Simple Things

The past seven weeks have been a whirlwind. I’ve been traveling and working non-stop. When I’m not working, I’m checking out new places or planning my next adventure. I’m not complaining. I love it. But I haven’t had a lot of time to write or even just chill. A day here and there, but for the most part it’s been go, go, go!

I decided to go through some of my photos and plan my next blog post since I have a few-hours-long shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) ride back to Tokyo. While scrolling through hundreds of photos, I found this one. I captured this in Korea a few weeks ago while exploring a market with some new friends. We stopped to buy some soju (a very delicious Korean liquor), and I saw this beautiful flowering tree.

I HAD to stop to admire it. The tiny brightly colored blooms made me smile. Maybe it was a combination of the fantastic weather (blue skies and sunshine), great company and vibrant atmosphere. But on this day, I definitely stopped to smell whatever these baby blossoms are and enjoy the simple things in life. I’d like to think that I do a good job of appreciating the little things, but finding this photo today reminded me that it’s something I need make sure I do as often as possible. Sometimes those are things that bring us the most joy. 💕

Climbing Mt. Apsan

It can be hard to get a workout in when you’re traveling. Between sightseeing, food tasting, experiencing new things and meeting new people, who has the time?!? For many, carving out an hour or two to exercise while on holiday isn’t realistic. They’re too busy adventuring and gallivanting to squeeze it in. But there are ways to explore AND burn calories simultaneously. During my last trip to Daegu, South Korea I did exactly that.

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Mt. Apsan is one of the most popular places to visit in Daegu. Visitors can enjoy swimming, practice archery or ride horses at facilities at the bottom of the mountain. Additionally, the panoramic views from the top are breathtaking. It makes the city seem so small and far away when it’s really quite big and very close. You can enjoy these views by taking a short (and reasonably priced – 9,500 Won roundtrip) cable car ride to the peak of Mt. Apsan or by climbing the mountain. Well… hiking it, really. Which is exactly what we did.

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Bright and early at six o’clock in the morning we started our journey from the hotel to the summit. Luckily, the walk to the base of Mt. Apsan from the hotel wasn’t very far. Just a brisk, mildly-inclined, 15-minute walk away (give or take five minutes). From bottom to the top, however, is a completely different story. There are a variety of walking routes you can take, depending on where you start and what your capabilities are.

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The path we took was shorter in distance but at a pretty steep incline. I was too focused on climbing to read the signs, but the trail was about 4 kilometers (from the hotel to the top) if my watch calculated correctly. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the apex (we stopped a couple of times to hydrate and catch our breath). The path we took crossed a couple of creeks and was lined with beautiful trees and greenery. At the top, there are a couple walking paths to different areas or you can just enjoy the observatory area. Where we ended up was visitor light. It was a more secluded area and felt far more serene. Also, we got there just after 07:30, and the cable car wasn’t running yet. That’s probably why it was much less crowded (we were the only ones there) and more peaceful. The hike down took us only about half of the time we spent going up.

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Climbing Mt. Apsan instead of catching the cable car to the top is a great way to experience nature, explore the terrain and get in some exercise while still seeing the sights. It takes little longer, but if you’re not super pressed for time you’ll really enjoy it. Just follow the signs that say Mt. Apsan, and you won’t get lost or be disappointed. The views are spectacular and the endorphins are worth it. Plus, you won’t feel guilty for ordering dessert later.  😜

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If you want to check out Mt. Apsan and have bad knees or another condition that prevents you from climbing to the summit (or simply don’t want to hike), the cable car takes only 15 minutes. It starts running at 10:00 and goes up every 15 minutes or so. The last ride up depends on the time of year you go. It varies between 18:00 (winter) and 18:30 (summer). The signs were all in Korean, but the cab driver told me you have to buy your ticket 30 minutes prior to the ride.

Whether you decide to climb to the top or ride to it, Mt. Apsan is definitely a must-see in Daegu!

Buildings & Bake Shops in Daegu

I stumbled upon this building while exploring the streets of Daegu, South Korea. I was desperately searching for something to satisfy my sweet tooth when I saw it. It was love at first sight. Everything was perfect, from the vibrant azure trim to the gigantic windows, little wreaths hanging on the doors, and the scooter parked in the front. The design is spectacular. It looks old, but new at the same time. The light fixtures and flower boxes give it a charming, warm and inviting appearance. And to make a great thing even better, it’s a bakery! I stepped inside and was welcomed with the intoxicating smells of freshly-made espresso, sugary confections, and just-out-of-oven bread. The shop had enough of cakes, tarts, and snacks to satisfy any craving. I devoured a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino. Both were very tasty.

This little bake shop is just a few blocks (maybe three) from the most popular area of downtown Daegu. Le Pouldu (that’s what it’s called) is still surrounded by stores, restaurants, and coffee shops, just not on the main street. It’s just across the road from an ABC Mart and next to T World (for directions click here). If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend it. It’s got a cozy atmosphere and the baked goods are DELICIOUS. And there are savory items too if you’re not into sweets.

Charming Jinhae

My recent adventures in South Korea took me to Jinhae, a charming, small-ish city along the southeastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. I went to Jinhae to experience what the city is most famous for: its Cherry Blossom Festival (a full post on that is coming very soon). But while roaming the streets aimlessly searching for sustenance in the early morning, feeling starved and sleepy, we stumbled across these tracks. I wondered where they lead and whether trains still barrel through this quiet part of town. I never found out.

They’re just railroad tracks. Maybe it’s the way the trees line the path or the color of the light on the trees or just the excitement I felt being some place new, but I found it beautiful. I still do. Ordinary, but so lovely.

Bibimbap Bliss

The best place to get the best of anything is at the source. You want the best pasta? Go to Italy! You’re looking for the best pad thai? Visit Thailand! The best sushi? Duh, Japan! So it’s no surprise that the best bibimbap I’ve ever eaten, I had in Korea. What is surprising is that one of my favorite spots for it is a chain. 😮 I try to stay away from chains because I feel like mom-and-pop eateries usually have more authentic and more flavorful dishes. But that was definitely not the case here.

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I found Yuk’ssam Naengmyeon by accident. I was wandering the streets, taking pictures and shopping when I smelled it. The savory aroma of grilled beef wafted. So we went in. Yuk’ssam Naengmyeon is actually known for its cold noodles, but it was still a little cold out, and I wanted a hot meal. So I asked for the bibimbap and an order of mandoo (Korean dumplings).

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I love bibimbap. It’s a bowl of rice topped with veggies (some are seasoned and sauteed) an egg, and (usually) pepper paste. This dish has many variations and it’s rarely the same from place to place. The vegetables are sometimes different. Some places serve it in a hot stone bowl; some don’t. Some places serve it with a raw egg; some with it over easy. Some have meat; some don’t. This one came with a thinly sliced omelette and beef on the side.

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I really enjoyed this version of bibimbap. It was simple but flavorful, with great texture. The vegetables were fresh and tasty. The kimchi was spicy with a tiny bit of crunch. And the beef was really excellent (my favorite part). It was well-seasoned and tender, as beef should be. The mandoo was pretty good, too.

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There are more than 30 Yuk’ssam Naengmyeon restaurants throughout South Korea.  You can find one is most cities.  There are several in Seoul. Next time, if it’s warmer, I’ll try the cold noodles. 😉

All The Street Food

I never would’ve imagined that I’d find all the street food my heart desires in Seoul, South Korea. I took this photograph during one of my many visits to the Myeong-dong, a super-busy district known primarily for shopping. But around five o’clock (1700) a bunch of little carts and stands roll in out of nowhere, and the streets start to smell like delicious-ness (yes, that is a word). Every few feet the aroma changes from sweet to salty to spicy to pungent. Even if you aren’t hungry, you will be after walking through the crowded lanes.

I especially loved the cheesy, grilled lobster tail and honey hand-spun candy (dragon’s beard). This street feast is everything (and has everything).

A Day at Donghwasa

You can’t visit any country in Asia without going to at least one temple. In my case, many. I’m a fan. I love seeing the architecture, history, and customs. During a recent trip to Daegu, South Korea I had the chance to visit Donghwasa, and it was truly AWESOME!

Donghwasa is situated on the south side of Mt. Palgongsan, about 20 kilometers (an hour-long bus ride) from downtown Daegu. It’s surrounded by trees, hills, and a few parks and recreation areas. It’s hard to believe all this nature and serenity is just a few miles away from the crowds and lights of downtown Daegu.

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The temple grounds are pretty big. Monks live and work there, and Donghwasa also offers Temple Stay, where visitors can really experience Buddhist life and learn more about the Korean Buddhist culture by staying at the temple and interacting with the monks (for reservations and details check out  donghwasa.templestay.com – unfortunately the site is only in Korean). Things are pretty spread out. The temple itself is about a seven-minute walk from the property’s entrance gate. And there are hiking paths inside the grounds, which I think is pretty cool.

Colorful lanterns hang from cables in the temple courtyard and line the paths to other sections of the premises that are open to visitors. During my visit, I really wanted to see the big standing Buddha statue. There’s just something about Buddha statues that fascinate me and bring me peace. So I followed the trail of lanterns for about ten-ish minutes until I found it.

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The Buddha stands about a hundred feet tall. He’s Yakasayore-bul, the Buddha of medicine, and he’s magnificent. When I walked up, visitors gathered at his feet. They lit incense and got on their knees to pray to him. It feels very personal, almost intrusive, to hear someone’s prayers. But also, it feels uplifting to see people completely give into their faith.

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The statue is surrounded by a semi-circle of guardians and other Buddhas carved into a stone building. You can go inside it and visit the underground meditation center. There’s also a temple directly in front of Yakasayore-bul that you can check out.

There are a variety of other historic buildings on the grounds that you can visit. I wasn’t part of a tour group when I visited, and I was unable to locate any brochures in English. I  don’t know the purpose or use of the buildings, but they were very interesting. The detail in and on all the buildings is stunning.

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This is by far one of my favorite temples. And I absolutely recommend it to anyone who is going to be in Daegu for a few days. It’s worth the trip. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes.

Adult admission to the temple will cost you 2,500 won ($2.25). The temple has a small drink and snack stand, but no restaurant. There are a few restaurants between the bus stop and the temple. There are also several restaurants a few kilometers down the road the opposite way from the temple.

To get there:

Take the Number 1 bus from the Daegu City Center Square (it’s the park across the street from the Novotel Hotel. You buy your ticket on the bus (cash only); it’s only 1500 won ($1.35). You can also catch this bus from Dondaegu station, but the stop for the bus a little harder to find because there are several buses that leave from there. From the City Center Square, the bus ride is about an hour long, give or take about 10 minutes based on traffic. The stop to get off at is called Donghwasa, and the bus does display the upcoming stops in both Hangeul and English.  You can get back downtown the exact same way. The stop is across the street from where you get off at Donghwas. You can take a cab if you prefer, it’s faster but more expensive. Just keep in mind that finding a taxi to take you back to Daegu may be a little challenging; sometimes they aren’t available and you have to wait.

You can take a cab if you prefer, it’s faster but more expensive. Just keep in mind that finding a taxi to take you back to Daegu may be a little challenging; sometimes they aren’t available and you have to wait.