Night Hiking Achasan with a zoom burst!

Last night I finally got back to night hiking and joined Seoul Hiking Group at Achasan (Acha mountain).  It was the same path I took a few months ago but now I knew more about white balance and decided to try a new photography technique called a “zoom burst.”  Enjoy the photos from this awesome evening of new friends and gorgeous city views!

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Night view of Seoul from Achasan

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Night view of Seoul from Achasan

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Night view of the Han River & Lotte Tower being constructed

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Namsan Tower

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Night view of the Han River & Seoul from Achasan

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Zoom Burst!

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Night view of Seoul from Achasan

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Zoom Burst!

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Night view of the Han River & Lotte Tower being constructed

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Night view of Seoul from Achasan

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Night view of Seoul from Achasan

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Korean Photo Contest

I need your help; I’m submitting some photos for a Korean Tourism Photo contest and can’t decide which photos to use! I narrowed it down to 10 choices but can only submit 5 photos. What are your favorites (pick up to 5)?

Gyeongbukgung at Night #1

#1 Gyeongbukgung at Night #1

Gyeongbukgung at Night #2

#2 Gyeongbukgung at Night #2

Gyeongbukgung in Spring

#3 Gyeongbukgung in Spring

Hiking Seoraksan

#4 Hiking Seoraksan

Jirisan Reflection #1

#5 Jirisan Reflection #1

Jirisan Reflection #2

#6 Jirisan Reflection #2

Night Hiking Achasan

#7 Night Hiking Achasan

Seoraksan's Dinosaur Ridge #1

#8 Seoraksan’s Dinosaur Ridge #1

Atop Namsan

#9 Guarding Namsan

Bukhansan's crow flies into the sun

#10 Bukhansan’s crow flies into the sun

 

4th grade field trip to Namsan, Chyeonggyecheon & Gyeongbokgung

Friday I had the pleasure of going on my first field trip at my new school.  The 4th grade had a great time on our Seoul tour stopping at 3 famous places.  Namsan is a mountain in the middle of the city, Chyeonggyecheon is a stream running through Seoul near city hall and Gyeongbokgung is one of the royal palaces.  I’ve been to all 3 before but it was a unique experience taking 150 kids with us and I loved seeing all of them during the day in full Spring bloom!

Our tour guide chatted away in Korean the whole day and I’m sure my students learned a lot but I was glad I had my camera to keep me busy.  I hope you enjoy these pictures from an awesome field trip with the cutest and best 4th grade ever!

 

Even though the pollution has been pretty bad the last few days we got some great views at the top of the North Seoul Tower!

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Ben & I go to a village, a palace & a hike

Ben arrived late Saturday night!  I was waiting in the subway station when all of the sudden I got an email saying he was in my apartment.  He managed to come out a different subway exit and beat me home; good thing I emailed him my door & room code.

We took it easy Saturday night and caught up over some Kkanbu chicken, a chain that sells some excellent dishes. We ordered Sweet Tender Chicken which is basically sesame chicken but more tender and a little more kick.  Before bed we looked through our guidebooks and solidified \plans for the next few days all while maneuvering around in my now cramped studio apartment.  He slept on my foam mattress which took up most of the floor space that his luggage left open.

Sunday we planned on seeing a Hanok Village, hiking up Namsan to the Seoul Tower and wandering through Namdaemun Market.  They are within 10 minutes of each other a great way to spend our bonus day (Ben was supposed to arrive late Sunday night but with the government shutdown got out of his assignment 2 days early.)

We hopped on the subway and headed to Chungmoro station which was a short walk from the Hanok Village.  Following the sign we made a sharp left and saw a traditional Korean house.  On closer inspection it was aptly named “Korean House” and the sign mentioned the word “hanok” in Hanguel.   Unsure if this was where we intended on going we stepped inside to find  a smattering of Korean’s in authentic wedding regalia and an info box indicating that this was a great venue for weddings, meetings and other events.  Pretty sure this wasn’t what we were looking for we left and kept walking hoping to find the actual Hanok Village.

A Hanok is technically a traditional Korean house but its more of a small community.  There are separate buildings for men, women and different families and this was only one building.  Walking a few more blocks and we soon realized we were going the wrong way and looked at our map before deciding to head back the subway to reorient ourselves. Upon arrival we immediately realized that we had taken the wrong left turn out of the subway.  Skipping the sharp left we instantly saw the Hanok Village a mere hundred meters ahead.

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Once inside the village we saw traditional Korean dancing and listened to music while wandering around the sandy courtyard.  We passed on some kids crafts and games before finding ourselves staring into an ancient Korean household.  The glimpse at this home from centuries past showed a more common lifestyle than the royal life I had previously seen in at Gyeongbokgung palace.

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Inside each structure were samples of what little furniture they used along with some rugs and tapestries.  There was an old kitchen with logs underneath big black cauldrons and elaborate screens along the walls.  Some of the doors had intricate carvings while most passageways were open air.  Continuing around the village we saw more of the same style house when we both realized how hungry the walk here had made us.   We hoped to try a traditional Korean meal in the Hanok but unfortunately the only food was from a vending machine.  We left the village in search of an eatery but I made sure to pause and pose as Ben took a shot of me as a Hwarang (the Korean equivalent of the  samurai) defending against the Japanese invaders.

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We wandered down the street Looking for some authentic Korean and quickly passed on the Domino’s and Outback at the corner.  Eventually we found a hole in the wall lunch joint in the basement of the skyscraper towering above.  We picked it largely because of the pictures out front and were happy to find pictures in the menu too!  I was glad I knew enough Korean to order since the waiter didn’t speak any English; Ben got  bulgogi jeongol, a bulgogi hotpot with veggies and a side of rice and I got the samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup (same as what I had after the palace I mentioned earlier).  Our banchan came out and was shortly followed by the entrees.  We decided to skip Namdamun market and head to Changdeokgung, a nearby royal palace, and devoured the rest of our meals leaving just enough so that we could each try both dishes.

The palace was a short subway ride to Anguk station.  Changdeokgung is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of vibrance and beauty.  Unfortunately the cloudy sky above made the scenery a little more dull than we would have liked.  Not letting the weather bring us down we strolled through the palace grounds.

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We came upon throne rooms and majestic staterooms.  The buildings had a similar feel to Gyeongbukgung but the layout of the palace was entirely different.  Changdeokgung is laid out to be in harmony with nature and the surrounding landscape.  It is laid out in a a seemingly chaotic nature although the architects in fact took great lengths in designing the second of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces” to provide good feng shui with the nearby mountains.

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Walking around and around we stumbled upon the secret garden at the rear of the enclosure; sadly it was sold out.  I guess I’ll just have to visit again. Wandering back down we found a section that was a little less elaborate, likely the old servants quarters.  Even though it was not as colorful the design was still beautiful and the layout of buildings and trees provided a nice scene given the dreary sky.

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The sun was making its way toward the horizon when we decided to start out towards Namsan.  We wanted to arrive around dusk so that Ben could get a glimpse of the city in daylight and see how the landscape changes as the populous switches their lights on to bring a brilliant glow to the blackness of night.  It was a short trip to Myeongdong subway stop and Namsan was at the top of the hill.  We briefly looked for a place to grab some grub but were unable to find anything in English and decided get something at the top.

Heading upwards the ramp switched back and forth between stairs and a steady path.  It curved around to the left and leveled off before going back downhill.  Wait, downhill?  We want to go up!  Were we going the right way?  Stopping at the first sign with map we decided we’d taken a wrong turn and turned around.  Luckily there was still plenty of light and the rubberized path was quite pleasant to walk on.

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We passed joggers and hikers, a small team of runners, a few bikers and a restaurant with a trickling fall out front.  Checking out the menu it looked appetizing but we opted to keep hiking when suddenly our path hit the road and we were next to the cable car.  We were back at the start but decided to hike the rest of the way and were glad to have some confirmation that we went in the right direction.

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This path rarely leveled out and seemed to be an endless series of stairs.  It curved in and out of the forest giving teases of the beautiful view at the top.  We kept saying we would wait for pictures when suddenly there was a walkway out of the forest with a spectacular scenic overlook.  I took a panoramic shot with my phone while Ben took a handful of photos with his new Nikon 7100.  A brief water break and we continued upward.

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With Seoul Tower growing larger we knew it couldn’t be much farther.  Step by step; up we went.  At the next staircase the hum of the cable-car grew louder and was quickly followed by a view the massive gondola and Seoul Tower through the trees.  A few more steps brought us to a snack hut where we declined the fish-flavored roasted roll up in favor of a corn dog.  Just up the next set of stairs we found the signal fires and remnants of the ancient walls that protected the city.

Happy to be on the flat pavilion at the top we took in the sights and Ben snapped a few more shots of the city.  The sun hadn’t quite set yet so we decided to wander down below deck; only finding a souvenir shop and some overpriced restaurants we settled on grabbing some ice cream at Coldstone.

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By the time we finished our chilling snacks the sky had gone dark.  We walked over to our favorite overlook and Ben pulled out his spider-like tripod.  He wrapped it around the railing to steady his night shot and snapped a few more.  Hopefully I’ll be able to add his pictures in soon!

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The walk down was much less eventful and thankfully faster.   Monday I’ve got work and Ben will be exploring the city on his own.  We’ll meet up for dinner after work Monday and Tuesday but our next big adventure will hopefully be to Suwon to see Hwaesong Fortress!

Hwe Bibimbap and a Cable Car Ride

I met my friend Doyu outside of Myeong-dong yuk (Myeong-dong subway station).  We were going to practice my Korean and her English and check out Namsan.  Namsan is a small mountain in the middle of the city; you can hike up it but, seeing as how I went hiking all of yesterday, I was happy to ride the cable car.  At the top there is a stunning view of the city; apparently its best seen at dusk when the lights of the city are starting to turn on.

We walked towards the cable car and decided we had some time to kill looked for a place to grab a bite.  The nice thing about finding food with a Korean is you can order without the pictures!  Usually those restaurants are the most authentic and have the best food too.  My choices were “hot food” or “cold noodles.”  I always prefer my noodles warm so opted for a hot meal.  We grabbed a table and the menu was quickly delivered.  It appears to be pretty common in Korea for one menu to be provided for the table, unlike at home where everyone gets their own. Not that it mattered because the whole thing was in Hangul text without any pictures.  Doyu translated the options and I decided on a rice dish with sushi on top, hwe bibimbap.

Next up I had to learn how to order it.  I knew enough to say duge juseo (bring 2 please) but I had to practice hwe bibimbap.  It took a few times but once Doyu said my accent was good we called the waiter over.  Hwe bibimbap, hwe bibimbap, I must have said it 10 times under my breath to make sure I didn’t mess it up.  The waiter arrived and out it came, “hwe bibimbap duge juseo.” He stared at me blankly.  I said it one more time and pointed to the menu.  Still nothing.  Doyu jumped in said what I thought I had just said.  That time he got it.

Oh well, I tried to order at least.  The food came relatively quickly; a bed of rice with veggies, seaweed and sushi on top.  Its really just a few chunks of raw fish as opposed to sushi I was used to.  Before eating we mixed in a sweet & spicy red sauce and tasted the banchan (sides).  We had kimchi, dangeun and oi kimchi (carrots and cucumbers).  They were alright but the soup was fantastic and our hwebibimbap even better!  Finishing our meal we checked the time; 2 hours until sundown.

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After paying we made our way over to the cable car; it should be a short ride up the mountain; unfortunately there was a hidiously long line to get on the cable car.  After waiting for about 20 minutes we passed a sign in Korean saying we were only an hour and 20 minutes from the car.   Oh joy.  Well we certainly had time to practice our languages.  I helped Doyu with an English translation and she broke out what looks like a coloring book for a 3 year old.  Upon closer inspection it was clear that this was the book she mentioned to help me learn Korean.  Unfortunately it doesn’t come with phonetics for the letters. Good thing I’ve got a Korean with me!

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I knew most of the single vowels by now and a handful of common consonants.  With Doyu’s  help I was able to learn a few new words but more importantly a poem to work on my vowel pronunciation.  “a, ya, oe, yoe, oo, yoo, u, yu, ei, i”  Yeah doubt any of you back home have any idea how to pronounce that because I’m not even sure I’m saying it right let alone translatiing it into arabic lettering phonetically.  Before long we were through the crowded lines and on our way into the cable car.  They crammed us in like sardines and I was certainly glad for ventilation.

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A quick ride over the forest brought us to the top.  The sun was nearing the horizon and providing a pretty pink hue in the clouds as our shadows grew even longer.  We had some more time before it was actually dark so I practiced my poem and made up a tongue twister to help turn Doyu’s Engrish into English.  L’s and R’s are quite difficult for most Koreans so I had her say “Little Larry likes licking large lollipops.”  It was about as dificult for her as my “a ya, oe, yoe, etc.” but by the end she wasn’t mixing up the L’s and R’s.  We laughed at our inability to really understand each other and made our way around the pavilion up here.

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There were hundreds if not thousands of others awaiting the sunset; kids playing in the fountain, adults playing in the fountain (I almost went in too but didn’t want to get my camera wet), couples adding new locks to a massive display of modern art.  All over the railings were hundreds of thousands of locks some with sayings, perhaps vows, others just a fun picture or qwerky design.

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Peering over the railing the city just goes on and on forever.  There are mountains in the distance but you can’t really see where the buildings stop; even from this massive vantage point in the center of the city.

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Slowly the sun crept down beneath the horizon.  One by one the lights of the city came on.  Then ten by ten and then suddenly the sky was black and the city erupting with multi-colored lights proudly showing the fervor this city retains well into the night.

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