Oxford Encounters

One of the rewarding things about doing the course in Oxford, is the people that I am meeting and the experiences that we share.  There is an incredibly great richness to the experiences and knowledge  of the members of the cohort.

Just prior to leaving Korea I received a message from a member of the cohort saying that he would be on Seoul and would we like to catch up. As it happened he was arriving with his daughter the day before we were due to leave Korea for good. This may sound like an inconvenient time but in fact it was the opposite, instead of being bored round the hotel waiting to leave we had a mission, organise the evening and have a good night out.

We duly organised to meet, and subsequently meat, at entrance 1 to Seoul Station. Then we were off to Namdaemun markets with the plan to eat marinated boiled pig trotters  (chokbal  촉발).  As usual we got a little lost, as there are a myriad of little side streets that all look the same to me, so to keep the kids going we had some Korean street food, a seafood pancake  (hemulpajon 해물파전 ) and some octopus and then some sweet filled pancakes (hudeok  호떡 ) for desert.  Then after walking, talking and looking at the markets for a while we came to the chokbal  촉발 restaurants that we had planned to go to.

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Eating Chokbal

 

We sat down and ate the chokbal  촉발, rice and drank soju, talked about many things, work, travel, Korea, France, culture and many other things, however the one subject we did not cover was the upcoming EXAM. It was a wonderful evening,and it was very nice be able to introduce one of my class mates and his family to something that was very Korean and they may not have tried otherwise and it was great to learn about his family and life

 

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Hoon Hoon drives his last. Part 2

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Drinking with Dad

 

After the funeral I spent a further 3 weeks in the UK.  I took a trip with my Sister to Bath and Wales to stay in a beautiful Village with an unpronounceable name, caught up with some child hood friends in Leister

Baths at Bath and a highly instructional Welsh sign post

But my siblings, our spouses and children all got together after the funeral.  16 of in total, including 6 children between 5 and 12, what could possibly go wrong!! If you ignore the ongoing child warfare all went well, no stiches, no broken limbs, no crashed cars and only a modicum of blood was split.

We spent the two weeks in the Thiefhole cottages, we stayed in the Millington house and Turpin cottage.  The house and cottage were both very well turned out, they were fitted out with all the requisite furnishings and kitchen ware to allow us to cater and serve Christmas dinner with ease and comfort.  As usual the kitchen knives were blunt mutter, mutter, mutter, as far as I can remember I have never stayed in a rental apartment, cottage or house with sharp Kitchen knives, maybe I am a bit OCD about them.

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Some of the wine in Dads Cellar

 

One of the highlights of the stay was drinking Dad’s Cellar, Dad was fond of his wine and kept a good stock of Port, Burgundy and Bordeaux along with an assortment of other bits and bobs. My brother and I did a very careful inspection of the contents of the cellar, looking at one bottle of each type and considering what the likely characteristics of each were likely to be and what food they would probably suit.  So after much deliberation and discussion we concluded we knew stuff all and just started with the oldest of each type.  As it happens that appeared to be a good tactic we drank some delicious wine over the two weeks. The two outstanding  wines were a 1963 bottle of Martinez Port, although it was 54 years old it still good, it had retained a surprising intensity of flavour, with a golden red colour, and a bottle of 1998 Cateau Haut-Brisson, which is a Grand-Cru from Saint-Emillon in Bordeaux.

As is expected Christmas dinner was a highlight, it had input and dishes from at least five cooks from three continents, to make sure that things ran smoothly I stayed as far away as possible from the kitchen. My sole responsibility was to ensure an even flow of bubbles to those working in the kitchen.

Christmas tree and the boys horns with port

After lunch it was time for us to open our presents, as is tradition in our family, the aim is more amusing rather than practical.  Hence the boys ended up with horns!!!

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Did we get enough???

 

The final highlight was fireworks!! As my brother so eloquently put in his part of the eulogy Dad “loved blowing shit up” so in his honour we though we would let off some fire works on boxing day.  In the UK fireworks go on sale on Boxing day for New Years day, so my brother, sister and I headed to town early Boxing Day morning to ensure that we didn’t miss out on the best goodies. The agreed plan was we were going to buy just one box of fireworks, some how by the time we finished, there was rather more than that and a few spare rockets to boot (and a random hello kitty lunch box).  All the kids were very excited an impressed at the quantity of explosives that we had purchased, so to keep them in line we set them to work to dig all the holes that were required for the safe use of the fire works.  Once this was done there was an impatient wait for dusk, for the kids because they wanted to let off the fireworks now and for me because we were having boxing day drinks and I wanted a drink but it was best that I remained sober until I had let off all the fireworks. The fire works were set off with the minimum of fuss and were enjoyed by all, I don’t know why but I still enjoy fireworks just as much as the kids !!!

Girls Weekend to Beijing

 

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Old style Rickshaws

It was meant to be a girl’s weekend!! But when, Miss G my 8 yo daughter, discovered we were planning a trip to China that would be her and her mum there was an instant and catastrophic melt down.  There was no protest from my wife, about me going not her, so it was me who was off on the girls weekend to Beijing.

Since it was China, and time was short and I had not done the requisite research I organized a fully inclusive tour that included transfers from and to the airport and everything in between, call me lazy.

 

Overview of Pre booked services with china highlights (flights organised by Tubbytraveller tours 🙂

Place & Transport Activities & Meals Accommodation
Day 1 Fly Seoul – Beijing CZ316, One-way Private Transfer Between Beijing Airport and Your Hotel (Driver only) Sunword Hotel
Day 2 Pick up and drop off at Hotel Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square and Mutianyu Great Wall, Lunch Sunword Hotel
Day 3 Pick up and drop off at Hotel Summer Palace, Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, Jingshan Park, Temple of Heaven, Lunch at Dawanju Restaurant Sunword Hotel
Day 4 One-way Private Transfer Between Beijing Airport and Your Hotel (Driver only)  Fly Beijing – Seoul CZ315 Lama Temple, the Confucius Temple, Take a Rickshaw and Walking Trip with a Home-Visit in the Hutongs, Lunch Home

Cost for tour (excluding flights) US$890 (for 2 people)

We were in Beijing from the 1st to 4th of October which coincided with the “Golden week”, this meant that, even for Beijing’s standards, it was busy, or for a normal human – Chaos. There were people jams at all the major tourist attractions, a ¾ hour bus ride took 2 hours and so on, luckily we live in Seoul and can handle this sort of chaos with ease, I felt sorry for the Dutch couple that were with us, they found the push and jostle very distressing.

Day 1

 

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Miss G in her new Chinese style outfit

We took the 5:00am bus to Incheon Airport checked in and flew to Beijing with the minimal of fuss.  We were collected from the Beijing Airport and driven to our hotel, the transfer cost $50us and I felt was money very well spent, it relieves all the stress in navigating in an unfamiliar country.  We checked in at about 11:00 am, which was nice of the hotel. Our hotel was a block from Wangfujing Avenue, the famous tourist shopping street. So once were checked in we walked down to Wangfujing Avenue for a bite of lunch and a mosey round the shops. After some nice dumplings for lunch we found some presents for my family and Miss G found herself a nice dress, shoes and a necklace, I am a sucker, my no buying presents lasted less than five minutes under pressure from my daughter.  After shopping we went back to the hotel and organised ourselves a massage, then dinner and bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2

The Forbidden City

The next day we went to Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, for me the highlight of the day was the great wall, for Miss G it was the ride down from the Great wall.

Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City were interesting for historical reasons, (there was no trace of tanks or protesters) and also for the sheer number of tourists. We were just a small group in a sea of people, except Miss G is blond and blue-eyed girl in a sea of Chinese people, every couple of steps we (she) was stopped for photos, living in Korea we are used to this, but it was extreme and got wearing. After a while our guide got annoyed with the constant interruptions, so said we should ask them to pay for the photos with Miss G, of course I can’t speak Chinese, which I politely pointed out, so he started saying to the pushy mothers “you must pay for photos” or something like that. It seemed to work….. but rather embarrassingly a couple of the mothers actually offered money.

Crowds lining up outside the Forbidden City, Photo Op with Miss G, and Tian’anmen Square

The part of the great all we visited was the Mutianyu section, it is in a very mountainous region, we were driven to a parking lot that was a short but steep walk to some shops and a ticket office. From there it was a fiveish minute ride in a somewhat ancient cable car to the great wall itself.

Going up and Coming down

The great wall is fascinating, like Stonehenge at the first viewing it is somewhat underwhelming, it is just an old brick wall about 7m wide and maybe 10m high, with lots of steps, lots and lots of steps.  We walked up then down some 950 steps in the small section that we walked, we covered a section of the that may have been 1.5 km and it was hard going, (for me, Miss G thought it was a race and complained that we were all too slow), it is only when I had been on the wall for a while, that the enormity of the wall and what a feet it must have been to build it became apparent. We walked 1.5 km out of 12,000km!!!!!!

The trip down was on a thing somewhat like a bobsled/skeleton, great fun but Miss G was not happy that we didn’t go faster, but without smashing into the people in front if us, faster was impossible.

Day 3

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The temple of heaven, like most things we visited was impressive due to its sheer size and grandure. Roof tiles and dragons are very important in china, apparently…. Gold roof tiles represent royalty and are for the emperor, blue tiles represent heaven/sky and are for the gods (temples) and Green tiles represent the earth and are for the people.

The visit to the summer palace was interesting, for me it was more about how the massive crowd moved and interacted, the place was interesting enough but the kilometer long lines of tourists were incredible, after the initial push and shove they all moved in a fast and orderly manner.

The summer palace, murals and a stone boat

 

Day 4

Final day there was just Miss G and myself on the tour, this was great as we could spend as long as we wanted on the interesting parts and skip what we found boring, The first stop of the day was the Temple of the Dali Lama and the neighbouring Confucius Temple and school. The Temple of the Dali Lama was very interesting and Miss G stopped at each shrine; burnt three incense sticks, said a prayer and made a wish.

This was followed by a visit to Confucius’s temple and school, it was at this school that all the Emperors children, close relatives and outstanding scholars were educated, in some ways the classrooms have not changed much, just the discipline was a bit more extreme back then.

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Statue of Confucius

No Blog Post would be complete without some reference to and photos of food. I have saved my food comments for the last day. When I was browsing in the 7 / 11 across from our hotel  I saw that a bottle of Yellow tail wine was 98 CNY the same place a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila was 95CNY, WTF how can a cheep bottel of Aussie plonk be the same price as a bottel Mexican tequila!!!

During the trip Miss G had been a bit reserved in what she ate but at lunch all of a sudden she wanted to get adventurous.

Bullfrog Szechuan Style and Pork

So we ordered a Pork dish and Bullfrog Szechuan style, the pork was great but the bullfrog was probably a step too far, the Szechuan seasoning was super hot and made my lips tingle and the bullfrog could be best described as a bit like chicken crossed with slithereen. I did wonder if a bottle of tequila may have helped the situation. I should have remembered more details of the pork dish but the Bullfrog Szechuan style completely blew it out of my brains. Miss G was not impresses with Frog.

After lunch we visited a traditional house, took a short rickshaw ride, bought some trinkets and returned to the airport.  Security, Check-in, Security, Immigration, Security, Customs and Security were easy and no hassle, just there lots of stops, many inspections and much stamping of forms. The Airport is showing its age but the lounge was comfortable and the helpful woman at the front desk posted Miss G’s postcards. We flew on China eastern, it was more than adequate for a 2 hour flight, the plane was a long way from new but it was clean and everything functioned.

The China highlights tour was well organised, there were three things that I was happy with that made the trip more enjoyable, 1.) there were no stops at special shops, 2.) we had the same guide each day and 3.) there was good guidance given as to the tips that should be given.

The third point may not sound important but being mainly Australian I neither believe in tips nor have any inbuilt radar as to how much is an appropriate tip.  Over all the tour was good, not brilliant but in no way bad, the guide could have been a little more enthusiastic.

Next WHAT CAR IS THAT

 

Boys weekend in Japan

Tokyo

My 10-year-old son and I  recently spent a four-day weekend in Japan, Neither of us had been there before, and we don’t often get to do a father son weekend away. Tokyo is a 2 hour flight from Seoul, we flew out on the Friday evening from the old Seoul airport Gimpo,  It has several advantages over Inchon (the new airport) it is only 30 min from our house by subway and it is small so check in and security reliably take far less time.  Once through security I was disappointed to discover that there were no Airline lounges :-(, we had been relying on them for dinner (and in my case a nice cold beer). So we made do and ate in a nondescript airport restaurant, it seemed that in the Gimpo Airport nondescript is all they do, it can be said that they have a great variety of instant raimian noodles (pot noodles, instant noodles for the rest of the world) available, to me this doesn’t constitute h’aute cuisine or for that matter passable food.

No matter, we boarded the plane with a mere 45 min delay, we were flying on ANA, to me it was just another unremarkable plane and unremarkable flight. We arrived at Haneda airport and proceeded through immigration and customs and caught a taxi to our hotel the “Shinagawa Prince”, the taxi trip was one of the most expensive of my life, the trip was less than ½ an hour but cost about $75 US. We could have caught the subway for $2.50 each!! But it was late at night and we were both tired, so in the same circumstances I would probably do the same again.

The Shinagawa Prince is just beside the Shinagawa train station and is a typical 4* hotel, I would not describe it as characterless, but I struggle to remember anything interesting about it.   We made it into bed by 11pm and fell straight asleep.

Timgp7722he next morning we were up early for a buffet breakfast, my son was in heaven all these new foods to try, me, I just over eat bacon, and cheese omelets, buffets are just bad for me. After Breakfast we went on a full day tour of Tokyo. The tour was the Dynamic Tokyo tour run by www.jtb-sunrisetours.jp and it started from the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal. It was the first time that I had done a tour like this, overall it felt it was worth doing, parts of it seemed stage-managed and some parts were boring (to me, perhaps some people find driving slowly past a flashy shopping strip riveting but I think I fell asleep) and the interesting bits we seemed to be rushed.  We had a lovely Japanese guide who was very knowledgeable and patiently answered all our questions.imgp7732

Our first stop was Tokyo Tower, Tour Quote “Tokyo Tower, the symbol of Tokyo, offers a great 360 degree panoramic view from its main observatory.”

 

We traveled up the lift to the observatory deck, and true to  its word we had marvelous views of Tokyo, the highlight (for my son) were the glass observation tiles in the floor,

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Green Tea

where you could stand and look straight down 150m, E thought it was the coolest thing on the planet.

 

This was followed by a traditional Japanese tea Ceremony,

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500 yo Bonsai

the ceremony was interesting but to mimgp7745y and E’s pallets the tea was increadably bitter. The most interesting thing was the Bonsai trees in the garden some of which were over 500 years old.

 

Lunch  was a Japanese-style BBQ which it must be said was much like a Korean BBQ, and I should have not been surprised as the countries have many other things in common.

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Lunch was followed by a visit to Nijubashi Bridge in the Imperial Palace Plaza, and then on to Hinode Pier for a Board the Sumida River Cruise. we must have been doing quite a bit as once on the boat I was enjoying the cruise so much I just had to  have a power nap. The Cruise ended at the  Nakamise Shopping Street  which is a bustling nick-nak marker, as usual I struggled to by good nick-naks but I did get a nice tee-shirt and some eyeless dolls for the girls. The eyeless dolls are paper mache and you are meant to paint one eye when you make a wish and the second eye when the wish comes true.

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Nakamise Shopping Street

At the end of the street there is the  Sensoji Temple, which is reputed to be Tokyo’s oldest temple,  there was much incense burning and for a small donation you could get your fortune told. My son insisted in doing the ritual and ended up with a good luck fortune. I suspect that most of the fortunes are some sort of good luck and if you get a bad one you can tie it up in a special way and try again, and repeat until you get good luck.

From there it was back to the hotel, for dinner we had Tepinyaki that was really well cooked and very much enjoyed.

Mt Fuji and Hakone

 

The next day we departed the hotel for Mt Fuji and Hakone, the bus and tour guide was much like the one form the previous day, we were treated to some useful and some interesting titbits of information which helped pass the time on the 2 hr bus trip. The day was generally overcast and showery but when we reached the 5th station on Mt Fuji, for a glorious few minutes the weather cleared and we got a spectacular view of the top.

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Summit of Mt Fuji

The little shop at the 5th station is really cool, you can buy postcards and stamps and post them from the shop. Instead of a normal post mark your post card gets a big stamp in the shape of Mt. Fuji that said posted from Mt Fuji. E thought that it was so good that he wrote post cards to all his grand parents.

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Lunch

From Mt Fuji it was lunch which was once again very similar to a Korean lunch with lots of sides, soup and rice.

 

 

 

 

 

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Panoramic Views of Cloud

After lunch we continued to Lake Ashi for a short cruise  to the base of the Mt. Komagatake ropeway. The ropeway turned out to be a cable car, the day was overcast, we caught the cable car to the top and walked out to have a look around, apparently there was a stunning view, however we could see no more than 20m as we were in the cloud. Ah well a fun cable car trip.

 

That night we stayed at a traditional hotel in Hakone, our beds were on the floor and we had a traditional Spa followed by a traditional Japanese meal.   The meal was a multiple course affaire with many Japanese delicacies, the salad was great, as was the sushi and miso soup however the fish balls were not so tasty. Having the meal was interesting, we were wearing traditional Japanese cloths and there were a great variety of people in the dining hall, families, lovers and groups of friends.

Generally I have never particularly enjoyed Saki, so I took the opportunity to  taste the recommended Sakis from the restaurant, They were all tasty, but not a tasty that I particularly liked, the one that I prefered was the Tachibana. Chatting with the waiter is was told that the Tachibana was twice the price of the other two, I am glad that my palate is still good enough to tell the better drink, however I will not become a Saki conissioure.

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Saki

 

 

Back to Tokyo

The Fastest and cheapest way back to Tokyo was a bus but E had always wanted to  go on the Bullet train (Shinkansen) so we took a local train to the station that the bullet train went from and caught it. It was a great, comfortable and fast ride (it took longer to catch the local train and do the connections than it took to get to get to Tokyo). The train ride is so smooth and tracks well designed that you get very little feeling of speed definitely it does not feel the 300 km/h that you are traveling.

During the trip I almost got the worst father of the year award, we stopped at a 7/11 to get some food and a drink for the trip back to Tokyo, I grabbed a couple of sandwiches, some fish jerky and a bottle of water, E wanted a sweet drink so I let him choose, he returned with a brightly coloured can called “Strong Juice” and a picture of an orange on it.  When we sat down on the station bench and started lunch E took a large swig of it then another before saying “Daddy I don’t like this”, he almost got the “you chose it you drink it response” but I thought “we are in Japan I best taste it in case it is some weird Japanese concoction”. When I tasted it I immediately got the impression of strong fruit juice and cheap Vodka, I inspected the can closely and the figure “9%” jumped out a me. I realized that it was a 9% alcopops that I had almost made my son drink OOPS, don’t tell my wife I will never be let out again :-).

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Lock up my umbrella

On the final evening suddenly E said he had enough of adventurous food and could we have some western food, so we settled for pub grub, and went into the nearest bar. The Bar man spoke almost no English, but there was no problem, the entire place was covered in rugby posters and he understood “Beer”, “Rugby” and “Australia” the rest we could get by with pointing.  We had a great dinner of dumplings accompanied by beer and lemonade and the bar man was my buddy by the end of the evening.

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Pub Grub Tokyo Style

The trip home was  Haneda airport Tokyo to Gimpo Airport Seoul then Subway home, both air ports are very similar, they are both slightly tired and are the second airports for their respective cities, and once again much to my annoyance Haneda like Gimpo it did not have a lounge….

I have re-read my post and I sound like a grumpy old man, I suppose I just found Japan interesting but there was nothing startling and new. I enjoyed the trip and would think that almost every one would enjoy seeing Tokyo and Mt Fuji, I suppose that it was more like being in a photo of the place and not really getting to know anything local.

Next a Girly weekend in Bejing

Day 11, Wilderness Camp 1, finally a transfer, with the best pilot!!

Tuesday, 2 August

Today 25 km, Total 3722 km

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Lower Sedanka dock with the jet boats ready to go

Today started like the previous two mornings, for us some cloud but not much, cloud over the mountains, breakfast, pack,  9:00 call, hopeful for the afternoon, go fishing.

As we headed down to the boats the call rang out “we’re killing dollys boys”, we were out of meat. More specific instructions came shortly, we were only to take dolly vardon 20 to 24 inch long, as they were the best eating, they had to be female, as that would get us camp caviar, each boat was to keep 4 to 6 fish, as that would be enough for all of us. So we headed down stream with a remit to catch dinner.

Since this conversation and the day that followed, I have though lots on the implications of this conversation. In most places in the world if the cook gave such specific instructions as to what we were to catch to eat we would just have laughed and kept any good eating fish that we caught, here it simply did not occur to us that we would not catch the requirements. This absolute belief, in many ways shows how unspoilt and healthy this fishery is.

Slava does not believe in outboard motor covers, but catching fish is important.
To a man the guides on the Sedanka were brilliant.

We arrived at a new fishing spot down stream of the camp, within 10 min, I had two of the required fish landed and on a stringer at the boat. During the morning the fish came thick and fast, Rainbow, Dolly and Kundzha. For once my fighting arm was as tired as my casting arm!! by the time we headed back up-stream for lunch I had landed 45, 20 inch plus fish.

Dollys for Dinner,
Cleaning and filleting the dollys after lunch.

We had a hearty lunch of left overs soup/stew and magically the cook had made a spicy cheesy tomato dip, yummy.

Lunch.  cheesy tomato dip and soup

After lunch there was still no word on the flight so I headed to one of the nearby tributaries with my light gear, I worked up the stream with a parachute adams and back down with a black muddler. The creek its self was slow with only a couple of takes of the adams, I suspect that was because there were spawning salmon everywhere and the fish were concentrating on eggs, no doubt any of the egg patterns or flesh streamers would have been deadly but I wanted to avoid the salmon and dolly vardon. The way back down was the same story however as soon as I got the back to the channel of the main river I started to catch arctic char, every second or third cast I managed to land one. I landed 12 of about 10 inches in the short walk back to the camp, they were suckers for the black muddler.

I returned to the news that the “bird is in the air” for a 4:00 PM ish pickup. We had an early dinner of fried dolly vardon, it could not be faulted, it was as good as you would expect from the best and freshest fish that could be found.  After dinner we completed our final packing and moved our bags (and rafts and assorted gear that the guides needed to move back to the upper Sedanka camp) to the landing area.

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Loading the Helicopter on the Lower Sedanka

In due course the helicopter arrived and loading commenced, it was all very scientific, first gear for the wilderness float, second stuff for the upper camp, just throw it in. during this time there was considerable chatter with the guides, and I was getting a strong sence of deja-vu of the movie Borat and the scene that he introduces his sister! I was told several times “it is good, we have Best Pilot in whole of Kamchatka”.  The gear and passengers were loaded in the to helicopter in a fast and efficient manner, then we took off.

I am not sure if I rate him as the “Best Pilot in whole of Kamchatka”, the trip to the upper camp was to say the least FAST, there was no unnecessary distance traveled or height gained. He simply took off, pointed the helicopter at the upper camp and accelerated, the entire flight took  less than 5 minutes (see map for embedded footage) and we were low enough that at times the rotor wash was clearly visible on the ground. Thankfully we didn’t have any nervous flyers in the group or I am sure that they would have never got back on the helicopter for the second leg.

Once we landed at the Sedanka upper camp the Sedanka rafts and other equipment was unloaded and we said our goodbyes to Gene (who was joining his correct fishing group), Brodie and Slava. We re-boarded the helicopter and made the short hop to the first campsite on the Turushever. We were unloaded with our gear, the supplies for the week, Sasha and his gun (this was required as it just would not be doing to have a group of seven tourists eaten by a local bear). The helicopter left to collect the other fishermen and guides.

Since in terms of setting up the camp there was nothing to do, so we did what all sensible people do,  have a beer, it was a warm beer but it was still good.

Waiting for the helicopter to return, Camp 1 on the Turushever

About an hour later the Helicopter returned, we were all told to sit/squat down beside the luggage, what I wasn’t expecting was the helicopter to also land beside the luggage. I hadn’t been under the rotor wash of a large helicopter before, it was incredible, and a bit scary as the “Best Pilot in whole of Kamchatka” landed the helicopter no more than 5m from me.   The wilderness crew set about unloading the tents, rafts, cooking gear, chain saws, and miscellaneous equipment required for the wilderness float, we said hello to the fishermen that had been on the previous weeks wilderness float and briefly exchanged some stories of our weeks.

Returning Helicopter

Soon the helicopter was unloaded, the other fishermen re-boarded the helicopter and we said good-by to Sasha as he was returning to the Sedanka. As soon as the helicopter had left we made our introductions to the wilderness crew, 3 guides, cook, camp hand, two dogs and a cat. We set to work setting up the camp, we (the fishermen) did not end up doing much, the crew were so practiced at it they could set up 5 tents in the time it took us to do 1.

Here I must give a plug for the crew, part of the pre trip briefing was that we were expected to set up our own tents every evening. The lead guide Nico, told us that the crew would do that for us as it was their job to make us comfortable and we should use the time to fish or just enjoy being there. A big thumbs up to those guys.

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Camp Caviar, best eaten with brown bread and butter washed down with vodka

Once the camp was setup we had our second dinner, thankfully it was light, it included camp caviar which is best eaten on brown bread and butter with the obligatory Vodka. After dinner it was to bed for a well-earned sleep.

 

Temples, Trains and Traffic

A trip to Jirisan National Park (지리산국립공원)

 

In Korea Children’s Day is on May 5 and is a public holiday, this year it fell on a Thursday and the government declared that the Friday would also be a public holiday. To celebrate we decided to do a road trip to explore the south of the peninsular.  We booked accommodation in a set of condos on the edge of Jirisan National Park in Jeollanam-do (in the south west of Korea).  On Thursday we got going relatively early (8:00 am) thinking that we would beat the worst of the traffic, but we were too late. It was a nightmare!  What should have been a 2.5 hour drive took over 6 hours, apparently 10million other people had the same idea.  There was an upside to the drive, every time that the traffic stopped completely, we ignored the GPS and headed cross country on minor roads. Trekking along the minor roads was slow but not as slow as the main highways (some of our friends took 8 hours to do a similar trip) and we got to see some interesting country side.  When we finally arrived at the condo we were too exhausted to do any serious tourist activities, so we took a short walk around the village and settled for nibbles and a nice bottle of wine for dinner.

Friday was for the children, so we visited a local train themed amusement park that advertised a steam train ride (섬진강 기차마을 www.gstrain.co.kr). It was a lovely blue day and the park was busy but not packed, we booked the 1.5 hour ride on the train for the afternoon it cost ₩7,000. We wandered round the park generally enjoying being out and about,  and the Kids had a wonderful time. Knowing that we were going out for dinner we had an early light lunch. The lunch consisted of an ice cold beer and some chicken sticks and Korean reconstituted fish things.  I don’t know what else to call them, they look like an oversized icypol, I have seen them many times in the convenience stores and markets and always have avoided them. (I suspected that they were not real food, had no expiry date, could withstand a nuclear war, or were possibily created by the south Korean scientists so the population would have food after Amageddon with the North.)  Once again there were some fundamental flaws in my thinking, it turns out that the reason that they are so common is that they taste really good.  The rubbery texture was a little off putting but they tasted really good, there were even identifiable Prawn (shrimp) pieces in the mix. K and I prefer the chili (identifiable in the photo by the red/orange colour) but the Kids prefer the plain one.  We all preferred them to the Chicken on a skewer.

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Lunch, 2x reconstituted fish popsicles and 2x chicken sticks

After lunch we took the steam train ride, however as is common place here  it looked like a steam train, sounded like a steam train but was actually a diesel/electric train,  (this type of thing  is very common in Korea, the guards at the royal palace are actors with fake beards). However this said, the trip was very enjoyable, it went through a picturesque river valley stopping at a quiet little village before returning.

Stream Train
Parked (fake) steam train

That evening we strolled down to the village that our condo was in and went to one of the local restaurants that served (흑돼지 삼겹살) Barbeque Black Pork Belly which is a local delicacy of the area. To me it tasted much the same as all the Barbeque Pork I have eaten in Seoul, the traditional side dishes were as expected. The meal was good but not worth a special mention.

Saturday; we made the short drive to the next village and then on into the Jurisan national park to visit a Buddhist temple. The Temple was one of the oldest and largest in Korea, the monks still live there and if you are brave enough it is possible to do a temple stay for a couple of days. While meandering through the temple grounds we came across some women drying some of the local mountain herbs in the sun, we ate some very similar ones at the restaurant at lunch, more on that later.

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Drying Mointain Herbs and Kinchi (김치) Pots
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Pergoda and Lamps
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Lanterns

One of the most beautiful things at the temple was the brightly coloured lanterns, many of them had messages attached to them, sadly my Korean is not good enough to understand the messages however I understood that the messages were for prosperous season.  After we had finished exploring the temple we spent a short while looking at the tourist shops at the exit of the temple, we met a very nice woman who explained some of the local foods that they had for sale, we ended up buying some local “Special” 김  which  is roasted seaweed paper, this was special as it had herbs and seeds on it. To me it just looked moldy, but I tried it any way, as roasted seaweed goes it was very nice.  The woman also recommended a local restaurant that served the local dishes based on mountain herbs so we proceeded down the mountain to try it.

Mountain Kim
Roasted seaweed paper (김)

The restaurant was a typical basic Korean restaurant where you would expect traditional food to be served with Makoli, Soju and Beer. The food we ordered was a typical basic korean meal (산채정식) which included a mountain vegetable soup, grilled whole fish and 감자파전 (potato pancake), the food did not disappoint. The soup was tasty but the real winner was the ”royal” array of side dishes, they ranged from kimchi, acorn jelly, lotus root and seaweed to soya beans.  The photo does not do them justice.

Mountain Food
Local mountain food with many side dishes 

After lunch we took a stroll down to the nearby Creek, which was fresh and clear from the mountains in the national park. The afternoon was hot and the Kids decided that they just had to have a swim, usually this would not have been a bad idea but it was early season and the water was snow melt, however the children were undeterred and went for a swim anyway.  It was freezing, when I put my feet in it was painful, due to the madness of my children we gathered a small crowd of locals watching the mad foreigners swim. Luckily I could not understand the comments, but one of the adjumas (old woman) wanted the children out as they were getting too cold. They lasted about 30 minutes but the majority of the time was spent in ankle deep water summoning the courage to get in, the adjuma was very relieved when they finally got out.  I must be a bad Dad as I didn’t worry at all, they would get out when they got too cold. Once the Kids were dry and warm we headed back to the condo.

roof tiles monastry
Roof ties with messages at the monastry

That evening we had our final meal in the  little village, we walked down and my wife chose a Duck BBQ restaurant that seemed mainly to have a local clientele. It was a winner, the marinated duck was barbecued on an angled stone hot plate, at the drain point of the hotplate we placed the kimchi so it was also barbecued in the juices draining form the cooking duck.  The approved method of eating was a to wrap a small amount of rice, apiece of duck and kimchi in piece of lettuce, and then eat and wash down with beer (맥주), soju or somek (Beer plus a shot of soju). The duck was tasty and moist, the lettuce fresh and grown in the owner’s mother’s veggie patch.  It was a delicious meal and the owners were generous and fun, the kids even abandoned us for a while to play with the owners daughters puppy, the whole meal was a similar price to the Samgapsal the evening before being about ₩75,000 ($75USD).

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Preparing to cook the duck
Duck cooking
Cooked BBQ Duck with Kinchi (김치) and Garlic

Sunday, time to go home, after our experience leaving Seoul we were expecting a similar one on the way home, we were not disappointed!  This time we had a plan we would stay on the main motorway until we hit traffic then we would exit and the the next most major road and then so on. This meant that I would all of the driving and my wife would navigate using both our smart phones (apple and android and four different navigation aps, Tmap, Waze, Naver and google maps) this allowed her to see the current traffic states and work out the optimal route. Sounds a great way to go about it!! and for the first half of the trip we made great time and by lunch we were nearing the satellite cities of Seoul, and all the minor roads were starting to choke. By the time we had stopped for lunch and got home the 280km had taken about 6.5 hours. All in all it was not to bad considering some people doing the same trip took 10+ hours.  And we had an unexpectedly great lunch.

We were a bit late looking for a place to have lunch, because we had been finding roads that were flowing easily and our original plan was to go until we hit traffic. We were traveling down a minor road and spotted a likely looking village so we pulled off and drove towards it, on the outskirts we spotted a restaurant in the middle of nowhere that had a very busy parking lot. On the theory “if it is popular with the locals it should be good” we immediately pulled up and went in. As with most out of the way places communication is difficult if you have limited Korean, however we managed to order their recommended dish,  (해물갈국수), seafood in a tasty broth with hand made noodles.  This meal was the best of the trip and an unexpected and present surprise.

After lunch we had a slow crawl back to Seoul.  By the time we got there I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep.  We had a great trip and saw a whole new part of Korea.

 

Next GoPro on  not to Gopro

 

Finger Food

Ok unless you are a keen fisher I have been posting rather booring stuff of late, so for a total cange of topic

Korean Nibbles

One of the great things about traveling and living in new places is discovering new things. I have been living in Seoul for almost three years and I am still finding new and wondrous things, I discovered these little beauties at our local Mini Emart (mini supermarket) in the beef jerky section.

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I just had to try them, I had all sorts of questions going through my mind like, “is it really beef and Cheese or has there been a translation mistake?” “what will it taste/look like” so I bought a packet along with all the other staples I had been sent to get.

When I got home it was happily Gin and Tonic o’clock, and I have concluded that a good G&T is the best thing to have to hand when trying new food in Korea. If the food is on the positive end of the scale it is a nice accompaniment however if the food commits sensory assault you can quickly gargle some of your G&T and it removes most of the offending tastes and odours, it was a saviour when I tried eating steamed silkworm lava!!!!

So… the G&T was a nice accompaniment, the individual pieces were about 1x3cm and tasted of Cheese and Beef Jerky however they had a very definite processed/plastic taste. I rate them 2.5 stars out of 5. edible, not offensive but would not bother buying them again.

Birthday Nibbles (and Bubbles)

As I have alluded to in a previous post my wife has a broken leg, it happened as I would expect while I was traveling, she was walking home, just outside our apartment complex stepped off the curb and bang a clean break of the fibula just above the ankle. Korea makes very few allowances for disabled people, this has meant that she has been for eight weeks and is getting rather sick of it and also no BIRTHDAY PARTY. To help her through this awful occurence I spent a week or so gathering some of her favourite food.

On her Birthday we fed the children early and banished them to their bedrooms and settled down for some great nibbles and bubbles.

The food consisted of baguette, Trout eggs, Cream Cheese, Tomato tapenade in truffle oil, Serrano ham, Palma Ham, Salmon Moose, and Manchego cheese. This was all washed down with a bottle of 2006 Dom Perignon. It put a smile on her face.

The winning food was Baguette, cream cheese and the Trout eggs. The looser was the Tomato tapenade in truffle oil, however it came to life a bit on bread with the Manchego cheese and either of the hams. We had a blind tasting of the hams, the Serrano was defiantly the best, it was less salty, sweeter, softer but the ham flavour was as strong or stronger than the Palma ham, both were very good.

It was just Yum Yum Yum!!!