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    Seoraksan National Park

    We spent an afternoon of our weekend in Sokcho at Seoraksan National Park. We did some unexpected hiking and climbed to new heights.

    Seoraksan National Park (설악산국립공원) is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site. It was easy to get to the park entrance from Sokcho; we took the 7–1 bus to the end of the line. (For anyone visiting from Seoul, T-Money cards do not work on Sokcho buses. Bus fare costs ₩1,200 per person.) Park entrance cost ₩7,000 per person. The entrance gate was crowded with people visiting over the Chuseok holiday.

     

    Seoraksan National Park entrance gate

     

    Seoraksan entrance gate

     

    The bronze Jwabul Buddha Statue sits near the entrance at over 14 meters high:

     

    Seoraksan Buddha

     

    Buddha looking over Seoraksan National Park

     

    The park was beautiful. The weather still felt like summer, so it was a perfect day for a hike. First, we bought tickets for the cable cars. We scheduled our tickets for the 5:00 pm ride. (Tickets cost ₩10,000 per person. Buy ahead – they do sell out!) We vaguely heard about and decided to take the Ulsanbawi (울산바위) trail. It was around 4 kilometers long, and we figured that’d be a good distance to cover and make it back in time for the cable car.

    Our hike started out easy. We wandered by pretty mountain views and Buddhist temples:

     

    Seoraksan National Park

     

    Seoraksan temple

     

    We saw a lot of Koreans in hiking gear, which we thought was silly. The beginning of the path was paved and flat. There were even bathrooms along the way. After a while, the trail changed to a rocky path and our ascent really began. We understood the walking sticks after that.

     

    Seoraksan trees

     

    David in Seoraksan National Park

     

    In the distance, we saw the granite peaks of our destination. And then it hit me. We were hiking all the way to the TOP of Ulsanbawi. Afterwards, we found out it has an elevation of 867 m.

     

    Ulsanbawi

     

    The Gyejoam Temple (게조암) is a good halfway marker. There were some food vendors there, but we just topped off our water bottles from a spring. Also near temple is Heundeulbawi, the “rocking rock.” No matter how hard people push it, it can never be knocked over. If you have enough force, the rock does shift a bit:

     

    David pushing Heundeulbawi rock

     

    Ulsanbawi

     

    Then, we hit the stairs. The 800+ stairs that are strapped to the mountain and take you up the top. This one was of the steepest climbs I’d ever done. It didn’t help that we hadn’t eaten anything but half a muffin. Thankfully, we had some granola bars and nuts.

    After about 2.5 hours (the last hour was torture), we FINALLY made it! We were surprised to find a small souvenir shop at the top. There were men selling Korean iced tea for ₩5,000. At that point, it could have cost three times that price and I would have paid it. It was the best iced tea I’d ever tasted. It was a hard climb, but the views at the top – wow!

     

    Celebrating making it to the top of Ulsanbawi

     

    Ulsanbawi

     

    Leah at the top of Ulsanbawi

     

    David at the top of Ulsanbawi

     

    Ulsanbawi peak

     

    Ulsanbawi peak view

     

    Leah jumping on Ulsanbawi

     

    The climb back down the mountain took only 1.5 hours. We were booking it to make it in time for our cable car ride. Funny enough, we ran into some people who worked at the school we worked at in Turkey. Our time hadn’t overlapped, but we heard about them living in Korea from mutual friends. It’s crazy we had to hike a mountain in order to meet them!

    I don’t know how accurate it is, but my phone said we climbed 140 stories to get to the top. Here are the death stairs:

     

    Ulsanbawi stairs

     

    After we finished the trail, we had some time to spare. We climbed down to the stream and soaked our feet in the cold running water. It felt SO GOOD! A Korean man saw us, thought we were funny, and had to get a photo with us. (Us probably meaning David and his red beard.)

     

    Leah soaking her feet

     

    Posing with Korean man in a stream

     

    We (finally) got some lunch at one of the many restaurants near the entrance. And then we took the cable car up to the Gwongeumseong peak (elevation 670 m). There was a cafe at the top and we snacked on hotteok and enjoyed the view.

     

    Seoraksan cable car

     

    Seoraksan cable car view from the top

     

    It’s probably for the best that we didn’t do much research on the trail before we got to the park. If you do the hike, don’t be like us and eat a meal beforehand. There are several other trails in the park that we didn’t have time to do including one that takes you to a waterfall.

    I’m not sure if we’ll be able to, but I’d love to make it back to Seoraksan to see the fall colors!

     

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    Chuseok in Sokcho

    We took our first trip outside of Seoul! We traveled 200 km east to a coastal city called Sokcho (속초).

    Korea celebrated their harvest festival called Chuseok (추석) the last weekend of September. (The dates change from year to year based on the lunar calendar.) We heard people describe it as the Korean Thanksgiving. They also said it’s a bigger holiday than Christmas. People typically travel to their hometowns to spend time with family. Traditional customs include rituals to honor ancestors, but not everyone practices those.

     

    Sokcho bench

     

    We were a little nervous. It was our first trip in Korea and one on our own. We purchased bus tickets the week before at Express Bus Terminal. The lady at the counter spoke fairly good English, and David confirmed the departure times two or three times with her. We didn’t even think to double check the tickets themselves and when we handed them to the man to board the bus, we realized she had given us tickets for 3:00 pm instead of 7:00 pm. We headed back to the counter and hoped we could get another bus that night. Fortunately — and I don’t know if this was because of the holiday or not — buses were leaving every 10 minutes and we got on the next one. I was amazed! I was so worried they would be sold out. (We ended up changing our tickets again on our return trip to get back earlier. The process was easy and they didn’t charge us anything extra.) It took us around 3 hours to get there and it would have taken less had it not been for the holiday traffic. The return trip was 4.5 hours.

    Sokcho is a smaller city of around 90,000 people. Everything moved a little slower and the people were more tan (like me!). The area where we stayed was quiet. This may have been because of Chuseok and/or it being past beach season. The city is situated around the bay and the mountains and felt a lot smaller than it looked on the map. We loved the fresh sea air and gorgeous views!

    It was a great little getaway. We rented an electric motorcycle for $10 and road around the Expo Tower, saw the Tree of Hearts sculpture, stuck our feet in the water, and explored the market areas. We also hiked in Seoraksan National Park… I’ll do a post on that later! Our last day, we stopped by the Abai (North Korean Expat) Village for lunch.

     

    Sokcho Expo Tower

     

    Electric motorcycle

     

    Electric motorcycle

     

    David’s now shot a gun in three countries! America, Georgia, and Korea:

     

    David shooting game

     

    Being on the coast, we saw seafood and hatcheries everywhere:

     

    Fish hatchery

     

    Sokcho wall mural

     

     

    Sokcho tree of hearts

     

    Sokcho tree of hearts

     

    Sokcho tree of hearts

     

    The Donghae (meaning the East Sea… aka the Sea of Japan):

     

    Sokcho beach

     

    We saw a few foreigners swimming, but we just stuck our feet in:

     

    Sokcho beach

     

    Sokcho sea glass

     

    Like we saw in Turkey, Koreans sun dry a lot of food:

     

    Drying peppers

     

    Drying squid

     

    When you have stuff to dry, might as well string them all together. Socks, eggplant, and squid:

     

    Drying laundry and squid

     

    Flat White Sokcho cafe

     

    Door knocker

     

    A hand drawn ferry to the Abai Village:

     

    Hand ferry to Abai Village

     

    Under the Abai Village bridge

     

    Where we stayed:
    City Seoul Motel. We booked our reservation through AirBnB. It was very clean and in a good location. It was right around the corner from the Sokcho Foodtown. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to the beach area, but from what we heard from friends, cost about half the price of the hotels closer to the water.

    Where we ate:
    Matsu – a cozy Italian restaurant tucked away near the national park. We met up with some friends from the school who had eaten here before. A plate of pasta cost around $15 and included a free appetizer, salad, and dessert! I had a delicious seafood alfredo dish. I don’t know if there’s a great way to get to the restaurant by public transportation. It’s close to the entrance of the hill that goes up to Seoraksan National Park.
    Flat White – this was a gem of a coffee shop! We had breakfast here two mornings. The shop has its own roastery inside.

     

    Sokcho was a great location for our first Korea trip! I highly recommend it. I’ll share more about Seoraksan National Park soon.

    Any recommendations for our next excursion in Korea?

     

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    Benedicts in Turkey: Pamukkale & Hierapolis

    We changed into our swimsuits at Laodicea and drove 12km north to Pamukkale. (David and I walked up the limestone travertines back in October not once, but twice!)

    Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Entrance costs 25TL or is free with the Müzekart. The boys loved sitting in the hot springs, damming up the canal with their bodies, then letting the mineral water rush down to the boy at the bottom.

     

    Pools of Pamukkale

     

    Sitting in Pamukkale travertines

     

    Limestone texture

     

    Family in Pamukkale travertines

     

    Limestone travertines

     

    At the top of the hill were the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). We got to the site a little later in the day and didn’t have a lot of time to walk around before the sun started to set.

     

    Hierapolis field

     

    We did walk up to the theater. Hierapolis suffered several earthquakes, but this theater was reconstructed with 98% of the original pieces!

     

    Hierapolis theater

     

    Hierapolis theater

     

    Hierapolis theater

     

    Family at Hierapolis

     

    Hierapolis field

     

    Pamukkale pool

     

    Walking down Pamukkale

     

    We had two more of the seven churches of Revelation on the schedule for the next day. After gözleme for dinner, we drove 180km west to the coast and stayed the night at Sergent Hotel in Kuşadası.

     

    Benedicts in Turkey: Laodicea

    After a final breakfast in Çıralı, we piled the bags and everyone back into the car and drove four hours north to the ruins of Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Revelation. (Rev 3:14–22.)

    This was David’s and my second time at Laodicea; we first visited last October. It was exciting to see how much excavation had been completed in just eight months. And there’s so much more to be done! Rocks and columns peek out of the untouched fields surrounding the site.

    Entrance cost 10 TL or was free with the Müzekart. Laodicea is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site.

     

    Laodicea road

     

    This was the Christian church in Laodicea. The archaeologists were working while we were there:

     

    Laodicea church excavations

     

    The Temple of Athena:

     

    Laodicea temple

     

    Benedicts on the steps of the temple

     

    Laodicea was the lukewarm church. They did not have a water source, so they piped in water from two nearby cities. One source was hot and the other cold. By the time the water arrived in their city, it was lukewarm and smelly with minerals. The ancient pipes are around the site. You can even hear the hollow underneath the stones of the main street.

     

    Laodicea pipes

     

    Laodicea agora columns

     

    Dad and David at Laodicea

     

    Dad is checking out Pamukkale in the distance here. (It’s that white spot.) We visited the limestone hill shortly after we finished at Laodicea:

     

    dadpammukaledistance

     

    Laodicea carved face

     

    Sam at the Laodicea theater

     

    Laodicea theater

     

    Laodicea excavations in Turkey

     

    The weather was anything but lukewarm. The sun can be brutal in the summer! While the boys walked to the newly excavated stadium, I sought shade and a Magnum ice cream bar in the small shop.

    The family loved exploring this Biblical site! Next up… Pamukkale!

     

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    Benedicts in Turkey: Çıralı

    After David’s family booked their plane tickets, we knew we had to squeeze in some beach time. We wanted to avoid the hustle and bustle of Antalya, and our friends told us about their favorite beach town.

    It was David’s and my first time in Çıralı! It’s a tiny Lycian village on the Mediterranean with just over two miles of beachfront. It took us over eight hours to get there from Göreme. For the last few miles, we exited the main highway and drove on dirt roads. It was just before dark by the time we arrived.

     

    Çıralı sunset

     

    We stayed at İkiz Pansiyon in two of their bungalows. It was a great spot just a short walk from the beach. We were there an evening, a day, and a morning and ate at their İkiz Restaurant on the beach for our meals. (Breakfast was included at the Pansiyon.)

    The next morning, we put on our swimsuits and walked down to the beach. At the far end of the beach in the river valley sits the ancient ruins of Olympos. (Entrance was 5TL or free with the Müzekart.) Olympos is dated to the 4th century during the Hellenistic period.

     

    Sign for Olympos

     

    It amazes me how accessible ruins are in Turkey. You can walk up to and around and on top of most of them!

     

    Olympos mosaics

     

    Olympos river

     

    Olympos gate

     

    Çıralı Beach rocks

     

    We explored for about two hours and could have stayed for many more, but we had lots more ruins ahead of us and it was time for the beach. We dodged a storm or two, but had a few hours of clear skies for swimming!

    Our stay at İkiz included free beach chairs! We bought some goggles and the boys had fun checking out the fish – even a few tropical ones!

     

    Beach chairs at Çıralı

     

    Çıralı beach

     

    Swimming at Çıralı

     

    Swimming at Çıralı

     

    This man speared an octopus!

     

    Speared octopus

     

    Multicolored flower

     

    At Ikiz Restaurant for dinner

     

    Our last stop of the day was a surprise for the family. We didn’t tell them we were going to see Mount Chimaera (aka Yanartaş) and its eternal flames. After dinner, we headed north. We asked a few people for directions and kept walking and walking. And walking.

    After an hour, we finally made it! (It’d be better to take a car or bus there from the beach, especially at night. Once you get to the base of the mountain, you also have to hike two miles up a very steep incline with lots of stairs. And then back down and a long way back to town.) We paid the entrance fee and rented a flashlight. It was pitch black dark outside aside from a few glowing spots on the mountain.

    Yanartaş produces eternal flames. There are vents in the rock where a mixture of gas – mostly methane – escapes. The fires burn constantly and do not need ignition. They date back thousands of years; Pliny the Elder (AD 29 — AD 79) mentioned the phenomenon in his writings. Sailors used the flames to navigate their ships.

     

    Leah at Chimaera Mountain

     

    Even though we were all tired by the time we got to the mountain, it was well worth the hike. Can you believe how bizarre it is? They looked like a bunch of logless campfires. The boys had fun kicking dirt at some of the smaller ones. They put a couple of the flames out, but I think they come back. Otherwise… way to ruin a national treasure, kids. It was a bummer we didn’t have marshmallows for s’mores. (Muslim country = no pork products).

     

    Chimaera flames

     

    Chimaera flames

     

    See the big dipper?

     

    Night sky at Chimaera

     

    Coming down the mountain was a little easier than walking up it. David jogged back to the hotel and brought the car to us. He is one good man.

    After breakfast the next morning, we were off to see one of the Seven Churches of Revelation and another crazy Turkish landscape!

     

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    Benedicts in Turkey: Cappadocia

    After our brief stop at Tuz Gölü, we headed onward to Cappadocia. (We visited Cappadocia several times while we lived in Turkey. It was a five hour drive from Ankara, which made it an easy getaway.) It’s a unique place with a bizarre landscape! There’s lots to see and eat and little shops to browse.

    We had about a day and a half in Göreme. We stayed again at Vineyard Cave Hotel and can’t recommend it enough! Mom, Dad, Sam, and Ben had one of the completely underground cave rooms, and David and I were in another. The owner and his son could not be more hospitable. They have one of the best Turkish breakfasts! I’ll dream of Turkish breakfast and wish for salted roasted apricot seeds for the rest of my life.

    After we dropped our bags, we went to the Göreme Open Air Museum. (A UNESCO site, 20TL or free with the Müze Kart.) Cappadocia is the best place for boys. It has ALL the rocks to climb.

     

    Open Air Museum, boys climbing

     

    Turkish Poppies

     

    Mom and Dad in the Open Air Museum

     

    Sam climbing rocks

     

    We had dinner that night at Old Cappadocia Restaurant at the recommendation of a friend. They include free bread and are a lot more wallet friendly than some of the other restaurants in Göreme. David ordered testi kebap where they cook the stew in a pot and break it open to serve it:

     

    Testi Kebap

     

    The next morning, our host Hasan Bey took us on a private tour! He has wonderful childhood stories and a rich knowledge of the region.

    This is one of the few cave churches with a pulpit:

     

    Cappadocia cave pulpit

     

    He also took us to Beyzade Kuruyemis & Lokum for Turkish delight and dried goods (salted roasted apricot seeds!!!), Özler Onyx for jewelry shopping (zultanite is exclusive to Turkey), and then to the Love Valley:

     

    Cappadocia rocks

     

    Love Valley

     

    This was our rental car for the trip – a Fiat Freemont. It served us well, even though the six of us were quite cozy inside with our luggage. It had a half-sized trunk:

     

    Rental Car

     

    Hasan Bey had to cut the tour a little short because his son got engaged! He went back to prepare for a party and we went onwards to Avanos to look at the pottery shops. The boys got to try their hand at the wheel:

     

    Boys at the pottery wheel in Avanos

     

    Hittite wine decanters

     

    We had lunch at Mado along the river:

     

    Avanos river, mosque, gondola

     

    Turkish tablecloth pattern

     

    Our last stop of the day was Kaymaklı Underground City, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Entrance cost 20TL or was free with the Müze Kart. We hired a tour guide for 50TL. He was the same guide we used when we visited with Mom in November!

     

    Kaymaklı tunnel

     

    Kaymaklı Underground City

     

    On our last morning, we woke up at the crack of dawn to catch the hot air balloon launch. Even though I’d watched it many times before, it never loses its magic:

     

    Goreme sunrise balloon launch

     

    After a quick nap and another hearty breakfast, we packed up the car again and drove south to the coast! Next up: Çıralı!

     

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