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national park

    Suncheon Bay and Yeosu

    David’s school has a working relationship the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation. This group is so very generous and offers cultural trips to teachers twice a year! We were so excited when we found out we made it on the list for the trip over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a quick trip; we left Friday morning and returned Saturday evening. The foundation organized everything – transportation, lodging, and food. It was nice to just be along for the ride!

    We left Seoul on the KTX speed train. Some of our friends clocked the train at the top speed of 184 mph! Even though the snow didn’t stick in Seoul on Thanksgiving, we passed fields and mountains loaded with snow. Just 2.5 hours later, we arrived in Suncheon Bay (순천만).

     

    Snowy trees

     

    After a delicious Korean BBQ lunch, we spent a short 30 minutes at the Suncheon Open Film Set, the largest film site in Korea.  The place consisted of three villages representing the 1950s to the 1970s. I haven’t seen any Korean dramas or movies yet, so I didn’t recognize any of the sets.

     

    Film village

     

    Next, we took the tour bus to Suncheon Bay Ecological Park (순천만자연생태공원). This wetland preserve had the largest reedbed in Korea, mudflats, and plenty of wildlife, including the rare hooded crane. We took a ferry boat ride and hiked around the grounds.

     

    Suncheon ferry ride view

     

    We spotted a couple of otters! You can see the back of one in the middle of this photo:

     

    Otter and birds

     

    The tour guide said reeds like this are used to make a special type of broom that lasts 30 years. Suncheon Bay is a government protected area, so I don’t know if these particular reeds are used or not:

     

    Suncheon Bay reed fields

     

    Boardwalk among reeds

     

    David and Leah in Suncheon

     

    Suncheon Ecological Park view

     

    David in Suncheon Park

     

    The foundation put us up in an incredible hotel in Yeosu (여수) called The MVL (which stands for Most Valuable Life). The rooms had gorgeous views of the bay. We thought one feature was funny… the bathroom had a curtain that opened like a window to the room. The purpose was so you could watch the sun rise and set as you bathe.

     

    MVL hotel

     

    MVL room view

     

    MVL bathroom window

     

    We had dinner and breakfast at the hotel. The buffets were to die for. Soups, Korean food, sushi, seafood, pastries, fruit… We ate so. much. food. Here was the first (of probably three) of my breakfast plates:

     

    MVL breakfast

     

    After checking out of the hotel, we loaded our bags on the bus and then walked to the Yeosu Maritime Cable Cars (여수 해상케이블카). This attraction opened in December 2014. We rode in the special “crystal” cars that had glass bottoms. The views were beautiful as we traveled over the Dadohae Marine National Park and Dolsandaegyo Bridge.

     

    Yeosu Cable Car

     

    Cable car clear floor

     

    Cable car ride

     

    After our cable car rides, we walked to Odongdo Island (오동도). We had less than an hour there. The weather was much warmer in Yeosu and the greenery was beautiful.

     

    Odongdo island

     

    Dragon cave:

     

    Odongdo Island dragon cave

     

    This is called a turtle ship, a Korean warship. The ship was loaded with spikes and cannons. Both cannons and flames were fired from the dragon’s mouth:

     

    Odongdo Island turtle ship

     

    After another huge lunch, we headed to the train station to return to Seoul. We had a wonderful time with our 23 friends! Thank you, KFS Foundation!!!

     

    Travel group

     

    • For more information on the Suncheon area, visit www.suncheon.go.kr.
    • For more information on the Yeosu area, visit www.ystour.kr/en/main.jsp.

     

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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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    SB14: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

    After Krk, we left the coast and headed to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park was my favorite part of our trip! Plitvice is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The drive there was beautiful with mountains and forests, but the road was crazy with a lot of switchbacks.

    Entrance to the park was 110HRK, which is about $20. (Price conversions were tricky this trip… with a lot of initial sticker shock!)

    My professional guestimation is that we saw 16,939 waterfalls.

     

    Plitvice Waterfalls

     

    We walked along footbridges that weaved in and out and over and around the waterfalls. We scored big being there during off-season. We heard that during peak season it can be so crowded that you’re shoulder to shoulder with people the entire walk.

     

    Plitvice footbridge

     

     

    Purple flowers

     

    Wood pile

     

    We took a ferry across one of the lakes. We had a funny culture shock moment on our return ride. In Turkey, we’ve learned to be aggressive in lines. Our ferry was packed. Some people had to stand in the aisles. We sat on the benches at the very front. As we pulled up to the dock, we immediately stood up so we could be the first ones off the boat. And we looked like idiots. Everyone very methodically and in true Western style exited the boat row by row. People didn’t even stand up until it was their turn. Shame on us.

     

    David on the ferry boat

     

    Plitvice Waterfalls

     

    Everywhere we looked… waterfalls and more waterfalls!

     

    Plitvice Waterfalls

     

    Plitvice Waterfalls

     

    https://vine.co/v/MiZdbazEnzT/p>
     

    Plitvice Waterfalls

     

    On our way out of the park, we made one last stop.

     

    Plitvice Waterfalls

     

    Here’s our travel group:

     

    Our travel group

     

    The water came over the footbridges in some spots:

     

    Chacos and water

     

    So much so, we had to walk across bridges on the footbridges. As David said in his Vine video… “walking on water!”

     

    Footbridge bridge

     

    It was an awesome last waterfall to see!

     

    Jumping by a waterfall

     

    David and a big waterfall

     

    Where we stayed
    We stayed at Hotel Bellevue. We chose this one over Hotel Plitvice because it was cheaper. It was very basic and fairly clean, so it worked for a night. The hotel was a 10 minute walk from park entrance #2. It was nice that we didn’t have to worry about parking.

    Where we ate
    There were no towns or villages by the park, and our only option was the restaurant in Hotel Plitvice. After we dropped off our bags, we walked across the street for dinner. We had a really weird Grand Budapest Hotel moment. There was a grand dining room with white tablecloths and napkins, but only a handful of the tables were being used. The meal was average. The breakfast the next morning at Hotel Bellevue was awesome. It was just what we needed before our hike in the park! We stocked up on snacks and fruit before we got there, so we had plenty of munchies for our hike.

     

    Here’s a recap of our trip:
    » Day 1 & 2: Zagreb, Croatia
    » Day 3: Bled, Slovenia
    » Day 4: Ljubjlana, Slovenia
    » Day 4: Škocjan Caves Park, Slovenia
    » Day 5: Krk, Croatia
    » Day 6: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
    » Day 7: Split, Croatia

     

    Hiking in Kizilcahamam

    Two of our teacher friends told us about Kızılcahamam and we went to check it out. Kızılcahamam is a small town about 50 miles north of where we live. It’s still a part of the Ankara providence, but it is far outside the city and feels like a completely different place.

    Getting there was a breeze! We took a 2TL dolmuş ride from our neighborhood to ANKAmall. Outside the mall, we walked under the overpass, called a number to “reserve” our bus spots, and then paid 7TL for the hour and a half ride into Kızılcahamam. (That’s less than $10 USD round trip!)

    We spent our Saturday hiking in Soğuksu (translation “cold water”) National Park with five of our friends.

     

    Trees

     

    It felt so good to slip away from the city for a little bit.

     

    Hiking in Kizilcahamam

     

    The view of the mountains was beautiful. Our weather just started to turn cooler, and it was the perfect day to be outside.

     

    Kizilcahamam Mountains

     

    Colorful leaf

     

    Kizilcahamam view

     

    Kizilcahamam view

     

    Hiking in Kizilcahamam

     

    We saw petrified trees and some vultures (apparently this is part of the tourist attraction for the park?) on our hike. And aside from me falling down a hill and almost breaking our camera (miraculously it didn’t break – and neither did I), it was a perfect day!

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