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Third Day in Berlin – Street Art

We went on an alternative Berlin street art tour that involved some graphic images. There aren’t many, but there are a few graphic images in the gallery towards the middle of the page. Just a heads up. Now, on with the blog…

We woke a bit later than usual the day after the world cup. I know we weren’t the only ones waking up late. The streets of Berlin were eerily quiet leading all the way up to about noon. I think the World Cup victory from the night before kept most people in bed nursing their post-celebration hang overs. However, that was not the case for us. Nicole booked an alternative Berlin street art tour for us.

Street Art Walking Tour…because I’m edgy

The tour met below the Berlin TV Tower around 11. Our guide and the rest of our ragtag group introduced ourselves and we started our trek. The tour was really informative and I’ll do my best to explain the pieces as I remember them in the gallery below.

Lunch with the Germany National Soccer Team

Germany World Cup Van

Germany World Cup Van

That would be cool right? I wish. After the walking tour and getting incredibly lost in a hospital turned art school, Nicole and I found ourselves almost right back where we started, near the Berlin TV Tower. We stopped for a bite to eat. I got some sausages and Nicole got some currywurst. She loves currywurst. In the middle of our meal, this Mercedes van pulls up and a handful of guys in Germany jerseys get out. A few people in the area turn their heads and I notice that some of the people at our outdoor cafe are turning around. There’s some curiosity about this van but not the sort of full-on pandemonium you would expect for a World Cup champion team to be just 30 feet from you. Either way I snapped a photo. Later I saw an article on CNN about the world cup and the same van was in the article picking up players from the airport.

Museum Island

Nicole and I stopped by Museum Island for a quick walk around. Most of the museums were closing in less than an hour so we made plans to come back tomorrow. More on that tomorrow…

Dinner and a Movie

Movie in the park

Movie in the park

Nicole and I learned that Berlin is well known for its outdoor movies in the park.  Lucky for us there was a park
showing Nebraska, in English, right across from our apartment. I don’t mean that figuratively either. The park was literally across the street from us. We packed a small dinner of wine, cheese, hummus, olives, and french bread (German bread?) and enjoyed our meal. It started to rain about halfway through the movie so we sought shelter one of the large umbrellas in the back of the park with a bunch of other Germans. The movie was only a few euros each and the outdoor park/amphitheater was almost empty. It was a great experience.

 

Cherry Blossom Festival

Jinhae Cherry Blossoms

Nicole and I visited a local cherry blossom festival in nearby Jinhae. The trip was through a local Korean tour guide named Pedro, its his adopted English name. He was the same tour guide we used for our second snowboarding adventure a month or two earlier.

Getting to Jinhae

Jinhae Cherry BlossomsWe met across from the bus terminal in Gwangju and hopped aboard the bus Pedro had rented for the day. He usually just uses his van, but he booked a big trip this time so he rented a full size bus. The trip out to Jinhae was about 3 hours and we arrived a little after noon. Driving through Jinhae, the streets were packed with Koreans eager to witness the majestic beauty of blooming cherry blossoms.

 

 

 

The City of Jinhae

The city was familiar with cherry blossom crowd management and setup Our Shuttle in Jinhaea temporary parking lot at the naval base just outside of town. Our bus dropped us off here and we took a $2 shuttle bus into the actual city. Central Jinhae is laid out like a bicycle wheel with a park in the center and many spokes reaching out in various directions. The central park was hosting a singing competition/music revue.  Nicole and I made a note to come back for it, but we had bigger plans for now.

 

 

 

Environment Eco-park Riverside

We walked straight through town and headed North to walk along a beautiful river and get some photos of blossoms over the river.

365 Steps of Mt. Jaehwang-san

365 steps of Mt. Jaehwang-sanLater we made our way to the 365 steps of Mt. Jaehwang-san. The steps were surprisingly manageable and only took a few minutes to climb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Korean Naval BandKorean Naval Band

After out steps we were pretty beat. So we headed over to the local stadium to see the Korean Naval Band perform. Their drumline was really impressive to see. Somehow I lost the picture for it.

 

 

Thailand Day Nine: Returing home to Gwangju, South Korea

This concludes my journey to Thailand for Lunar New Year. Its been a blast I’ve seen temples, ancient cities, monkeys, Grand Palaces, and shopped at markets. For anyone looking for a fun and inexpensive trip in Asia, I’d recommend visiting Thailand.

A Cab to the Airport

Nicole and I wanted to save some money and we both had a long day of travel ahead of us so we booked an early flight home. This meant waking up at 4am and getting a cab to the airport. The cab was only 3 dollars for a 20 minutes trip across town, talk about cheap. We tipped him another dollar for the early cab ride and for getting us there so quickly. Inside the airport we breezed through check-in and walked to our gate with plenty of time. It was surprising the number of people who were at the airport at 5am, but it wasn’t overly crowded.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The flight was smooth and the movies were pretty much the same as when we left with only a few changes. Both Nicole and I were incredibly exhausted so we slept for most of the trip anyways.

We landed in Incheon International Airport about 5 hours later at 1pm Korea time. It felt surreal returning to Incheon Airport. During our Japan trip we flew in and out of Busan so this was our first flight through Incheon after arriving in Korea.

Inchen Introspection

I think #psy is on my #flight., It was interesting to compare the experience arriving this time with our first arrival to Korea 8 months before. This time Nicole and I were traveling together and we knew how to get a bus to Gwangju, what the buses would be like, and how to get a cab from the bus station to my apartment. We knew all the little details and what to expect in Korea.

The first time I arrived in Korea, I was alone. It was my first time flying to Korea and I had no idea what to expect. I had some many thoughts.

[unordered_list style=”green-dot”]

  • What would the airport be like?
  • How would Korea compare with America?
  • Would it be easy to communicate with other people?

[/unordered_list][divider_flat]

[box type=”info”]Short Answers to all these questions: Korea is a developed country with nice airports and many English speakers. You have nothing to worry about.[/box]

Arriving in Incheon all over again brought all of these comparisons back to me and it was funny to think about how concerned I was then compared with how calm I was now. To anyone thinking about coming to Korea to teach English. I say do your research and find a good job, then go for it. Teaching in Korea is a blast and its given me a lot of time to travel and grow as a person. I highly recommend the experience.

Incheon to Gwangju, South Korea

The first time I arrived in Korea I was alone and unsure of which bus to take or how to get to Gwangju.

[box type=”info”]There are two Gwangjus: one is just south of Seoul and a very short/cheap bus ride. The other one is in South South Korea and a much longer more expensive bus ride. [/box]

#korea here I come!!, This time Nicole and I were traveling together and it was nice to have her as company on a 5 hours bus ride across the Korean Peninsula. When we finally arrived in Gwangju at the bus terminal, we hailed a cab back to my apartment and dropped off our heavy bags before grabbing a pizza from Dominos just up the road.

Like I said, Korea is a developed country where globalization has, for better or worse, reached its monopolous hand and sprinkled the seeds of international business all over Korea.

There are parts of home here in Korea like fast food and international clothing stores. However there are also parts of Korea that are completely alien and unique like temples, Noribangs, and Jinjabongs. Nicole and I try to strike a balance of the two every time we travel or do anything really.

[divider_flat]This concludes the Lunar New Year trip. If you want to read the previous days. Here they are, Day OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSeven, and Eight.

 

Thailand Day Eight: Our Last Day in Thailand

This is my seventh day in Bangkok as part of my Lunar New Year vacation in Thailand. Follow the links here to Day OneTwoThreeFourFive, Six, or Seven.

Our Last Day in Thailand

Paella in the Weekend Market

This portly chef danced and made chicken at the weekend market

This portly chef danced and made chicken at the weekend market

We got up at a leisurley time, a rarity for our vacations since we try to pack in as much as we can. Since this was our last day in Thailand, we decided to revisit a few places. We returned to the weekend market that we visited on our second day to purchase a few more souvenirs and enjoy some food from the dancing fat man who makes Paella. The chef makes it in a giant pan the size of a poker table and dances around the pan sprinkling spices and various herbs into the pan. Its a site to behold.

Nicole and I shared a serving of it before walking around the market. We bought a few more postcards to send home and I bought some more soap for my apartment.[divider_flat]

[box type=”info”]Thai soap is fantastic.[/box]

After the market, Nicole and I went back to our apartment to lay by the pool and do nothing. Neither of us had been swimming since our beach day in Korea last summer.

Nicole laying by the pool in Bangkok Thailand

The Last Thai Supper

After our relaxing afternoon by the pool, Nicole and I went out for one last night on the town before our vacation ended. We dressed up and walked down to the restaurant we ate at on our first night in Thailand. However, we could not find it. The walk from our apartment to Asiatique is a straight shot and we knew exactly where the restaurant was. Every time we walked by, it just didn’t seem to exist. There was either a boarded up store front, or a shop that was open, but was definitely not a restaurant (i.e. a scooter rental place).

Unable to find the restaurant, we continued to Asiatique, our old stomping ground, at least for this vacation. We finished off our final night with a nice dinner of spicy shrimp for me, and mashed potatoes for Nicole before getting a massage.

Thai Massages: How I became a Noodle

On our 8 days of vacation so far, we’d had two massages and Nicole wanted another one to complete the hat trick. I must say I was warming up to them. They felt really nice and for a few dollars, they were well worth it. We stopped into one of the massage places that the Dr. Fish people had given us a coupon for. An old Thai woman led us up a set of stairs so steep they would have given Wat Arun a run for their money. At the top of the stairs was a very small room with a low ceiling that smelled like Eucalyptus. It was very dark and lined with soft mattresses on the ground on either side of a narrow walkway. The masseuse led us each to a mattress and instructed us to change out of our clothes and into a pair of loose-fitting scrubs like what a doctor would wear. This was a similar process to our first massage in Thailand and similar to what Nicole has told me of massages in Korea. The idea of getting naked, aside from a towel, for a massage seems like a very western construct.

inflatable arm tube man

The woman then pulled a curtain closed around each of our mattresses and we changed. A few minutes later another two Thai women came in a gave us each an hour-long full body massage. For being so small the ladies were really strong. Just about every joint in my body that could crack, did crack at some point during that massage. At the end of the massage I felt like a wet noodle, or a wacky waving inflatable arm tube man.

We changed back into our clothes and walked back to the apartment to pack and get ready to return to Korea. It had been a great trip, but now it was coming to an end and we had to return to Korea and our jobs educating the youth of a nation in the fine art of speaking English, a skill I likely butcher every time I write a new entry in my blog.

 

 

Thailand Day Five: Ayutthaya, Banana Pancakes, and Elephants

This is the fifth day of my trip to Thailand during Lunar New Year. If you missed the previous entries, check them out below

This morning, Nicole and I slept in a bit before heading to the bus station for adventures. Today we were visiting Ayutthaya, once the largest city in the world, now a bunch of neat ruins.

On our way to the Skytrain stop, we got delicious street spring rolls. We’d purchased them a few times on previous days. They cost little more than a nickel and they come with a sweet sauce similar to Tijuana Flats Sweet Chili sauce, which I also recommend if you’re ever in the South Eastern US.

We took the Sky train to the bus station. It was located right behind the Weekend Market where we’d gotten all of our awesome souvenirs on day two.

The Bus Station, aka David Bowie’s Labyrinth

The bus station is insane. There are literally hundreds of windows each going to different locations and none of them are properly labeled. Nicole and I went from counter to counter, each time being told “this is the wrong counter, go to counter x.” It was maddening. At our last counter, a man asked for cash only and, after we paid, he left his counter and walked with us to a van out back. Bear in mind we’re at the bus station, not the van station (there is no van station). We hopped in the van and the counter attendant handed some money through the window to the driver. If this was a Liam Neeson movie, this is the part where we would have been kidnapped. Luckily this was not a Liam Neeson movie, and unfortunately I still do not have an IMDB page.

The van was no bigger than a standard church van, similar in size to the bus we took when we visited the floating market days prior. There were a handful of Thai people in the van just traveling around, possibly home, possibly to work, point being, we were the only tourists and very out of place. The van didn’t have a set itinerary per se, and by that I mean it stopped randomly and people got on and got off. About two hours later, when I was wondering if we were going to have our organs harvested, we arrived at Ayutthaya.

Thai-Mexican Standoff

Sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. Sometimes you have to say no several times to a Thai van driver before he drives you to the bike shop instead of the Tuk Tuk depot. A common scam in Ayutthaya, as the internet told me, is to try and drop foreigners off at the Tuk Tuk depot on the outskirts of town instead of in the center of town. Tourists are then forced to get a ride into town from a Tuk Tuk driver and pay money for no apparent reason. It also forces you to spend the day taking Tuk Tuks everywhere because you never make it to the bike shop.

This happened to us. The van stopped in front of a bunch of Tuk Tuks outside of town and the van driver told us to get out. A bunch of Tuk Tuk drivers smelling fresh meat approached the van and in their worst English tried to coerce us out of the van, like some sort of reverse pedophiles.

It was pretty obvious that this was not our stop because literally no one else in our crowded van was getting out. I argued with him a bit until a Thai lady in the back seat told him very sternly, and in Thai, to stop hassling us and drop us off in town.

He grumbled and so did the Tuk Tuk drivers and closed the van door. Begrudgingly, he drove us to the main stop and the nice Thai lady and her friend walked us to the nearest bike shop. We rented some wheels for about $5 and headed off to explore the ruins

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, was at one point in time the largest city on Earth and a major trade port in Southeast Asia as it was in the Chao Phraya River valley. The city was rumored to have a population of 1,000,000 inhabitants in the 1700s. However, shortly after the height of its growth, it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. The only ruins that survived were the stone structures such as temples and monasteries.

The remaining temples and monasteries are located anywhere from directly adjacent to one another to several blocks away. The ancient city can be explored in a day with a handy tourist map and a pair of bicycles. Nicole and I rode from one site to another, taking photographs and walking amongst the ruins. It’s remarkable how accessible everything in Thailand has been so far. You can literally walk through the ruins and climb the steps up to these ancient monuments. Nothing was off limits and each attraction was $1-3.

Riding back to Bangkok

Nicole and I, not wanting to brave the van all over again, decided to find a bus instead. Luckily we passed one on the way to return our bikes. Getting a bus in Thailand (outside of the Bangkok bus station) is surprisingly easy. We walked up to a small kiosk, bought our ticket and hopped on the bus. I actually ended up making money on this bus transaction. Our tickets were about $2 and I received a 2 euro coin in change, so I made close to a nickel. It was way better than the ride there.

I can’t quit you fish and chips

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

Back in Bangkok, Nicole and I got some delicious fish and chips at a New Zealand restaurant. This may sound strange, so bare with me, but I think the staff thought either I was famous or Nicole was famous. When we arrived at the restaurant, several of the wait staff came over to greet us. When we sat down, one of the waiters came over and gave us a complimentary appetizer and called me “Boss” a few times. Now this might just sound like great service, and maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion, but no one else at neighboring tables was getting free appetizers or nearly as much attention from the staff. At the time, I thought it was a bit odd, but maybe the restaurant just had great customer service.

Nicole and I ordered some fish and chips and fish bites. They were both incredibly delicious. I think the fish and chips might have been the best fish and chips I’ve ever had outside of the UK.

After dinner, we’re getting ready to pay and the waiter comes back with a complimentary shot for each of us. He talks to us for a few minutes and then asks Nicole where she’s from. She tells him America and he says “oh, I thought you were Australian”. Maybe he thought Nicole was some famous Australian or maybe the restaurant just had great service and I’m reading too far into it. The world will never know.

Today was such an exciting day. We took some sort of off-the-books van service to Ayutthaya. We got to explore ruins by bike, and we enjoyed delicious fish and chips and free food. There were ups and downs, but it was fun in the end.

I’ve had a great time in Thailand so far. I’ve explored weekend markets, railroad markets, and visited palaces.