Monday, December 11, 2017

Days 22 - 30 - Our Last Week in Korea - The End of an Amazing Six Month Group Tour with Friends

Our last week in Korea was great.  We enjoyed a nice hotel with a king bed right off of a main street, one block from a major Metro station, and with zillions of restaurants and stores within a few blocks.  Tired form four weeks in Korea, we kicked back a bit and tailored our activities to short excursions on most days.

Our first day back was spent lounging.  We went through all of our bags and made some additional deletions to our inventory.  Some clothing is being donated to a local charity and we're discarding things that we have now been carrying around for 500 days that have not been used.  We are slowly but surely getting our luggage weights down to more manageable amounts.  LOL.

In the afternoon we visited a local Costco store.  It was a nice Metro ride across town to a suburban location.  We roamed the store getting the feeling we were back in the is exactly the same...except for the people and some of the stock on the shelves.  Nostalgia crept in and we succumbed to a traditional hot dog, chicken bake, and a soda.

We visited a local Mexican restaurant for dinner.  They advertised themselves as "better than authentic" and that was fairly accurate.  They were most definitely not authentic Mexican but it was tasty.  And NO CHOPSTICKS or Kimchi for a change.

We booked a half-day tour to the DMZ - the North Korean border.  It was an interesting ride with a guide who eased whatever tension we might have had.  Nonetheless it was the DMZ and it was the border...and there was plenty of security.  The morning started out with fog and snow and ended with sun and a warmer day.

Fences and guard towers lined the highway that skirted the river between both countries.

At the Freedom Bridge we wandered the site.

The old train that used to go back and forth over the river between the two countries.  Now a museum.
A border fence with lots of prayer ribbons.
Popeyes for lunch...yes, a real chicken burger and the North Korean border.

No man's land.
The security checkpoint to get into the DMZ itself.  Our passports were checked.  A high military presence was everywhere...of course.
Entering the DMZ.
The train station that connected the two and until 2008 had a train that ran back and forth.

North and South Korea passport stamps.
"Boarding" the train to Pyeongyang.

The vehicle gate...highway closed since 2008.
The lookout.  Atop a nearby hill we could see into NK.

The girls inspecting the military troupe visiting the site.
A video at the Third Tunnel.  There have been four tunnels dug under the border by NK and all have been discovered.  The Third Tunnel has been turned into a tourist attraction.  The video was a bit disturbing as it was 100% propaganda for reunification...something no one sees happening any time soon.

The tunnel is 250 feet below ground and was discovered by accident.  The South Koreans closed it off with three barrier walls seen bottom left and then dig an inception tunnel for tours.  The inception tunnel is 1190 feet long and descends at an 11% grade.  
It is a long downhill walk and as you can see, those are people WAY DOWN THERE.
At the bottom it leveled off into the actual tunnel where we walked another 1000 ft.  The actual tunnel is only about 5 1/2 feet high so that last hike was hunched over.  At the end of the tunnel were the barrier walls.
It was interesting and a bit unnerving to be honest.  And a long climb back up to the surface.  We were taken back to Seoul and later than night continued our hunt for western food by having pizza and pasta at an Italian place.  We are in the middle of all the embassies so there are plenty of non-Korean choices.

We spent the last three days taking long walks in the neighborhood, spend a whole day hunkered down in the room because it was so darn cold, and our last day packing up and getting ready for our goodbye in the morning.

We have spent the last six months with George, and the last five months with Andrea.  In that mix another 15 came and went as we traveled from Iceland to the UK and then on to Northern Europe, Scandinavia, all the way across Russia, and into South Korea.

At our last meal together just an hour ago, we all admitted that we have spent more time together in the past six months that we have over many years with family and other friends.  And George, our brother, and Andi, our sister, are our family in so many memorable ways.

So here's to the gang...we'll see you all again in Nepal, and a few of you along the way.  Tomorrow marks the first day since we left the USA that we will be alone...and that will get some getting used to all over again.....

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Next Year of our Nomadic Lives!


In a few days we depart for Japan - No. 19 on our world list.  We will be there for 90 days, spending a full month in Sapporo, then Tokyo, and then Osaka.

The middle of March we head south of the equator to Australia were we will visit for two weeks with our dear Janey and Louise in Bateman's Bay, south of Sydney.

On April 1st we will go to Canberra for a few days to see a few things we missed two years ago.  We plan to visit our friend Craig at his sheep ranch to see how the rebuilding of his barn turned out and catch up.  We've rented a nice cottage for that time.

We depart for Perth on the west coast a few days later where we will stay at a beach bungalow in Scarborough.  While there we pick up a RV for six weeks.  This will be our rolling home.

Our road trip from Perth to Darwin will follow the coastline up to the Kimberley.  Along the way we expect to see Monkey Mia dolphins and swim with the whale sharks.  There are some pretty amazing national parks to visit as well.  From Kimberley we head into the outback and on to Darwin.  This is going to be quite a trip and we are pretty darn excited.  We end up for a week just south of Darwin in the city of Katherine where we will take several day trips further into the Northern Territory.

A week in Darwin will end with a flight to Sydney and then on to Bali.  We have rented a villa in Bali, as well as two scooters, and will be there for a full week.  Then it is on to Jakarta for a week, followed by a week in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

We will spend a week in Singapore before heading over to Hong Kong.  There we have rented an apartment for two weeks.  During that time we will be working on getting our China visa and Tibet Travel Permit.  Then it is off and running for 60 days on the Chinese mainland touring the Southern half of the country.  We haven't a clue yet what we will be doing, other than starting out in Guangzhou and ending up in Chengdu two months later.

We plan to spend a week in Chengdu before boarding the Tibetan railway to Lhasa.  We have booked a five day visit in the capitol primary to visit the monastery and Portola Palace!  Then it is on to Kathmandu, Nepal.

We have rented an apartment for a full month in Kathmandu and have extended invitations to several friends to come join us.  At the end of that month we meet up once again with our travel club gang for a 35-day overland truck tour of Nepal and India.  Ending our final club adventure, a few of us continue on to Uzbekistan for 15 more days.  Saying goodbye to our friends once again, we plan to visit Italy for a month in the north...probably Milan.

Christmas will find us in the Balkans, probably in Bulgaria, where we plan to rent a very large house.  Our son and his Houston family, along with Bobbie's family will be joining us for the holidays.

Then we have to get out of the Schengren Treaty Zone for 90 days (Russia, Jordan, Laos??) before heading over to Ireland to spend time with our dear Debbie Albaugh.

And that is what our lives look like for the next year!  Yikes!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Day 21 - Our Road Trip in South Korea Ends - More Time in Seoul

We sure covered a lot of ground in 30 days.  Doesn't really seem that long.  Wow, what a beautiful country.  Two bus trips, one train, two flights, and seven days in the car.  What a grand time. 
We now have seven more days in beautiful Seoul before saying goodbye to our traveling brother and sister and then off to Sapporo for the holidays.

Days 18-20 - Jeonju to Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park

It was a long six hour drive back up toward Seoul and then due east and then north to Sokcho to visit Seoraksan National Park.  The drive was quiet and fast, on modern highways.  The traffic was almost non-existent until we got close to Seoul and then dissipated as we headed eastward.  We reached the coast midday and checked into a very nice four star hotel at the base of the mountain.  The rest of the day was restful as we enjoyed the serenity of the location and a nice western style dinner that night.  The hotel upgraded us to suites.  It has an English theme with the double decker bus outside.  Inside each floor is decorated in a different motif.  The restaurant is called Abbey Road and is full of Beatles memorabilia.

In the morning we got a later start and took the cable car up to the top of the mountain.  Wow, what amazing views.  And I though all along those Asian silk paintings were modern art.  These mountains truly do exist.

 The cable car is the longest freely suspended cable with no center supports.  It swings a lot in the wind.  Yikes.

 The views from the top were outstanding.

 The giant bronze Buddha at the nearby temple was HUGE.

 For lunch we drove to the seacoast and found a great restaurant at the harbor.

 The rest of the day was nap time and dinner in town.  Tomorrow we head back to Seoul and the end of our road trip.