Jeju Island

Kitty and Santa were told by many Koreans (and by many they mean ALL of them) that Jeju Island was a MAGICAL place and they MUST visit before departing. In fact, since they started teaching in Korea Jeju Island was talked about like a place where Gods dwell. On multiple occasions when Kitty and Santa asked their kids if they could go ANYWHERE in the world, where would they go? The response, without hesitation, was ALWAYS Jeju Island. This place is so incredible that Koreans are convinced it would soon be added to one of the 7th wonders of the world. With it only being a 30 minute flight from Gwangju they booked their tickets and hoped to find some magic in Jeju.

IMG_1395

Kitty and Santa arrived at the Jeju airport in a flash. They walked outside and were greeted with a warm island breeze, big smiles & freshly squeezed Jejudo orange juice. It reminded them of the many vacations they took with their families to Florida growing up. Glowing in the sun they approached their bus that would take them to the hotel. They realized it was about to leave and ran over to bus driver about to hop on. The man started speaking very fast in Korean. Kitty and Santa kept repeating their hotel name hoping that he was asking where they were going. Santa walked over the the bus’s undercarriage and tried to put her bag under the bus when she was jolted from behind. The bus driver shoved Santa over the curb side and then scolded her to get on the bus. Santa was confused and disoriented, not knowing what just happened and she ran onto the bus. Kitty and Santa sat down in the back and looked at each other. “Did that man really just push me like that?” Kitty and Santa couldn’t help but laugh at the obscurity of these Korean bus drivers. The man peeled out of the airport parking lot rambling on in a rage. Sometimes Kitty and Santa look to the heavens and thank the Lord they don’t understand a lick of Korean.

They did some research prior to the trip and found out that Mount Halla is the highest mountain peak / volcano in South Korea and is located in the center of the island. Santa was ecstatic to hear the news, Kitty wasn’t thrilled. They both agreed it would be hard but something they could look back on and be proud of. “I mean, who hikes for 9 hours up 6,398 feet of rocky volcanic terrain?? Kitty and Santa!! That’s who!!” said Santa. “They do?” responded Kitty in a nervous tone. “YAA, they do.” Replied Santa.

969990_10100610519256687_1505491533_n

They started the hike at 7:30 AM and hiked to the top. Sweaty and exhausted they ate their lunch with an unforgettable view above the cloud. On the way back down their feet began to throb with excruciating pain. “My feet feel like little balls of hell, they are so hot!!” Kitty groaned. She was not happy and started pointing fingers at the person who thought this idea was so grand. Going down a mountain is supposed to be the easy part but for Kitty and Santa this couldn’t have been any worse. They contemplated calling for a chopper to come rescue them but the wons they had in their bank probably wouldn’t cover the expense.  At one point they stopped to catch their breath and Kitty pleaded with Santa to leave her “Go on without me. Leave me be. I am now apart of the Mt. Hell park” Kitty proclaimed in a zombie like state. Santa peeled her off a rock and they fought back the tears & kept on trucking until they finally got off Mount Hella (renamed by Kitty) around 4:00 PM.  “I gotta start going back to church because I never want to go back to a hell like that again” said Kitty. She announced to the Korean cab driver that her hiking career was over but later admitted ( after she was showered with beer in hand) that she was happy they finished strong. It was definitely a memorable experience and looking back it was worth most of the pain!

IMG_1256

IMG_1325.PNG

IMG_1288

IMG_2272

IMG_1276

IMG_2322

After a full day of hiking they checked into their adorable hostel, cleaned up and set out to explore the island. They ended up falling madly in love with a restaurant named Yongyi that was serving Jeju’s famous Duruchigi, a pan-fried spicy pork & veggy dish that you cook yourself at the table. They ate their once & were hooked for the rest of the week. By their last  dinner they were wearing chef aprons at their family style table, drinking beers, cooking meat & chumming with the staff.

IMG_1224

IMG_1336

IMG_1340

IMG_1215 1

Unfortunately the Gods of Jeju were not being as corporative as Kitty and Santa hoped and it ended up raining for the remainder of the trip. During breaks between the storms Kitty and Santa flocked outside to see some of the Jeju magic. Some trip highlights were:: frolicking in volcanic rocks, riding horses around the island, chasing waterfalls, eating bug snacks & drinking Korean rice wine with locals in the rain, getting lost in the middle of a rain/wind storm, acting like grammas (wine & backgammon on a Friday night) and cheesing in the Casinos.

If there is one thing Kitty and Santa are good at doing it’s dancing in the rain and this was no exception. They chose to live life to the fullest, shouting from mountain tops and embracing this amazing adventure they were blessed to go on together. Thank you Jeju.

10540_10100612369703377_1479801395_n

 

IMG_1427

IMG_1404

IMG_6441

IMG_1379

IMG_1382

IMG_2352

IMG_1462

IMG_1460

IMG_1458

IMG_6422

Advertisements

Springing South Korea

IMG_9931

Kitty and Santa spent the last 2 years of their lives on the tropical beaches of San Diego. When they made the move to South Korea not only did they experience culture shock, but the winter weather also brought on a period of hibernation like the Chicago bears they were raised to be. Since the weather has now turned and the flowers have bloomed, Kitty and Santa have come out of their cave and wasted no time frolicking about Korea. Here are some of their spring highlights!

IMG_5944

Gwangju 10K

Kitty decided that it might be fun for the duo to partake in a race while here in Korea.  After a bit of online research, and some translating by Kitty’s elementary students, they had signed up to run a 10K on April 21st.  With a little convincing, their friend Krissy signed up to run as well!  Santa and Kitty didn’t take the training too seriously, as they weren’t planning on winning.  And Krissy, well her training consisted of shopping and dancing at the bar on Saturday nights.

On race day, they had planned on meeting Krissy on the corner so they could catch a cab to the starting line together.  When Kitty and Santa arrived that morning, Krissy was nowhere in sight.  Santa started freaking out, as she always likes to be at least an hour early to EVERYTHING.  They started to walk towards her apartment, but turned around in fear she might have taken a different route and that they’d miss her.  As they neared the corner again, they spotted Krissy who was enjoying a breakfast of champions: Oreos and chocolate milk!

After a nerve racking 15-minute wait, they finally were able to flag down a cab.  They pulled out the race map in hopes that the cab driver would know where they were suppose to go.  He got a bit angry, but in the end they arrived at the starting line with about 20 minutes to spare.  Krissy, Kitty, and Santa all started the race together, but ended up getting separated during their run.  They reunited at the finish line where they were presented with medals, chocolate pies, and sweet bread (not the normal fruit and fuel they were use to receiving post run).  After snapping a few pictures with every Korean fan, they felt as though they had won the race.  Success! One more thing off Kitty and Santa’s Korean Bucket list!

IMG_9798

IMG_5939

Shopping in Seoul

DSCN0654

Kitty and Santa hadn’t been to Seoul since they celebrated Kitty’s 26th year of birth in the fall.  This also means that they hadn’t been shopping since November.  In Gwang Ju they have a lot of small boutiques and places to shop downtown, but here in Korea the majority of clothing is one size fits all, or FREE size.  Seems a bit weird, but everyone here is pretty small.  Free size might work for most Koreans, but not for Kitty and Santa.  Their friends Krissy and Kivi also wanted to get up to Seoul, so they decided to all take the KTX train together the weekend following their big race.

This was everyone’s first time taking the train in Korea, and it was a really enjoyable experience for all.  They arrived around noon on that Saturday, and Kitty and Santa found themselves back at the scene of the crime, the Seoul Subway! As Krissy and Kivi tried to figure out what line they needed to take, Santa and Kitty got a snack and decided that after the mix up they experienced the last time they wouldn’t be putting in their two cents.  Fifteen minutes later they jumped on a line that took them directly to their love motel (love motel is how they refer to cheap motels here in Korea).  As Krissy and Kivi would say, it was actually quite nice!  They dropped off their luggage and hit the streets for a day of shopping.  After spending over three hours in the five-floor Forever XI, they decided it was time to get back to the motel and freshen up.  Krissy’s childhood friend and husband are currently living in Seoul, and invited them all over for drinks before dinner.  They enjoyed some Lithuanian sprites and snacks, before heading out to a Thai Chinese fusion restaurant.  After a family style dinner, they headed to an Irish pub for darts and Jameson.  They spent the rest of the night bar hopping, dancing and taking firework shots before ending up eating Doners at 3 am.  According to Santa, Doners is a snack she once enjoyed while visiting her sister in Germany many years ago.  Kivi really enjoyed the Doners, and went back for seconds, thirds, and maybe even a fourth.  The night become a blur after the food coma but they woke up in their beds feeling well rested!

The next morning they enjoyed a breakfast at a cute French restaurant in a quiet neighborhood, before jumping back on the train to Gwang Ju.  Kitty and Santa enjoyed their weekend away in the big crowded city, but it’s always nice to come home to Gwangju!

IMG_9960

IMG_9967

DSCN0676

Bamboo Forest and Festival

IMG_0158

Kitty and Santa set off for yet another weekend adventure. This time they headed to Damyang for the traditional bamboo festival.They tasted some wonderful traditional teas, cookies and bamboo flavored ice cream. Hiked through the famous bamboo forest, purchased some local bamboo goods and hung out with some bamboo wearing festival dancers. Just 45 minutes outside of Gwangju, this day trip was well worth the wons!

IMG_0095

IMG_0115

942122_479264085475923_986619239_n

943079_479263932142605_691673513_n

Mt. Wolchulsan National Park

Santa was looking to get a feel for some real Korean hiking, so while Kitty spent the day studying for her online grad school classes Santa took the bus with a friend to Mt. Wolchulsan National Park. She was told by her friend (an experienced outdoorsmen kind of guy) that it would be a long hike but not to worry. He would provide all the snacks, water and necessities one might need while climbing a mountain. She left around 7:00 AM and returned dirty and tired at 7:00 PM. A full days work but it’s not every day one can proclaim that they climbed a mountain…and hiked an entire national park! It might have been one of her favorite days in Korea so far. Go Santa GO!

 IMG_0285

IMG_0215
 
IMG_0239

Gokseong Train Village 

One of the many perks of living in Korea is the fact that it is so small, so seeing a lot of the country on day trips is possible. Kitty and Santa decided to hit up Gokseong Train Village on a sunny Saturday afternoon to ride their famous rail bikes around the town’s mountain base. They brought along some snacks, a bottle of wine, two dixies, and of course their cameras for documentation purposes. Kitty and Santa arrived at the bus’s final destination but didn’t see the village they were expecting. After a game of charades with the bus driver they finally were able to get the point across “RAIL BIKES”. The bus driver showed them to a taxi who drove them 15 minutes into the middle of no where. He pointed to a small building next to an old railroad track and said “rail bike, good bye”. Kitty and Santa shrugged, threw him some won tons, and got out of the cab.

IMG_0420

They approached the ticket counter where they asked for a two seater rail bike. The ticket lady crossed her arms and shook them violently, a korean term  they were familiar with, NO. A young Korean with excellent English skills stepped in to translate. “Did you make a reservation?” Kitty and Santa looked at each other and than made a big X with their forarms. “Noo.” Apparently it was necessary in order to ride the rail. Kitty and Santa stood there in contemplation. They didn’t know whether they should wait for another taxi to take them to this village or go on the trek without a mode of transportation…”I mean if we follow the train tracks I don’t think we will get lost…do you?” Kitty asked. The Koreans standing around them thought it would be too far for Kitty and Santa to walk, but they pointed the girls in the right direction and shook their heads as they watched Kitty and Santa disappear.

IMG_2174

It wasn’t long before Kitty and Santa busted into the wine as they followed the tracks winding through the beautiful Korean landscape. They sang some old rail road songs, screamed and jumped around when they crossed paths with a large snake, had a few panic attacks when crossing bridges (it was pretty close to being in the movie Stand by Me…), laughed hysterically and talked for hours about how weird it is that they live in Korea.

IMG_0438

One pretty important question kept coming about, especially when crossing the bridges…do trains actually ride on this rail still? The first time it came up they both laughed it off. Of course NOT, this rail was now for bikes only, and they would have plenty of time to jump out of the way when they saw them coming.  They both laughed and then became very silent…”do you hear that?” Kitty would ask over and over again. Santa kept turning to look behind her, expecting a large freight train to be there. Well, about an hour into the trip there was no mistaking the sound of a bustling steam engine heading their way. Its horn was bellowing and smoke came clouding out the front. Santa screamed and jumped into the ditch, not even thinking about the snakes. Kitty jumped to the side. Santa wanted to go further into the woods afraid the train would take them out. They were happy when they realized this train was full of tourists and it was moving like an authentically slow locomotive.

IMG_2204

IMG_2211

After hours of walking they finally stumbled upon the train village. They were greeted with cold beers, carnival rides and amazing locals. Kitty and Santa enjoyed the town for an hour before trying to head back to Gwangju. A few Koreans near by spotted Kitty and Santa scratching their heads wondering when the next train back would be. “Last train to Gwangju is finished. You can ride with us, we take you back.” Kitty and Santa were so happy to have met such wonderful people. They chatted with the young newlyweds all the way back to Gwangju. The day couldn’t have gone any better…Oh Korea!

IMG_0493

IMG_0495

IMG_2233

IMG_0533

 -Sometimes it’s not about the destination but journey that should be appreciated- 

Finding our Chi


Kitty and Santa set off for a day in Mudeungsan Provincial Park on Saturday. Kitty routed out how to get there by bus and boom. An hour of travel and we made it happen.

Waiting at the bus stop with a pretty hefty crowd Kitty was attacked by a bumblebee the size of a cheeseburger. A little fact about Kitty is she absolutely is terrified of the birds and the bees (literally speaking) so when that flying whopper came at her face like a bat out of hell she did what came naturally. Santa was scared and crying from laughing so hard as she watched Kitty do an interpretive dance involving a lot of screeching  ducking, swinging, swatting and bouncing. After Kitty won the battle with the bee we continued waiting for our bus, only now we had a crowd of on lookers.

We finally made it to the park, or maybe this large hill is a mountain? YEP. Forgot to look into that one, we made it to the mountain for what we thought was going to be a leisurely stroll. As if Kitty and Santa don’t already under dress in gear we showed up at the base of this massive mountain in casual work out clothes and purses. So the staring continued and we proceeded to stand out. We are sort of getting use to it by now.

Definitely need to take some pointers from this guy next time. Prepared for all types of weather! (mind you, it was 82 degrees)

I’m not going to lie, this freaked us out. Especially with no translation of the sign. We determined it meant there were dragon snakes hiding in the rocks that were either going to A.eat Bambi’s dad in front of us or B. swallow us whole. After talking it out we decided if one of us was attacked by the dragon the other person should sacrifice themselves as dessert because finding help with no cell phones or in korean was going to be next to impossible. Kitty and Santa are both very happy we survived.

After hiking up, up and away we finally came to the temples. How amazing. This temple, Jeungsimsa Buddhist Temple, was built during the Silla Dynasty….wait for it….in 57 BC. (ya know, BEFORE CHRIST). Well, I think Kitty and Santa were both in absolute awe that we were able to not only see these temples but politely take our shoes off, offer a prayer and snap a few pictures. Awesomeness.

our first Buddha encounter

incredible views

It was incredible to see people still using these prayer rooms as we walked around

Prayers.

Drinking from the fountain of youth.

“The mountain of the Gods”

After Kitty and Santa journeyed through the spiritual realm of Buddha we were motivated to keep going. So UP the mountain we went! Along the way we were greeted by every child under the age of 11 and every old man over the age of 70. Yes, even the 70 year olds were hiking up, up and away. Shouts of “HELLO! HOW YOU!!!”  came bellowing from friends all around us. It took Kitty and Santa a little off guard as we are so use to blank stares. Eager to respond Santa would shout back “KAMSAMNIDA” in Korean…Kitty later asked Santa why she was saying that to everyone. Santa replied that she was just being friendly. Then Kitty informed Santa she wasn’t saying HELLO she was screaming THANK YOU! ha!

Kitty also noticed that all of the old people smelled like booze and seemed to be staggering at high elevations. We remembered that someone told us about this. Some type of cultural thing where old people drink and hike all day. We should look into those facts but it was strangely interesting to see.

Looking at our city from above the clouds 🙂

Kitty and Santa decided to go off the paved path and onto a trail to seek out another temple. It was a vertical incline but the sign read 1 KM and we thought that shouldn’t be too bad so up we went. Along the way we didnt see many people but we did run into an old woman. She didn’t speak any English but she kept looking straight up and wiping her head as if to sweat – we were too stupid to figure out the warning.

 Kitty, Santa and that old man in the blue hiked and hiked and hiked. We saw a sign that said we had only 1.9 KM left. WHAT?! Well, we already went so far so we had to keep going. The 3 amigos basically walked up those bolders stairs with dragons hiding in them for a good hour before we got worried. We decided that even if we made it to the top theres no way we would have any energy to make it back.  Unlike our friend old blue, we forgot our gear so pitching a tent and having a 5 course meal wasn’t an option for us. So down down down we went.

We thought this would be easier but it actually ended up to be the worst park. We had JELLO-LEG. This is when your legs begin to shake compulsively and move with no control. We were flying down the mountain, crashing into trees was our only hope to slow our speed. It was pretty hysterical and looking back probably a little dangerous. BUT we made it out alive to tell our story.

At the end of the day Santa found a park bench and we took it all in…yes, yes, we live in Asia.

“NOT ALL THOSE WHO WANDER ARE LOST.” -J.R.R. TOLKEIN