A walk around Tokyo’s oldest temple

We came back to Tokyo with still enough time for a walk and we decided to have some dinner around the Shibuya neighborhood.

First thing you see after coming out of the metro station at the Hachikō exit is the world’s busiest intersection in front of Shibuya Station, ‘The Scramble’.
Hachikō was a dog who waited for his deceased owner at Shibuya Station every day from 1923 to 1935 (so sad 😦 )

Hachikō in ShibuyaHachikō statue and a random guy

People come from all directions at once, sometimes over a thousand with every light change!

Shibuya cross

Another must in Shibuya, even if you are not that much into “fashion”, is the Shibuya 109 department store. This iconic building was used in the 90s by the Shibuya “gyarus” (gals) who brought 109 into the spotlight as the place to shop for the “gyaru” look, and its fame remains even today.

Shibuya crossA normal day at Shibuya cross

There’s a Starbucks just around the corner where it’s possible to see the intersection from above (and for free!).

Shibuya crossView from the Starbucks

It is amazing to see so many people at once, you never get used to it!

The next day was time to visit another Tokyo`s reference neighborhood: Asakusa. The first street we found on our way there was the Kappabashi Street, where you can buy plastic and wax food samples, used by many restaurants in their show windows. They’re so realistic that it’s hard to distinguish them from real food!

Kappabashi StreetKappabashi Street

But the main attraction is without a doubt the Senso-ji temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple.

senso-ji_3Senso-ji Temple

Known to people all over Japan as the temple of the Asakusa Kannon, it draws some 30 million visitors every year, remaining an important center of worship.

We walked around the temple surroundings, the beautiful gardens outside and the different buildings that are part of the temple complex.
I bought a cotton candy (my weakness) and ate it outside the main temple while Kevin was taking some pictures. I guess that cotton candy is only for kids over there, because people were staring at me and one old Japanese grandpa even took a picture of me :D.

senso-jiThe temple surroundings, the Pagoda is closed to the public

The Hondo Main Hall was crowded with people praying, burning incense or just taking pictures.
There was a O-mikuji next to the hall, O-mikuji are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Buddhist temples…mine was horrible! it predicted that I’d have bad luck, family illnesses, accidents, that I shouldn’t travel… When the prediction is bad (and mine was the worse), it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes, and that’s what I did. Nothing of what was written there happened, so I guess it worked :).

senso-ji_4Hondo Main Hall

We left the temple through the Kaminarimon Gate, the outer door of the temple and authentic symbol of the Asakusa neighborhood and the city of Tokyo.
We reached the Nakamise Street, a 250-meter-long shopping street full of small shops and stalls selling from souvenirs like kimonos or fans to typical sweets.
Although it may seem a modern invention to attract tourists, the fact is that already in the period of Edo there were stores here willing to catch the attention of the pilgrims who visited the Sensoji temple.

Nakamise StreetThe Nakasime Street and the Skytree

You can find some thieves on the buildings of Asakusa (5 to be exact). They’re the 5 master thieves from Edo, called “Shiranami gonin otoko”. They were very famous, and have been made into “Kabuki” plays (you can learn more about them here).

ladronOne of the Master Thieves chilling

We did a stop at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center before going to the Sumida neighboorhood since the building houses a free viewing deck up on the top (always saving money :D).

senso-ji_arribaThe Senso-ji temple and the Nakamise Street from the Tourist Information Center

Sumida neighborhood is famous for hosting the tallest structure in Japan (634 m) and the second tallest in the World.

SkytreeThe Skytree next to the Asashi Breweries

It also had a cute park full of cherry blossoms where we could relax for a bit, my knee was hurting since the day before and it was getting tougher to keep the rhythm of so many kilometers per day.

Honjo Matsuzaka-cho ParkThis cute couple was doing a photoshoot in the park

Next day Nikko was awaiting, so we had dinner and went back to our apartment to have some rest.

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Kamakura and our 93 tonnes friend

We wanted not only to visit Tokyo and take advantage of our Japan Rail pass, so we planed a couple of one day trips to Kamakura in the south and Nikko in the north.

Kamakura is famous because of its beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as for its huge bronze statue of Amida Buddha. The city is located by the sea side, what makes it even nicer and worth to visit.

Very close to the train station there’s a path surrounded by cherry trees that ends up in the Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine.
torii GateApproaching Tsurugaoka Hachimangū

Dentist on KamakuraKawaii dentist on the way to the shrine

The shrine is divided in several sub-shrines surrounded by beautiful gardens and the Minamoto pond.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu ShrineMinamoto pond at the shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu ShrineThe Hataage Benzaiten Sub-shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu ShrineThe cherry blossoms always improving the views!

Once we’re done with the main shrine of the city, we continued through a nice side street full with restaurants and souvenir shops direction Hase-dera temple.
Neko

Carps

TotoroMy dream garden

The temple was further away than expected and we got really hungry on our way. The problem was that we’re already far from the touristic part of the city and they’re no restaurants in sight…until we spotted a tiny ramen place! It was so small that we had to wait outside until somebody was done with their meal.

Ramen on the way to Hase-dera It was worth the wait

The temple is located about half-way up Mount Kamakura, southwest of the city, and it commands an impressive view over Yuigahama beach.

Hase-deraView of Yuigahama beach

The temple complex is comprises seven buildings and the common gardens.

Hase-dera
Hase-deraHase-dera grounds

Hase-dera
One thing that really drew my attention was the hundreds of small Jizō statues placed all around the temple, they’re placed there by parents mourning offspring lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. The statues remain in place for about a year, before being removed to make way for new ones.

Jizō statues in Hase-dera
Jizō statues in Hase-deraJizō statues in Hase-dera

Hase-deraA japanese family visiting the temple

The temple includes also an underground cave called benten kutsu (Benzaiten Grotto) and it contains statues and devotionals to Benzaiten, the sea goddess and the only female of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese mythology.

benten kutsu in Hase-deraBenzaiten

Our last stop before going back to Tokyo was the Kōtoku-in temple, home of the Great Buddha, a 93 tonnes and 13 m tall bronze statue of Amida Buddha.

Kōtoku-inSitting there since s.XIII

Kōtoku-in

Cherry Blossoms and Manga – among Old and New

Japan has always been my dream destination since I was a child…and 2014 was the year when my dream finally came true!

We arrived pretty late at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo (after midnight) but one could think that such a huge metropolis like Tokyo, capital of technology and modernity would have some kind of public transportation going from the airport to the city center even after midnight…well, we were also disappointed 😀
Fortunately there’s no lack of Taxis and we grabbed one that would drive us to our apartment. An Airbnb apartment just 2 metro stations far away from Shibuya that costed half of what we’d have paid for a hostel room.

Taxis are super modern in Japan, full equipped with TV, magazines, electronic doors (the driver has to activate the door, otherwise you can’t go in/out from the vehicle), also the rates are fixed, so there’re no worries about been ripped off for being a poor, disoriented tourist in strange lands.
We had written down the address, both in Latin and Japanese characters but the Japanese addressing system is a bit different from what we’re used to, so even the taxi drivers struggle finding directions. Addresses start with the largest geographical entity (i.e. prefecture) and proceed to the most specific one (i.e. house number) this makes it super complex and chaotic due to the growth of the cities, contrary to our systems that are laid out as grids.
Conclusion, the guy found more or less the area were our apartment was supposed to be but wasn’t sure about where the building was. We told him that it wasn’t a problem, we could go and try to find it by ourselves, but Japanese people are extremely polite and helpful (we’d find out later that the driver wasn’t the exception) so he stopped the taximeter and kept looking for the building, even going outside the taxi and checking himself (it was raining a lot!) until he finally found it and took our luggage inside the dry building.
It’s a pity that you aren’t suppose to tip in japan, because he really deserved it!

The day after we’re ready to start exploring. First we decided to go to the district of Ginza, a high-class shopping area (nice for the eyes, bad for the wallet).

GinzaSan’ai Building in Giza

GinzaRandom super cute store

Tokyo is HUGE, so we tried to organize ourselves by visiting the different districts depending of their situation. Ginza was not “far” (Tokyo standards) from our apartment plus they had a nice tourist office where we could get some info and maps.

Tourist Information Center in GinzaEntrance from the Tourist Information Center in Ginza
Beef BowlKevin got addicted to this beef bowls

Our walk took us thought the Kabuki-za, the main Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater) Theater in Tokyo. I regret that we didn’t go inside (tickets were kinda expensive :s) but that way I’ve an excuse to come back 🙂

Kabuki-zaKabuki-za

A huge skyscraper was just behind the theater, a good example of what Tokyo was for me: a contrast between old tradition and modernity.

NekoWelcome to Kawaii Tokyo! ^^

After strolling around Ginza, we headed to Tsukiji. Our destination: the Tsukiji fish market, the biggest fish market in the world.

Tsukiji Fish MarketTsukiji Fish Market at night

Of course it was already close (you’ve to be there at 5:00 am to see the auctions and still they only admit 60 people, the first come, the first serves) but our idea from the beginning was to go to any of the sushi restaurants in the area to try what was supposed to be the best sushi in the world.
We finally decided to enter in one restaurant called Sushizanmai basically because there was a queue to enter and our logic told us: queue->good quality.

Tsukiji Fish MarketSushizanmai

We didn’t have to wait to long though, they put us in the bar on the second floor and one could see how the took the live fishes from he aquariums and prepared them in front of you.
It was delicious and so fresh! I also was brave enough to order a typical alcoholic beverage that I had no idea what it was. They had 3 variations from the drink so I asked the waiter to bring me the one he liked the most…it turned out to be extremely strong!

Sushi at Tsukiji

A bit tipsy, we wanted to end our day visiting the Odaiba artificial island. Kevin insisted on going on foot from Tsukiji as it wasn’t “that far” and to take some pictures on the way (also Odaiba wasn’t covered by our Japan Rail Pass, so we had to pay extra if we wanted to get there by metro). Well, it was more than 6 km! and after a whole day of walking and sightseeing it really killed me. On the way some Japanese teenager couple asked to take some pictures with us (our fame followed us from Korea :D).
The effort, at least, paid off. The views to the Rainbow bridge, the Tokyo tower and the mini Statue if Liberty were unbeatable.

Needless to say that we came back by metro XD.

Views from OdaibaThe Japanese Manhattan

Next day was time to visit Akihabara, the manga district. Akihabara is considered the otaku cultural center and a shopping district for video games, anime, manga… you can find absolutely everything there! There’re also numerous maid cafés, waitresses dress in maid costumes and act as servants, and treat customers as masters. I wanted to drink something in one of them, but Kevin refused :/ (shouldn’t it be the other way around? :D)

AkihabaraColorful Akihabara

AkihabaraOne of the numerous Crane Game shops, all the toys were so cute!

Our map showed that not far from the main and busy area there was a Buddhist temple worth visiting, so we went there. We chose to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season, it was the best decision ever. All the temples looked even more beautiful surrounded by the flowering cherry trees.

Kanda Myojin ShrineKanda Myojin Shrine in Akihabara

P1020459 - P1020461The cherry trees around the Shrine

And a place that shouldn’t be missed during the cherry blossom season is the Ueno park. This park holds around 800 trees planted 400 years ago. The Japanese gather at this time to eat, drink and be with friends. It’s a national pastime and TV weather forecasts announce the movement of the Sakura front (the cherry flowering). People bring a groundsheet, some food and alcohol and celebrate with their friends, family or co-workers. There’re also some stands with different drinks and food, like the traditional Takoyaki (ball-shaped snack made of octopus)

Ueno ParkFlowering festival at Ueno’s Park
Ueno Park
Traditional Dresses in Ueno
Ueno ParkSome stands next to one of the temples
Shinobazu PondShinobazu Pond in the middle of the park
Ueno Park
Red BibsStatues with red bibs-the color of the good luck

We finished the day visiting the neighborhood of Shinjuku, the major commercial and administrative center, where the busiest railway in the world is situated.

Shinjuku
ShinjukuShinjuku

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is not far from the metro station and it’s possible to go to the top of it for free to enjoy the unbelievable views.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building ViewsTokyo Metropolitan Government Building Views

Up there there’s also a souvenir shop and a bar-restaurant, the best place to have dinner with unbeatable views.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building RestaurantNot as expensive as one could think!

Just next to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building there’s a high standard hotel with a restaurant on the top, it was a must for me to go there since it was the scenery for my favorite movie ever!

Hyatt Hotel Top roof Restaurantdo you know which movie?

Live music, fancy drinks, elegant people…we had to pay a fee for not being hosts in the hotel and even though we ordered the cheapest of the menu it was quite expensive (zero regrets!)

Views from the Hyatt HotelViews from the Hyatt Hotel

Sharing 2 days with Buddhist monks

One of the highlights of our trip was the stay at one Buddhist temple for 2 days/1 night. There’s a website called templestay that allows tourist to stay in one of the hundreds of temples around South Korea, sharing the monk’s daily routines. There’re different kinds of packages and we decided to go for a 1 night stay in a temple next to the city of Gyeongju.
We chose this temple mainly because it was more or less in our way to Daegu from Busan, and also because it was the only temple where the monks practiced Zen martial arts as a way of dynamic meditation.
It’s called Sunmudo.

We took a bus from Busan to Gyeongju, even the cheapest buses there, that run to small and unknown places, are more comfortable than the first class in any German or Spanish train.

From Busan to GyeongjuEnough space for a pleasant nap

We had to wait a couple of hours for the bus that’d leave us “next” to the temple, so we took advantage of the time to eat something (Kevin bought a bunch of burgers in a McDonald’s nearby to take to the temple, as the food there was only vegan *sight*).

Ramen @GyeongjuEnergetic Ramen before the experience!

The bus left us around 2 km far away from the temple, I didn’t have my wonderful travel backpack by then, so it was kinda exhausting to do all the way with 2 big suitcases 😦

On the way to Golgulsa TemplePoor me

Once at the temple an English girl who volunteers in the temple since 2 years gave us our new uniforms, the key of our rooms and the schedule for the next 2 days.
She was once a tourist visiting the temple like us, but during a sunmudo training something did click in her mind and left everything behind to stay in the temple for undefined time.

Golgulsa TempleThe entrance to the temple

In the temple men and women must sleep and eat separately, so I had to share my room with a Korean girl called Kate and Kevin with her boyfriend, also called Kevin and Korean born in the USA.

Temple's dormOur sober room

We had a strict schedule, everything was volunteer but we wanted to do everything, as we’re only 2 days there.

4:00am – Wake up
4:30am – Morning Chanting
5:00am – Sitting Meditation / Walking Meditation (30 minutes each)
6:00am – Breakfast
8:30am – Sunmudo Training (90 mins)
10:10am – Tea-time
11:30am – Sunmudo Demonstration
12:00 – Lunch
2:00pm – Sitting Meditation
3:00pm – Community Work
3.30pm – Sunmudo Demonstration
5:00pm – Dinner
6:10pm – Orientation on Buddhism, chanting and meditation
6:30pm – Evening Chanting
7:00pm – Sunmudo Training (90 mins)
10:00pm – Lights Out

The check-in is between 2 and 4 pm, so the first day we only saw the Sunmudo demonstration and the chanting.

SunmudoSunmudo demonstration

At 7 pm we went to the pavilion where the monks train with the other guests.
They’re all mainly Koreans, besides a couple of tourist from Europe, and I was surprised to see a bunch of teenagers that didn’t seem to enjoy too much their time far away from the technology, I guess their parents sent them hoping that they’d learn something.
During the training some girls didn’t pay attention to the monk and were laughing and chatting with each other, until the monk got angry enough to lecture one of them and to kick her out (no jokes with trained sunmudo monks, got it)

I gotta say that the training made me really tired, and it didn’t help that the good Kate snored like a big brown bear or to sleep directly over the floor, so you can imagine my mood when I had to wake up at 4 am to assist to the morning meditation.

The meditation chapel was at the highest point of the temple domains, once there we had to meditate for 30 min, that is, to sit without talking fighting for not falling asleep (3 small kids, monk apprentices didn’t succeed). Right after that we followed the monk down hill on the walking meditation.

Golgulsa TempleThe meditation chamber

By 6 am I was so hungry that I really enjoyed all the veggie food from the canteen. Men had to sit in one side of the room and women in the other and you could take as much food as you wanted, the only rule was that nothing could go to the trash.
That was specially hard for Kev, as he was eating only rice and added a lot of very spicy sauce (he thought it was ketchup, how could he think that there’d be ketchup at a Buddhist temple??).

Golgulsa Temple's dining roomThe dining room

I was so destroyed that I skipped the sunmudo training (shame on me), it was a pity as that day it took place outside.

Sunmudo trainingKevin was more diligent than me.

I’m not sure if we’re lucky of not of having tea time instead of 108 bows. The 108 bows is, as the name says, 108 prostrations in order to purify ourselves (and it sounded very unpleasant, considering my muscle soreness). The tea time, on the other hand was a sermon from the monk, while drinking tea. All in Korean of course.
The Korean Kevin translated a bit for us but it wasn’t the same.

The sunmudo demonstration that day was a bit special, as some Korean tourists came to see the spectacle, a traditional Korean fan dance, called Buchaechum, took also place. After the performance they left some alms to support the temple maintenance.

BuchaechumBuchaechum dance

The community work varies during the year, as we’re there during November our work consisted mainly in collecting the leaves from the water drains.

We had enough time between the activities to explore all the temple domains and to take some nice pictures.

Golgulsa Temple

Golgulsa Temple

Golgulsa Temple

Golgulsa Temple

Golgulsa Temple

Golgulsa Temple

Maae AmitabulMaae Amitabul

Golgulsa Temple

Golgulsa Temple

Super exhausted but satisfied we headed to the last part of our trip.

One bus later we’re in Daegu, the third biggest city from Korea and the hometown from my friend Yongtae.
We stayed only one night there, so after taking a cold shower in the apartment (we couldn’t figure out how to connect the heating) we met Yongtae for a walk through the city and a nice dinner.

DaeguUnfortunately the dinner wasn’t here 😦

DaeguDongseongno

I wanna thank him and his parents for the hospitality, he was a great guide and her mom was so sweet, I still have some of the Korean tea that she gave to me.

We found the train station next day thanks to our mimic skills, ready to spend our last day in Seoul.
This time the apartment was centermost and with great views.

Seoul

Seoul

We decided to use our last day in Seoul to visit the Seoul Tower. If you’re thinking on going to the top using the cableway instead of walking, think it twice. Our idea was to go up with it and to walk on our way down…the queue was so huge that we could have used the time in line to go up and down 3 times! Furthermore, we thought that the price of the cableway included the entrance to the top of the tower, as it was pretty expensive, but it wasn’t the case.
Whenever we thought that we’re already at the end a new room full of people showed up in front of us. The only good think we got from it was to meet a very sweet Korean baby that got hypnotized by Kevin eyes. I guess he had never seen blue eyes until then!

N Seoul TowerThe Seoul Tower

N Seoul TowerAt the top

Seoul from N Seoul TowerViews from the tower

The perfect finale for our trip was to go back to the restaurant that we found by mistake the day that we went to Lotteworld. Kevin ordered so many dumplings that the lady was so impressed to tell the other costumers about his feat!

Our fav placeHe ordered even more…40 in total!

Volcano Islands and Fish Markets

If you ever have to use a “low cost” airline in Korea remember… it’s not necessary to pay for the extra luggage (at least if it’s less than 15 kg)! It could have saved us a lot of time to know that in advance, looking for lockers big enough to keep our big suitcases and resigned to spend a lot of money for keeping them for one week until coming back to Seoul.

Solved the problem, we headed to Jeju Island, a volcanic island at the south of the country, famous for their beautiful landscapes part of the UNESCO World Heritage and its crater right in the middle of the island.
Our Guest House was a very old house with no luxuries at all (it was damn hot in our room), views to a wall in front of the window and one of those Korean showers where the shower tube comes directly from the sink.
It was worth anyway, not only because of the price, but also because the kindness of the owner, an old lady who put us in contact with a Philippine family who was also at the hotel, to take part on a car tour around the island next day, sharing the expenses.

I don’t know exactly how well the public transportation connections works there, but the tour saved us a lot of time thanks to our chofer Mr. Kim. A very funny man who didn’t speak a word of English.

Our first stop was the Udo island, a small island next to the main one, reachable by ferry. Our chofer drove us to the best panoramic sites to enjoy the views of the island, there’re also some beaches, full of school trips. We took some pictures with a bunch of high-school students who seemed to see blond people from the first time in their lifes (I wonder in how many Korean Facebooks we’re at that time).

Udo Island

Udo Island

Udo Island

Udo Island

We did a stop on our way back to the main Island to eat something in a restaurant recommended by Mr. Kim, the point is, that it’s extremely difficult to find vegetarian food in Korea, and as we’re on an island, everything was mainly fish (that they included as vegetarian food).
Kevin isn’t a big fish fan either, so we left them on the restaurant and walked until we found a Japanese fast food chain called Lotteria. There I had my first burger with rice instead of bread.

 Rice Burguer

Full of energy, Mr. Kim drove us to the Sunrise Peak, a volcanic peak formed 100.000 years ago with a crater on the top. There’re some stairs leading to the top of the peak but we had only 30 min to spend there, in order to have enough time to visit everything that was planed. So nobody payed the entrance ticket besides Kevin, who ran (literally) to the top, took some pictures and came back on time, leaving Mr. Kim both impressed and surprised.

 The temple at the base
 At the crater
 The way down

One of the reason why we didn’t have so much time was our stop at the Gimnyeong Maze Park, a maze mainly for Felix’s kids, but still challenging to complete (Mr. Kim was making so much fun of us from the wooden gangway, as we got more and more lost inside the maze).

 The objective was to ring the bell

The last part of the visit took part at the Manjanggul Cave. Somebody told us that it was the longest lava cave in the world, but they also said that a dragon used to live there…

 The part opened for the tourists
 Manjanggul Cave

Only 1km of the 13,422 m is opened to the tourists, we completed the kilometer (and the way back) even tough, again, Mr. Kim didn’t leave us too much time to spend there. Right at the end of the tunel, there’s the Stone Turtle, a lava stone famous because it is shaped like the Jeju-do Island.

 The Stone Turtle
 The gang

Back to Jeju we used that night to explore a bit the city and to have dinner in a traditional restaurant. We have to sit on the floor, in front of a table with a brasserie in the middle, where we grilled the food that we ordered.
The owner, a Korean lady, seemed hopeless due to our lack of skills using the sticks and knowing which sauce to use depending on the food, or how to combine the big amount of side dishes. So… she started to come often to our table, cutting herself the food or putting what she considered directly on our plates, like a grandma would do (it was fun until she put a big piece of meat inside my vegetarian bowl)

 Traditional grill

 

We flew next day to Busan, the second biggest city in South Korea. We had booked a room next to the famous fish market, which happened to be even hotter than the one in Jeju and extremely small (even I, 172 cm tall, knocked my head against the ceiling a couple of times)

 The fish market close to our huge room
 Opa!

We pass by the Busan Tower during our walk through the city, a 118 m tall tower that can be accessed by paying a small entrance fee to enjoy the amazing views from the top.

 A temple next to the tower
 Busan
 Busan

Right on the base of the tower there’s a small park and a lounge where we bought the best smoothies from our life (they’re really good!).

 KameHameHa!

After all the day walking it was time to chill out next to the shore. Next day we had to get up early to go to our next stop: the Buddhist temple.

 Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge

From traditional villages to amusement parks

Next day we went to the Traditional Hanok Village of Namsagol.

Namsangol Hanok VillageNamsagol’s garden

We could see there some replicas of traditional hanok houses from the Joseon dinasty.

Namsangol Hanok Village
Namsangol Hanok Village

There’re also some traditional games and activities, such as Tuho, that consists on throwing some kind of arrows from a set distance into a large vase.

TuhoNot very good at it

Not only houses were displayed, also some instruments from the day a day life of that period, which made a better idea about the life at that time, like jars for storing, preserving, and fermenting food like Kimchi and chili paste, or the chimneys that they used to heat the houses.

A frame 'chige' - Korean traditional back-carrierAn A-Frame korean back-carrier

We also were lucky enough to be there during a Karate exhibition. It was very impressive to see those young guys breaking 20 wooden tables on a row, or jumping over their 4 colleagues

KarateTiger & Dragon

The Seoul Millenium Capsule is situated only 10 min walking form the village. On November 29, 1994 600 items of modern life and culture were buried to celebrate Seoul’s 600th anniversary. They’ll open the capsule again on the city’s 1,000th anniversary (November 2394).

Seoul Millenium CapsuleI can’t imagine the faces of the Korean people from the future when they see the technology from 1994…

I’m a huge fan of amusement parks, so I managed to convince Kev to go that night to Lotte World, the world’s largest indoor theme park which is open all year around (and a very suspicious copy of Disney Land)

Lotte worldLooks familiar…

We had a lot of fun even thought the queues were so long that we had to wait quite a lot for each attraction, and (as everywhere else) the things were made for much shorter people than us, what made Kevin to have a little accident on the GiroDrop (a drop tower) as the sit was too “tight” for him…auch

We didn’t see any other occidental tourist around and so we became pretty fast the center of attention. In one of the attractions, consisting on riding a “donut” through a water path. WE’re only 2, so we had to share our ride with a korean family. Far from being interested on the attraction itself, the father was taking pictures of us with his phone while laughing and saying “yeah, yeah, ok” aaaaall the time. It was so funny and uncomfortable at the same time! 😀

Lotte worldThe indoor part from one of the “Air Balloons”

I was very exhausted going back to the apartment, but there was a direct connection from the Amusement Park to our place, I took advance of the situation to sleep a bit…what we didn’t expect is that the Subway closes at 00:00, and that means that at that time they kick you out in whatever subway stop you are! we, wrongly, assumed that they’d make the complete ride until the last stop.

We had no idea where we’re, but something was clear: we’re hungry. There was a small and old tavern next to the subway entrance ran by an old lady.
It became our favorite food spot in Seoul! A lot of tasty food for a ridiculously low price! It was so cheap and tasty, that Kevin left a very good tip to the woman, she was totally surprised and grateful, as nobody leaves tips in Korea.

Ramyeon and MandooI got Ramyeon (noodles) and Kevin tons of Mandoo (dumplings)

Did I say that nobody speaks English? The first taxi we stopped didn’t know where our apartment was even with the address written down in korean and a GPS. The second one agreed to drive us but he left us somewhere a bit far from the apartment as he didn’t know exactly where it was. We had to ask a couple of 7 Eleven employees to, and with lots of mimic and intuition, finally find the apartment.

Next day we’re supposed to go to the Seoraksan mountain, a natural park around 90 km eastern from Seoul. But we’re so exhausted that we fell asleep, checking out from the apartment too late and missing the bus to Namseorak. We took a walk around the city instead.

Tteokbokki and GalbitangSaving energies for the rest of the day, the Tteokbokki (rice cake) were delicious and, like everything there, very spicy

We went to another Hanuk village, smaller than the previous one.
We’re so lucky to be there right on time to participate in a traditional tea ceremony for free. The ceremony master was a super sweet lady whom showed us how to prepare the tea in the traditional way and let us to do it ourselves.
She explained to us she was taking lessons for 7 years! and that some ceremonies could last for hours.
It’s much more precise and elaborated that one can think at the beginning.

Tea ceremonyOur amazing teacher

On our walk we passes by the Jongmyo Shrine, unfortunately it was close just that day 😦

Jongmyo Shrine

So kept on with our walk passing by parks with pagodas, street karaokes with awful singers, souvenir shops and food stands.

Weddingkorean wedding

Church

Angel

That night we visited the famous neighborhood of Gang Man (I’m sure everybody knows the song).
It’s the business and high class district, the Manhattan of Seoul.
There’re casinos, very exclusive shops, restaurants and shopping malls. The only thing we bought though, was some glue for my poor boots…

Gang nam

Gang namoppa gangnam style!

Welcome to Seoul, the city that never sleeps

One says that it’s not how you start, but how you end.
Our trip to Korea didn’t started in the best possible way, the woman at the British Airline count desk in Frankfurt wasn’t able to print our tickets London-Seoul. London’s airport was super crowded, as usual, and we missed our plane, leading to 7 hours of boredom and disappointment.
The good thing was that they transferred us to Korean Airlines, a luxurious airline that we could have never afforded otherwise.
That was also our first approach to the Korean culture: dizzy girls puking on the floor and eternal queues to go to the toilet (a friend of us told us that they’re really clean, and so they spent ~20 min inside the toilets).

Once we arrived (finally!) and left our stuff at the apartment, we headed to Myeongdong, a commercial area and one of Seoul’s main shopping and tourism districts, neons everywhere, music and thousands of restaurants. In Seoul is really easy to loose the sense of time, as there’re shops opened 24 hours. 3 am and you just broke your glasses? not a problem, there’s an optic just 100m away. Fancying some new trousers at 1 am? The clothing store is waiting for you on the next street.

Myeong-dong Myeongdong street

Among the wide food choice, we went to one place where they served some fast, traditional food and, as nobody (seriously NOBODY) speaks English and some of the menus are only in Korean, we choose the food basing us on the pictures. I got some kind of rice, that I liked, and Kev breaded chicken with Soba noodles, he didn’t expect the noodles to be so cold! so he barely ate them. Even more, the waitress spilled the water on his pants, making him look like if he couldn’t made it to the toilet.
Poor waitress, for us it was rather funny, but they’re so polite that it was really embarrassing for her. I think she might have excused herself like 100 times!

Fisrt corean food The unexpected cold noodles for the unexpected wet German

Next day, with dry pants, we started our exploring tour at the Imperial Palace.

imperial palace seoul The Imperial Palace or Gyeongbokgung

We booked one of those Free Walking Tours so popular in Europe. The travel guides in Korea are retired people who enjoy showing their country and knowledge to foreigners.

Retired travel guide Our committed guide

I found it really cute, but Kev was really disappointed as the guide barely could speak English and spent a lot of time explaining things like the number of columns in one of the pavilions (to be fair, the number was a symbol of good luck)

Gyeonghoeru (Royal Banquet Hall) Gyeonghoeru (Royal Banquet Hall) and its apparently very interesting columns

The palace was like a small walled city, as the royal family was not allowed to go outside the walls, they had everything they needed there: huge gardens to walk, barn, library, etc. There was even a pavilion for the concubines of the Kaiser.

Hyangwonjeong Hyangwonjeong, the beautiful concubine’s pavilion

We could see an Irworobongdo at the impressive Throne Hall. Irworobongdo is a landscape painting of a sun, a moon and five peaks. The sun and moon symbolize the king and queen while the five peaks denotes a mythical place.

Geunjeongjeon (Throne Hall) Geunjeongjeon (Throne Hall)

At the other side of the Palace terrains, there’s the Blue House, the residence of the president of the Republic of Korea. It’s not allowed to get any close, but it has amazing views of the Bugak Mountain behind it. Our guide told us that Bugak means “woman carrying something at her back” as the shape of the mountain resembles something like that (you have to have a lot of imagination to see it)

Mount Bugak and the Blue House

The Palace is right in the middle of Seoul, it’s interesting to see that combination of old, traditional shrines and buildings with skyscrapers and technology.

imperial palace seoul Annoying the poor guard

gwanghwamun square Gwanghwamun square, the combination of new and old

There’re not as many occidental tourist in Seoul (or in Korea in general) as one may think. So it wasn’t uncommon people staring at us or even asking for a picture (I felt like a celebrity *-*).
Right outside the Palace, a couple of students stopped us to take part on a survey about foreigners visiting Korea. It was very funny as they were struggling a bit to formulate the questions in English but once at the end they just read a big monotonic paragraph thanking us for participating. And they took a picture with us, of course 🙂

Traditional It was possible to dress up in a traditional way for free outside the Palace

We passed by the City Hall, where there was some kind of festival to promote Seoul as part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Seoul city hall Seoul city hall

UNESCO Even the Characters wanted a picture with me, not that I minded…

Kim Jong-un Not very appreciated there

Our walked continued until the Namdaemun Sungnyemun Gate, one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul

Namdaemun Sungnyemun

I have a friend from Korea and we met him and a friend of him for dinner at night. He wanted to take us to a really traditional restaurant, but it is extremely difficult for vegetarians there! even thought he speaks the language, it took us a long time to find a place where there was at least one thing without meat.

I got some crumbed vegetables and a tasty rice alcoholic drink and they had some kind of chicken soup EXTRA spicy. Thought Kev loves spice and he said it was super delicious, he was straggling to finish it. Furthermore, it’s rude to blow your nose while eating, something hard when the spices make your nose drip!

geonbae! geonbae! cheers!

We finished the evening with something very typical, the Korean national sport: Karaoke. You can book a room per hour and order food or drinks. Even some instruments are available!

Karaoke We got motivated

The place is really big and I got a bit lost on my way to the bathroom, almost entering at the male toilet. The waiter, far from being upset, just said “beautiful” with the thumb up. Girls, if you want to increase your self-esteem, go to Korea

My neighborhood: The black forest

I live in the black forest (OK, in a city next to it) and I like to hike, so it’d be pretty stupid to not take advantage of it and spend my weekends here sitting on the sofa.
Kevin and I, we like to do new things in our spare time and so we decided to do a small trekking path that we didn’t know yet.

The start point was Hinterzarten, a small touristic town in the Hochschwarzwald where people use to go skiing during winter. The way to our objective, Ravennaschlucht was not that well signalized, so after heading in the wrong direction during some minutes, we gave up the traditional way of orienting and we surrendered to the new technologies. Google maps didn’t disappoint us and we easily found the beginning of the trekking path along the Ravennaschlucht.

RavennaschluchtStarting the hike

As the spring is already here, we went with pretty light clothes…mistake! Up there in the forest, the snow was still melting and there was ice all around. It was so slippery that we needed 3 times more time to do the whole path without breaking a leg.

Ravennaschlucht

On the other hand, the melting snow produced some nice waterfalls that made the landscape even better.

Ravennaschlucht

Ravennaschlucht A lunch break in an old mill

Until around a corner it was our goal: Ravenna and the Ravenna Viadukt. The oldest train-steel-bridge in Germany, destroyed during World War II and reconstructed after that by the french army.

Ravennaschlucht

Ravennaschlucht Massive cuckoo clock, a must in the black forest

Some times isn’t necessary to go too far to discover new amazing places.

My Liebster Award Nomination

I started my small blog project just a couple of months ago, but I’d have never imagined that it would be so rewarding! Thanks a lot to the sweet Ashley for nominating me (un besito) to the Liebster Award, this things make me even eager to keep on with my stories!

Rules

Rules are pretty simple:

-Each nominee must link back to the person who nominated them.
-Answer the eleven questions given to you by the nominator.
-Nominate three other bloggers who have less than 200 followers.
-Create 11 questions for the nominees to answer.
-Let the nominees know they have been nominated.

Questions assigned to me:

1. What made you decide to start blogging?

We travel kinda a lot, but I’ve always thought that it was a shame to just keep the pictures in one corner of the hard drive…I also wanted to, somehow, record the experiences, anecdotes and sensations from our trips.
At first I tried to write down some notes but, maybe because of laziness, I ended up just writing a couple of lines or not writing anything at all.
The blog idea came up one boring day at home, and I thought it could be a cool idea to force myself to record these moments and memories and check them again in the future (my kids could read our adventures one day! :D)

2. Name one blog you always read.

I’ve a couple of “favorite” blogs but I’m a real fan of Fit and feminist. Caitlin is a writer who changed her life few years ago when she decided to take up running herself. I find her posts about running and her feminist thoughts really motivating.

3. What is your top favourite thing about being a blogger?

I guess that like most of the people, I like to read some amazing stories from other people who I’d never imagine myself. As well as it’s a great way to meet people with similar tastes and to exchange ideas and experiences.

4. What is your favorite meal?

Italian food is my weakness and downfall. A couple of years ago I spent 4 months in a small village in Italy. All that ice-cream, homemade pasta and pizza made me gain 10 kg!
It was worth though.. 😀

5. What is your favorite way to unwind?

In winter I go to the gym to sweat out the stress. In summer I really like to go to the park with a blanket and a good book. It would be great if I also could get tanned, but that never happens *sigh*

6. What is the story behind you blog name?

Reisende Schildkröten literally means “traveling turtles” in German. I didn’t really think too much about the title.
As turtles I refer to my boyfriend and myself and it all comes from the beginning of our relationship, when I couldn’t speak any German at all. I used to (I still do it, actually) tease him with the word “ronronear” as he can’t roll the spanish r, and he did the same with me with the word “Schildkröte” (it’s almost impossible for me to pronounce correctly the Umlaut).

7. What was your worst travel experience?

Luckily I don’t have too many. I guess that the worst happened in Buenos Aires, it was our second day travelling.
Everybody warned us about how dangerous was to go around the city with an expensive camera hanging from our necks, so I had the camera inside one cloth bag and we’re taking it out whenever we wanted to shoot a picture. At some point we sat in some stairs and I turned around to grab the bottle of water…well, the camera felt down from the bag downstairs and even more, a cab just passed by and ran over the poor camera (a birthday present form my boyfriend, btw)
We lost a lot of time finding a new camera, technology products are terribly overpriced in Southamerica and the models are pretty old comparing with Germany.

8. What’s the best thing about living in Germany?

I guess that the best is the job situation. Comparing with Spain it isn’t that complicated to find a job here where they value you because of your skills and motivation, regardless age or nationality.

Of course I wouldn’t be here if I wouldn’t have met my Schatz (or yes, who knows)

9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I think I’d like to change time to time my host country, at least while I’m still young. Some countries that I find interesting for living for a while are Singapore, New Zealand and Japan

10. Can you describe yourself in three words?

Impulsive, emphatic, curious.

11. What’s a piece of advice you’d give to a newbie blogger?

Be constant, even if sometimes it can be challenging to find the time and eager to update it. You’ll feel a special satisfaction after pushing the publish button 🙂
And of course, do not get obsessed with the number of likes or followers. Write for yourself, not for the others.

Nominations

I nominate the following bloggers:
1. mochila, cámara y…acción! – We met Boris and Yaiza in Ushuaia. They’re a French-Spanish couple who left everything behind in France to start a one a half year adventure around Southamerica…they made me very jealous!

2. Eva Von Bismark – Eva comes from my same province in Spain and I met her here, in the German city where I live (the world is small). She just started her beauty blog a couple of weeks ago and she’s doing it great 🙂

3. Little Traveller Things– Aleasha has a great blog where she talks not only about lifestyle but also about her experiences as expat and mother.

Your questions

Some questions are the same that I answered plus some new:

What made you decide to start blogging?
What do you find more challenging about blogging?
What is your top favorite thing about being a blogger?
From the places you have visited so far, which one is your favorite?
What is the story behind you blog name?
What was your worst travel experience?
What is your funniest travelling experience?
5 things that are always in your suitcase
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Can you describe yourself in three words?
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to a newbie blogger?

It isn’t compulsory to participate! If you decide to do it anyway, please don’t forget the rules…and thanks again for reading! 🙂

There are penguins at the end of the world

We rushed (as usual) to take our bus to Punta Arenas and we arrived very late with almost no cash.
When we finally found our hostel… well, it wasn’t the most modern hostel in the world, (actually I’d say that Magallanes itself was living there) but the owner, a sweet old lady was so extremely nice that it didn’t matter.
Even if it was so late she booked a trip to the Magdalena (penguin) island for us for the next day, explained us how to get to Ushuaia and even offered some cash for the next day until we could withdraw some. Breakfast was supposed to be served only until 10 am, but as we arrived so late she kept it for us so we could sleep longer. During the breakfast she was chatting with us for like an hour an even called the companies to be sure that our connections were available and on time….adorable!
Punta ArenasPunta Arenas
We spent some time exploring Punta Arenas (there’s not too much to see anyways) …Magallanes' Statue“Magallanes was here”
Cementerio Punta Arenas

…until we took the boat to see the Magellanic penguins. Those guys are not shy at all, I gotta say
Magdalena Island
Magdalena Island
A cute couplePingu-Kiss
protecting the nest
protecting the nest
Magdalena IslandWanna play Whac-A- MolePenguin?

We spent our last Chilean pesos in a 24h shop buying all kind of crappy food (I think we really scared the old owner when we spent like 15€ on chips and chocolate) getting ready for the longest bus ride of our trip.

13 long hours, 2 buses, 1 ferry and one border control to finally arrive at the end of the world: Ushuaia.
Ushuaia
Our hosts picked us up at the station and once at the house we met a spanish-french couple that were couchsurfing there. It was pretty cool to hear about their travel, as they left everything in France to travel during one year around Southamerica hitchhiking.
We went together to La Tierra del Fuego national park, but once there we split to do trekking by ourselves.
El Fin del Mundo
The landscapes are something special, all the trees look very ancient and dead.
Mi Mowgli My little Mowgli
Tierra del Fuego
Bye Grandpa
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego

Some brilliant mind introduced 24 couples of beavers to exploit their fur, but they not only didn’t success, the beavers without any natural predators and in an environment similar to their own, became a plague and colonized the area, making a total mess by changing the river caudal and cutting the local trees, which can’t regenerate.
Biebers revenge Bievers revenge
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego Adiós amigos
Next day we took a cab to the airport to, sadly, end up this adventure, but looking forward already for the next one…