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White Girls Can’t Jump

22 Apr
'Spread your wings like an eagle and fly like a brick'

‘Spread your wings like an eagle and fly like a brick’

Despite a small fear of heights, I’ve always had an incline to do a bungee jump and a skydive and always just thought I would get round to doing them in Australia. But then a few months ago I thought ‘why wait until Australia?’ and went about finding where I could bungee jump in Scotland.

I came across Highland Fling (what a brilliant name for a bungee jump company!) based in Killiecrankie, just 3 miles from Pitlochry, and they boast at 132 ft, the only bridge bungee jump in Scotland. Preferring the idea of jumping over water, rather than concrete, this was the one for me.

Team Bungee

Team Bungee

Along side the jump, myself and two friends, Allana and Valerie, decided to raise some money for a local charity close to us all – Ayrshire Cancer Support. Our initial target was £500, but thanks to some very generous donations from our friends and family, we smashed that target and raised over £2,500! Wow.

So on the first Saturday in April, we went up to the bridge over the River Garry in Killiecrankie and jumped off it! Despite being nervous before hand, when I got up to the platform suspended underneath the bridge and saw all the jumpers getting harnessed in, and all the safety routines and checks carried out by the 5 guys, all my fears went away and I was ready to enjoy it. So on the final words of my guide, ‘spread your wings like an eagle and fly like a brick’, I jumped!

I Once Ran Away With the Gypsies

3 Apr

I’ve been slacking on the ol’ blog posts the past few months, so I’m trying to catch up… watch out for posts on Belfast, Berlin, hats, bungee jumping and Ibiza, but for now here’s a bit on Dublin!

Molly Malone stands with her cart at the end of Grafton Street

Molly Malone stands with her cart at the end of Grafton Street

I’ve been to Dublin several times over the years, the first time when I was 17 and my first of many seasons working at Loudoun Castle Theme Park. Back then , the Cadonas – a well-known ‘travelling’ family in Scotland (also known as gypsies) – owned the theme park, and at the end of every season, they packed up the rides and took them to Dublin, Limerick and Cork, then on to Dubai for the Winter. Being short on willing travellers that year, they asked me to go to Dublin with them. My parents weren’t too happy about it… and that’s how I once ran away with the gypsies.

Two weeks in a luxury trailer in Clondalkin – one of the roughest parts of Dublin, working 4 hours a night in a burger van for 400 euro a week, 17-year-old, impressionable me thought I had it made! It was an experience and a half, but apart from a couple of shopping trips to Grafton Street and a handful of drunken nights in the infamous Red Cow on the M50, I didn’t get to see much of Ireland’s fair city.

A busker plays his tin flute on Dame Street

A busker plays his tin flute on Dame Street

Then, when I started Uni at Dundee the year after I made a load of Irish mates and have since spent many a memorable weekend in Ireland – Belfast, Derry, Ballymena, Donegal, Meath, Dublin, Newry, Coleraine – to name a few. But again, never to see much of what Dublin has to offer – aside the pubs that is.

So when I planned my mini Irish adventure over the Christmas holidays there (Dublin – Belfast – Donegal) I made sure I had some time to finally be a tourist in one of my favourite cities.

I had already arranged to meet up with and stay with Uni friends, but I had half a day to myself to do as I please. I set off from my hotel in Temple bar early doors, and walked along Dame Street to Trinity College, not having a lot of time, I resisted the urge to go in and see the book of Kells. Instead I stopped to greet Molly Malone at the bottom of Grafton Street before having breakfast at a nearby pub. After that, I walked along to Merrion Square where a memorial to Oscar Wilde can be found perched on a rock with a drink in hand in the corner of the park. It’s a nice quiet spot to sit and read some of his many famous quotes, my favourite being – “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”.

Oscar Wilde hanging out in Merrion Square

Oscar Wilde hanging out in Merrion Square

I then walked down to St Stephen’s Green, along to St Patrick’s Cathedral, onto the famous Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle and St Audden’s Gate. Crossing the River Liffey, I walked along it and up by the fruit market to the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square – a memorial to “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”. Finally I walked down O’Connell Street, by the Spire (completely missed the Post Office – doh!) and back to Temple Bar to meet my friend Sarah and get on the rip.

Outside the iconic gates of the Guinness Storehouse

Outside the iconic gates of the Guinness Storehouse

By 6pm, a few too many baby Guinness and some new friends made later, I had to get myself over to my other friend, Lynsey’s place down at the docklands, to head out with her and her friends for her birthday – the rest of the night can only be described as a blur. But as the saying goes, when in Rome…

The next day I was as rough as a dog and on the bus to Belfast – but that’s for another time.

A view across the River Liffey

A view across the River Liffey

The famous Temple Bar

The famous Temple Bar

Glamping on Geoje

12 Jun

Summer is finally here! Oh yeh! I don’t care if it’s too hot to sleep or that I sweat 24 hours a day, summer means an average temp of 30 degrees, I can get my tan on and I can go outside without having to wear gloves!

Gujora Beach

I officially kicked off summer a few weeks ago when I went camping on the island of Geoje with some friends. Geoje-do (‘do’ is Korean for island) is the second largest island in South Korea after Jeju. It’s only 70 miles south of Daegu but it is a bit of a mission to get. A 2 hour bus journey from Seobu bus terminal in Daegu (at Seongdangmot subway) to Tongyeong (12,000 won), transfer there for another 30 minute bus ride to Geoje (3,000 won), then a 25 minute taxi to our destination – Gujora beach (20,000 won split 3 ways). Alternatively you can get a bus for the last leg, but it takes an hour…

We got a wee bit carried away with the face paints

The mission was worth it, clean-ish beach (cleaner than any I’ve even been to in the UK anyway), cracking view, good weather, lots of drink, makgeolli funnels, BBQ, banter and body paints! The night ended by singing Oasis songs round a camp fire.  Why doesn’t every night end that way?

Wall murals in Gujora Beach town

And here is a map showing where Geoje is:

Geoje

Chocolate eggs no more

25 May

Since I was almost at the legal drinking age, and the chocolate eggs were no more, Easter Sunday meant bank holiday Monday, and therefore you could find me ‘religiously’ sitting in a beer garden with my friends, enjoying a drink or two… But not this year! Easter Sunday started with a 6am rise to make it to downtown to the 10k start line.

Posing for a photo with some ‘fans’ after the race

It was HOT, and despite my training, I can assure you no personal best was recorded! Done by 9.30am, me and my cousin headed back to my apartment to paint our boiled eggs and head up Palgongsan* (Daegu’s biggest mountain) to roll them down.

Ready for the mountain!

This was not the sole reason for going up the mountain. I had been wanting to visit Donghwasa Temple for a while. I’d heard about the large standing buddha, and along with the many colourful lanterns decorating the temple in preparation for Buddha’s birthday at the end May, we weren’t disappointed.

BIG Buddha at Donghwasa Temple

A monk on a bike!

Lanterns decorate the temple for Buddha’s birthday

 

I have a weird fascination with the eves of temples….

*How to get to Palgongsan: Take the red subway line to Ayanggyo, then take the number 1 bus. It should cost about 1,200 won, and after about 40 minutes Palgongsan is the last stop.

Two burst balls in Busan

22 May

When my cousin was still here, we went down to Busan for the day. Still hungover from another night on the makgeolli, we didn’t get there until 3 in the afternoon – we are officially the worst tourists!

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (the water temple)

With limited time, we went on several recommendations to visit Haedong Yonggungsa temple (the water temple), having already seen our fair share of temples, we were reluctant to make the hour-long bus ride out from Busan Station to reach it, but boy are we glad we did!

A monk broadcasting a chant from a prayer chamber

Built into the rocks beside the sea is what makes this temple so unique, as most temples are built in the mountains.  As is the way with every tourist attraction in Korea, it was swarming with Koreans – they love an outdoor activity! But even the crowds and the temporary scaffolding didn’t detract from the beautiful setting. What a stunning sight.

By the time we got back into the centre of Busan it was nearly 7pm. We were on a self-imposed curfew because we were running a 10k in Daegu the next day, so we really only had time to visit the fish market. But not just any fish market, only the world-famous Jagalchi Fish Market!

Jagalchi Fish Market: A man who loves his job

The ground floor was where the fish came in off the boats and all the various restaurants could be found upstairs. Quite literally from the sea to your plate. We opted for some seafood shabu shabu – a Japanese version of a hot-pot where you cook the meat, veg or seafood in the big pot of broth in the middle of the table. Along came the seafood, everything from giant muscles, scallops, snails and a live octopus… and being as ‘curious’ as I am, I removed the tongs (I later learned they were for keeping it grounded in the bowl) to take a photo of it and the little blighter squirmed right out of the bowl and onto the floor! What a fright I got! But I got my own back when I cooked it and ate it. Yum.

Seafood shabu shabu

By the time we finished dinner, we only had time for a wee wander round the night markets and a quick gander up to Busan Tower – where we saw a great panoramic of the city at night. A peaceful ending to a hectic day.

Busan Tower

Extreme Sightseeing in Seoul

11 May

Padlocks smothering the fence along the observation deck at Namsan Tower, Seoul

At the end of March I took another trip up to Seoul to meet my second and third visitors to Korea. My cousin Nic came over from Oz and my friend Arlene from home came on her way back from New Zealand…  I was so excited to see these guys!  And lucky for me, they arrived within a day of each other so I didn’t have to do all the tourist stuff twice.

On the Saturday we went to North Korea (yep really, see last post), so Sunday was dedicated to Seoul, but after too many soju’s and makgeolli’s the night before, Sunday did not get off to the best start. Not one to be defeated by a hangover, I downed my Paris Baguette ice-drink , gulped down the painkillers and appointed myself chief tourism coordinator for the day… with the help of  my friend Ellen – a gal who knows her way around Seoul.

Namsan Tower

Namsan Tower
First on the list was Namsan Tower (or N Tower/ Seoul Tower).  At 237 metres tall, it is a communication and observation tower located on Namsan Mountain, where you can see the city stretch out for miles and miles. You can take the scenic cable car up or the steps, but being hungover as we were, we took a taxi. There’s a rotating observation deck and restaurant at the top of the tower, which you can go up for a small fee. But the non-moving observation deck at the foot of the tower was quite enough for us hungover lot.

The view over Seoul from Namsan Tower

My pilgrimage to H&M
Next stop was Meong-dong. It’s one of the main shopping districts in Seoul, and more importantly, where the only two H&M’s in Korea can be found! After a power shop around the 4 floors of H&M I came out 70,000 won lighter and a bag full of new clothes!

Hanging with the guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace


The Royal Palace (Gyeongbokgung)

After a quick dukboki refuel we headed to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is the royal palace, which is really just a big temple, and it’s in the middle of modern Seoul surrounded by skyscrapers and the likes. First constructed in 1394, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty (Wikipedia). Gyeongbokgung translates as ‘Palace of Shining Happiness’, but as far as temples go, it’s not the prettiest/ most interesting I’ve been to (the Doi Saket in Chang Mai in Thailand is still top of my list), but it is still worth the 3,000 won (£1.80) admission fee even if just to appreciate the sheer size of the place. And the guards are good for a photo too!

Inside Gyeongbokgung Palace

Playing dress up


Insadong

Wilting and getting hungry, we headed over to Insadong for lunch. Insadong is a popular area for us tourists as it claims to have 40 percent of the nation’s antique shops and art galleries as well as 90 percent of the traditional stationery shops (Wikipedia again). Not to mention the oldest bookstore in Seoul and the oldest tea house! (Haud me back!) Even without all the mind-blowing stats, it’s a quirky wee area where you can buy traditional Korean souvenirs and see some street performers do their thing. I bought my wee Aunt Anne’s birthday card here.

Lunch time in Insadong


Two for a pound!

The final stop of the day was DongDaemun market – the biggest market in Seoul. It’s MASSIVE. But by this point we were done in, and the endless streets of markets and underground shopping centres where just far to big to even make a dent on that late in the day. You’d need a whole day there just to look around it! After half an hour we gave in, defeated.

Absolutely shattered, I said goodbye to the girls and headed to Seoul Station to catch the KTX back to Daegu, scared to check my bank balance, but chuffed with what we managed to accomplish. See you again soon Seoul!

The day I went to North Korea

18 Apr

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated with North Korea and how little the rest of the world know about it. I’m both fascinated and saddened by what I read, and since coming to South Korea my curiosity has only increased.

A South Korean soldier keeps watch over North Korea

Having done some research before I left Scotland, I knew that you could only visit the North as part of an expensive organised tour where you had to be accompanied by a government official the whole time (except when in your hotel room) and the tour guide only told you what they wanted to tell you. This option didn’t appeal to me. The only other way you can visit North Korea is by going to the Joint Security Area (JSA), or Panmunjon as it’s also known.

Hanging out at the DMZ


The DMZ

The JSA is the jointly controlled truce village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. The DMZ is a strip of land that runs across the whole 160 mile (25okm) breadth of the Koreas. At 2.5 miles (4km) wide, it  acts as a buffer zone between North and South Korea and it has been in place since the cease-fire in 1953. Technically the countries are still at war since no peace treaty was ever signed, which is why it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. Exciting stuff.

The Tour

After much deliberation in deciding which tour to do, I booked the combined tour run by TourDMZ for myself, my cousin, and two friends, and at 120,000 won (about £70) for a full day tour – it was well worth the money! The  tour  included the 3rd infiltration tunnel, the Dora Observatory, Dorasan Train Station, Imjingak (Freedom bridge), the JSA and the Bridge of No Return’…. and not forgetting the lovely Laura – our English speaking tour guide. She was a cracker!

Point to note: you need to book 4 days advance incase your nationality is on the restricted list and additional background checks are needed.
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