Monday, August 15, 2011

Blog 50 - 16th August

Hot and humid weather demands many gin and tonics! Our friends Katherine and Stephen came from Istanbul laden with goodies including Blue Sapphire, Turkish delight, traditional tea, and Vegemite (originally from Australia and travelled to England, France, Turkey and Germany before Korea!) Stephen was the photographer extraordinaire so unfortunately he doesn't appear much here. Sitting on our balcony with our drinks at the end of another busy day. It's a hard life!
We couldn't resist having our photo taken at the Leeum Gallery coffee shop with such a gorgeous painted wall - not wallpaper as we had thought.

Outside the newly restored Seoul Station which was previously the central railway station. The gallery space, Culture Station 284, was displaying an excellent photographic exhibition about the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, had opened the exhibition the previous day. A wonderful display if a very sobering start to our tour of Seoul. For the history buffs, the new name commemorates the building, which was built in 1925 and was designated Historical Site No. 284 in 1981. Korea numbers not only its tangible assets but also its intangible assets such as dancing and kimchi.

What are we looking at?

If you are old it seems that you can have free haircuts in Seoul Station, right in the centre of downtown here in Korea. Never a dull moment! Stephen and Damien were tempted to line up too!

A trip to the countryside on a day with 90% humidity and 33 degrees made the KTX a wonderful cool air conditioned opportunity to see outside of Seoul. The fish in the market at Daejeon were not so cool and while the photo above depicts a traditional fan, we were captivated by the ingenious method of using two mops as a fish fan in the photo below.

Even though I am getting older, I still love to celebrate my birthday. Damien made scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, pesto, rye toast and coffee. Yum! For those living outside Asia, these Western delicacies are rare treats in Korea. Damien is not really trying to choke me - perhaps he is admiring the authentic Turkish garland in my hair and new South American beads.

Walking and walking in the heat, some of us are always on the lookout for good coffee. When we came across 'God in a Cup', we knew we were in heaven. Air-con and affogato! What more could anybody want?

Yes - Kass even matched the decor!

Built in 1405, Changdeokgung Palace in central Seoul has been designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yes - another palace!

Outside Changdeokgung Palace we came across a whole lot of men playing traditional Korean board games. ANybody know what they are? Some looked like draughts. They certainly looked pretty contented and relaxed sitting under the trees.

Can you see us in the distance? Walking again...... This beautiful wall is in Samcheong dong - thanks again to Stephen.

Dinner at Korea House is usually on the list for our visitors. It is traditional without being touristy and always full of locals. The Royal Cuisine is so varied and yummy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blog 49 - 15th August

Landslides and torrential rain saw 57 people die in Korea as a result of a record deluge at the end of July. We were safe inside and warned to only go out if it was absolutely necessary. Seoul was hit with 534.5 millimeters (21 inches) of rain between midnight July 26 and 5 p.m. July 27, the most on record for a 65-hour period.

The rain triggered a number of mudslides, one in a residential area about five kilometres from our homwe at Seoul National Univeristy. It was amazing to be inside and for the rain to keep on for so long - like being in a sci-fi movie.

Many people abandoned their vehicles and returned later to claim them.

This photo of Mount Umyeon was taken from our car as we drove past on the weekend.

Over the few days following the flooding nearly 10,000 people, worked to help clean up mud and debris in residential areas and roads in the southern part of the city, assisting homeowners and bringing in relief supplies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blog 48 - 4th August

Travelling to Oxford to attend Skilly and Thea's 60th birthday celebration was a highlight of our final week in England. Thank you so much for inviting us, for your generosity and introducing us to your friends and family from Austria, South Africa, Singapore, Holland, Romania, England, the US and Germany. What an international gathering!

Pre-party and post party lunches and dinners were included as optional extras. The historic Trout Inn is just north of Oxford and is a well known student watering hole on a beautiful river tributary of the Thames. Not to be missed if you are in the area.

Nick and Chris, both born in Oxford where Thea and Skilly first met and married, gave wonderful tributes to their parents. The Skillicorns were our neighbours in Singapore and teachers at United World College where our boys went to school.

A tour of the Balliol College was followed by lunch at the college and in the beautiful grounds.

The tour included Chris's murals which adorned the Balliol students' bar and lounge area. He was invited to undertake this tongue in cheek history of the college while he was a student there.

Later in the day, we all changed into our picnic clothes and headed off to the Proms at Blenheim Palace. Helga, Monica, me, Krishna, Josephine and Thea getting ready for the next adventure. What a day....!

Our group of 28 or so hardly made an impression on the thousands who came to fly the flag, sing 'Rule Britannia' and act appropriately British!! It was so amusing for us and wonderful entertainment off stage as well as on!

The Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture was accompanied by real life cannons - deafening, scary and exhiliarating at the same time.

Our final destination was London where museums and more churches were on the agenda - just for something completely different!!

These Greek treasures in the British Museum were amongst many stolen from the Parthenon in Athens. I wonder whether these women lost their heads before or after the voyage.

Morning tea with Paddy and Marie Ann in Earl's Court was a funny coincidence. These dear friends were our neigbours in Hobart, Tasmania, and were visiting their three sons in London and celebrating the birth of their second grand-daughter. Congratulaations and wonderful to see you both.

While getting lost and wandering around Covent Gardens Market, we came across a group of young musicians bringing classical music to the hordes in a very humorous and light-hearted way.

As an archecture student Damien was required to draw Salisbury Cathedral from memory in his exams. This was Damien's first time in England, so a trip to Salisbury was a must. How surprised we were to see the wonderful lifelike statues adorning this famous building. Great to have such humour in these otherwise austere places.

This actually looked so like a real man lying on his brief case on top of the stone casket that I just wanted to touch him!

The interior fountain was so ethereal - calming and modern in this ancient place.

The Tate Modern Gallery was my favourite - built from a disused electricity generation station, abandoned for many years, it was revitalised about five years ago.

We stayed in student accomodation owned by Wesminster University and were able to walk everywhere. The upside was that it was clean, central and cheap. The downside was shared bathroom and kitchen, however it was fun and friendly. We found a wonderful coffee shop, Gastronomica, and Pimlico market down the road and again, really enjoyed summer fruit and western food. Happy to bring back a supply of muesli and licorice.

On our last night we attended the annual Mass with full choir and organ at Westminster Abbey - yes, where the Royal Wedding was! We were walking past and noticed a poster promoting this celebration for Our Lady of Pew. We had never heard of her and are neither Anglican nor religious, however, it seemed like a good opportunity to see inside and hear some lovely music. We got to sit in the wooden stalls next to the choir and were invited, along with everyone else, to supper in the private gardens of Westminister Abbey. What a rare treat and a great way to end our holiday.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blog 47 - 1st August

The third week of our European holiday was spent in Ireland beginning in Limerick (which we later discovered is the drug and criminal capital of Ireland), driving arond the south, staying with our friends, Jackie and Aiden Sweeney in Athlone, in the central County of Roscommon, followed by a few days in Dublin checking out the famous writers and going to a play at the Abbey Theatre. We fluked an excellent performance of 'Translations' apparently a well known play by Brian Friel. The guy I was sitting next to had been three times before and had also read this play.

Here's a windswept me, trying to look like an Irish lassie on the Cliffs of Mohor. I don't think I do it very well - better stick with my Lebanese heritage!

This coastline of the Cliffs of Mohor reminded me very much of Tasmanian scenery - wild and green. Gorgeous! Luckily the hordes of tourists and buses are not visible in these photos. Locals tell us that this place has changed lots and has become a big destination with an excellent visitors' centre built into the hillside.

Staying with our friends, Aiden and Jackie Sweeney in Athlone, was a highlight of Ireland for us. Here we are with Jackie and one of her sons, Damien. Thank you all so much for your hospsitality, especially Aiden coming back from Germany. After not having seen each other for over ten years, catching up was a joy.

The Catholic Cathedral St Peter's in central Athlone. Can you see a theme emerging here?

Driving around Ireland on the left hand side of the road was fun and even relaxing. We had to take a photo of this very Irish sign!

The sixth century Clonmacnoise Abbey was an amazing historical site. If you are interested check out more information at this website

Athough Damien is sixth generation Irish, we saw lots of people who looked like his family in Warnambool, Australia. The main motivation for our visit to Dublin was to have a cup of tea at Bewley's. To me it was quite downmarket and we were both disappointed to be served tea bags!
Things ain't what they used to be...

One of Damien's many claims to fame is that he has read 'Uysses' by James Joyce. He did this not once, but twice, while living alone in Korea for three years between 2001 and 2004. Apart from work, what else do you do on those quiet, cold evenings in university digs? Here is a statue of the man himself in St Stephen's Green, Dublin.

About 30 minutes south of Dublin we visited Powerscourt, the largest and one of the most famous gardens in the whole of Ireland.

Here is Damien (yes, the black hat again!) in front of some guilded garden gates at Powerscourt. Stay posted for the final European chapter - England.