Busan, Korea: An Afternoon at Taejongdae

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Though this post is coming about a year after we visited Korea, while I’m on this travel blogging kick I wanted to share some of highlights from that amazing trip.

Taejongdae Resort Park is a natural park along the coast of Busan, and without a doubt my favorite part of Korea (though, when you’re only there for a week you’re pretty limited in what you’ll see!). I added this stop to our travel itinerary simply because every time I googled Busan, a version of this image appeared:

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That seemed pretty enough to be worth a special trip!

We zipped over to Taejongdae via cab Nampo Dong, a district in Busan known for its theaters. Cabs in Busan were cheap enough to make this almost 20 minute journey affordable and easy. If you’re not up for a cab, you can take a bus — but buses confuse me even in Boston, so no way was I getting on one in Korea.

The views from Taejongdae were spectacular! And they say on a day you can see a Japanese Island called Daema Island (Tsushima Island). Not sure if that’s in the background of any of my photos, but it’s something to watch out for if you go!

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At Pebble Beach, one of the first stops around the island (which you can get around via a tiny, colorful train, by the way) is Pebble Beach. The waves along the shore made such a beautiful sound as they pulled the pebbles out toward the water. The video doesn’t do it complete justice.

That rock sculpture behind me is known as Tea Kettle Island.

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We were fortunate the summer weather was so perfect for our stroll around Taejongdae, but I imagine it’s still just as pretty in other seasons.

Hiking in Malibu: Charmlee Wilderness Park

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To escape the longest winter known to man (or at least, what felt like the longest snowy season in Boston), Gaurav and I took a quick trip out to LA in March for some fun, fresh air and boat load of scary high way driving.

Though we were staying in downtown LA, we focused our sites on fun far from the heart of the skyscrapers. On our first morning in town, we took a Zipcar out to Malibu to hike Charmlee Wilderness Park.

Charmlee is about a 3 mile hike with amazing views of the Malibu coast. It’s a simple hike with low elevation, clear markers, and several trail options. You can dedicate about 2 hours to this hike and feel like you’ve covered it all. We arrived by 9:30 am on a Sunday morning and were one of just three car in the parking lot. Amazing, peaceful destination if you’re an early bird — jet lag helps!  (Directions to Charmlee Wilderness Park)

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South Korean Conveniences the US Should Adopt

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South Koreans have thought of everything. At least, that’s what I thought when I visited Busan and Seoul last summer. Everywhere I went during my trip I felt that the cities were set up to make life easier for everyone, even in the simplest of ways. From amazing tech infrastructure to simple instructions for foreigners, here’s how South Korea made its cities accommodating and organized.

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Arrows
Taking the T in Boston feels a lot like punishing yourself for something you never did. Everyone crams in and out of the train doors at once, so it’s madness without a method. In South Korea, they solved this problem so simply! Train doors open from the same points on the platform every time, so arrows guide the way for those entering and exiting. You’ll never worry about bumping into fellow passengers because everyone follows the correct arrow directions.

Subway Jingles
For a foreigner like me, reading a sign in Korean that possibly says when the next train is arriving is pointless. Instead of struggling to identify a familiar character, I just listened for a short jingle over the speakers that signaled the next train was approaching. While riding the subway, the music plays again when you’re pulling into a station to remind you to get your bum up and out the door (in an orderly fashion, of course).

Suitcase Ramps
Rather than lugging a suitcase up never-ending staircases when there’s no elevator in site, Koreans have the luxury of simply dragging their suitcases upwards on a ramp built next to the stairs. This was perhaps the simplest infrastructure hack we saw on our trip, but it was the one that stuck with us the most. Carrying my bag up the stairs when subway stops don’t have elevators or escalators is a pain – this was such an easy solution to an annoying problem!

Auto Lights & Locks
We stayed at my friend’s apartment in Busan, but even in her tiny living space we were impressed with two simple tech time and energy savers: automatics lights and locks. The light in her entryway only turned on when it detected movement – either from someone walking into the apartment or looking for their shoes near the door. Her apartment was also outfitted with an a door that automatically locked behind you and required a code to get in. I’d take that over a key any day!

Have you encountered any simple life improvements in your travels that you wish existed at home?

photo credit Luke Pineda

Rome Day 3 – Vatican City

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THE LAST POST OF STUDY ABROAD!

… It’s about time. I haven’t been back in the US for nearly a month or anything.

Back to what’s important, the Vatican.

For whatever reason, Pattie and I planned this day in Vatican City pretty poorly. It turns out they (they being official Catholic people whose names, titles and such escape me) were bringing the remains of Pope John Paul II into the cathedral for his beatification the following day. So, unfortunately we were not able to visit the inside of the church. BUT we did get to spend a lot of time in the Vatican Museums – home of the Sistine Chapel.

Pictures inside the Sisten Chapel were taboo, but I did manage to sneak this very blurry photo of The Creation of Adam:

Aside from the Sistine Chapel, the museums were filled with tons of other breathtaking artwork.

The School of Athens

After a day in Vatican City, Pattie and I walked to the Trevi Fountain area where we enjoyed our last Italian meal and some gelato. Arrivederci!

Rome Day 2

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“Rome in a day,” as Pattie likes to say. We decided to save the Vatican for our last day in Rome, so Operation: Rome in a Day was jam-packed with every important landmark we could find. Our first stop? The Colosseum, naturally.

Inside the Colosseum.

Impressed yet?

I'm a gladiator! I can win any fight!

Fun story: While Pattie and I were resting in the pedestrian pathways that surround the Colosseum, a car sped by us (paying no attention to any passersby in its way) as people ran in every direction. It wasn’t until the car stop and a policeman jumped out (of his unmarked car, mind you), that we realized all the people running were the vendors who had set up camp at the Colosseum for the day. The cop never caught up to any of them, but it was certainly fun watching the chase!

Then it was off to the Roman ruins!

Palatine Stadium

Stonehenge, anyone?

After soaking in some of the city’s oldest sights, we moved on further past the Colosseum (finally, right?) to see more of Rome.

How cute!

Piazza Navona

The Pantheon

It's like Where's Waldo - can you spy Pattie?

After lunch we made it to my top-spot in Rome: THE TREVI FOUNTAIN! I’m not sure why I was so set on seeing the fountain or why it topped my list of attractions in Rome, but there’s just something so intriguing about it. Maybe it’s the sound of rushing water that makes it so cool or maybe it’s the magnificent sculpture. Regardless, I made my wish and if the myth is right and I return to Rome, I think I’ll head straight for the Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain

Making her wish.

Every day more than 3,000 euro are thrown into the fountain - that's more than $4,200! And what do they do with all the money? Rome started a charity supermarket for the needy with the coins rom people's wishes.

Off to more Roman attractions after visiting the fountain!

The Spanish Steps

From the top of the steps.

Exhausted, we collapsed after the Spanish Steps and went back towards our hotel for a scrumptious dinner. Tomorrow? Vatican City!

Rome Day 1

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Brace yourself for Colosseum overload. I walked by and/or visited the Colosseum every day in Rome, so the next few posts will be filled with my pictures of this ancient Roman landmark.

Our hotel was luckily only a ten minute walk from the Colosseum, so every morning Pattie and I began our day with a stroll past this breathtaking structure.

Hey there, Colosseum.

What's so weird about the Colosseum is that it's smack in the middle of the city. It's surrounded by busy roads on all sides.

We had no set agenda when we arrived in Rome because we weren’t sure what time we would be free. But we decided to set off from the Colosseum and see what other landmarks we could find before dinnertime.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, but the Italians have nicknamed it "The Wedding Cake" because it's big and white and they don't particularly like it.

Arc de Constantin

Night view!

Here’s a fun Italian way of crossing the street: install a crosswalk but do not put in any traffic lights. Instead, let the pedestrians take their own lives in their hands as they cross four lanes of never-ending traffic. Maybe this is my middle-aged woman self emerging – but shouldn’t there be some sort of signal of when to cross the street? We just had to decide which car to step out in front of and hope it – and the next three cars – would follow suit. But don’t worry, we made it out alive and even made it to our second day in Rome…

Bologna and the Nutelleria

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Hallelujah! I officially checked a life goal off my list in Italy.

Visit the Nutelleria. CHECK!

The Nutelleria in Bologna is one of only two in the entire world (the other is in Frankfurt) and obviously I needed to go there when I was in Florence – it’s only 40 minutes away by train!

Pattie and I were silly and went to Bologna without a map and instead only had directions from the train station to the Nutelleria. My Nutella-trained nose led us to the right place where we marveled at the hazelnut-chocolate filled menu. Sadly, there was no sign marking this spot as an official Nutelleria, but the signs on the wall made it obvious.

Nutella nutella nutella!!!

So what’s on the menu at the Nutelleria? Baguettes, croissants, ice cream, corn flakes, crepes and pizza all with nutella, of course. Corn flakes? Yeah, that one through me for a loop as well. I ordered a crepe and Pattie had a baguette. Sadly, the workers at the Nutelleria were a little less than jolly. They serve happiness  on a plate every single day, yet they can’t be bothered to offer a smile. Oh well, my smile was big enough for all of us.

Guys, it's the Nutelleria!

My crepe. Ohhhhyum!

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Eating my Nutelleria nutella crepe. I'm just a little obsessed.

See ya later, Nutelleria!

And then in our hotel room a couple of days later in Rome I found a huge box filled with tiny Nutella packets in the cupboard. Pure bliss.

But… after the Nutelleria, what does one do in Bologna without a map? Visit the Medieval Museum, obviously! I’ll be frank, we only went inside this museum because we realized its brochure came with a free, albeit pathetic, map of Bologna and we needed something to navigate ourselves. What we didn’t anticipate was the hilarious story we got in return.

And so it begins...

Let me walk you through the funny series of events:

First, we buy our tickets from Woman #1. She acknowledges that we are museum patrons and hands us our maps. Alright, so we breeze through the first couple of rooms, because really – who spends more than half an hour in a museum dedicated to medieval history in Bologna?

Look - a medieval donut holder.

When we reached the second half of the ground floor a stocky man with greasy hair pulled into a messy bun asked for our tickets. Really? We’re the only ones here and you need to see our tickets? But fine, we show him our tickets and he ushers us on… and then he follows us.

There are really only a couple of reasons to explain why Grease Bun followed: he was really bored, thought we looked like thieves or is really overprotective of his medieval collection. I would be more inclined to think it was appropriate for him to follow us had we look threatening or the rooms lacked cameras. But because Pattie and I are an unobtrusive duo and every room had at least one camera, I’m left baffled. Not only did he follow us through every room on the ground floor and into the basement, as our tour went farther, he had less regard for the distance he put between us. At one point, I almost backed into him. Clearly, a secret agent he is not.

After we lost our stalker at the elevator on our way to the second floor, we were greeted by Woman #2 asking for our tickets. Okay now, this might be overkill. Nope, nope it gets better. We walked through about five rooms before we came to another opening where Women #3 asked for our tickets. WHAT THE HECK GUYS! We are obviously patrons of your museum – how else do you think we got in here if we didn’t have tickets? Clearly, there is nothing of any great importance here we are looking to steal so just leave us alone!

And so ended our time at the Medieval Museum.

Pattie was super thrilled to visit the Medieval Museum! We might even make a special trip back to Bologna for this!

After our outing to the Medieval Museum, we finally had the coveted map in our possession and it brought us to Bologna’s highlights.

Leaning towers of Bologna.

Mmmmmm pasta

Lots of covered sidewalks.

Pensive Pattie overlooks Bolonga and and recounts her day.

Florence Day 3

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When we realized we tackled nearly every major hotspot in Florence by the end of our second night, we decided to spend half our day in Bologna during our last day in Tuscany. I’ll get to Bologna in another post, but first let me show you what we did in Florence during the morning before our train and at night when we returned.

Santa Croce, which houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.

Look at those skinny buildings!

Santa Maria Novella

Piazza della Repubblica

We passed this window display every night on our way to our hotel and I still cannot figure out what is on her head.

A nighttime visit to the Duomo to say goodbye and eat some yummy gelato (nutella-banana in case you're curious).

Peace out, Florence!

Florence Day 2

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Art, art, art! Our second day in Florence was based around our artsy sides – we tackled both the Uffizi and Accademia galleries in one day. Go team!

Mother and I awoke at the crack of dawn to be on line early at the Uffizi. We got there at 8:10am – just five minutes before the gallery opened, yet we still had to wait another hour to go in. But it was well worth the wait. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the Western world, or so says Wikipedia. While pictures were not allowed in the gallery, I did manage to sneak of few of the corridors lined with statues.

The courtyard in the Uffizi.

A peek inside the Uffizi.

Look at that beautiful ceiling!

While I didn’t get to snap any photos of the impressive art, I will give you some googled images of my favorite pieces as a sample of what we saw.

From there, the mother and I trekked over to Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s picturesque bridge lined with jewelry shops. While the merchandise was a little out of our price range it was still fun to walk through.

Ponte Vecchio

Crossing the bridge led us to Pitti Palace where we entered the Biboli Gardens, one of my favorite parts of Florence. The views from the tops of the hills in the gardens were spectacular and it was very calming to be in a green quiet space again.

Fountain near the entrance of the Biboli Gardens.

Pattie and I pose in front of and successfully block Pitti Palace. I credit the lack of palace in the background to the grumpy teen who took our picture.

Gardens at the top of the hill/mountain.

Perfect view

And with every beautiful view comes a weird statue.

Lucky for us it was free museum night on our second night in Florence, so we were able to visit the Accademia for free! It’s always great to see amazing art, but to see it for free is an entirely different experience. And we saw David. That’s right, Michelangelo’s David – the massive 17 feet tall and more than 12,000 pound sculpture designed to take your breath away.

There he is!

In addition the beautiful statue of David, I was also blown away by Italy’s humorous sculptures. Take a look at all the weird faces I found:

Something smelly?

Florence Day 1

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Florence was without doubt my favorite stop in our Italian adventure. We were in Florence for two and a half days and did not waste a single second. Our hotel was only a 15 minute walk from the Duomo, the aesthetic and geographical centerpiece of Florence. Duomo is actually a generic Italian term for a cathedral; Florence’s cathedral is formally known as Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Its construction began in the late 1200s and was completed by 1436. This is one old, but beautiful, structure.

Isn't she a beauty?

The entrance to the Duomo and the campanile (bell tower) off to the side.

Look at the beautiful green and pink colors!

The inside of the Duomo's dome.

While we were inside the Duomo, a recording went off roughly every five minutes reminding guests to be quiet. SILENCE! Listen to the recording here.

Then I decided to climb the campanile rather than the Duomo’s dome so I could look down on the cathedral from above. More than 400 steps later, I reached the top.

The view of the Duomo from atop the campanile.

Overlooking Florence.

Then we visited the Babistry, a minor basilica built between 1059 and 1128.

The golden dome inside the Babistry.

Afterwards, Pattie and I meandered over to the San Lorenzo market, which is filled with leather belts, bags and wallets and scarves galore! After browsing through the market for a while and filling our empty tummies with dinner, we settled back into our hotel where I went on a successful mosquito-killing rampage after Pattie was bit. With the blood-sucking critter terminated, we slept and prepped ourselves for a busy second day in Florence.