Another year has come to a close. For some 2016 was the worst in living memory, I know we had a 'mixed bag' of a year, whilst for others 2016 was an unprecedented year of happiness. In this story we reflect on the first half of 2017. Let's get into it!
January - March
After having moved to South Korea in October of 2015, we were finally getting used to our new surroundings. I could read the language, if only to sound it out, and things were becoming less confusing.
In February, during the Seollal Holidays (Chinese New Year) we used our vacation to go to a country we honestly had never considered traveling to. Initially we had decided to have a 'staycation' but the chill of the -20 °C wind lead us to consider and escape warmer climates. By the end of January I was desperate to escape. I jumped on the internet put in the dates we had free and selected 'everywhere' as our destination - to find the cheapest option. The cheapest just happened to be Vladivostok, that's not what I was hoping for. Winter in Russia is probably worse than winter on the North/South Korea border, where we live.
Our second option was Taiwan. There was only 4 things I knew about Taiwan; 'made in Taiwan', bubble tea, dumplings, and that China claimed it formed part of their territories. It promised positive temperatures so we booked it. We spent 7 days in the Republic of China, as it is officially known, but their people, and for that reason myself, call it Taiwan. We visited Taipei; eating at Din Tai Fung, visiting Taipei 101, hiking Elephant Mountain to watch the sun set, and experiencing Chinese New Year Celebrations.
We also visited Tamsui, which is probably our least favourite travel moment from this trip. Thousands of Chinese tourists also thought it was a good idea to visit Tamsui on the same day as us. Just getting into the train station took an hour. It was crazy, beyond any crowd I have ever seen - and I am regularly in Seoul!
Our favourite city we visited during our Taiwan trip was Hualien. There we rented a scooter and had relaxed days exploring the national park, climbing down to waterfalls, and eating some of the best food of the trip. We loved the relaxed atmosphere of the city, and our hostel had a puppy - who doesn't love a puppy?
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, in April we visited Japan. Since we touched down in Korea, we had planned on crossing the small divide to see the land of the rising sun. Dean had wanted to visit for a long time. We could only manage a long weekend, so we set our sights on a modest whirlwind of Kyoto and Osaka.
I must confess my main objective in visiting Osaka was Universal Studios (USJ), and particularly the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was all my childhood/grownup fantasies come to life. The rides were amazing, the Forbidden Journey was possibly the best ride I have ever been on. It was so tumultuous that the earrings I wore pierced my head - but I didn't mind, it was all worth it. Hogsmede was complete with shops, including Olivanders, butterbeer and a real life owl - A REAL OWL!!!
In Kyoto we spent a day guided by our friend, Taku, who lives in Osaka. We visited the Gion district and Fushimi Inari. It was enough to whet our appetite and know we had not dedicated enough time to adequately find out what it was all about, we left vowing to return. Back in Osaka, we explored Namba and Dontonbori on foot, eating everything we saw.
April - June
The remaining portion of the first half of the year was taken up with work - boring! We were left to recall our travel memories to get us through.
In mid June my mother arrived in South Korea for a two-ish week visit. It was my first overseas visitor and I was excited to be able to show someone around. High on the priority list was the insanely famous 'dog cafes' of Seoul. We also visited a cat cafe too - though let's all admit that dogs are initially more affectionate, whereas cats take a little time to warm. I took Mum to explore Hanok villages, traditional and modern parts of Seoul, and exposed her to all of the important delicacies of Korean cuisine.
In early July we went to Busan - see Part Two for July - December, including our trip to Busan and the big adventure of the year!