Tag Archives: winter

YongPyong Resort – A Winter Wonderland

23 Dec

Last weekend my friend Sonja and I headed to Phoenix Park and Yongpyong resort for a mini vacation. It was so good to get away for a few days and the scenery up in the mountains was spectacular.

We spent all day saturday hitting the slopes in Phoenix Park ski resort which has a great variety of slopes to suit all levels. Everything was so easily accesible even the laziest skier in the world could not complain!

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You could literally ski straight down any slope and into a Dunkin Donuts, Coffee shop or Apres Ski bar. The ski rental place was less than 5 minutes walk from the chair lifts and there is even a youth hostel overlooking the slopes.

As we went as part of a WinK tour group, we got amazing discounts on both ski rental and lift passes. The full day including skis, jacket and pants and lift pass was only 50,000 won (about 30 euro) which you really can’t beat. Even though it was very busy and there were groups of school kids and students everywhere, the queues remained pretty short throughout the day which I was very impressed by.

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After a long days skiing on only about 2-3 hours sleep we were absolutely shattered come 6pm. Luckily all we had to do was sit on a bus and relax as we headed to our hostel which is part of the YongPyong ski resort. Following quick showers and naps, a big group of us all headed out for a delicious pork BBQ dinner.

Another relatively late night of bowling, arcade games, socializing and making new friends meant come 8am Sunday morning nothing (not even giant chocolate muffins and hot tea) were getting me out of bed. Maybe it was a waste, maybe it could be considered laziness, but in a move to help my aching muscles and tired body recover, I opted out of skiing at YongPyong and decided the spa and waterpark was more to my liking.

Again thanks to WinK we got an amazing discount price, and only ended up paying 10,000 won to enter. What we discovered inside…and more specifically outside…meant we knew within seconds we had made the right decision!
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Outside the waterpark, was an assortment of hot tubs full of various colored, scented and therapeutic water. Oh, and thanks to the fact that it’s winter, all surrounded in snow!

Sitting in rose scented jacuzzi with the sun shining brightly while taking in the breathtaking, snow covered surroundings was an incredible experience. We literally sat outside, dashing through the snow from pool to pool, for about 2 hours. In fact we were enjoying ourselves so much we failed to realise how sunburned our faces were becoming. Small price to pay for a little taste of paradise in the mountains!

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Big is Beautiful – Except in South Korea

16 Oct

Last weekend was a disaster.  Total disaster.

It actually started on a high note as I had just been paid and was looking forward to doing some serious damage in the shops around Seoul on Saturday. The weather has been changing pretty quickly and while Autumn has well and truly arrived, Winter also appears to be fast approaching. I have been prancing around in flimsy summer dresses for the past 3 months but now that every one around me has started covering up and starting wearing wooly jumpers and winter boots, I decided it was about time I started investing in a new winter wardrobe.

I have also not been to a hair dresser since I left home in June, so you can imagine how badly I need both hair cut and a color to cover up those awful brown roots! I made an appointment for Juno Hair Salon in Myeongdong as I has seen rave reviews online and a few of my friends had been to Juno hair salons and only had positive things to say.

Saturday arrived and I was excited about the day of shopping that lay ahead. I took the train to Myeongdong, which is the top destination for shoping in Seoul, with 100′s if not 1,000′s of clothes, shoe and beauty stores to choose from. The atmosphere alone puts a smile on my face. Well, it did up until last weekend anyway.

I headed straight to Juno hair and was seated in a waiting area where I was offered a drink of my choice and handed an iPad which had a huge array of photography of celebrities. I was told, in broken English, that I could pick any celebrity hairstyle I liked. Out of all 200 choice, there was not 1 curly blowdry, which is the exact style that suits me and the exact style I was looking for. I quickly browsed my phone and showed them what I wanted, saying I wanted a color and a cut.

The scene of the "Hair Humiliation".

The scene of the “Hair Humiliation”.

After a 20 minute wait I sat down with a stylist and explained what I wanted. He took one look at my hair and told me, “Your hair is dangerous. It is dangerous!”. Wow, thanks, just what i wanted to hear!! How on earth can my hair be DANGEROUS?! It seemed he wasn’t keen on dying my hair blonde (considering EVERY other person in the salon had black hair, I wasn’t THAT disappointed for fear they may also dye mine black!) so we agreed that a cut was all I needed.

I was handed over to another girl who washed my hair, continued to comment on how dangerous my hair was and complained that I had “too many hairs”. Now anyone that knows me knows that I have thick hair, but you know what it’s my hair and I love it just the way it is. To be sat in a Korean hair salon for over 2 hours and be repeatedly told negative things about my hair was far from the ideal Saturday I had imagined. About half an hour later I was informed that they were doing a treatment on my hair (yes, they had ALREADY started) and that it would cost me 90,000 won. I was pretty annoyed, as you can imagine, but as they know best I Iet it slide and hoped it would be a good treatment and help the condition of my hair. At this point I was told that the cut would cost 25,000 and the treatment 90,000.

After 2 hours of washing, treatments (part of which had me feeling like I was in a sci-fi movie!), discussing and a lot of waiting, it was finally time to dry my hair, Another woman (person number 4 so far!) was assigned to do this and she just kept saying I had “too many hairs” and making funny looks as she dried my hair in a way that made me look like Mufasa from the Lion King. Not quite the look I was looking for. She then took out a pretty crappy looking curling iron and spent the next 45 minutes, begrudgingly, curling my hair. A few more nasty comments here and there about the quality of my scalp, the quantity of my hairs and a few disgusted looks and I was ready to RUN out of the hair salon with my anger levels soaring and my self-esteem at an all time low.

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A scene from a Sci-Fi Movie? No, just a Korean hair salon!

But before I escaped from this hell hole I was given my bill, which was FAR more than the agreed amount. A questioned the discrepancy and the receptionist informed me it was because I had “so many hairs”. I reluctantly paid up but not before swearing to myself that I would write a damning blog about this salon and NEVER return for round two of “hair humiliation”.

My hair looked pretty good, but it was not the style I wanted and I knew it would not last more than a few hours without going frizzy, I still had my horrible brown roots, and I was 130,000 won out-of-pocket.  :-(

I decided some retail therapy would cheer me up. I was heading out with some friends in Iteawon and Hongdae that night so went in search of some shoes and maybe a new dress. After enquiring in about 15 shoe shops if they had my size (Korean 160, UK size 7) I was told by one less-than-friendly shop owner, “No shop in Korea does that size. Too big”. Not only did I know that was a lie but I was less than impressed with her attitude.

Looking for Big Shoes? You're in the WRONG country!

Looking for Big Shoes? You’re in the WRONG country!

I finally went in search of Payless Shoes, an American shoe chain that sold shoes of a questionable quality but in BIG BIG sizes. After an hour of searching, and browsing various blogs for directions, I eventually found the shell that was Payless shoes up until October 1st 2013. That’s right, turns out a store that sells large sizes just couldn’t hack in downtown Myeongdeong. :-( Bad news for all you fellow big-footed expats!

I had failed to buy shoes so decided new clothes would have to do instead. Most of the smaller stores had nothing that would even remotely fit me and some were even reluctant let me in the store…I am pretty tall I guess, and from their perspective I have hips that belong to an ape rather than an average Korean woman. I eventually gave up and went to meet my friends feeling pretty exhausted and annoyed, cursing my genes for giving me big feet, big hair and a height of 5 foot 10 Inches.

Turns out “Big is Beautiful….except in South Korea”.

Sunsets – Warming up the Irish Winter

10 Dec

cobh sunset

cork sunset

Birds at sunset

Lost in Latvia!

6 Mar

This is a travel article I wrote that was published in Backpacker Europe Magazine about….6 years ago! 

Have you ever been ice-skating at 5am? Have you ever dunked your head into a frozen Baltic river when the temperature is -19° Celsius? Have you ever tasted the diverse and unfamiliar food that is Latvian cuisine? Well, we have!

Contrary to people’s pre-conceived ideas about Eastern Europe, it must be said that Latvia truly is a hidden treasure. When the idea of a class trip to Latvia first arose, many of my classmates had reservations and cast forth images of cold winters, soviet bunkers and poverty. However, after a little research and a lot of persuasion on my behalf, a group of 22 jetted off in anticipation of arriving in a winter wonderland.

Following the directions given to us (pre-departure) by the very hospitable Frank, we arrived safely in our hostel. We were welcomed whole-heartedly with free beers for one and all. After settling into our cosy dorms overlooking the snow-covered Deguava River, we were ready to make tracks and discover Riga. We were not disappointed.

Soon after setting off, we stumbled upon an ice rink where we only had to pay the equivalent of 50 cent for one hour’s ice skating. After an hour full of fun and frolics (in my case much of this time was spent on my backside), hunger set in. We ventured en masse through the old town, along narrow and winding streets, past beautiful buildings, before descending upon ‘Lido’ – a buffet style restaurant specialising in a Latvian fayre. Suddenly decades melted away, and the wait staff appeared, all dressed in traditional Latvian costume.

After paying the total owing per head (a grand total of less than €3 per person!), we strolled along to a Local Latvian club, where Frank’s hostel staff had pre-arranged free entry for the entire gang. With vodka and cocktails flowing like water into the early hours of the morning, it has to be said that what we remember of our first night in Riga was unforgettable!

At around 4am, one bright spark suggested that we go ice-skating by the light of the silvery moon. This newfound hobby, it appears, was to become a nightly ritual for the duration of our stay. For four nights in a row, the night was never over until we had strutted our stuff on the ice rink! Even then the Latvian nights were not complete. A lively ménage of travellers in our 24-hour hostel bar kept the place buzzing, exchanging stories and experiences until sunrise.

Our second day in the Latvian capital saw us exploring its bustling open-air market, and local landmarks. The Church tower permitted celestial views of Riga and beyond from on high. The Museum of the occupation of Latvia was an eye opener. While there some classmates experienced the once in a lifetime opportunity of shooting loaded AK47s from a real soviet bunker – something never to be forgotten!

That night our first destination of choice was The Skyline Bar on the 27th floor of Hotel Latvia. Ascending floor by floor in an elevator taken directly from Willy Wonkas’ chocolate factory, views were spectacular. Later we set off for what had been described as one of the biggest and most happening clubs in the Baltic states-Club Essential!

There were so many rooms and dance floors within this amazing labyrinth of tunes that I was lost within minutes. There was music for all tastes and space for the entire world to dance, or so it seemed. After boogying until closing time (6am), we went for a refreshing round of the ice rink. 

Returning home well after 9am, we decided it was a ‘do or die situation’. We decided to salvage the day ahead. summoning up any remaining energy we set off for the mountains an hour from Riga. Sigulda was our destination of choice – renowned for its bobsleigh tracks.

The quaint town was a huge contrast to Riga. Suddenly we were in a winter wonderland and there were Christmas decorations everywhere we looked. Falling snowflakes persuaded us to purchase bum boards in a local super market and venture into a nearby forest for some fun in the snow. As it got darker, our sense of adventure heightened and we flew down hillsides like the children that we used to be!

Our trip to Latvia was unforgettable. Old Riga is a beautiful place but in order to experience the full picture, a trip to the countryside is a must. Almost a year has passed since our trip and not a day has passed without one of us reminiscing, about the true hidden treasure that is Latvia.

Time Lapse Photography

29 Feb

This was my first attempt at time-lapse photography on my Gopro. I set the camera to take a photo every 2 seconds, edited them on iMovie to playback in high speed, added some pretty music and VOILA!  

Lesson learned? Take more photos!! Oh and clouds are freaking cool! :)

Snap Happy Sunday

13 Feb

Just some snaps I took over the weekend before all the beautiful ice and snow melted away.

Let  me know what you think as this whole photography malarky is new enough to me!

Enjoy! 

Groningen – Winter Wonderland

6 Feb

Here are some photos and videos I took  over the weekend while exploring Groningen in the snow! It such a great little city and as everyone travels everywhere by bike, its so easy to get around and to visit friend…it never takes more than 10 minutes to go anywhere!

Walking to college in the snow

 

Eleven Cities Ice Skating Tour

6 Feb

Having only been in The Netherlands a week everything is totally new and interesting.  At first I loved exploring the streets in the warm evening sun, walking over the canals and becoming mesmerized by the sheer number of bicycles in one city!!! Now, with night temperatures dropping to -14 and below, I have something else to me mesmerized by…ICE-SKATING! Unlike the lame miniature and over-priced, fake ice-rinks we have in Ireland, in Holland it is all natural!

I spent the weekend wandering through Noordersplantsoen Park, walking across the frozen lakes as locals of all ages skating around me in circles and young kids climbed any hill they could find and rode their sleds down into the frozen lake! A pretty amazing sight.

Children Sledding across a Frozen Lake in Groningen

Dogs can have fun in the snow too.... ahem...

 

This all seemed very impressive until the sight I saw today when walking home form college… The main canals that surround the city that are home to tall ships, house boats and the odd broken bicycle were no longer peacefully undisturbed, but brave souls were crawling down the canal walls, onto the ice and cautiously walking into the middle of the canal on top of the ice.

Within 20 minutes there were people everywhere walking on top of the canal and then out of nowhere people started speeding past them on skates, skating their way around the city! Was craziness…might be brave enough tomorrow to walk on water myself!

Ice Skating and Sledding on the Frozen Lake

Bare trees in the Snow at sunset

With all the canals and lakes frozen over, everyone is starting to talk about “Elfstedentocht”, an almost mythical skating event that hasn’t taken place in over 15 years! Elfstedentocht (or “Eleven cities tour” in English) is the longest and largest race of its kind and involves 1000′s of skaters speed skating over 200 km across canals, ditches and lakes and through the 11 cities of Friesland in Northern Holland. The race is unique as it can only happen when the weather conditions are perfect and the ice is over 15cm thick across the whole course. 

Talk of Elfstedentocht is reaching fever pitch at the moment with temperature dropping to -14 at night, perfect weather for creating thick ice, horrible weather for everything else!! Our lecturer even told us that she will broadcast the skating during our lecture if we have a class on the day the event takes place. Fingers crosses that this legendary event gets to take place in the next few weeks…watch this space for updates!!

They broke a hole in the ice for the Geese to swim in

Snow all over the Frozen canals

 

Zoo go or Zoo not to go…

26 Feb

The Zoo at Children’s grand park reminds me of a scene from the movie “The Lion King”. Not one of the scenes where all the beautiful, wild animals roam the lush, green African plains but the one where the Scar has taken over the pride lands, over used and abused the water and food sources and the whole area is dry, barren and somewhat sinister.

I was so excited this morning at the prospect of going to the Zoo. I was even watching THIS video on repeat, excited about seeing the lions and tigers and zebras and elephants and all the other awesome animals.

An Unhappy tiger at Seoul Zoo

On the subway my friend Brooke was singing silly animal songs and when we approached the entrance to what Wikipedia claims to be “The 10th biggest Zoo in the world” she ran towards the gates! We got on a little tram-car that brought us past Seoul-Land mini theme park then to the Zoo entrance.

The first things we saw were the Giraffes. And it was pretty much from the minute I say them standing there in these small enclosure nibbling on the ROCK FACE, that right eating ROCKS, I remembered how much I hated Zoo’s. I guess once you have lived in Africa and done a Safari in the Masaii Mara and Kruger National Park it’s hard to appreciate animals in a Zoo or hard to like the Zoo at all.

Poor Polar Bear

All the animals looked so…sad.The flamingos were all huddled up in this corner under electronic heaters, the zebras looked cold and cramped, and the hippos were stuck in this tiny pool, all squashed in together. The polar bear walked back and forth in its area which was full of mould, dead fish and not enough water. It looked equally bored, sad and lonely. It was so depressing.

All the big cats were simply sleeping in tiny cages, as we viewed in through the gaps in the bars to observe them. I guess the only thing I did actually like about the Zoo were the monkeys. They had a nice amount of space and plenty of trees and toys to swing off of and stay entertained, as well as entertaining us with their bare baboon bums and sky blue balls!!!

(Un)Happy Hippo

All the big cats were simply sleeping in tiny cages, as we viewed in through the gaps in the bars to observe them. I guess the only thing I did actually like about the Zoo were the monkeys. They had a nice amount of space and plenty of trees and toys to swing off of and stay entertained, as well as entertaining us with their bare baboon bums and sky blue balls!!!

The only thing I can compare Seoul Zoo with is another one I have been to; Fota Wildlife Park, back home in Cork, Ireland where I live. Fota wildlife is 100 times better than Seoul Zoo. Seoul Grand park may be the 10th biggest in the world but it is far from the 10th “best”.

Mmm delicious rock...

Everything from the grasslands to the wide open spaces, and what seem to be, in general, happy animals make Fota Wildlife Park a great place to visit. Everything from the lack of grass, tiny, cramped enclosures, bad maintenance and what seems to be unhappy animals make Seoul Grand Park Zoo an awful place to visit.

Of course this is just my opinion. I had a great day today, but that was only because I was with a group of my best buddies here in Korea. Their company, and not the animals, made this day a success.

Bars and Stripes

 

 

Too much nakednesss…not enough space

20 Feb

Young Korean woman walking around with towels the size of handkerchiefs and not too bothered about being exposed. Tired little, socialites sitting on the ground in front of their designated lockers attempting to remove their layers of make-up, remnants from the night before.

Unlike my first visit to a Jimjilbang (to get naked or not to get naked) where I arrived fresh-faced and ready for a day of pampering and relaxing in the magical hot pools and saunas I was instead arriving with my friend Becky at 4am delirious from 2 long nights of partying in Hongdae and was desperate for a place to rest my head for a few hours.

We paid our 10,000 won entrance fee, suited up in out matching Pjs, bypassed the hot pools full of naked flesh and headed downstairs to rest our tired heads.The image I had in my head of laying down on a thin, but comfy, mattress with a pillow in a dimly lit room with a few other tired souls quickly evaporated upon entering “Wedding Jimjilbang” next to Hapjeong station.

Too close for comfort

There were over 200 men and woman, all in matching pink Pajama suits occupying every free inch of floorspace to be seen. It was like some sort of aftermath of a huge, crazy college-party-gone-wrong with passed out bodies sprawled across the floor. We passed one old Ajosshi with both hand down his pants and many more snoring so loud in was surprising anyone within a 10 meter proximity could get any sleep.

We eventually curled up outside the door to the cold room, using our tiny towels as pillows and napped for about 2 hours, occasionally waking up as people walked by us or more people lay down next to us making our personal space smaller and smaller by the minute. The lights were so strong that I had to fore-go my pillow and use my towel to cover my eyes instead. To say I was uncomfortable would be equal to saying the Sahara desert is a little warm…understatement of the century.

Jimjilbangs are a great place to go in the day time. A great place to detox, relax, chill out or get clean. But if you are looking for a good nights sleep, and one where you are not forced to huddle up in a corner on the hard ground I recommend you push out all the stops and get that taxi home or even splash out on a hostel! Your poor body will thank you for it.

Smelly feet...lots of smelly feet

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