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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?



    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.


    Jjimjilbang Korean Bath House

    To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to write about Korea. There are SO many expats here and nearly as many blogs and resources. Living abroad in Korea doesn’t feel as much of a novelty as living in the Middle East was. Plus, we are still figuring things out here and I don’t feel anywhere near qualified to share information! And on that note… maybe this post will break that cycle.

    We went to our first jjimjilbang (찜질방) this weekend! A jjimjilbang is a bathhouse. We adored the hamam in Turkey and were excited when we heard bathhouses were also popular in Korea. We were told before we moved here they were more intense than hamams because you’re completely naked! (No towel or swim bottoms in the bath area!)

    We met two friends this weekend to celebrate a birthday and they showed us the ropes. We took the subway to Ohmokgyo (오목교), had dinner at Burger Joint in the Hyundai mall, and then walked a short ways to Paragon Spa.

    First, we checked in and got our numbers, two small towels (three for the boys for some reason!), and clothes for the commons room. We took off our shoes, put them in our locker assignments, and got our keys. From there, the boys and girls split off to their separate quarters. There was a large locker area where we stored our bags and stripped down to nothing but our keys.


    Jjimjilbang braclet num ber


    Then we went into the bathhouse room! There were four different pools at four different temperatures. My friend said her family used to go to the 찜질방 once a week. Most Korean houses and apartments don’t have a tub, so they visit the 찜질방 for a good soak. There were massage jets in the second to coldest pool. The coldest had a waterfall jet from the ceiling that felt really good on my shoulders.

    There were also scrubbing services (to remove dead skin), which I did not do, but David did. He said it was a lot more up close and personal than the scrubbing at the hamam! No towel over certain areas. Ha!

    The spa included free soap, scrubbing salt, and toothpaste. You could pay extra for scrubbing, massages, manis, and pedis. There were also saunas. We peeked inside, but left quickly. I couldn’t breathe in the wet sauna. The dry sauna was slightly more tolerable, but it was 88 degrees Celsius (190 Fahrenheit)! I missed out on the cold sauna room.

    After about an hour of hopping between the tubs and showering off, we put on the spa clothes and met the boys in the commons area.


    Paragon spa clothes


    David and Leah in front of bamboo wall


    Bamboo reed wall


    I was amazed by how much was offered! TVs, a computer room, a play area for kids, a restaurant, a snack bar… Our friends had brought a board game and we hung out on the provided mats and played it. We also got some food from the snack bar. The plum juice was so good! Instead of using cash, we gave the cashier our bracelet and it recorded our purchases in their system. We paid at the counter before we left.


    Snack area




    I thought we looked a little like inmates in the spa clothes:


    Leah at Paragon Spa


    I loved the commons area. It felt like a really huge living room! Everyone was lying around and relaxing. There were also sleeping rooms for guys and girls, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night because of a cross country meet in the morning. We left around 11pm, but a large group of people were just arriving at that time! This city seems to never sleep.


    Common room


    Water feature


    We loved it and hope to go again sometime soon!

    Address Info:
    Mokdong Paragon Spa and Sauna/Jjimjilbang
    917 Mok 1(il)-dong, Yangcheon-gu, Seoul
    Phone: +82-(0)2–2654-3387



    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!



    Benedicts in Turkey: Tuz Gölü

    Have you ever seen a pink lake?

    After two days in Ankara, we stuffed people and bags into the rental car and headed southeast towards Cappadocia. Along the way, we stopped at Tuz Gölü.

    The name literally translates to Salt Lake. It’s Turkey’s second largest lake (after Lake Van) and provides over 60% of the country’s salt. It classifies as a mesosaline lake at around 33% salinity. It is also an endorheic lake, which means it’s a closed basin with no outlet other than evaporation. (The Dead Sea is another example of a endorheic salt lake. Yes, I had to Google all of that.)

    I’ve passed by this lake many times and was excited to finally see it! We wanted to stop when my mom visited us in November, but it was the wrong time of the year; the weather was cold and the lake was incredibly muddy. From what I see online, the summer months are better.




    There is free parking at the site and a museum we did not visit. Instead, we walked past the shops to the free (ücretsiz) “beach” entrance. (Be wary of the vendors. They will try to get you with their cream samples.)

    We had a gorgeous blue sky day. I couldn’t get over how PINK the lake was! Seeing the reflection of the clouds in the tinted waters was so very cool.


    Pink Tuz Golu in Turkey




    There was no sand at this beach – just salt crystals and salt balls. It hurt a little to walk on:


    Salt at Tuz Golu


    Salt deposit ball


    Ball of salt




    Salt deposits on a chair


    Turks are big believers in herbal medicine and natural treatments. We saw many people scrubbing their skin and bathing in the mineral water. See the man is sitting in the clear blue spot? There was a natural spring in that area of the lake:


    Turkish man bathing in the salt lake


    David’s family visited Great Salt Lake in Utah years ago. Dad said Tuz Gölü was much cleaner and nicer because it was bug-free. We didn’t swim, but waded a bit. The sandbar (saltbar?) went out a ways. Our legs needed a good rinse afterwards.


    Benedicts in the salt lake


    David and Leah at Tuz Golu


    David and Sam in Tuz Golu




    Chacos: David. Dress shoes: Turks.


    Shoes at Tuz Golu


    Man wading in the Turkey salt lake




    If you’re ever traveling from Ankara to Cappadocia, stop by Tuz Gölü! I can’t find an address, but the free entrance is along E90 on the northeast side of the lake. You can’t miss the sign (the first photo in this post). We didn’t see any, but maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of the flamingos that hang out there!



    Senior Trip: Kalkan and Boat Tour

    Now that I have some time, I’ll be mixing in a few retrospective posts. (Our last few months in Turkey were crazy full and there’s so much we haven’t shared about yet!)

    I was a senior class sponsor last year. During the June exam days, we drove south to the coast for a 5-day trip. The senior class was tiny with only six graduates and only five were able to go on the trip. There were benefits to having such small group – we all fit in the other sponsor’s van!




    I feel like Turkey is one of the world’s best kept vacation secrets with over 7000 km of coastline falling along the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and Aegean. And it’s all stunning.

    We traveled to Kalkan and spent two nights at Villa Derin. This rental was so wonderful! And very modern. It had four bedrooms, a private pool, and an incredible view. We used the kitchen for several meals and ate out on the porch. We drove to the town of Kalkan once and some of us took a ferry across the bay the other evening.


    Villa Derin


    Villa Derin wall




    Kalkan view


    Seniors in Kalkan


    Kalkan street


    Beautiful orange flowers


    Kalkan steps


    Kalkan beach


    We spent one morning at Patara Beach. (Use the Müze Card for a discount!) I don’t have any photos from there because I didn’t bring my camera, but this beach was one of the nicest I’ve ever been to. There were some ancient ruins there as well, but we spent our time on the beach. It wasn’t crowded and we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. Some of the kids rented an umbrella and some lounge chairs.


    Kalkan at night


    For the last three days of the trip, we rented a boat out of Kaş called Dilara. The boat followed along the coast. We stopped in bays to swim and anchored in other bays for the night. The boat had lounging mats on the top deck and some of the kids slept there at night. The scenery was ridiculously beautiful. We played cards and dominoes, kayaked, read, napped, and relaxed. The captain and his wife were very hospitable and the food they made was oh so good. One of the girls said, “I feel like on this trip I’m either eating or sleeping.”


    Sitting on the boat deck


    Turkish boat rental with flag


    Boat deck at morning


    Senior drawing


    Dinner on the boat


    Turkish breakfast spread


    Leah swimming


    Senior trip


    The trip was a special time of bonding for the seniors. It was also bittersweet because by the end of the trip, we all wished it could have happened at the beginning of the year. I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with these students. They are talented with bright futures ahead of them! The trip was a breath of fresh air before the end of the year craziness, graduation, and the goodbyes we all faced.