We were staying at my in-laws’ caravan in the Lake District for a few days and casting about for things to do, when Craig saw an irresistible notice in the local newspaper. It seems that hound owners and enthusiasts get together to check out each other’s young. They call it the Bitch Produce. Excellent. We were in.
We drove to nearby Frizzington the next day for the 10-mile race. Unfortunately, having only been to greyhound tracks, we were ill-prepared for this sort of dog race. Everyone else was properly kitted out with wellies and binoculars, because the spectators stand on top of a muddy (it’s England, after all) hill and watch the dogs in the far, far distance.
We did have a little cash to lay bets, so we ignored the mud and just moved around the hill following the old men’s cues. For the record, all of my bets were on winners, but Craig only placed money according to my guesses once. So, we walked away with £25, which covered our entry fees with enough to spare for a couple of ice creams. Win!
The morning after Withered Hand and Thorir Georg, I woke up feeling rough, having had a bit too much cheer the night before, but we were on the road to the Blue Lagoon just after 10. We arrived by 11, and it was clear even from the parking lot that this is a tourist trap.
Pictures of the Blue Lagoon are clearly all taken facing away from the sauna, café, restaurant, and gift shop. It’s like a mall that happens to have a lake outside. Entry is about £30 if you need a towel. There are many other extras, such as a robe and slippers, but we weren’t interested. We put the mud on our faces and relaxed in the hot water, but, really, it’s just wastewater from a power plant, and there are hot spring pools all over the country.
We paid an extortionate amount for a mediocre cup of coffee before driving into Grindovík, so Craig could watch a soccer match. At 6˚ C, it was too cold for me, so I hung out at a pizzeria. Once again, I didn’t hear any Icelandic. Everywhere we went, we heard lots of English and German, but very little/ no Icelandic. Next time, we’ll have to find out where the locals go.
After the game, it was finally time for some hiking. We (Craig) had found an 11-mile trail starting in Grindovík in our (Craig’s) pre-travel research. Unfortunately, we had the little problem of getting back to the car, so we just walked two hours out, and turned around.
The directions to spot the beginning of the hike weren’t clearly written, but we saw a marker and followed it to a good place to park. All along the way, the markers were closely spaced and often next to cairns, so they couldn’t be missed. My kind of hike. The walk was flat (another plus for me), but there were hills all around.
The ground was moss-covered lava and was either extremely spongy or sharp and crunchy, with very little in between. It really does look similar to the moors, but even more otherworldly, because of the texture and complete blackness of the ground. Despite the flatness, it was hard on my knees because the crunchy areas were basically loose gravel. The “gravel” was just lava instead of another kind of rock.
Sunday morning, we were on our way north to Grundarfjörður by 8AM, so Craig could watch a 4th division game. The scenery was beautiful: mountains, craggy fields of moss-covered lava, lots of horses, some sheep, flocks of seagulls, and a lone puffin walking down the street. That was the only puffin spotted the entire week, and I missed it, because I was looking at a (completely run-of-the-mill) house.
The 2.5-hour drive followed the coast, but we only saw a few towns. Two-thirds of Icelanders live in Rekjavik, so the rest of the country is isolated and sparsely populated. Grundarfjörður is a whale-watching destination, but we could only find one place serving lunch on a Sunday in the high season. We paid over 5000 KR for a light lunch, further reinforcing my belief that only tourists go to restaurants. Again, the only other language I heard was German.
Monday was a busy day, so we had another early start. We drove to Kerið, a small crater lake, then to Geysir, followed by Gullfoss, before finally arriving at our second apartment, in Laugarvatn, a small town which seems to exist because of its location in the Golden Circle.
Kerið was indeed quite small. We (and everyone else we saw) had a quick look and were off again in about five minutes. If it weren’t right on the way to Geysir, it wouldn’t be worth seeking out. Even being on the same road, it’s just a good chance for a quick stretch of the legs before continuing on.
Geysir is actually two geysers: one big but irregular one, and one smaller one which spouts at 8-10 minute intervals. We arrived just at the tail end of an eruption from the smaller one, so we watched the water bubble for 5-6 minutes before the next one.
It sprays water about 20-30 feet high, then the water is sucked down before a second blast. We thought that was a pretty good show, so we decided not to stand around in the cold hoping the big one happened to erupt while we were there. Last on the agenda for the day, Gullfoss is the biggest waterfall in Iceland. It’s not very high, but it has a lot of water and flows through a deep crevice. Live’s video, Heaven, was shot there.
Interesting factoid: the Hvítá River, which Gullfoss is part of, was once privately owned. There is a memorial at the falls of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the former owner’s daughter, because, legend has it that she threatened to throw herself into the falls if plans to build a hydro station went through.
No one was threatening suicide while we were there. The entire day was sunny, but with freezing gale-force winds, which made standing around being sprayed with water pretty unpleasant. In warmer weather, we probably would have stayed a bit longer at each site. As it was, we had a quick look, took some photos, and headed for cover.
On Tuesday morning, Craig was finally able to sleep in. The places we stayed weren’t furnished with blackout curtains, so Craig was up and moving by 4AM at the latest most days. We had a very lazy morning, and we finally got moving and started walking around Laugarvatn Lake after lunch. Within 15 minutes, the land had turned marshy. Stepping ankle-deep in icy water ended the walk for me. So, Craig went to a women’s football game in Selfoss, and I lazed around the apartment wishing we could get more than four channels on TV.
On our last full day, we headed back to Reykjavik by way of Þingvellir, the historical ancient meeting place of Icelandic chieftains. It’s a massive rift valley where tectonic plates meet. You can walk along it from the top or bottom. We chose the bottom, and walked along for about 45 minutes. The busloads of tourists all stayed topside, so we had the valley to ourselves.
In the end, the path petered out a bit and became more difficult to maneuver than I felt like dealing with, so we found a good place to scramble up, and continued following the path until it started raining. We turned back to the parking lot and went up to the top to get a good view of the waterfalls.
As hikes go, it wasn’t much, but it was a good end to our trip. We got to see a place of both historic and geologic significance and enjoy it away from all of the crowds. My only gripe is that there were so many people with tripods set up that we had a hard time getting a decent photo of our own. So, here’s a picture of an underground house we walked past.
Let me backtrack a bit from my previous post to our flight, because it was probably the worst airport experience of my life. Our flight was at 7AM, so we arrived at Manchester Airport at about 5. The line was down the corridor, because Easy Jet hadn’t thought to have more than three staff checking people in for about a dozen flights.
So, everyone crawled ahead to the single agent checking the regular line, until the “last minute” call for each flight was given, then all passengers for that flight would move to the two lines for agents checking late passengers. That’s right– there was one line for “on time” passengers (basically, everyone when they arrived) and TWO lines for “late” passengers (pretty much all of the same people, but 90 minutes later).
Once our bags were finally checked, we were ushered through a fast track security line. I’m sure the security staff enjoys having to rush and have multiple fast track lanes because Easy Jet can’t be bothered is too cheap to schedule enough desk staff. Security cleared, it was a mad dash for the plane, as increasingly dire warnings were announced over the PA system. Well, Craig and I ran, anyway. Other people stopped to pick up some breakfast along the way.
Things went much more smoothly in Iceland, presumably since EasyJet had nothing to do with immigration or customs. Well before 9AM, we were in the arrivals duty free stocking up on beer and wine. That’s right, there is an arrivals duty free. You will pass all kinds of departure duty free, but the staff will politely redirect you with their perfect English.
The 45-minute drive to Reykjavik was a great introduction to the Icelandic landscape—its rugged and similar in appearance to the moors, but is actually moss-covered lava.
It was beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to go for a hike, despite the cold, gloomy weather. However, we were there for a music festival, so first things first. We spent the day in Rekjavik, and after dinner, we walked to the Kex Guest House for a pre-festival open (free) show. When we bought our tickets, we didn’t realize the first night would be free, so we really could have gotten a one-day pass for half the amount, since we weren’t planning to attend any more shows until the last night. Live and learn.
We were there to see Withered Hand, but the opening act, þórir Georg, was really good. I tried to buy his CD after, but he didn’t have any. Neither did any of the local music shops. BTW Reykjavik has an astounding number of music shops. I guess people still buy CDs in Iceland. But I digress.
Eventually, Withered Hand came on. He played with a full band, including Pam Berry, from a 90s group I’d never heard of: Black Tambourine. The new songs were great, but six months on (yes, I’m behind), the album hasn’t been released, although it should be out in the spring.
After three days tooling around the country, we headed back to Reykjavik for the second Withered Hand show. We arrived early, so had a drink in the “Irish pub” next door, for 1000 KR each. Aside: someday, I will visit Ireland. I do not expect a single pub to bear any resemblance to the “Irish pubs” found in the rest of the world, despite most of those pubs looking virtually identical to one another.
Drinks consumed, we went to get our wristbands. There was no record of us, but since it was the last show of the festival, the guy let us in. So, we could have attended both shows without paying anything at all. It all seemed to be done on a shoestring, so I guess we did our part by being honest. 🙂
Dan (Withered Hand) and Pam came in and got drinks while Craig was at the bar, so he looked over their shoulder at the set list. He told them that I would be upset that Love in the Time of Ecstasy wasn’t on it, but they just gave me an apologetic (poor loser) smile on their way upstairs.
They didn’t revise their set list on my account, but it was a good show, and I really like the new songs. So, next spring, I should be able to buy them. And I will, even though I’ve already gotten live versions off Youtube. (Don’t tell anyone.)
My overall impression of Iceland is that it is a pretty great place. If I ever have the chance to live there, I will jump at it, high prices and cold weather be damned! 🙂
In January, I finally made it to a KOTESOL Seoul Chapter monthly workshop for the first time in ages. I really should clear my schedule more, since I’m the treasurer, but life more fun travel opportunities seem to get in the way. I always enjoy the workshops and leave feeling motivated, but when Craig makes some travel plans which conflict, they always seem more fun. But anyway, January is a slow time for sports and I am trying to limit my risk of frostbite, so I had a free Saturday. Ironically, Stafford was presenting on a topic we used to teach at Gyeongin.
After the meeting, I met Craig and we whisked ourselves to Busan. I really can’t overstate how much I love the KTX. How did I bear traveling without it? More importantly, what will I do after I leave Korea?
As ever, I digress. We got to Busan and set ourselves up in a reasonable hotel, after being knocked back from the presumably posher “tourist hotel” outside the station. Bags deposited in the room, we headed straight back out for some lamb at Samarkand. We did not hold back. We had lamb dumplings, lamb skewers, and lamb chops with potatoes.
We also decided to try a bottle of Uzbek wine. Note to self: pomegranate juice= good, pomegranate wine= gross. I am pretty sure the proprietor high fived everyone in the kitchen when he was able to foist that on our unsuspecting selves. As we were drinking, we noticed a heavy film of sediment on the bottle and eventually noticed a long-passed sell-by date. At least the lamb was good.
After dinner, we had a few more refreshing beverages at a self-serve bottle bar. This is one of the things I love about Korea. Each refrigerator has a clearly marked price and you take whatever you want. There are even chilled glasses, if you don’t want to drink from the bottle. When you are ready to go, you tell the cashier what you drank and pay up. In the US, people would sound like xylophones as they walked out with half of their empties in their Ryanair coats and diaper bags.
Full of lamb and bottled refreshments, we eventually called it a night. In the morning, we slowly pulled ourselves together and made our way to the Jagalchi Fish Market. A few years ago, it was gussied up for tourists and is now a bright, clean fish market on the first floor. Most of the fishmongers speak at least a little English and are friendly. You find what you want to eat, tell them how much you want to eat, and they will carry it upstairs where it’s cooked and served with side dishes. It’s a bit pricy, but you know it’s fresh, and it’s always delicious.
We met up with one of Craig’s friend’s there and had a nice lunch, while everyone around us cooed over his baby and demanded turns holding him. I don’t think Alan was too impressed with that, but his wife is Korean and knows the drill. She dutifully passed him around and took him back as quickly as possible. Eventually, Craig held him while they ate. I’m sure his grandkids wouldn’t be jealous…
They had arrived late and finally we had to leave them to it, because there was basketball to be watched. The Asiad Sports Complex is about a half hour drive away. So, we grabbed a cab and arrived just in time, or at least, only six points had been scored by the time we found seats. We were meant to meet up with another of Craig’s friends, but we were late and the place is too loud for telephones. Craig managed to find him at halftime and he and his daughter joined us for the second half. SK beat KT, not surprising given that they are on top of the league, but it was a good game with an enthusiastic crowd.
On our first trip of the new year, Craig and I headed over to Wonju for some basketball and hiking. My favorite player, former Harlem Globetrotter, Shanghai, is now playing for Wonju. I guess there aren’t enough half-Korean basketball players to go around, so the teams have to share them. Note to half-Korean amateur basketball players around the world: this is your chance to go pro.
We didn’t go to Wonju the night before for a change, but did check into a yeogwan before the game. We got a room that looked like a castle, as decorated by a little girl. When we went out, we took the stairs and found that the faux-classiness didn’t extend too far beyond the bedroom walls.
We took a cab, but the stadium was actually only a ten or fifteen minute walk. Live and learn. We lined up for tickets behind a number of people who seemed unsure of the ticket-buying process: decide the number of tickets, the desired section, and payment method; prepare payment method while waiting. Really not too hard, but one woman got tickets after a huge discussion on the phone at the ticket window, then cut back in (directly at the window) to get one more ticket a few minutes later. The couple in front of us seemed just as perplexed, but at least they knew they only needed two tickets.
By the time we were up, Craig had had enough of the rabble and asked for Royal (aka floor) seats. No go. Special seats, then. No problem. We made our way to the “Special” section, wondering what could make seats in such a small arena special. Our question was answered as soon as we sat down.
The ticket girl also failed to mention that our seats were only together in the sense that we could see each other. I had brought some knitting, so I didn’t mind the view so much. Craig had actually planned to watch the game, though. Silly man.
The next day was far more successful. While in England, I spent an obscene amount of money at a hiking shop. As an aside: if you spend way too much money while in England because you are planning to get the VAT back, make sure the shop participates in the rebate scheme. Live and learn. One of my purchases was several pairs of long johns meant for skiing. They are double layer. I also got a pair of lined hiking pants. They aren’t much thinner than ski pants and cost more than any single item of clothing I’ve ever bought in my life, but they keep me warm.
When we got to the park entrance, there was a sign with the elevation marked. Maybe this is a new thing and eventually all of the parks will have them. Too bad it won’t be of much use to me. On this occasion, we were able to see that no matter which path we chose, there would be some very steep climbing ahead. Steep to me. It’s all relative.
We chose the path less taken and were rewarded with an uncrowded path. Our favorite kind. At the top, there was a bit of a crowd, as usual, but most of them had used the other path. At least they hadn’t driven up to within a ten minute walk.
The hike up wasn’t so bad. It was challenging enough to feel like you are achieving something, but not so steep that you (I) just want someone to carry you (me). This was the debut hike for our walking poles and they came in quite handy. On the way down, I slipped a couple of times, but nothing too major. There were plenty of ropes, some of which I used to back myself down the hill when it got too steep.
Overall, it was a good weekend. If we have the chance to go back, Chiaksan is a hike I would like to do again.
I realize I haven’t written about my awesome trip to Thailand to see Stephanie, but those photos are at home, and my students are taking standardized Korean tests all morning, so I’ve got a bit of free time. Sure, I’ve got some journals to mark, but that’s not nearly as fun.
This past weekend, Craig and I headed down to Pusan (Busan if you’re new to Korea or Fusan if you’re really old) for the FA Cup final between Suwon and Pusan. I didn’t get around to booking the tickets until mid-week, so left with the choices of 7am or 10:20am, I went with the latter.
We got into town around 1:30 and headed toward our Saturday destination: Gwangalli Beach, which was having a fireworks festival. After the longest cab ride I’ve ever had that didn’t begin with me taking the wrong bus to parts unknown, we arrived at a strip of sand which seemed to have been named “beach” by the same folks that have labeled every hill in Korea a “mountain”. At any rate, we were ready for lunch and could see the ocean, so some seafood seemed in order. I was cold, of course, so I wanted soup.
So, the local Nolbu Budaejjigae seemed a decent choice. I don’t eat spam, so budaejjigae wasn’t an option (to me, anyway, I think Craig was game). Fortunately, they had dak kalbi with seafood. Not soup, I know, but warm, delicious, and containing seafood, so it met our requirements. It turned out to be a great choice. There were mussels, shrimp, and baby octopi aplenty. I went for the first two and generously saved the cephalopods for Craig. I have agreed to try san nakji with him, but no need to rush things.
Once we’d eaten until we were ready to hibernate, we braved the cold once more in search of a room. The one place we’d looked at before lunch had posted a sign announcing they were booked up. Fortunately, one street back from the beach was all yogwans, so we were confident we wouldn’t be sleeping on the sand. As soon as we saw some people standing on a roof, we knew where to check next: the Hilton/ Hill Top (depending on which sign you read). They had a room, and so we were set. Of course, once we saw what our (by which, I mean, Craig’s) 100k had bought, it wasn’t much of a mystery why they still had rooms available.
Yep, that’s a round bed. See that thing that looks like a mattress pad? Under there was enough hair that it looked like someone had cleaned their brush. We slept on top of the covers.
After our eventful morning of sitting on the train and eating lunch, we were ready for a little rest. So, in the early evening we set out to find a place to sit and enjoy the fireworks. Since people had already been staking out their territory before we had lunch several hours earlier, we thought we might have a fair task in front of us. As it turned out, most places had reserved all their good seats. So we ended up at a “beer garden” (the sidewalk in front of a bar that had been roped off and set up with lawn furniture) which was offering their tables for 150k at the lower level or 200k on the deck. We went for the lower level, and this is what we got:
Well, that plus one more pitcher of beer. Yes, that’s two glasses you see. I helped Craig by having half a glass of beer. I live on the edge, I know. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a lush now… Being a more adventurous eater than I, Craig tried a bite of the dduk kalbi (my kids complain bitterly when they have to eat it at lunch, so I wasn’t too tempted, even with the honey mustard sauce). One bite was enough for him, and we picked at the fries until they were nearly refrozen in the night air. We ended up leaving the soju in our yogwan fridge– something to help the next occupants overlook the standard of housekeeping. The Pepsi and Cider we left behind, because who would even drink that for free?
After a couple of hours, it was time for the main event: fireworks. By this time, the beach, the road, and the sidewalk had been filled to capacity to the point that the entire waitstaff was standing guard pushing the rabble out of the roped off area. Meanwhile, we sat in comfort (I was even lent a blanket by the bar).
After a pitcher or so of Korea’s finest ale, I don’t think Craig was feeling the cold as much as I was.
The fireworks were launched from barges literally right off the coast, probably less that 100 yards or so from the beach. They were also launched quite low, so most of them seemed to be right over our heads. We had planned to meet another group of people, but at the last minute, they decided to watch the show from Haeundae Beach. I haven’t had a chance to confirm my suspicions that the fireworks were not nearly so spectacular from even that short distance.
It’s kind of dark, but you can see the ropes the hoi polloi are jammed up against, as well as how low the fireworks were. From my seat, I missed some of them completely, because they were aimed to line up under the bridge right off the coast.
The grand finale seemed a little like someone had a look at their watch and realized they had run over time. All in all a good show and a good time was had by all, or at least the two of us, with chairs, food and drink, room to breathe, and a blanket. 🙂
The real reason we had gone down south was for the FA Cup final, which didn’t start until late Sunday afternoon. So, we whiled away the morning with some cultural pursuits, namely the Pusan Museum followed by a stroll around the UN Cemetery. As it turned out, it was UN Day or some such, and we arrived just as a group of important-looking military officers were gathering for a ceremony.
If we’d stayed longer, we might have seen a 21-gun salute. We left just as they were playing the Korean national anthem, and headed to our final destination: the soccer ground.
Since the World Cup and the many new facilities built for it, the host cities mostly have at least two soccer stadiums (stadia?) now. We had a bit of luck and arrived at the correct one on the first try. Upon arrival, we were offered free tickets. After seeing Seongnam for free earlier in the week, I was feeling a bit spoiled and happy to be a foreigner.
After not meeting up with the other group the night before, I was looking forward to seeing them at the game. About five minutes after kick off, I got a panicked call from my coworker which I could barely hear over the announcements and cheering crowd. I thought I heard, “My friend is dead. He’s coughing up so much blood.” I later learned that one of the guys in the group had had more than his share of refreshments and in his haste to get to a bathroom, he tried to jump across a partition and fell several stories. He survived, but needless to say, they spent the game at the hospital, where he is now recovering.
Our outing was much less eventful. We had also planned to meet up with a guy Craig sometimes goes to matches with– you know, ones he wants to watch with someone a bit more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the game. He arrived late, though, and ended up on a different tier than we were on. So, despite initial plans to watch the match with ten other people, we ended up on our own.
We headed back to the station after the awarding of the various medals and the cup and I got home with six hours to spare before my school day started.