Tuesday, January 31, 2012

대관령 눈꽃 축제 Daegwallyeong Snow Festival 2012

This is my second year to attend the Daegwallyong Snow Festival and just as last year, it was lots of fun.  Last year, the weather was really clear and sunny which made for great views of the snow sculptures. This year it was actually snowing at the snow festival, which sounds nice, but actually made it hard to see the sculptures as the snow was sticking to them.

 Year of the Dragon snow sculpture

But, that doesn't mean it wasn't worth seeing. This year, is the Year of the Dragon, and so the main snow sculpture here was a giant dragon right in the middle of the festival grounds. For a few thousand won you could hop on a sleigh and have a few high speed spins around the dragon on a real horse drawn sleigh.

Horse-drawn sleigh 

Other events included two different kinds of sledding, one with a tube and one with a sled, getting a ride on a giant rubber sled pulled by a snow mobile, and a bouncy jumping apparatus.

 Tube sledding

Rubber sled pulled by a snowmobile


 Bouncy jumping apparatus

 Snow tunnel

Igloos for rent

Haven't you ever wanted to sleep in an igloo? At the festival you can actually rent an igloo for 24 hours and fulfill your dream. Unfortunately they're not actually made of ice.... 

 Hanoo, Korean beef

We spied a few interesting characters wandering around the festival grounds too...

Photo op

They seemed like rather friendly folk until we caught one trying to steal some potatoes roasting on a grill. The potato roasting man defended his grill, though, magnificently. 

If only that snowman had just read the sign... the potatoes were free with any small donation. Perhaps snowmen don't have pockets to carry money around...

We meant to pick up some of these yummy looking potatoes, but we were still full from lunch and forgot to come back later...

 Jolly snowmen or conniving thieves?

A Floridian enjoying the snow...

But, really, the most fun at any snow festival is actually playing in the snow, and snowballs were being tossed all around and impromptu snowman building could be seen everywhere. 

Unfortunately, the snow festival has finished already, but the snow sculptures will probably be there until the warm weather returns, which, in Daegwalleong isn't usually until mid-spring as this is the coldest part of Korea at an altitude of 700m above sea level. If you happen to be visiting Yongpyong or Alpensia ski resorts, be sure to check out the festival grounds in the town of Hoenggye at the base of these resorts.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seollal Activities at Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village at the base of Namsan in Seoul offers many cultural events and usually has fun events on Korean holidays. This Seollal, (Lunar New Year) was no different, and they held events every day during the four day holiday weekend. I went over to check out the festivities on Tuesday, the last day of the Seollal holiday.

There were plenty of hands on activities for kids and grown-ups alike. First thing I tried was telling my fortune for the new year with the sticks used to play Yut-Nori.

Unfortunately, my fortune for the new year is not looking so good. It told me that I would not be able to accomplish my goals this year because I am lacking the tools to complete my goal. Not too good, though I don't know how much I should trust these giant plastic sticks.

Another activity was making a new year's wish by writing a message on a piece of colored paper and tying to to the strings. Perhaps I should have wished for a better new year's fortune....

Namsangol Hanok Village always has fun, traditional games to play. Here you can see people trying their luck spinning the traditional Korean top called 팽이치기 (Paengi Chigi). This top is spun by hitting it with a whip to keep it spinning as long as possible. It's harder than it looks!

And, of course, it wouldn't be Seollal without a good game of 윳노리 (Yut-Nori). This game is quite simple to play once you learn the rules. Sticks are thrown instead of dice and whether the sticks fall flat side up or round side up decides how many places you can move. The first team to get all four playing pieces back to start is the winner!

But, the most interesting part of the day for me was the performances of traditional Korean dances and instrumental performances. 

Even a little less traditional group made it in the mix, these Korean B-Boys had their own take on traditional dancing by using fans and dancing to a modern song that used some traditional Korean instruments as well.  

Below is a video of some of the performances, including the B-boys. Enjoy!

To see past events from Namsangol Hanok Village, see my previous posts:

Korean Traditional Food Festival
Traditional Korean Wedding

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Amazing Sights in Istanbul

I have to say, I've been to a lot of cities in the world, but I don't know if I ever had such love at first sight as I did in Istanbul. Even on the days where I didn't have much to do because of bad weather, I was just content to be in the city. There was just something magical about it. Delicious food, ancient history, fun night life, cheap prices, kind, friendly people... I couldn't find anything wrong with the place actually, except for the fact that it rained 3 out of the 4 days I was there. Here are just a few of the amazing sights of the city besides the most famous Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque.

 Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern. This was where water was stored during Roman times. Now when you enter, they just keep a little water in the bottom so you get the idea, but originally, this would have been filled with water. It's beautiful down there, though, and there are two Medusa heads which draw the most attention from the crowds besides the cheesy tourist stuff that has been put in to bring in a few more bucks.

One of two Medusa heads in the Basilica Cistern

The Bosphorus Ferry. Istanbul is divided into two sides, the Asian/Anatolian side and the European side. The two sides are split by the Bosphorus Strait which is considered the boundary between Europe and Asia. There are several bridges that cross, but to get to most places, it's generally easier to take a ferry. It's cheap and ferries run often and take between 10-20 minutes to cross. It's fun to take the ferry because you can see Istanbul from a different view, plus enjoy a hot cay (pronounced chai, it's tea) while you enjoy the scenery.

Turkish flag off the side of the boat with a view of the European side in the background

Sunset over the European side of the Bosphorus from the ferry

Ferry at night with bridge in background

 Hand weaving a carpet in a shop window

Carpet Shops. Though I didn't dare enter any carpet shops because I knew they were way out of my price range, there are carpet vendors aplenty in Istanbul. I'm no expert, but if you know your stuff, this would probably be the place to buy carpets. Unfortunately, I personally would never be able to tell the difference between the handwoven carpets or the factory made carpets so I didn't really bother. 

The Spice Bazaar. This market, turned tourist destination is quite famous, but I personally couldn't stay in here for more than a few minutes. Every stall has hawkers outside trying to talk to you and bring you into their shop. But, if you want to buy some spices or Turkish delight, this isn't a bad place to check out.

Taksim. Not so far from all the ancient wonders like the Grand Bazaar and the Aya Sofia lies Taksim, Istanbul's hip shopping, restaurant and nightlife district. From tourist shops to name brands and everything in between, you can find it here in Taksim. Lots of upscale restaurants and local cheap spots can be found if you take some side turns off into the allyways off the main street. There are several streets just lined with clubs and bars, both places I went to had live music which was really cool.

Traditional Sweets. I didn't really know what Turkish delight was before I got here but the best way to find out for me was to go in to some of the shops in Taksim and try some free samples. I personally decided that it wasn't really my favorite and the high prices in the shops in Taksim made me choke a little. If you are a fan of the stuff, I recommend buying it outside of the touristic areas, the prices get a little more reasonable there. Oh, and be sure to buy it fresh, not pre-packaged! What I did fall in love with was baklava. Again, I couldn't afford it in the tourist areas, but as I got out of Istanbul the prices got lower and lower until I reached Trabzon where I found a little bakery that sold it for 6 Lira/ Kilo (Less than 4.00 USD) which was ridiculously cheap especially compared to the 25 Lira/ Kilo they were charging in Istanbul in the tourist areas. 

Gelata Tower. This tower, built in 1348 was once the tallest structure in the city. Though it of course can no longer claim that title it is still a beautiful landmark not far from Taksim. Apparently if you go up there is a restaurant and cafe that holds performances, though I didn't check it out.

Istanbul was one of my all time favorite travel destinations of all time and I could easily see myself living there. There are English jobs a plenty there, though they don't pay nearly as well as Korea, Japan or Taiwan. Living expenses, though, seem quite reasonable and it seems like a pretty nice place to live. Guess I have to add another thing to my bucket list.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aya Sofia and The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Before going to Istanbul I really didn't know much about the city, but I knew I had to see the Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia). I think I remember it from my history class from high school as being known as the most beautiful building in the world or something like that. After visiting, I would say that it probably isn't the most beatuiful building in the world, but it is certainly worth checking out.

For those who don't know much about the Aya Sofia, it was the largest Cathedral in the world for about 1,000 years. The current structure was completed in 537 and served as the Greek Patriarchal Cathedral of Constantinople until the Ottomans took over the city in 1453 and converted it to a mosque. It is considered to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture and  served as a model for many later churches and mosques.

The main dome is massive and stands at an impressive 55.6 meters (182 ft). It's interesting to read the history of the church, various parts have been destroyed over the years, but they just kept rebuilding and improving the structure every time to make the building stronger and stronger.

Today the Aya Sofia is now a museum so that Muslims and Christians alike can appreciate the history and beauty of the building. They have tried to keep a healthy balance of uncovering the Christian mosaics and frescos while preserving the Islamic art which covered much of the Christian images.

If you look out the front door of the Aya Sofia, you can't miss the Blue Mosque which was built directly in front of the Aya Sofia. The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) was built in 1609 by the Sultan Ahmet I. You can see that the architecture style was, in part, modeled after the Aya Sofia.

Unlike the Aya Sofia which has been convereted into a museum, the Blue Mosque is still a functioning mosque and therefore visitors must show a little respect when entering. Women should wear a head scarf, cover their legs and arms. Everyone must take of their shoes before entering.

As I first learned while in Spain this summer, Islamic art is just stunning. While you will never see icons as you would in Catholic or Orthodox churches, the repeated patterns and the Arabic writing used to make designs is quite stunning.

Many people argue that the Blue Mosque is even more beautiful than the Aya Sofia. For me, you can't compare them, they are like apples and oranges. But, they are both worth seeing while in Istanbul.

Admission into the Aya Sofia is 20 Lira, which was about $12.00 USD when I was there. Audio guides are available and there are many licensed guides milling about the entrance who also offer tours in many languages. It would have been nice to have a guide, but I just did it on my own and was happy enough. As the Blue Mosque is a functioning mosque, you should be wary not to enter during prayer times. Those times change every day, but are around sun rise, mid morning, noon, mid afternoon and evening. There is no charge to enter, but you must stay within one area for viewing if you are entering as a tourist, not a worshiper.

Monday, January 23, 2012

설날 (Lunar New Year) 2012

 Setting up the table for the 차례 ceremony 

We woke up this morning early to have the 차례 or ceremony for the ancestors as we do every 설날.  This is now the third Lunar New Year that I have celebrated with the boyfriend's family and there's no point in rehashing too many details, since it's been done before. This year we were much better about the 세배 or bowing to elders. In past years we quite nearly forgot to do it, but this year directly after the ancestor ceremony we bowed to Halmoni and the boyfriend's father. I'm not quite sure why, but he gave me money, along with the kids. I tried really hard to give it back, adults don't get money, just kids, but he wouldn't take it. It's a bit awkward since I'm only a year or two older than his oldest grandchildren... Then we cleared this table and brought all the food out to eat breakfast. Note the lack of 떡국 (rice cake soup) here, the grandfather which we honor in the 차레 never liked ddeok-guk and therefore we don't prepare it in the morning on Seollal like most families.

Burning the names of the ancestors remembered at the ceremony

 After breakfast, we headed up the mountain to visit the grandfather's grave. In Korean this tradition is called 성묘- Seongmyo .  We brought some food and rice wine up, did our bowing, had a snack and a drink before heading back down as it was way too cold to spend much time there. Today's temperature was about -8˚C.

We decided to visit the temple quickly, too before heading back home since it is just a minute drive up the hill from where the grandfather is buried. Though I've been to this temple several times before, I like it a lot since it is not a touristy kind of place, it kind of just feels like home. We were the only ones around so I took the opportunity to take a few photos.

After our visit to the temple, we just went back to the house and relaxed. We played lots of Go-Stop, watched some movies and ate lots of ddeok and fruit. Lunch was 떡국 and we gained another year as we ate the soup, making me now 28 years old, Korean age.

I hope all my readers had a good 설날. Tomorrow I hope to get to Namsan Hanok Village to catch some of the activities happening over there. What did you do for 설날?