Wednesday 30 April 2014

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

As a last treat before setting off for France, we went today to the London Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It was Darren's mums birthday so the three of us caught the lift to the top of the crazy red Orbit sculpture.
The guidebook said that the 'views are breathtaking from the 114.5 metre shimmering steel tower - Britain's largest sculpture'. I couldn't put it better myself.
The day dawned extremely foggy, but by the time we arrived the weather had cleared and the sun was out. It must have put everybody else off as the place was almost deserted, so we had vip treatment from all of the staff.
After a happy half hour enjoying the views we walked down the 351 steps of the spiral staircase. It was quite a scary experience as the steps were all made of metal with holes punched in it.  You could see all the way through to the ground, and simultaneously look above through the stairs and up to the sky.
Once back on solid ground the fountains by the Olympic Stadium were startling and relaxed on some lovely reclining benches opposite the Swimming Centre.
Finally we had a tasty Greek lunch at the Westfield Centre.

Monday 28 April 2014

Muddy weekend and a new home

Spent the weekend at the Peterborough Motorhome Show amongst thousands of other keen campers.
The weather wasn't kind and there was no electric hook up for us, so we were cold, dark and damp in our van.
The show was great though - if you like spending hours checking out other vans and gadgets - and we do.
It got us thinking that although our van is lovely, it is pretty cramped and basic.
We then found the dream new motorhome for us, and after much deliberation, and a lot of haggling we
are getting a new home.
We pick it up in the middle of June, so still have a few weeks to wait, but we have loads to keep us busy in the meantime and are off to France on Thursday.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Oakham - typically English day

Back on the road again in the campervan. It was lovely to see it again as it had been parked in a cold, wet field for the last five months. It started second time with the help of a friendly farmer, a set of jump leads and a Landrover, and seems non the worse for the experience.
We are now right in the centre of England and enjoyed a very English day.
It was cloudy, looked as if it might rain, and we passed a genuine red telephone box.  Next to it was a post box on a pole, an ancient church and thatched cottages.
It doesn't get much more English than that as we cycled on a loop of Oakham.
We also reached the shore of Rutland Water, but kept getting dive bombed by clouds of little black flies that hit us in the face and bounced loudly off our cycling helmets. I was more worried about the ones that got through the ventilation holes and ended up tangled in my hair, so we beat a hasty retreat and I am looking forward to washing my hair.

Monday 21 April 2014

Great niece and nephew

I have been away from home for so long that my great niece Gracie was born and then more than doubled in size before I even met her.
She is really good and didn't cry all afternoon, even when we both bounced her on our knees.
Her brother Declan has turned into a cool dude. He loves ice cream, particularly from ice cream vans, and his mum has loads of links to u tube videos of ice cream vans on her phone that he adores watching.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Family weekend at Pontins

Arrived back in London on Thursday night and then it was straight off for a family reunion in Great Yarmouth.
It was lovely to see everyone and we tried out a few of the attractions at the Park.
We broke the speed limit on the bikes, and Sky fell off during a particularly risky manoeuvre, but was very brave and was soon back in the saddle.
Neither of us paddled in the sea this time, but Darren's nieces had a great, but cold time.
Instead we tried in vain to fly a stunt kite, but the only trick we managed was to make it crash at full speed into the grass.
We are slowly getting over our jetlag and looking forward to another very sociable few days catching up with friends and family across the country.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

National Museum of Korea

Went to the National Museum of Korea today and really didn't do it justice.
What a massive, fantastic building, set in beautiful landscaped surroundings.
We looked around a lot of the exhibits, but probably enjoyed coffee in the cafe most.
I think it's time to move on, and spring is in the air in England, so off we go.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Getting lost with Zaha Hadid

We walked to the Dongdaemun Dream, Design and Play building today that was designed by the world famous architect Zaha Hadid.
She also designed the Aquatics Centre for the London Olympics and is known for never using straight lines in her buildings.
That may be all well and good on paper, but in practice, for us it just caused chaos. Of course, it would have helped if we had a map in English, rather than Korean, but that doesn't usually stop us from getting around.
The map we had was a strange attempt at 3D on flat paper.  The building was a weird 3D wavy, shiny, doughnuty thing with endless corridors and stairs, that led in surprising and random directions.
Maybe that was what Zaha intended - if so she succeeded, and it was certainly memorable.
She also designs furniture without straight lines and one chair was great fun, but not very relaxing.
We paid to go in some of the exhibitions and one seemed to be playing a joke on visitors by sending us through dungeon like corridors  before getting to what looked like a school woodworking project.
It featured the designs of Enzo Mari and was a 'human-centered design' with an 'allegory towards Utopia'.
Another was a total mystery, with lots of German magazines on display, and subtitles in Korean. I have just read the brochure and apparently it was called Ulm Models - Models after Ulm: 1953 - 1968.
Curiouser and curiouser.

Monday 7 April 2014

16th wedding anniversary

Time flies and another year whizzes by, meaning that it is our 16th wedding anniversary today.
Just to prove that romance isn't dead, we went to the N Seoul Tower, as it is a special place for Korean couples.
There are heart shaped photo opportunities everywhere, menus for two in the restaurants, and a shop selling padlocks.  The idea is that couples write a message on it and then lock it to a nearby fence, 'as a token of eternal love'.
The fence is many, many metres long and it is completely covered with thousands of padlocks. There are locks on top of locks, making chains that hang down and from a distance look like beautiful flowers.
There is also a heart chair to 'strengthen bonds with your loved one'. There was quite a queue for photos there, but we got our snap - and hopefully extra bond - eventually.
Old romantics that we are, we bought two matching lime green heart shaped padlocks, but rather than leave them here, we decided instead to use them on our suitcases for the flight back to England.
Do you think that counts?

Sunday 6 April 2014

Seoul Olympic Park

Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988, and we went for a stroll around the park today. As with everywhere else in Korea, the place is beautifully kept with all of the stadiums looking in great condition, and still being used.
It was a lovely sunny day and loads of local people were making the most of it, riding bikes, scooters, skates and tandems, flying kites, picnicking and just generally having a good time.
The Peace Gate, with the Olympic rings in the centre, was the entry point into the Olympics, and just after that is a huge square that flies the flags of all of the nations who competed.
The area is also a major sculpture park, and it certainly got a thumbs up from us.
Ps, you may never have thought of Korea as a holiday destination, but it is fantastic - change any plans you may have made and come to visit asap.

Gangnam style

I am so sorry about the chavness of this photo, but it had to be done. Yet another pose - hope you like it Dave - in the actual Gangnam area of Seoul, made famous by Psy.
Since we arrived in Korea we have been listening to lots of K-pop (Korean pop music) and have got to really like it. Our favourite group are Orange Caramel and their latest song is about sushi. It is all in Korean, but the group is made up of three girls, and in the video they dress up as pieces of sushi and sing 'oy, oy, oy,' as part of the chorus.
We chose our latest guesthouse because it advertised free tickets to a K-pop concert, and we went last night with the owners mum and her friends.
It was really good, and we saw five different acts including Nu'est (see photo), 4men - this group was confusing as there are only three of them and last night only two as one was ill, and BTOB who we think are the most famous, as all of the girls screamed loudly and sang along from beginning to end.
The girls in front of us were funny as they all had little scarves with BTOB written on them that they draped them over their hair, they waved strange blue lanterns and videoed the performance on their phones.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Weekend wandering

Quick snippet of conversation from last night:-
Daz - 'how confident are you that we are going in the right direction?'
Me - 'one million per cent'
Daz - 'I'd feel happier if it was a million and one'
..... Walk, walk, walk, walk..........
Me - (quietly) 'I think we're going the wrong way!'

Whoops, but today is a new day, so off we go, across a lovely bridge, to find another blossom festival.
Yet again we almost didn't find it, but suddenly there we were among thousands of people, all armed with cameras.
I think that I was Korean in a previous life as I take almost as many photos as they do.
I can also strike a pose too.

Friday 4 April 2014

DMZ tour

For the rest of our day we toured around the DMZ and surrounding area.
The first photo is of one of two villages inside the DMZ zone itself. They existed before the border was created and one is in the south, but this one is in the north. It is known as a fake village as most of the buildings are just facades, and hardly anyone actually lives there. It was built for propaganda purposes and to make people from the south jealous of such a modern and beautiful looking place.
We were not allowed to take photos of the southern village, but it also has a large flagpole. The story goes that the northern village put up a 50 metre high flagpole a few years ago, so the south put up a 100 metre high one, so the north then put up this one which 160 metres high, and it flies one of the biggest flags in the world!
Picture two is of South Korean troops that Darren took through the bus window, although he shouldn't really have taken it, and if our guide had seen there would have been big trouble!
Pictures three and four were taken at Dorasan Station which links Seoul with Pyeongyang, (the capital of North Korea). Due to the hostilities between the two countries it has has never yet been used to carry people, although the south hopes that it will in the future.
It was a massive, modern station and we had it all to ourselves, which seemed really weird.
Very, very interesting day.

Brief visit to North Korea

Slightly scary outing today as we went on a trip, partly run by the US Army - to North Korea!
Actually, it is a bit more complicated than it sounds. On either side of the border between North and South Korea is a two kilometre wide DMZ (demilitarised zone), which, with one tiny exception, is completely uninhabited. On the southern side of the DMZ is a 20 feet high wall and bank to stop any tank attacks. Beyond that is the most heavily mined area in the world, then after that are enormous barbed wire fences - the last of which is electrified.
To get to the border our coach had to drive through the DMZ on a road through the defences, however, in the gap at the anti-tank wall there was a large bank of rocks, filled with explosives that could be detonated to immediately fill the gap if necessary.
Once through this we got to an area called the JSA (joint security area) where both North and South Korea have separate buildings that face each other.
Our soldier guide told us that when the North realised that the South's building was slightly taller, they added an extra storey to theirs just so that it was the tallest.
In between them are a few single storey blue buildings. (See pic 2 - and the grey building in the background is in North Korea).
The blue buildings have a door at either end and they actually straddle the border. This is where meetings between the two Koreas are held - at a conference table exactly on the line.
We went in for a look around and I walked across to the North Korean side of the room, stood near to one of the South Korean guards and had a nervous looking photo taken. That was as far as I got into North Korea - about three metres.
If you look closely at the second photo you can see some of the South Korean guards who were watching the border - two are half hidden from view in case of attack, and as our guide told us, it wasn't the guard in the middles lucky day.
Ps, you might just be able to see a North Korean soldier on the steps of the grey building.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Bullet train to Seoul

We made a bit of a school boy error today with our map reading. All of the words were in Korean, but we found an area where a lot of train lines joined together, next to a big building, and assumed that that was our station. We caught a bus there and then found out that it was not!
In a panic we hailed a taxi and tried to explain that we needed to go to the station. I did a comedy impersonation of a train complete with arm movements and 'choo choo' sounds, but he just looked bemused. We tried the English approach of just repeating the words 'train station' loudly and expecting him to understand. He kept repeating it back to us and eventually decided to take us there, but he was very worried and kept turning round to ask us questions in Korean.
We arrived with less spare time than we originally expected, but we caught our train with no further problems, but probably a few more grey hairs.
The train had a little screen in the carriage to show the speed - it reached 294k per hour - and we arrived in Seoul in style.
Speaking of style, our last hotel had a large mural of Paris and a green ladybird light on the wall, as well as a lovely view of Changwon. 
However, todays hotel room is bed shaped, has no room to swing a cat, and pink curtains but no window behind them. The good thing is that we are right next to our meeting point for tomorrow, as hopefully we have a big day planned.
Ps, just been round the corner for a coffee and the shop had the following message etched in English on the window - 'When I taste the little world, a wind-bell blessed me.' 

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Jinhae cherry blossom festival

Today was a big day as we have spent a lot of time arranging to get here, and we have allocated three nights of our trip to make sure that we are in the area to see the festival.
There is very little written in English about this huge festival, but apparently over two million people visit it every year.
Our Google map had hardly any English words on it, but we found Jinhae on the edge of a horseshoe shaped bay, through a long mountain tunnel from our hotel in Changwon.
I got off the bus in Jinhae feeling very excited, but there was no one else around. I will spare you the details, but two and a half hours later, we still had no idea where the festival was and we had walked for miles.
We knew about the train, (see previous blog) so we had been following a train line, but it turned out to be the wrong one. Even the stations were not written in English on the map, and no one spoke enough English to help us.
Eventually, we found a different train line and suddenly, thousands of people were standing along it, and hundreds of food stalls lined the route. We even found a Tourist Information tent and I got a brochure. 'It explained that we were at 'The feast of spring with the 360,000 roots of cherry blossom'.
We then discovered that there was not one large festival site, but there were different locations around the whole area - just none where we got off our bus.
We went to the Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge and followed the 2k cherry blossom tunnel along the stream, along with thousands and thousands of people.
We also went to the top of a hill to see the whole panorama, and finally, an enormous fireworks show, before eventually heading back to our hotel.
We were exhausted after ten hours marching around, but pleased that we could give cherry blossom viewing a big tick.

Gyeonghwa station

Gyeonghwa station is number five of the 'Top 50 beautiful sceneries of Korea', according to the leaflet I was given by Tourist Information.
We went to visit it as we saw a brilliant photo on the Internet.  It was of a train driving through a tunnel of cherry blossom trees, with all of the petals floating around it like a blizzard.
We were among thousands of Koreans who were also there to take that photo.
The trains only run every hour or so, so in the meantime, everyone entertains themselves by posing on the track. Check out the couple on the left of the second pic - they have a little sign that says 'only you'.
When the train arrived it went through at walking pace and unfortunately, the flowers are in full bloom, but the petals haven't started to fall yet, so we are all a few days early for the perfect shot.

Tuesday 1 April 2014


Changwon is a city in the south of Korea, and it was planned in the 1970's to act as the capital of the country if Seoul was attacked and had to be abandoned.
There is very little in English about the area on the Internet, and we have seen hardly any foreigners, apart from each other, for the last few days.
We got up early this morning, walked with all of our kit to the subway, caught a train in the rush hour for about ten stops, then caught a bus to Changwon. After about half an hour on the bus the area started to look familiar, and then the bus stopped to pick up a passenger and I realised that we were about 100 yards from last night's hotel - right back where we started!
Once we got here though, we found out that it is a beautiful place and we had a lovely afternoon wandering around admiring the scenery and cherry blossom, which is just reaching perfection.
We also found an area called the Olympic Park which had lots of amazing sports stadiums.  We managed to walk down a tunnel and into the centre of a fantastic velodrome, where it seemed that the Korean national cycling squad were training.
Nobody seemed to mind so we spent about half an hour watching them whizz around the banked track.
Ps, thank you to Darren for this arty shot.