Tag Archives: Seoul

Strolling Among the Cherry Blossoms in DC

Last year, we were fortunate enough to be living in Asia during cherry blossom season. We saw the beautiful blooms in Seoul, Tokyo, and Osaka, along with the large, excited crowds that flocked to view and photograph them. We’re talking tripods and selfie sticks everywhere. But when you see them in person, it’s easy to understand why. The white and pink petals brighten up any landscape, as if straight out of a fairytale.

So when spring finally reared its head in Northern Virginia, we knew we needed to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to experience the short-lived cherry blossoms.

First, a little history on how these cherry blossoms even ended up in the United States. The existing 3,000 cherry trees arrived in D.C. in 1912, a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo. (The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910.) According to the National Cherry Blossom Festival website, “in a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.” The annual festival celebrates the lasting ties between both countries.

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I have to admit, we weren’t expecting much. After all, we’d seen “the real deal” in Japan — how could these possibly compare? I’m happy to say we were pleasantly surprised. We rode the motorcycle into D.C. to avoid any parking headaches, and made our way to the Tidal Basin, where we found eager throngs competing for the best photo ops. Continue reading Strolling Among the Cherry Blossoms in DC

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Talking to the Animals at Seoul Zoo

For our last weekend in Seoul, we decided to do something somewhat relaxing and visit the zoo. Seoul Zoo is located inside Seoul Grand Park — a huge recreation area about an hour’s subway ride south of Seoul. In addition to the zoo, it houses Seoul Land (an amusement park), a themed Rose Garden, a Children’s Zoo, a museum, camping grounds and more.

We happened to visit during the current MERS outbreak, so the park was practically empty, what with many people choosing to stay home. That made for a very lovely, crowd-free day at the zoo.

Our ride on the Sky Lift cable car to the entrance of the zoo was a treat in and of itself. (Though I always try not to think about how we’re just dangling off a thin cable….) It takes you over a big lake, over the children’s zoo and the rose garden, and gives you great views of the mountains, the green countryside, and the amusement park in the distance.

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Hiking Under Surveillance along Seoul Fortress Wall

Trekking the Seoul Fortress Wall is one of those “naturey” things you can do without leaving the city. The stone wall goes in a large loop and connects the four mountains surrounding the center of Seoul: Bugak-san to the north, Nak-san to the east, Nam-san to the south, and Inwang-san to the west. It was built back in 1396 and runs for more than 18km. We hiked the stretch from Waryong Park to Changuimun Gate, heading westward for probably 3km.

If you remember, we hiked another wall back in April, at Namhansanseong Fortress. Aside from the fact that they’re both fortress walls, I wouldn’t even compare the two experiences.

Seoul Fortress Wall, for one thing, offers really great views of the city. The weather was perfect that day, sunny and clear skies. Everything was green now, too. This path is also better maintained and mostly paved. Sure, there are some stretches of dirt you can walk along if you prefer, but if your goal is to walk along the wall itself, you’ll mainly be climbing concrete and wooden steps. Namhansanseong felt more woodsy and natural.

Probably the biggest difference is that this particular stretch of the hike took us “behind” — north of — the presidential Blue House of South Korea, located at the base of Bugak-san (as you can see below).

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Celebrating Buddha’s Birthday with the Lotus Lantern Festival

The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul was quite the celebration. For more than one week leading up to Buddha’s Birthday, which is a national holiday in Korea, the city hosted numerous Buddhist events and decorated its sidewalks with bright, colorful lanterns. The traditional lanterns are made with hanji, a tough, Korean paper made out of the inner bark or fiber of mulberry trees.

First, we witnessed the massive gathering in Gwanghwamun Square for the Conference for World Peace and the Reunification of Korea. It was organized by the Great Equal Assembly of Ganhwa Seon — part of the Jogye Order, the country’s largest Buddhist sect, which practices Seon (aka Zen) buddhism. If you look closely in one of the photos, you can see the large group of monks sitting right in front of the stage.

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Crossing the Border: Our Tour of the DMZ & JSA

You often hear news of foreigners being imprisoned by North Korea. But did you know there’s a place where you can safely cross the border? (Mostly safely.) I’ll get to that later.

After months of living in Seoul, I finally got to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and JSA (Joint Security Area) in Panmunjom. I shouldn’t be surprised that Koreans have made the DMZ a tourist attraction, but it’s still amusing to me that they allow steady streams of tourists into such a highly sensitive and politically charged area. In fact, our tour guide noted that, despite its name, the DMZ is the most militarized area in the country.

We booked a full-day tour that took us to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, the Dorasan Station, the Freedom Bridge, the JSA and famous MAC Conference Room, and the Bridge of No Return. (Will had already been to the DMZ, but he hadn’t done the full tour, so some of this was new to him, too.) Here’s our spiffy tour bus.

Tour bus FTW!

The DMZ is only about an hour away from Seoul. At a certain point during the drive up, I started noticing barbed wire fencing and guard posts along the Hangang (Han) River. If you look across the river, you can see the mountains in North Korea, which our tour guide said are bare because they still use wood for a lot of construction. She also said they believe the dark green patches are places where the North Koreans are hiding weapons.

Barbed wire fencing and guard houses along the Han River

First views of North Korea

Another guard house Continue reading Crossing the Border: Our Tour of the DMZ & JSA

The Impeccable Korean Chamber Orchestra

The former band geek in me always loves going to see classical music concerts. Luckily, we were recently invited to see the Korean Chamber Orchestra perform at the Seoul Arts Center for their 50th Anniversary Special Concert III.

The Seoul Arts Center is a large, art and culture complex featuring not only the music hall, but also an opera house, museum, outdoor event spaces and more. The concert hall where the orchestra performed was interesting — it had seating behind the stage, which I’ve never seen before.

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Seoul Arts Center

Plaza at the Seoul Arts Center

Inside the Music Hall building.

Concert Hall Continue reading The Impeccable Korean Chamber Orchestra

Korean Baseball – A Whole Other Ball Game

One of Will’s coworkers was nice enough to invite us to a baseball game recently. Of all the things I’d planned to do during our time in Korea — visit historic sites, see traditional arts performances, etc. — I hadn’t thought to do something as ordinary as go to a sports game. But I am SO glad we did! ‘Cause it’s a whole other game here in Korea.

When we arrived at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, one of the first things I noticed was all the vendors outside, selling everything from food (dried squid, to-go boxes of fried chicken & more) to thundersticks/bambams and other fan gear. It seemed very convenient, just grab and go in. There were also many eateries and food stands, including western fast food joints like Burger King and KFC, dessert places like Street Churros and beer stands of course. You can bring your own food into the stadium if you prefer, too.

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The game was between the Doosan Bears from Seoul and the Hanwha Eagles from Daejeon. Naturally, we sat with the Bears fans. Continue reading Korean Baseball – A Whole Other Ball Game