went on one of the first weekends, before the crowds set in, so ours was a quiet festival, more like a county fair. We walked around the lotus ponds, or across them on huge stones, and rode a swan shaped paddle boat through them.  There were all sorts of regional crafts, foods, and music.  We ate a delicious lotus panchang (Korean pancake), Mike, Meagan, and Shawn played traditional drums, and I made a decorative fan.  It was good fun for about 3 hours. Then we caught a taxi home. Yes, there is a bus to Muan, but four tickets would have cost the same as all of us sharing 1 taxi, and we got door-to-door service. Strength in numbers!

Here is a video of the crafts section of the festival.  You’ll see, and hear, Mike, Shawn, and Meagan playing drums as I show you the cafe, where they cook the food in the open air, and chat with a slightly tipsy dad, see a clay goods seller (I liked the bowls, but they were $20 each), a booth with paper lanterns and fans and other hand made items, and a cool bark house.

Oedaldo island 

The next weekend we took a ferry out to Oedaldo, a small island about an hour’s ferry ride west of Mokpo.  Oedaldo is famous for its sea-water pool and beautiful beach.  It is nicknamed “Love Island” for its beautiful gardens and the beach where couples can spend time together, but it seemed more like a family-centered place, with kids running around eating ice cream and splashing in the pool, than it did a romantic get away.

It was incredibly hot and humid, which is typical for a Mokpo summer, so we cooled  off under a patio umbrella with a melon ice cream popsicle and a propel icee, and watched the families play.  After we were sufficiently cool we wandered around the island.  Mokpo is covered in 15 story high rises, so it was nice to see scattered one story homes and low, bucolic farms.  It was in the mid-90’s and we were getting parched so we stopped in to a cafe for water.  The owner took one look at Akasha’s beet-red face and told us to come enjoy the “air-con! Air-con!”  It turns out they have a pension as well.  We asked him if we could come back with the dog and he said “dog yes” as if that was no biggie whatsoever.  I got his card.  We are totally going back for a fall/winter weekend getaway. For us, Oedaldo was a mellow getaway with sandy beaches just a quick ferry from the city.  We left around 2 pm and were home around 6.

Busan

The weekend following that was the Busan girls’ weekend.  A group of us took the bus to Gwangju (45 min), then over to Busan (4 hrs) for a 3 day weekend.  Our mission was eating western food and going to the beach.  Mission accomplished! Mokpo is a great city, but there is a serious lack of western food here.  Good luck getting burgers and fries, burritos, breakfast food, or anything not Korean.  In Busan, we stayed at a love motel for $6 each (4 or 5 girls to a room.)  We had one western style bed, and the rest of us slept on Korean style ondol (floor) mats.  As I’ve mentioned before, Korean beds are extremely hard (Our bed at home is just a box spring), so the floor mat is just as comfy as the bed.

We got into town, dropped off our bags, and hit Gwangalli beach to find a burger.  We found a great burger and fries, even milk shakes (fyi, they put crushed ice in a milk shake here) at Breeze Burns.  The menu said that there was English style breakfast so we had to go back.  After a dinner we went upstairs to a cafe that had a great view of the beach, and served Sangria.  It was a great start to a relaxing weekend.  We walked along the beach and enjoyed the suspension bridge as it changed colors.  The girls went off to a club to dance and I went to the hotel to chill out.  They made many friends and ended up dancing salsa on the beach with a few guys from the Dominican Republic. 🙂

In the morning we went back for breakfast at Breeze Burns.  It was nice to eat familiar foods like toast, eggs, and ham.  Then we took the subway to Hyundai beach, and were overwhelmed by it all.  Hyuandai beach is uniquely Korean.  The umbrellas (rentals) are waist high and side by side to prevent any sun from reaching your skin.  There are speakers blasting k-pop and announcements non-stop, and vendors selling fired chicken and iced coffee (K beach food.)

Beach culture is completely different.  Sun bathing is undesireable here. People go to the beach, and in the water, completley clothed in 90 degree heat.  They wear hoodies and baseball hats to shield themselves from the sun.  Swimming is not a universal skill here, and it is startlingly different.  The swimming area is only 122 m from beach to buoy.  It is heavily patrolled by wet suit wearing life gaurds.  People are side-by-side in their inflatable tubes.  It’s just plain different. The water is warm, but thick with styrofoam beads from the markers for fishing cages.  It was worth a visit, but I think I prefer my small island beaches.  I chilled under the umbrella reading a book with a few of the girls for an hour before we headed off to the sauna. The other half of us walked the down the beach to a hill where they hiked around.

Okay, this was my first Korean Sauna experience, I’ve gone monthly since then.  It is AWESOME!  The place that we went to the first time was by far the best I’ve had.  You pay a $10 entrance fee and are given a key on a bracelet with your number.  You put your shoes in a little locker with your key, then go on to the girls floor (in my case.)  There you put your clothes and stuff in a locker, go take a shower and scrub from head to toe.  Once scrubbed you can go in the mineral tubs and soak in varying degrees of hot or cold water, lay under a “waterfall” that will pound your sore muscles into submission, lounge, get a massage or a scrub.  I got a scrub and massage and it was amazing.  My Korean friend said that many people go monthly. When they were finished I felt as soft and smooth as a baby.

Mike says: I can attest to her baby-smooth skin. And, I also enjoy the jimjibangs – the hot rooms are incredibly hot, like Hopi sweat-lodge hot, totally hot enough for mystic visions.

After the sauna we went back to Gwangalli beach for “Mexican” dinner at a place called Fuzzy Navels.  Somehow they managed to duplicate Minnesota Mexican food in Korea, how I’ll never know.  It was a Mexican as my school lunches, but still a yummy attempt at Nachos, pork burritos, and margaritas.  Oh, and grape jello shots! We woke up in the morning, grabbed pastries (another hard to find food item in the ‘po) and hopped on the subway to take the bus on home.  It was a rock star weekend with excellent company.

Mike and I returned in August with Jenni and Brian for our last weekend visit with them.  We enjoyed the Busan aquarium with pretty cool jellyfish displays. We stayed in three differently awesome love motels.  It rained the entire trip, so we only spent a bit at the beach, but we definitely enjoyed the view and the soft sand.  Mike and I were in love with the public library at the beach (on the sand.)  I really wish that it had stopped raining long enough to go on the ferris wheel.

There are so many great places to go here that we had to cut this post in half.  We’ll publish the other one in a bit.  It includes our Chuseok trip to Jeju island. Maybe you can visit and take a side trip too.

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