Saward Abroad

"I shall always be haunted by thoughts of a sundrenched elsewhere." Isabelle Eberhardt

Tag: exploration

Pancakes in Amsterdam – Interrail Stop 1

Interrailing has almost become a rite of passage for young middle class Europeans. As far as travelling goes it’s a relatively cheap way of making your way around Europe and has the potential to be as free as you want it to be. No rushing to get prebooked flights or feeling like you’ve missed out by having to leave a city on a certain date. If you’re willing to take the risk of not getting a seat on your train, you can fill out the pass on the platform while you’re waiting for it to arrive. I met a lot of people this summer who were totally winging it, deciding on their next destinations dependant on recommendations from fellow travellers. I’m not that chilled out about travelling and so we’d made an itinerary before heading off. Our first stop would be Amsterdam. I’d been there before, on a day trip when I’d stayed in Rotterdam, and wanted to have a chance to explore this infamous city.

Sloterdjik Station

Sloterdjik Station

Neither my travel buddy nor I are massive partiers so we avoided the central hostels and stayed in a Meinenger (a hostel/hotel chain) in Sloterdjik. We got a decent discount as Interrailers and were right next to the local train station. From here it was less than 5 minutes to Centraal and the centre of Amsterdam. As you may have guessed by my previous posts, food is an essential part of travelling for me. So we jumped right in and tried Ossenworst which is ox sausage. It was a lot like salami but richer and meatier – sort of like salami and black pudding had a delicious baby.

Kicking things off

We kicked off our first day by doing a city tour with New Sandeman’s tour company. Our guide was Axel, who was actually from Amsterdam (something of a rarity with tour guides given that they’re usually travellers who never left). Before this started I had to try some Dutch pastry seeing as there’s so many different kinds. I tucked into an Appelflappen (apple flap: sweet pastry folded over and stuffed with apples and cinnamon, covered in sugar) as we headed off to lean about Amsterdam’s history. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s a beautiful city. The little streets, narrow houses and the famous canal network come together to make what you’d imagine from a European capital. I’m from Oxford, a famously medieval city full of old buildings and architecture. I honestly feel a little disorientated in newer cities. Rotterdam (which was almost entirely destroyed in WW2) made me feel like this. But I felt right at home in Amsterdam. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the city, as you’d expect from a nature, while also having the worst Dad jokes I’d heard from someone his age.

more-canals

A personal favourite story that we learnt was about Napoleon’s annexation of the Netherlands. Before this, family names were not common in Holland, with Dutch people instead using patronymic names (ie a boy called Pieter whose father was called Jan would be Peiter Janszoon). Napoleon and his fancy French ways meant people had to register one family name and stick to it, passing this down to their children. The story goes that outraged by this the Dutch registered protest names that were rude or complete nonsense. Zondervan meaning ‘without surname’ is a favourite. Unfortunately when France lost control of Holland, turned out people thought this whole given name system was a good ‘un. And so some families were stuck with their protest names, even to this day. How true this is, I don’t know but it’s a great story.

We finished our tour in the neighbourhood of Jordaan where we had lunch at Café Sonneveld (Egelantiersgracht 72-74) as recommended by Axel. I had a traditional Dutch dish, stamppot with sausage. Stamppot is (like all good Northern European dishes) based on potatoes and is solid and warming. Not great food for the end of July but still delicious!

Bloemenmarkt and Pannenkoekenboot

The next morning my friend and I woke up early to head to Amsterdam’s Flower Market, the Bloemenmarkt. The friend I was travelling with is a biochemist whose special interest is plant genetics so he was in his element. There was a beautiful assortment of flowers in colour combinations I’d never seen before. Tulips were obviously a big feature but you could also buy all different kinds of bulbs and seeds. I think if we’d been at the end of our trip rather than the beginning our bags would have been full! You weren’t allowed to take photos of the actual flowers but there was a gorgeous selection of wooden tulips to choose from.

Wooden tulips at The Bloemenmarkt

Wooden tulips at The Bloemenmarkt

The Amsterdam Museum

The Amsterdam Museum

From here we wandered over to the Amsterdam Museum. We’d been meaning to go to the Rijksmuseum but we’d heard it was super crowded during the summer months. I’m really glad we went to the smaller one. It focused on the history of the city as a whole, tracing its origins as a small fishing village, through its history at the centre of a trading superpower, to the vibrant city it is today. The curation was excellent, leading you chronologically through Amsterdam’s timeline. Each room had a short video explaining the section of time that was the room’s focus. There was also a running side exhibition throughout the museum detailing the LGBT history of Amsterdam. I’d definitely recommend checking it out next time you’re in the city.

For me, however, the highlight of the trip was the Pannenkoekenboot. Yup, that’s right: the Pancake Boat. You pay €17 and get an hour and a half on a boat out in the port to eat as many pancakes as you can manage. They had three kinds: plain, apple and bacon. You could also ask for gluten free ones. Then there was a massive buffet full of toppings. We’re talking chocolate sprinkles, cheese, peaches, strawberries, a huge choice. I managed a respectable five. My father would have been proud.

Bacon and banana, a classic combination

Bacon and banana, a classic combination

That afternoon, full of pancakes, we headed into the Red Light District to explore. There’s a museum in a former brothel called Red Light Secrets that tells you a little about the history of prostitution in the city. It’s in an old narrow house and so can get a little crowded at busy times. But it’s an interesting set up and you learn a lot about the lives of the girls in Amsterdam’s famous windows. We also found a street with my name – a small victory for someone with an unusual spelling of ‘Bethanie’.

It's the little things

It’s the little things

We finished up the day with some beer tasting while the rain absolutely hammered it down outside. Our time in Amsterdam had come to an end. Coming back to a city I’d already been to proved to be a good choice. I felt I’d had more chance to explore and still had a lot left to discover. But regardless we were off to Berlin. And it was a whole different kind of adventure to get there.

No British stereotypes here

No British stereotypes here

 

Seoul: Gyeongbokgung and Gogigui

I headed out alone to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces. Gyeongbokgung was the first royal palace to be built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395. It’s currently undergoing restoration after the Japanese occupation of Korea at the beginning of the 20th century when much of it was systematically destroyed. Until 1996 the Japanese Governor General Building stood on the site, having been built there during occupation in order to stop the Palace being a symbol of an independent Korea.

Walk up to palace

 

Before going anywhere in Seoul, check to make sure that it’s open as a lot of places are closed Monday or Tuesday – I guess this is so they can stay open over the weekend. Entering Gyeongbokgung Palace you go through a huge gate called Gwanghwamun. It’s a jarring experience, walking from the busy, crowded streets of Seoul, surrounded by skyscrapers through a gate and into a quiet, distinctly historical building complex. There were the traditional green and reds on the buildings, with gold detailing and huge sweeping curves to the roofs. Behind Gyeongbokgung is Bugaksan mountain, following the principle of baesanimsu (learn more about this in my Jeonju post).

I decided to take an English guided tour of the Palace, hoping to learn a little about the history of Gyeongbokgung rather than doing my usual wandering aimlessly and trying to translate Korean signposts. Our tour guide was an enthusiastic Korean woman and there was a relatively large group, mainly made up of Americans, a lot of whom had just moved to Seoul to start teaching English. They all seemed surprised that I’d come over for 10 days (admittedly I still can’t quite believe how far I went for such a short trip!). Gyeongbokgung was very similar to the shrine that I visited in Jeonju but on a much grander scale. The ongoing restoration project means that you can see up to 40% of the Palace complex as it was before Japanese occupation. It’s stunning, often said to be the grandest and most beautiful of the palaces within Seoul – I’ll get back to you on that when I do another trip to Korea! The gardens were incredibly peaceful, with my favourite spot being a little temple on an island in the middle of a lake. Korean Palaces are so unlike English castles and palaces. While we do have formal gardens, there’s nowhere near the same emphasis on outdoor spaces. Our climate isn’t exactly conducive to outdoor living!

Lily pond palace original

Gyeongbokgung Palace’s gardens

Gogigui

Korean BBQ

Every meal should look like this

After a day exploring Gyeongbokgung I headed back to Yongsan for another essentially Korean culinary experience: Korean barbecue (Gogigui in Korean). I’ve never had Korean barbeque before, despite it being one of the more popular foods that have made it over to the UK. If you’ve never had it, find the nearest place to you and go. Because there’s nothing more exciting than cooking your own food at your table. The place we went to was in the local market and was tiny, the kind of place that would be a super hipster pop-up joint if it was in London. Each table had a little coal pit that heated up a metal plate above, where you cooked the food. There was also a brass chimney that winched down over each hot plate to draw the smoke off. We were clearly not trusted to do it by ourselves as the woman who ran the place took one look at us and started cooking for us. One of my favourite things about meals in Korea is that you order your main dishes and then you automatically get kimchee and vegetables with it. We had pork, with onions and whole cloves of garlic and it was delicious.

After this we headed to the local bingsu place for some dessert. Patbingsu literally means red beans with ice and is finely shaved ice that is traditionally topped with, you guessed it, my old friend red bean paste! I steadfastly refused to be fooled against by red bean paste and we got one with fresh fruit on top. Unfortunately it was too tasty for me to take any photos as it was eaten inabout five minutes flat!

National Museum National museum atrium

My final day in Korea was spent in the National Museum of Korea. It’s recently moved to Yongsan, on land that used to be part of the US Garrison nearby (fun fact, construction was delayed for years as Seoul’s municipal government and the US Army apparently fought over the location of a helipad) and opened its new doors in 2005. The building itself is spectacular, light and airy, constructed around a central atrium with clever curation that leads you in a logical route around the entire museum in chronological order. Unless, like my friend when he visited, you manage to turn the wrong way at the entrance and so experience Korean history backwards. Apparently it was a unique way to learn about the country! I opted to start in Bronze Age Korea and work my way round to modern Korea. There’s various cafes and tea rooms dotted around on each floor and it took me about three hours to make my way round the main exhibitions – take into account here that I like reading all Iron Buddhathe signs on artefacts! There were also two temporary exhibitions, one on Afghan gold and one on Joseon period printing presses. I’m slightly obsessed with typography and old fashioned printing technology so I spent a good 45 minutes looking at all the printing blocks! One thing that really stood out to me were the iron Buddhas. I’ve not been anywhere in Asia before so I don’t know if this is a uniquely Korean style of devotional art or not but regardless the detail was astonishing.

Mandu

By far and away my favourite food of the trip was mandu (dumplings). I mean, what’s not to love? Tasty filings, boiled or fried dough, food you can eat with your hands? Obviously my last meal in Korea had to be mandu. We hit a local stall in the market for a mystery selection (I’m 99% sure my friend knew what he was ordering) and headed down to the Han to eat. 10 days was not enough time to spend in Korea. There’s so much I still want to see, so much more to learn about the culture and so much food I’ve yet to eat! This trip was a good introduction, dipping my toes into South Korea if you will. Expect more posts in the future when I make another trip. South Korea, I’m not finished with you yet!

Seoul: Disney Castles and Fried Chicken

I’ll be the first to admit, I had no idea what to expect when arriving in Seoul. I’ve become way more chilled out about travelling over the past year and didn’t really do much research about Korea before my trip. So arriving into Seoul and realising how huge a city it was came as a slight surprise. It really shouldn’t, it’s one of the biggest cities in the world, coming in the top 5 in terms of population and metropolitan area. What I wasn’t expecting was how green it was. South Korea in general is a beautifully green country, and it’s something that had surprised me before but I wasn’t expecting it in a huge sprawling city. I’m from England where our cities (think London, Birmingham, Manchester) are beautiful and vibrant and I love them but you could never describe them as natural wonders. They’re all thoroughly industrialised and built up with a few parks dotted throughout. The view from my friend’s apartment in Yongsan was kind of mind-blowing. I know it may seem that I’m overreacting but seriously, check it out. Being right next to the river was awesome and the fact that there’s no buildings along the Han was baffling. Again, think about English cities – you can’t even walk along the Thames for more than half an hour in central London without having to divert around buildings.

View over the Han original

Totally didn’t lean out of 23rd floor window for this shot 

After a super lazy start to the day recovering from Boryeong Mud Festival and eating traditional Parisian patisserie from Gontran Cherrier (who knew, fancy pastries are super popular in Korea) we headed out into Seoul. We were hoping to hit up a beer festival but turns out we’d missed it by a day. One thing I will say about South Korea. It might be one of the most connected places in the world in terms of wifi connectivity but the use of websites to give information about upcoming events is appalling – trying to find out when and where things are happening is a nightmare! We’d headed over to Sinchon, an area known for its nightlife and student population. So obviously we’d gone on a Sunday afternoon. Perfect time to check out some bars.

western-desserts

That classic and well loved advertising duo, Uncle Sam and Mary Poppins 

 

My Korean friend had insisted that while I was in Seoul I had to try Chimaek, Korean fried chicken. It’s one of those brilliant words created by smushing two other words together. You’re supposed to eat it with a beer and so the name is a fusion of ‘chicken’ and ‘maekju’ (Korean for beer). Isn’t language cool? As you’d expect, it’s a perfect combination, slightly
greasy fried chicken and beer being the basis of so many late night purchases around the world. I’m trying to find somewhere that does it back here in the UK (any suggestions welcomed) because it was delicious. As you can probably tell, the food was one of the highlights of Korea for me!

Lotte World

This essential Korean experience ticked off my list, it was time to visit Lotte World. This is a huge complex, made up of the world’s largest indoor amusement park, an outdoor theme park, huge shopping mall, Korean folk museum and hotel amongst other things. The indoor park is open late all year round and what better way to spend a Sunday evening than on teeny tiny rollercoasters?

None of the pictures I took fully convey just how huge it is. You walk in and I actually had to stop to try and take it all in. It is colossal. In the entrance hall you’re greeted by a fully sized ice rink under an atrium style glass ceiling that has a monorail and full sized hot-air balloon ride running around the edge of it. And that’s just the entrance. You go into the park itself and there’s a maze of levels, corridors and stairs to find your way around. There were a lot of couples in matching outfits there, taking adorable (and slightly awkward on the guys part) selfies with their matching totally not Mickey and Minnie mouse ears on. I’d kind of got used to sticking out like a sore thumb with my short red hair and piercings but I felt really out of place in the super cute atmosphere of Lotte World.

It was surreal how much merchandise there was ripped straight from Disney. Maybe Lotte has a franchise deal going but there was everything from Marvel toys, Minnie mouse costumes and even the famous castle from the various Disney Worlds (though no idea if there’s a cryogenically frozen Korean Walt Disney underneath it). A personal favourite was the inside of the castle complete with walls lined with shields and swords as well as a replica war horse and knight, both in full armour.

See why it's called Korean Disney World?

See why it’s called Korean Disney World?

Even though we went later on in the day, the queues to get on the most popular rides were 45 minutes long at their shortest. We really wanted to go on The French Revolution, mainly because of the name to be honest. Who doesn’t want to say they survived that?! Unfortunately the queue for that was surprisingly huge – guess everyone wanted a shot at liberté, égalité and fraternité. We also couldn’t get on the hot-air balloon ride which looked amazing. You got in a basket underneath a giant plastic balloon and were then lifted up to the ceiling of Lotte World before making your way along a track that ran around the entire roof. Obviously the queue for this was over an hour and a half long and I have the attention span of an amnesiac goldfish so wasn’t prepared to wait that long. We did manage to go on an Indiana Jones themed water ride with a Korean family and a very excited small kid. I may have over-played my reaction to the drops and spins of the track somewhat for their benefit.

Lotte world balloonsThe highlight of Lotte World, however, had to be the Haunted House. After wrestling with the ticket machine (the problem when two waegukin go out without a Korean speaking chaperone) we headed in. It was… Disappointing. Not scary. Not dark. We were kind of hurrying through when we heard some loud screaming coming from up ahead. Not a pre-recorded tinny scream but a proper terrified, real-life human scream. Maybe it got scarier the further in you got? Around the next corner we found two Korean girls on the floor, almost crying in terror, hugging each other for support. Standing over them was a guy in a black robe with a pretty unconvincing skull mask on. He was trying to lean down and offer them a hand up but every time he moved, the girls started screaming again. My friend and I were by this point clutching the walls in laughter, watching as he tried again and again to help them. After a good few minutes he gave up and went back into his little cubbyhole in the wall. The girls practically crawled out of the house and the guy came back out with his mask off, shrugging at us. We were still cracking up with laughter, having to hold each other up at this point. Who knew Haunted Houses could be such a source of hilarity?

Banpo Bridge

I talked at the beginning of this post about how green Seoul is and we spent the evening wandering down to Banpo Bridge in the park that runs along the Han River. There was so many people out, cycling, drinking, eating, listening to music. My friend had told me I needed to see Banpo Bridge and had only told me that it was a ‘dancing rainbow fountain bridge’. Now, I’m a creative writer but even I couldn’t quite picture what exactly that meant. Turns out a ‘dancing rainbow fountain bridge’ is a bridge that has horizontal jets set all along its sides, with rainbow coloured LEDs and speakers. The jets move and fire off in time to the music, with a light show going simultaneously. Koreans really love their dancing fountains. Yet another surreal musical experience to add to the list!

fountain-bridge-seoul

Boryeong Mud Festival

Of all the slightly bonkers things I did in South Korea, Boryeong Mud Festival has to be the most surreal. What is a mud festival? It’s exactly what it sounds like. Think Glastonbury but warmer and without the music. The aim is to get as covered in mud as physically possible. I was an outdoorsy kid – growing up on army bases means you always have amazing woods to get lost in. But I was never allowed to wear white. I was a pretty clumsy tree climber and mud and blood make for a lot of laundry. Naturally when I found out we were heading to Mudfest I picked out my whitest, cleanest outfit. I’m a responsible adult now and I’m going to use that power to get as dirty as physically possible.

I expected Mudfest to have some ancient and spiritual history stretching back to before records began. Boryeong Mud Festival has actually, however, only been going since the late 90s. As you’d expect for a country famed for its make-up and cosmetics industry, the festival started out as a marketing vehicle for Boryeong mud cosmetics. Apparently the mud itself has been famous for years for being good for your skin (mine did feel lovely and soft after a day being covered in it!) and for Mudfest they collect huge vats of it from nearby mud flats. These are then transported to the beach where the festival itself takes place.

Our day started out super early in Seoul. Turns out Boryeong is pretty much halfway between Seoul and Mokpo so I was retracing my steps from the week before (check out my adventures in the south of the Korean Peninsula here). On the way we drove over the Seohae Bridge which is over 7000m long. I’m slightly obsessed with bridges and tunnels, I think it comes from being an engineer’s daughter. We also tried these snacks called walnut balls that were walnut shaped cakes filled with red bean paste. I have a love hate relationship with red bean paste. If you’re expecting red bean paste, it’s a quite tasty addition to sweet dishes. If you’re a tired, blurry-eyed European who thinks what they’re eating is Nutella – not so nice. I made this mistake a surprising number of times during my trip.

MudFest 2k16

We arrived in Boryeong at lunch time. The Mud Festival has two breaks a day where they close for people to eat. We took the time to grab some drinks because another grand and venerable tradition of Mudfest is maintaining a steady level of drunkenness. Luckily the weather was kind of perfect – warm but overcast without ever raining. I’d have got supremely sunburn if it’d been better weather as mud isn’t the best sunscreen. We spent the lunch break sat on the beach with a few beers. Soon as Mudfest reopened, we headed in, ready to get mucky.

The first place we found was a big pool where you could go and splash mud at each other but it was disappointingly watery. It only stained rather than destroyed our clothes. Not good enough. After a bit of hunting I found a trough full of good, thick mud. And started a mud fight by throwing a load right in my friend’s face. Pro tip guys – if you wear contacts, come prepared with swim goggles so they don’t get messed up when you inevitably get a face full. Pretty quickly we were all filthy and my childhood dream of ruining a white shirt had been fulfilled. My mother would have been so proud.

 

Mud fest Johnny and I

Good thing someone remembered his GoPro!

 

There were various stalls around the edge of the mud zone (personal favourite was the Foreign Interpretation Assistance Unit – like SWAT for lost, drunk waegukin) and one was doing face painting with coloured mud. After queueing for about 45 minutes we realised we need numbers in order to actually get painted when we reached the front so one of our group dived into another queue while we waited in line. Then when we eventually made it to the front, my friend and I (the guy from the zorbing incident in New Zealand) were told we were too dirty to have mud painted on our faces. Another good idea that I should share here – have someone in your group that actually speaks Korean. Then when you’re frustrated and have no idea why someone won’t paint your face, you don’t have to just rely on increasingly abstract hand signals. Having to clean up meant another queue to wash the mud off our faces. This proved a bit much even for my British love of queueing but eventually we made it to the face painting station. Between the 3 of us there was a cat, an advert for Korea and a superhero. Being a comic book nerd, I was more than happy with this.

being-painted

 

Boryeong

After some ramen and a few more beers we wandered a bit further along the beach and heard some chanting. When we checked it out there was a man climbing a ladder of knives. Yep. You read that right. There was an old man climbing a ladder (more of a staircase really) of knives in time to chanting and drum beats. Then some women dressed all in white carried white globes down to the sea where they floated them away. We couldn’t work out what was going on beyond it being some form of ancestor worship and I still haven’t really got any idea. Any suggestions would be welcomed!

The weather was starting to turn at this point so we headed for showers before we got rained on. In England, unlike the rest of Europe, we’re not really big on communal, public nudity. If you go to a swimming pool in the UK, chances are everyone will keep their swimsuits on to shower afterwards. Go figure, we’re a famously repressed nation. Not in Korea. There was no swimsuits in the showers at Boryeong. Luckily the water was so freezing that it distracted me from my innate British awkwardness.

 

Mud fest colours

One thoroughly destroyed white shirt? Check

 

There was still a while to wait before the main event in the evening so we camped out in a coffee shop. In there with us were some girls who were taking selfies, showing them to their friends and then touching up their make-up to take more selfies. Apparently this is a popular past time in Korea. It was something that struck me while in Korea, and I’m definitely not the first to say it, how image conscious the whole country is. Even at Mudfest there were a lot of girls with full faces of make-up trying to not get dirty.

K-Pop in Korea

Finally it was time for the evening’s entertainment to kick off. What could possibly be better than spending a day throwing mud at your friends? PSY. That’s right, the K-pop star that smashed YouTube records with Gangnam Style back in 2012 and then seemingly disappeared in the UK music scene. He’s still massive in Korea and I had an awesome time listening to some of his big hits. It was one of those moments in life where you just look around you and think “Is this really happening right now?”. Dancing on a South Korean beach to Gangnam Style live just about topped listening to it with Mokpo’s dancing fountain (it’s a close run thing let me tell you).

 

PSY

 

Boryeong Mud Festival was utterly bonkers. I have told everyone who’s asked me about Korea about it. It seems such a uniquely Korean event, even down to its creation coming from the cosmetics industry. If you’re in the Peninsula at the beginning of July, or even anywhere near Korea, definitely check it out. It’s an experience that will stick with you. Even if you have to throw out the clothes you wore. 

Jeonju: Exploring traditional Korea

Jeonju is a city just over 2 hours drive away from Mokpo (check out what I got up to in Mokpo here). It’s famous for its Hanok Village, an area of the city designed to show off traditional Korean culture. Jeonju is also famous for 2 important Korean foods: bibimbap and hangover soup (Kongnamul Gukbap to give it its proper name). My time here was so interesting I’m just going to focus on that for this post.

Hanoks

We stayed at Dukmanjae, a traditional hanok just outside of the Hanok Village. When building a hanok, the position of the house in relation to its surroundings is considered as well as the impact the seasons will have on it. As you’d expect with this much care being taken about where the house is, the inside is also carefully planned, following the principles of baesanimsu. This literally means that ideally a house is built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front. Hanok also have wide front porches for keeping the house cool in the hot and humid Korean summers. Ours had sliding panel doors but some have ones you lift up and hook onto the ceiling of the porch.

Dukmanjae Hanok

 

Haejungguk

After dropping our bags off we headed out into Jeonju to find hangover soup, despite not being remotely hungover. It was a real hot afternoon and it turned out my friend was not the most reliable map reader in the world but eventually we made it to Sambaekjib, home of Kongnamul Gukbap in Jeonju. Kongnamul Gukbap is a hot bean sprout soup with rice and there’s a whole ritual to eating it. You’re given the soup with a fried egg and seaweed on the side which you have to add in a specific order. You can also top up any ingredients you feel you’re running low on, adding rice or vegetables as you need. It’s packed full of carbs, veggies and protein: you can see why it’s a hangover cure!

Hangover soup

Hanok Village

ChurchWe returned to start our sightseeing, heading first to the Jeondong Cathedral (also known as the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). I’d known that Christianity was a major religion in Korea but I had been surprised at just how many churches there were everywhere. It was even more surreal seeing a European style cathedral in amongst the hanoks and distinctly Korean buildings. The cathedral was built between 1908 and 1914 to honour Roman Catholic martyrs who had lost their lives during the Joseon period. This was when the Joseon Dynasty ruled Korea, from 1392 until 1897. In October 1897, this kingdom was renamed the Korean Empire (which was made up of what we’d now see as North and South Korea). Joseon Korea was a Confucianist state which led to the persecution and martyring of Catholics in the 19th century. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside as a service was taking place. Nevertheless, it was still an interesting angle of Korean culture to look at.

Gyeonggijeon Shrine

Our next stop was much more traditionally Korean: Gyeonggijeon Shrine. It was beautiful – my photos don’t really do it justice! I love the colour schemes used on temples and palaces in Korea, the reds and greens with the gold accents on the really important carvings. From a massively nerdy point, I’d been looking forward to seeing palaces and shrines since I’d arrived in Korea. I’m a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Earth Kingdom in the show has some distinctly Korean influences in its design. So getting to see some Joseon period buildings in real life was pretty spectacular.

Archives

It was here that the hanbok craze was clearest. There is a big trend at the moment in Korea for renting hanbok, which are traditional outfits usually reserved for events like New Year. Despite how hot it was, most of the people we saw in Jeonju, both men and women, were wearing hanbok. The women were wearing a mixture of the more traditional silk, full-skirted styles and a modern knee length version in pastel shades with a lot of lacework. Some men were wearing gat (traditional hats) while some women wore ornamental hair pieces. Hanbok simply means ‘Korean clothing’ but has come to mean specifically Joseon period style clothing. There were foreign influences on Hanbok but it was only Mongolian princesses marrying into the Korean royal family after a peace treaty with the Mongol Empire in the 13th century that had any lasting impact.

Given all this historical context, I loved watching people using selfie sticks to take photos of themselves in their Hanbok. This mix of old and new, traditional and technology and the pride in their culture was pretty cool to watch. No way would you get British teenagers putting on Tudor ruffs and doublets to visit the Tower of London! Getting particular attention for selfies were the guys dressed as guards at the palace gates. One was wearing an awful lot of fur for July in Korea and the other had a magnificent hat with huge feathers. We got to watch the guards change over which involved a lot of shouting and ceremonial handing over of swords. Once the excitement of this had died down we headed further into the shrine complex to explore.

One of the things I reaHanbok galorelly liked about Korean architecture was the focus on outdoor space. If you think of traditional English buildings (castles, cathedrals, stately homes) they’re all about the whacking huge construction projects. Korean architecture tends towards a lot of smaller buildings with plenty of peaceful outdoor space. Gyeonggijeon Shrine was built in 1410 to house the portrait King Tae-jo who founded the Joseon Dynasty. This was housed in its own building and there was a separate small museum dedicated to other royal portraits. One of the most interesting pieces for me was a replica of a portrait that is currently in North Korea. As an English tourist, I think it was easy to forget that it’s only recently that these two countries separated. There’s such a huge amount of shared history and culture for what we now see as such disparate places.

Hanbok

My friend decided that the best thing we could do to immerse me in Korean culture was to get me in a Hanbok. But not just any Hanbok: a royal Hanbok. Complete with a collosal hairpiece. The Hanbok was beautiful, red silk with a lot of embroidery. It was also incredibly hot. The hairpiece was extremely heavy and I’m not sure my gingery curly hair really matched it! While I definitely felt very regal, I couldn’t move much at all. I guess if you’re a queen you have people to move for you and you just need to sit, trying not to show that you’re melting.

The Hanbok was enough of a success that my hosts wanted me to try on old fashioned Korean school uniforms, the kind that their parents would have worn when they were younger. This was fairly simple, consisting of a black skirt and a jacket with a white shirt. The issue came with me trying it on. Turns out being average height in the UK translates to being super tall in South Korean sizing. There was also the matter of the armband. While in the UK having a position of responsibility at school usually means getting a tie or a pin, in Korea it’s an armband to be worn over your school jacket. I don’t think it has the same fascist overtones over there as it does here!

 

Bibimbap

Bibimbap

That evening we went to try Jeonju’s most famous food: bibimbap. This is a dish of rice, meat and vegetable with egg, covering all the important food groups. Other than the name, the most fun part of bibimbap is that some versions are served in a hot stone bowl and you mix it really fast to finish cooking it at your table. This was the food I’d been looking forward to eating since I’d arrived and to actually be able to eat it in the place where it came from was awesome.

We followed it up with some grapefruit beer. Now I’m from the UK. We’re pretty serious about beer over here. It’s kind of our thing. So I was expecting some kind of fancy craft beer. Sadly it was just lager with grapefruit syrup in it. And head out of a slushie machine. I’ve drunk enough beer in my life to know that there’s an art to pouring with the minimum amount of head. Otherwise you’re wasting precious space in your pint glass. Not in Korea. Here beer comes in a domed iced coffee cup to make extra space for all that delicious foam. Bonkers.

Dumplings

Our night in the hanok was very peaceful. Again, I’d definitely recommend Dukmanjae as a hanok stay, it was super quiet and the owner was lovely and friendly. We wandered around the market for a bit, and I had fun trying to find a sports bra in my size (top tip – if you think you’ll need sports underwear and you’re more than a C cup in the UK, take it with you!). We went to a dumpling place for lunch that had had a queue out the door the night before. I got to try the heavenly combination of fried dumplings filled with dangmyeon) sweet potato noodles. Seriously, they were what my food dreams are made of.

Dumplings original

These delicious dumplings marked the end of my time in Jeonju and with my South Korean hosts. They’d done an amazing job showing me as much Korean culture as they could in the five days I spent with them. I ate so much delicious food, probably more sea food than I’d eaten in my entire life until that point and to be honest, I’m still not completely sure what everything I ate was!

I fulfilled a long-held wish to eat proper Korean bibimbap and visit a bamboo forest. Now it was time to hop on a train back to Seoul – I caught a slower train this time which took 3 1/2 hours from Jeonju to Seoul but was slightly cheaper at 17,600₩. After some adventures involving failed wifi and Ichon subway station’s 6 exits (seriously, get a Korean phone sim if you’re visiting, it’s so worth it) I managed to meet up with my friend in Seoul. This is where I’ll end this week as the next item on my itinerary was Boryeong Mud Festival. And a day that crazy deserves a whole post to itself.

Mokpo, Damyang and the start of South Korean adventures

South Korea has been on my travel list for so long it was in danger of becoming a permanent fixture. I had a South Korean friend at school who has been trying to get me to visit her every summer since we left. Finally, this year, I got my arse in gear and flew over to the Korean Peninsula. I arrived in Seoul super late on the night of the 10th and crashed with another friend who’s based in the city before heading down to Mokpo on the 11th.

Mokpo is a port city way down in the south-west of South Korea. If you’re in Korea for a longer trip, I’d definitely recommend taking the time to head out of Seoul and explore the rest of the country. By getting the train down to Mokpo, I got to see how amazingly green a place it is (this coming from a girl who grew up in England’s green and pleasant land!) with the landscape being 70% mountains. It’s easy to see why hiking is such a big deal here. I caught an express train which took 2 and a half hours and cost 52700W (around £35 as of July 2016). This train also had free wifi. I mean, what else would you expect from a country that’s a world leader in internet connectivity?

Meditation - Rising Islandby Kim-Hyung-Joon

Meditation – Rising Island by Kim-Hyung-Joon

Once I arrived in Mokpo I was met at the station by my friend and her mum who instantly whisked me off to see Yudalsan, the resident mountain. There are hiking trails up it but we decided to visit the sculpture park instead as it was raining on and off. A quick aside – I have a track record for booking holidays during the worst weather a place had to offer. I didn’t disappoint with South Korea, arriving during monsoon season. But back to the sculpture park! It has a mixture of sculptures from Korean and international artists and was the first sculpture park in Korea. Behind it is a beautiful Buddhist temple. You also get some good views over Mokpo from this part of the mountain.

After this we headed back to my friend’s house for dinner, going via the hospital where her dad works as an osteopath after I’d mentioned that my ankles were sore (Korean hospitality extends to free x-rays I guess?) My hosts were determined that I get a taste of real Korean food and so we had japchae (sweet potato noodles called dangmyeon with beef and squid), galbijjim (steamed beef rib), kkaennip-kimchi (sesame kimchi) and mooli. Dangmyeon would out to be my new favourite food ever and I’m going to miss those little noodles so much!

I could honestly write several posts devoted solely to the food I’ve had on this trip. It’s my first time to Asia at all, and while you can get Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and pretty much anything you could want to eat back home in the UK, nothing prepares you for the food culture out there. In my whole 10 day trip I don’t think I ate a single bad meal. I ate plenty where I had no idea what I was eating (more on that later) but I never left a table hungry.

Shinan shipwreck

Shinan shipwreck

My second day in Mokpo was fairly laidback as I was still trying to sort out my sleep pattern. In the afternoon we visited the National Maritime Museum, which showcases Korea’s shipping history and has a dramatically curated exhibition on the Shinan shipwreck. This was discovered in the 1970s and kick started Korean underwater archaeology. They also had a completely bizarre animation explaining this to kids. I thought it was just because there was no English translation for me to follow but my friend said it was bonkers even if you understood Korean!

That night I was taken out for hanjungsik which is a Korean banquet of deliciousness. It’s a traditional meal with lots of courses, each of which is in turn made up of lots of smaller dishes. I can’t list everything we ate because then I’d be straying into listicle territory (50 tastiest things you should eat in Mokpo!) but some highlights were: octopus, abalone (which my friend translated appetisingly as sea ear just as I’d put it in my mouth), some very angry fish, more japchae and yakbap which is sweet sticky rice with chestnuts and honey.

Angry fish

Angry fish

After dinner we walked along the seafront. One of the landmarks of Mokpo is Gatbawi or as I insisted on calling it, Hat Rock. It’s supposed to look like a man wearing a traditional Korean hat called a Gat. I couldn’t really see it but perhaps that’s just me! I’ll let you be the judge. It was a beautiful place to watch the sunset over the Yellow Sea.

Damyang

On my third day in Mokpo we headed further inland to do a tour of Damyang and its surrounding area. We took a bus to Gwangju. This was somewhere I wanted to spend more time in as it’s a pivotal place in modern Korean history – it was here at pro-democracy protests in May 1980 that 165 students and protestors were killed by the military. If you’re interested in finding out more Human Acts by Han Kang is a heartbreaking exploration of what happened. We didn’t spend long in Gwangju but if I return to South Korea it’s somewhere I want to explore.

This time, we got on a tour bus heading out to Damyang. It was run by Kumho buslines and it ended up just being the 3 of us! The tour was in Korean but our driver made sure that I had information about everywhere we were going in English. Our tour guide talked A LOT but as it was all in Korean, I was able to zone out when she was lecturing my friends! My poor friend tried to translate at first but she simply couldn’t keep up.

Our first stop was Soswaewon Garden, which is a typical Korean garden from the middle Joseon Dynasty (it was built between 1520 and 1530). It’s very different to an English formal garden. If you look at our famous examples (Chatsworth, Kew) they’re all about the landscaping, how humans can assert their control and regimented order over nature. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still incredibly beautiful. But Soswaewon felt a lot more organic, as if the buildings had been built to fit the landscape rather the other way around. There was a moment here that captured my experience of Korea as a country. While we were looking around there was a woman sat in one of the hanoks, a traditional Korean building, using her smartphone. For me, this kind of perfectly summed up the respect and pride for traditional culture as well as an intense rate of innovation that I’d noticed since arriving in Korea. It’s a place where you can get free wifi pretty much anywhere (if you have a Korean phone contract) and where the latest craze is for wearing hanbok, traditional clothing, to take selfies of yourself visiting historical sites – more on this in my post about Jeonju.Korea

Next we went on to Sigyeongjeong Pavilion. This was another traditional hanok and apparently it’s been a place of inspiration for many famous Korean poets. Unfortunately our guide talked non-stop for around half an hour and wouldn’t let my friend translate at all for me! So I can’t give much more information than that.

So much food, so little time

So much food, so little time

Juknokwon Bamboo Forest was next on our agenda but first it was time for lunch. Damyang is famous for tteokgalbi which are beef patties (think burgers but without the bun) and for rice steamed inside a piece of bamboo. You get to take the bamboo with you afterwards which was a nice moment of this particular meal. Needless to say it was all delicious! The day had started to heat up and so we headed into the bamboo forest itself to get some shade. Now, I don’t know how accurate this is (any biologists reading this, please feel free to correct me) but apparently the reason it’s cooler around bamboo is because of how efficient it is at photosynthesis. Whatever the reason, it was a great place to hide from the sun. Being a complete newbie to Asia, I had no idea bamboo grew so tall! We spent a relaxing hour wandering around and trying out all the bamboo furniture that was dotted around in various clearings.

Juknokwon Bamboo Forest

Juknokwon Bamboo Forest

There were more trees to follow for us as we headed next to Metasequoia Road which has been officially designated one of South Korea’s most beautiful roads by the Korea Forest Service. The trees were planted in the 70s when the Ministry of Internal Affairs declared the road a boulevard. Again, it was another cool place (in both senses of the word) to spend some time.

Here’s where our day took a decidedly more surreal turn. We were dropped off at Old Gokseong Station and Railway Village. This turned out to be an almost entirely empty theme park. Once we’d got through the ticket office we didn’t see any staff. Most of the attractions were open but no one seemed to be in charge of them. There was your stereotypical creepy carousel and ferris wheel, turning with no one on them or running them. There was a completely empty children’s train museum where we tried on tiny train costumes and could run around a fake track. My personal favourite, however, was the goblin themed optical illusion building. No one else was in there apart from me and my friends. I think we were a little over the target age by at least a decade and a half but we had a blast!

The entrance to the theme park

The entrance to the theme park

The bizarre end to our trip would continue when we got back to Mokpo. We went out for kalguksu which is soup (in this case manila calm soup) and dumplings. I love dumplings. When I went to Poland I pretty much lived off pierogi for five days. I’d do a dumpling tour of the world if I could afford it. So safe to say I was satisfied with this dinner. The evening turned bizarre though when we went for another walk by the sea. I was introduced to Mokpo’s dancing fountain. This is a bit out from the shore and happens every night. There’s a fountain and lasers all of which is timed to fit with music. When we saw it, the song playing was Gangnam Style. Never did I think I would be standing in a city in South Korea watching an ocean light show to K-Pop’s biggest western hit.

A Mokpo sunset

A Mokpo sunset

This seems like a good place to stop for this week. I couldn’t possibly fit my whole trip into a single post, not without making it into an essay. Next up I’ll be talking about my stay in Jeonju Hanok Village which was awesome and surreal in a very different way to the first few days of my trip. And of course, there’ll be even more about the food I ate!

The Edinburgh of the South: Dunedin, New Zealand

My second week in New Zealand was spent down in Dunedin. This is a city in the south of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s pronounced DONE-E-DEN rather than the rather more Tolkienesque DOON-E-DINE that I was expecting. I was staying with a friend who was on an exchange to the University of Otago which is apparently infamous throughout the country as the party uni. All the Kiwis I met told me to watch out for couch burning when I was down there – apparently this is a frequent occurrence during the street parties on the main student road, Castle Street. Once I’d wrapped my head around the fact that it would be getting colder the further south I went, I bundled myself up and got on a plane.

View of Dunedin from Signal Hill

View of Dunedin from Signal Hill

History of Dunedin

Dunedin was the largest New Zealand city in terms of territorial land area until Auckland overtook it at the end of 2010. It was also the largest by population until 1990. Tertiary (so university level) education is one of its most important economic activities and, like Norwich where I went to university, it is a UNESCO City of Literature. Pretty awesome, huh! There’s archeological evidence showing that the Maori occupation of Dunedin dates to around the same time New Zealand as a whole was settled by them between 1250-1300 AD. Settlement went in cycles, with evidence showing that there were Maori settled in what is now central Dunedin as late as 1785.

European settlement was kickstarted by sealers in 1810 but there was a long running conflict between them and the local Maori (known as the Sealers’ War). Permanent European occupation of the area began in 1831 when a whaling station was set up on the Otago Harbour. In a story that has become distressingly familiar, epidemics ravaged the Maori population. Yay European settlement…

Dunedin itself was founded at the head of Otago Harbour in 1848 by The Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland. It’s name in fact comes from Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. It’s not known as the Edinburgh of the South for nothing! I have family in Scotland and it was slightly surreal driving around Dunedin and seeing signs for Invercargill, Balclutha and other incredibly Scottish sounding places. Almost as odd as being able to catch a train to Liverpool from Sydney!

The Catlins

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point Lighthouse

For my first day in Dunedin we actually headed even further south to Nugget Point in the Catlins. This is an area, sometimes known as the Catlins Coast, in the south east of the Island and it is stunning. It’s pretty sparsely populated these days and is known for its scenery and coastal walks. We visited Nugget Point and its famous lighthouse. It was here that I hit over 19,000km (nearly 12,000 miles) away from home. I did have to text my parents about that one! The Catlins has been notoriously dangerous for shipping and Nugget Point Lighthouse was first constructed in 1870 to attempt to reduce the number of shipwrecks in the area. It’s been fully automated since 1989 and is now controlled from a room in Wellington nearly 700km away. I can’t imagine what it must have been like living up there when there was a lighthouse keeper. In 1901 Walter Hutton Champion and his wife Alice had this job. You’d have to hope you got along with the one person you were out there with!

After Nugget Point, which is a beautiful area of coastline, we headed inland to Purakaunui Falls. These are an iconic image of the Catlins, a three tiered cascade waterfall that once featured on a New Zealand postage stamp back in the 1970s. That evening my friend drove us up Signal Hill to watch the sunset over Dunedin. There’s a big monument up there to the first European settlers, very Scottish with their tartan shawls and stoic faces. All Victorian Europeans had suitably stoic faces for statues.

Street Art Trail

First Church of Otago

First Church of Otago

Something else that Dunedin is famous for is its street art. It was one of the first places in New Zealand to have a public art gallery and its artistic history has been continued with the Street Art trail (you can find more info about it here). I spent a happy day traipsing around the city trying to find all of the pieces on the list: I think I got about 11 of them which wasn’t bad going for one mornings effort. I had lunch in Vogel St Kitchen (a name which made me think of the Vogons and their terrible poetry in Hitchhikers) where they had an awesome array of tasty treats and, for an English girl abroad this was heaven, a great selection of teas. In the afternoon I went to check out the First Church of Otago. This was opened in 1873, only 25 years after the founding of Dunedin. The land that the church is built on was cleared by convicts, who had to lower the hill it stands on by 40 feet using just picks and shovels. That evening we went to Jizo Japanese Cafe and Bar. The place was rammed, which is always a good sign for a restaurant as far as I’m concerned! I had a very tasty chicken katsu but their sushi also looked gorgeous.

I can’t make much more in the way of recommendations for Dunedin as I was only there for four days in total but some of my friends who spent a year studying there have suggested a few places. In terms of eateries, Plato is apparently a great fish restaurant. As for things to do in the city, the Saturday farmer’s markets are usually great, with musicians scattered about amongst the stalls. If music or poetry is your thing, Dog with Two Tails is the place to be. And the historic Dunedin Public Art Gallery always has something interesting going on.

Beaches

Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach

Dunedin also has a tonne of beaches to check out. I made it to Tunnel Beach and St Kilda’s in my four days. Tunnel Beach is accessed by, you guessed it, a tunnel which was apparently built by a father so that his daughter could get down to the beach more easily. She apparently drowned soon afterwards. On a more cheerful note, St Kilda’s is gorgeous, even if the evening we went it was incredibly windy. My friend also recommends Sandfly Bay and Aramoana.

St Kilda Beach (photo credits Imogen Simmonds)

St Kilda Beach (photo credits Imogen Simmonds)

St Kilda’s was the last place I visited before my epic 50 journey back to the UK. I came back via Wellington, Sydney and Dubai and landed back at Heathrow more than a little exhausted! New Zealand is a beautiful country. I discovered a love for the outdoors over there that has driven me to go exploring around Oxford. There’s something about travelling as far away as it is possible to be that makes you appreciate your own city.

 

Beth Saward

 

I Feel the Good Times Coming: New Zealand, North Island

In March of this year I headed off on my first solo trip abroad. I decided to go as far away as I possibly could (go hard or go home right?) and go to Australia and New Zealand. You can read about my time in Sydney over on Travelicious. Forgive me this long post  but trying to summarise my first week in New Zealand proved almost impossible. I was on the North Island doing the Sun and Steam tour with Contiki. Contiki are a tour group for 18-35 year olds where they organise everything for you, pile you onto a bus and ferry you around from one awesome experience to another. My Contiki tour began with us meeting in Auckland before heading north to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. I’m gonna point out here that as a girl whose family lives in Lancashire, England, the idea of it getting warmer as you went further north was beyond confusing.

The wake Ngatokimatawhaorua

The wake Ngatokimatawhaorua

New Zealand’s Māori History

The way Contiki works is that you have some activities included and then optional extras that you buy into. I’m a big history nerd so on my first afternoon I opted to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This was where, on 6th February 1840, a treaty was signed by various Māori chiefs from the North Island and representatives of the British Crown that declared British sovereignty over New Zealand. It created a British Governor of New Zealand whilst recognising the Māori ownership of their lands, forests and other properties. It also gave the Māori the rights of British subjects. In return the Māori simply had to cede New Zealand to Queen Victoria and give her government the sole right to purchase land. I know what you’re thinking. The British were involved. It can’t have been that simple. And it wasn’t. The Treaty differed significantly between the English and the Māori versions, meaning that there are still arguments going on today about what exactly was agreed upon. Our tour guide was great, funny, informative and managed to cram an astonishing amount about New Zealand’s history into our time with him. We also got to see this amazing waka (ceremonial war canoe) which is still used on Waitangi Day! It takes 80 men to paddle it, and must be an incredible sight out on the water.

Paihia, The Bay of Islands

After a very confusing night out for those of us from the UK where we were taken for a ‘traditional Kiwi fush n chups’ and where our jet lag was even more muddled by the clocks changing while we were at the bar, I woke up bright and early to head off dolphin spotting. The weather was gorgeous and we spotted a pod of around 15 dolphins. We’d have been allowed in to swim with them but there were some babies in the group (including one called French Toast!) so we had to content ourselves with just watching them. I did, however, get the chance later that morning for my first swim in the Pacific!

Paihia

The beautiful Bay of Islands

That afternoon I went kayaking with a small group of other Contiki trippers. I was in a tandem kayak with the fashion and travel blogger La Carmina. Big thanks to her for this photo, where she looks unfailingly glamorous and I’m being my normal elegant self! We kayaked from Paihia, through some mangroves and up to Haruru Falls. You can kayak almost up to the Falls themselves which was awesome. The mangroves were kind of the show-stealers though. They’re fascinating trees that have their roots underwater, sometimes living in water up to 100 times saltier than other trees can handle.

Guess who's the fashion blogger...

Guess who’s the fashion blogger…

We had a quieter night, with me insisting that a group of us head down to the beach to check out the stars. If anyone from Australia or New Zealand is reading this, I’m going to sound bonkers. But I’ve lived in cities with high levels of light pollution (and I’m sadly including Oxford in that list) for most of my life. The stars that I saw in New Zealand were incredible. I spent at least half an hour every night of my entire trip just sitting outside staring up. And this particular night in Paihia was phenomenal. We ended up going swimming (because of course we did), and while the water was cold it wasn’t summer holidays in Lancashire cold. The really cool thing though was what was in the water. There was bioluminescent algae floating around with us, which glowed whenever it came into contact with our skins. Swimming in the ocean with stars above us and our bodies being made into light in the water was unbelievable. It’s one of those memories I’ll be dredging up in 40 years time.

Auckland

We had to leave magical Paihia and the Bay of Islands eventually and we were headed back to Auckland. Here we went up the Sky Tower which (as the name kind of implies) gives really awesome high up views over the city. There’s glass plates in the floor of the observation deck that let you look down to the ground 186m (610 ft) below you. Of course I lay down on these to take some epic selfies. Had to be done.

#shamelessselfies

#shamelessselfies

Once we’d climbed down from the heady heights of the Sky Deck (which is 220m or 720ft up) we met up with other members of our group who’d gone to do a bungee jump off Auckland Bridge. That was one of the things I loved about Contiki – there was such a wide range of activities that you could choose from that there was something for everyone. I thought my travel insurance wouldn’t let me do a bungee jump (honest, truly that was my real reason I promise) so unfortunately I missed out on that thrill ride. Dinner in Auckland that night more than made up for it though. We all headed out as a group to Elliot Stables. It’s an unusual place in that you all go and find a table in the central area and then you can go off and choose what kind of food you want from the 12 or so different restaurants around the edge. I went for Japanese food  from Samurai Sushi and it was so delicious. This was followed by quite possibly the biggest serving of chocolate mousse I’ve ever had in my entire life. Delectable Dessert’s portion sizes are ginormous and anywhere that serves chocolate soup is a must visit eatery in my book.

Waitomo

Kiwipacker, Waitomo

Kiwipacker, Waitomo

The next day, in various states of recovery after a night out at Habana Joe’s, we got back on the bus to travel on to Waitomo. We stayed in a really cool hostel here: Kiwipacker was awesome and put on a barbecue for us on the night we were there! The whole reason we visited Waitomo, however, was for the glow worm caves. Sadly I don’t have any photos but take my word for it (or google for official photos) – if you take nothing else away from this post, visit the Caves at Waitomo. You float through an underground river on a rubber inner tube, in the dark, in silence, underneath thousands and thousands of glow worms. It is astoundingly beautiful. And because I’m a massive fantasy nerd, it made me think of that scene in Terry Pratchett’s Thud where Sam Vimes takes a rather less sedate trip through an underground river lit by vurms. Most of my favourite memories from New Zealand involve teeny phosphorescent creatures. I just like shiny things, okay?

After our trips through the caves, we all headed down to Curly’s Bar. Waitomo is a very small town: it pretty much consists of a few hostels, the cave centre and Curly’s. If you’re ever there (and seriously, add Waitomo to your bucket list: it’s on the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travel List if you want more official reassurance than mine) you should try the homebrew Curly’s. It’ll take you by surprise how strong it is but it’s seriously good stuff.

Rotovegas

The final stop on my section of the tour was Rotorua. Everyone had warned me about the smell. Literally the first thing people said when they heard I was going to Rotorua was “Oh god, you know it stinks of rotten eggs right?” There’s a whole heap of geothermal activity going on here, from the lake, the geysers, the Polynesian spa with its hot pools (which we got a nice discount on courtesy of Contiki). All of that adds up to a lot of hydrogen sulphide emissions which is what gives the city its unique smell.

OGOOur first activity here was hands-down my favourite of the entire trip. Even more than all the glowy critters we’d seen. We went to OGO, which is zorbing by another name (I think there was some big bust up between these guys who were the inventors of zorbing and rival zorbers) and it was insane. Rather than being on water, which is how I think a lot of zorbing works, this was downhill. You’re inside a giant inflated ball and they put water in the middle section that you’re sat in. There were two courses to choose from, one that went straight down and one that pitched you up and around corners. Obviously I picked to do the one where you’re thrown all over the place (2 of those and 1 straight down one). You can go in with two other people and let me tell you, if you’re not friends with them beforehand, you’ll be intimately close by the time you reach the bottom. Because of the water, you’re sliding all over the place, into, around and over the other people in the OGO with you. The guy I was in one with decided to try and run in it. DO NOT TRY AND RUN IN AN OGO. You’ll end up kicking your friend in the head and being on the receiving end of the best swearwords Great Britain has to offer. If you can, take a GoPro with you because you’ll want to capture the hilarity to be re-lived when you get home. Just remember to turn the sound on when you’re recording…

That afternoon we visited Te Puia  and took part in a scavenger hunt that took us around the geothermal park and New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. We learnt a traditional Māori game called Ti Rakau (check it out here) – we were nowhere near this impressive) and also got to eat sweetcorn cooked in a geyser! The day was rounded off with an evening of Māori cultural experiences: we had food cooked in a hangi (a pit with heated stones) and watched some traditional dances and songs. Of course the haka made an appearance and we also saw a poi dance performed by women. People from our group got to try taking part in both of these (with the boys doing the haka and the girls trying not to hit themselves on the head with the poi!). La Carmina’s written a post about this with some awesome photos.

Hobbiton

My final day on the tour was pretty jam packed. I spent the morning in Hobbiton. Yes you read that correctly. You can visit the set of Hobbiton and it’s pretty similar to how it is in the films – after they shot the Hobbit Trilogy, the guy who owns the land asked Peter Jackson to keep the set up so people can come and tour around it. I was in nerd heaven. We luckily had gorgeous weather and got to wander around looking at all the different sized hobbit holes, see the tiny loaves of bread, the bottles of scrumpy and the teeny clothes hanging up on washing lines. You’re not allowed up to Bag End itself but there are some hobbit holes that you’re allowed inside. Sadly they only go back about 4 feet, but as a member of the Big Folk, it was pretty exciting even getting to go through the door! Our driver on the way to Matamata, which is where Hobbiton is, was an odd guy. He spent most of the hour long journey ranting to us about the possum problem that New Zealand had. So if you want to know anything about New Zealand’s possum population, just send me a message!

The party tree

The Party Tree, Hobbiton (photo credits John Contompasis)

After the excitement of being in Hobbiton, the afternoon brought a different kind of adrenaline rush: white water rafting. For those of you who read my post about Sydney, you’re probably wondering whether doing all these watersports was a great idea with a freshly pierced septum. Probably not one of my best, but it all worked out fine in the end!

White water rafting was insane.

It's probably a good thing you can't tell which one is me, I don't imagine it's a flattering photo!

It’s probably a good thing you can’t tell which one is me, I don’t imagine it’s a flattering photo!

After being kitted up in the incredible attractive wetsuit, helmet and life jacket combinations, we got a crash course in safety and then were in the river! We went over rapids (at one point all getting out to hang off the side of our raft as we went over them) and down 3 waterfalls, one of which was the highest commercially navigable waterfall in the world. I was in a boat with 5 guys off the Contiki trip and our guide made me go at the front to be our ‘Rose’. There’s some awesome photos of me with my arms out, re-enacting the Titanic (without a Jack behind me cause I didn’t trust any of them not to push me in). Then there’s some even better photos of me in the rapids after I fell out because I was stupid enough not to hold on. I made sure to drag one of the guys in with me though so it worked out pretty well!

My final evening was spent in the Polynesian Spa before getting up very early the next morning to head back to Auckland. The family friends I was staying in the city with took me out to see Taika Waititi’s newest film Hunt for the Wilderpeople that had been taking New Zealand by storm. I think they were a little worried I wouldn’t understand the humour in it, but it turns out Kiwi and British senses of humour are pretty similar! If you get the chance, check it out (or Waititi’s Boy which is also great).

 

My Contiki Group (photo credits John Contompasis)

My Contiki Group (photo credits John Contompasis)

Here’s a link if you’re interested in the Sun and Steam tour after reading this – I’m not getting paid to promote this, I am recommending it whole heartedly to anyone who wants to get a taste of New Zealand. I only wish I could have stayed longer and kept travelling with the group I was with. I met some awesome people, some of whom I’m sure will be friends for a long time to come (I’m staying with one of them in South Korea!) and have absolutely unforgettable memories. I can’t thank our tour guide Mon and driver Dyson enough for making this an amazing trip (also for picking our day song Good Times by Ella Eyre which is where this blog title’s from). Stick around to hear about the final leg of my adventures on the other side of the world when I trekked down to Dunedin in the south of the South Island.

 

Beth Saward

Jericho, Oxford, UK

‘And that precipitated a swarm. Other searchers soon joined the first ones, and before long, thirty or more gyptian children were racing from end to end of the wharves, running in and out of stables, scrambling over the cranes and derricks in the boat-yard, leaping over the fence into the wide meadow, swinging fifteen at a time on the old swing bridge over the green water, and running full pelt through the narrow streets of Jericho, between the little brick terraced houses and into the great square-towered oratory of St Barnabas the Chymist.’

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman

Fans of Pullman’s His Dark Materials universe may well recognise the name of Jericho from the beginning of Northern Lights and as the setting for most of Lyra’s Oxford. In Northern Lights, it’s where we first come across the Gyptians and where Lyra first realises the real life consequences of the Gobblers (child-thiefs) when a gyptian child called Billy goes missing. Oxford is a city crammed full of literary secrets. I loved His Dark Materials as a child. It was one of the reasons I started writing. As an adult, Jericho is one of my favourite places in Oxford. So what better way to kick off Saward Abroad than by exploring why that is.

Walton Street, Jericho's main street

Walton Street, Jericho’s main street

Jericho is an area in the north-west of Oxford, located outside of where the old city walls where. It’s thought its name is linked to this fact: in Hebrew Jericho can mean ‘remote place’ and this suburb was remote from the city, providing a place for travellers to stay if they hadn’t made it inside the city limits after the gates had closed. It’s bounded on to the west by the Oxford Canal and for much of its history it’s been an industrial area with activity centred around the canal. The canal was built in 1790, though I do like Pullman’s version that ‘is of ancient construction’ and ‘was used as a ski-road by raiding parties of northern barbarians’ – if you haven’t already, check out Lyra’s Oxford for a seriously awesome alternate history of Jericho and the canal. A big part of the industry in Jericho was The Eagle Ironworks. It was founded in 1812 and ceased production in 2005. In 1854 the company that owned the foundry bought the freehold for the site from St John’s College (the wealthiest of Oxford University’s colleges, St John’s made most of its money from property and land). During the World Wars the factory produced munitions for the war effort. The site of the foundry has been developed into flats, to much local protest and controversy.

The whole area of Jericho has been the centre of a lot of protests against development. One of the most famous, that Philip Pullman got involved in back in 2008, surrounds the development of the disused Castlemill boatyard. The boatyard has stood derelict for over 10 years as various interested parties are fighting over just what to do with it. The city council has stated that anyone who wants to build here has to make provisions for the community (building a community centre for example) but most of the business who have bought and subsequently lost the site haven’t wanted to do this. A big part of the campaign is also to preserve the historic nature of the boatyard (If you’re interested in this campaign, you can check it out here. In a city like Oxford, where we’re almost spoilt for choice with historical sites, this might seem a little bit pedantic. But parts of the Oxford Canal have already been lost to developers (admittedly as far back as the 1950s) and to me, it’s a part of the city that it’s important to keep hold of.

The Oxford Canal

The Oxford Canal

One of the theories behind the building of the canal is that due to the Little Ice Age that caused exceptionally cold weather towards the end of the 1700s. This lead to prolonged, heavy snowfall blocking the roads, forcing the residents of Oxford to look for alternative means of bringing goods into the city. Enter the idea of a canal. This would provide a cheap, reliable and fast way to bring coal, raw materials and manufactured goods into the city from the industrial cities that were growing up in the Midlands. The canal connects Oxford to Hawkesbury which is just north of Coventry. Until the construction of the Grand Union Canal ended in 1794, the Oxford Canal was the quickest way to get from the Midlands down to London. It’s an important part of Oxford and England’s industrial past, and we should be fighting to preserve as much as possible! I’ve canoed down from Cropedy (a village about 30 miles north of Oxford) along the canal and it’s a beautiful trip, one that I’d recommend if you’ve got a weekend spare and enjoy being out on the water.

But back to Jericho. It’s become somewhat notorious for gentrification in recent years. It follows the fairly familiar story of starting out as a working class area. Lower rents attracted students who demanded more amenities, more cafes, and driving up the cost of rent in the process. It’s now one of Oxford’s most desirable areas, full of young professionals and chic cafes and bars.

There have been a few businesses that have weathered the storm however. The Jericho Café is a personal favourite of mine and not just because of their amazing gluten free salted caramel brownie (a product which could stand alone as a symbol of gentrification). It’s got an awesome atmosphere, does a solid cup of tea, serves up hot meals and also has tables outside in a gesture that’s ever hopeful in the British weather.

PhoenixThe Phoenix Picturehouse has been in Jericho since it opened as the North Oxford Kinema in 1913. While it’s not still an independent cinema (having been bought by Cineworld in 2012), it still retains the feel of being one and often shows art house and foreign language films. It hasn’t lapsed back to its brief 1970s adult film days, and instead screens more family friendly fare such as taking part in the recent Studio Ghibli Forever festival.

Looking at a slightly different Jericho institution, the Oxford University Press has been here for almost 200 years ago. The Press itself is much older than the area of the city, with the University being involved in the book trade since the 15th century. The rumour is that one of the architects of the Press’ current location, Daniel Robertson, liked a drink (two bottles of sherry if reports are to be believed) and was transported around the site in a wheelbarrow. OUP is the largest university press in the world and is the second-oldest, with Cambridge beating us by a few years. One of its most famous publications is probably the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s pretty awesome as an English Lit graduate to be so close to such a massive name in publishing.

G&DsReturning to eateries, I couldn’t write a post about Jericho without mentioning G and D’s. George and Davis’ on Little Clarendon Street is an Oxford institution (even making it into a Buzzfeed article last year). It’s a small Oxford chain that sells incredible and the one in Jericho was their first of three shops. It’s also where they make all their ice cream. They have a rotating menu of delicious flavours with a few stalwarts that stick around. Luckily my favourite, the Daim ice cream, is an almost constant offering. They stay open until midnight, which as someone who often works until 10pm means it’s a lifesaver. Nothing makes a late shift better than heading out for ice cream straight afterwards. Just over the road is Natural Bread, a recently discovered favourite that sells yerba mate (a South American brew that I was introduced to by my Argentinian Spanish teacher) as well as some delicious cakes and pastries.

Oxford wine cafe, JerichoMy final recommendation in Jericho is The Oxford Wine Café. It’s kind of pricey but that’s just drinking in Oxford. It’s got a really chill atmosphere, makes a wicked gin and tonic and I’m told also does a nice elderflower and vodka as well as (you probably guessed from the name) a wide variety of wines. They also do a gluten free, alcohol free beer which is the first time I’ve seen that anywhere. It’s open until midnight on a Friday and Saturday and is a short walk away from the city centre if you’re wanting to carry your night on elsewhere.

I hope I’ve shown you that Jericho is somewhere well worth venturing out of the centre of Oxford for. If you’re ever in Oxford, its worth making the ten minute walk up to explore this slightly less touristy area of the city.

 

 

© 2017 Saward Abroad

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑