On December 18th we left Ulsan and flew up Seoul, on our way to Taiwan to see my sister and her family. As Seoul was still unknown territory for us, we had decided to spend a day there sightseeing and visiting the DMZ. It didn't take long before we noticed some of the differences between Seoul and Ulsan. First of all the metro was impeccable. 3 years in Ulsan and we had never sen anything this clean! Next surprise was that people spoke more than 3 words in English and were willing to use their vocabulary helping us find our way. The last surprise was less pleasant ... it was freezing cold ! And for all Paula's praying and lit candles for cold weather, she was none too pleased with -11 degrees C.
That's Paula behind the wrapping!
We found a small adequate hotel in the artsy fartsy area of town, Insadong before heading over to the Royal Palace. In front of the palace we came across a parade - a bit like a long ceremonial changing of the Guards. It was pretty interesting even in the cold!
Korean Parade at the Palace
The palace grounds were nice, although a bit devoid of atmosphere. Compared to the temples we have seen elsewhere in Korea, this Palace was remarkable lifeless.
Lots of room for ourselves (to behave silly!)
After leaving the temple we crisscrossed through Insadong, stopping at tea houses and bakeries on our way. It's a nice small area of town - a pedestrian street with many galleries scattered around.
Next morning we joined a tour group to the DMZ - the Demilitarized Zone which forms the border between North and South Korea just 30km from Seoul. Again it was bitterly cold - like the relations between the two countries. The first stop on the tour was the last train station on the newly restored cross-border railway. The station has only been in use a very short time and is now completely empty, save the tour groups and the cleaning ladies. The area is complete with huge cargo terminals, highways, toll gates, the train station etc. One can not help but feel that it's all part of a greater purpose. We were told that it was there just waiting for the border to open, but at the same time I couldn't stop to wonder why it was so nice and modern up here in the north and so ... well, so Ulsan in the south ! Later on in the tour it dawned upon me that it was all just propaganda. The whole tour was. But it was still interesting.
At the train station ..... looking for the train!
After the station we were driven up to a view point where we could look out over North Korea. The biggest difference between what we saw south of us compared to north of us, was the lack of trees in the north. We were told that the woods had been cleared for use as firewood. I wonder if this is true or if the trees have been cut down for security purposes ... who knows!?
ROK soldiers with The People's Democratic Republic of Korea behind them
After the cold view of the North, we drove on to the infiltration tunnels. The word here was that there are over 20 such tunnels along the border, but only 4 are known to the public. We took a monorail (!) down into tunnel No. 4 - an almost three kilometer long tunnel able to move 30.000 men across (below) the border in one hour (hope the soldiers are smaller than I am!). The tunnels were found in the 70ies but didn't become popular as a tourist destination until 2002 when the Soccer World Cup came to Korea and the local tourist agencies started to search for interesting things to do in Korea!
Monorail down and walking up - at the top of the infiltration tunnels. No photos allowed below.
After the tunnels we went for lunch - our last Korean meal for a while (I hope!), and then to a memorial park by the Freedom bridge - supposedly the bridge crossed by the POW who were exchanged after the armistice. There was an old battered train here, an amusement park (!) and not much else. After this we went back to Seoul and on to the airport for our flight to Taipei.
Catching up with the family
Arriving in Taipei we were picked up by Tamas, my sister Inge's husband. They had just received their new car(s), so I think he was happy to take it for a spin! It IS a nice car !
Back at Inge and Tamas' new house the kids had already gone to bed and we were ourselves pretty wasted after a full day out in the cold. But we did have a bit of time to catch up before turning in. Next morning we work up to "freezing cold" temperatures, as the local weather forecast stated. Freezing cold in this case was 12 degrees!
The kids were up and anxious to see "Uncle Paula", as "Uncle Peder and Auntie Paula" had been renamed!! Miklos and Sofie are now over four years old and much more fun than the last I saw them! They are nice kids ... a bit shy to start with but very loving when they "warm up".
My sister lives in a huge house on the edge of town. The jungle is at the back step, as are the mountains. Inge is a bit worried about the two (small) snakes they have found in their back yard since they moved in in September. The joys of living in the sub-tropics. A little up the mountain in the back there is a nice small waterfall. We went there with Tamas during the day. The kids didn't want to come along and neither did Inge. They had seen it before ....
The local waterfall
In the evening we drove down to an Indian restaurant nearby. Inge had been somewhat disappointed in the Taiwanese gastronomy when she first arrived, but I think this Indian restaurant may have helped a bit. It was nice !!!
Monday Paula and I went to the famous National museum. We had heard many good review from this museum, but although they had a few really interesting things, I was still a bit disappointed. It just seemed that they could have emphasized the pieces a bit more and supplied better lighting. And maybe taken some of the very cool things they have in the back and displayed that instead. But the rap was all about this current exhibition as it was the first time that a museum from mainland China had lent ut any peices to Taiwan - at least that's how I understood it!
Next day we packed the car up and drove off to the mountains. Inge + family live - apart from on the edge of the jungle - in sulfur country. On some days the air is thick with an aroma best described as ..... rotten eggs !! It's exactly as revolting as it sounds, but fortunately it is rare that the smelly clouds make it all around to their side of the mountain. But on the other side of the mountain .... now that's a whole different story ! But on this day we were lucky and only got a whiff of the rotten eggs in the car on our way up to the meadows. We parked the car, packed the day packs and got on our way. The trails were really well maintained and trimmed - quite a difference from Ulsan where the trails were a bit more natural. The scenery was not all that different even though the vegetation of course was more tropical.
The local meadow
Sophie soon proved herself quite a hiker while Miklos .... well, Miklos is more comfortable! He caught a ride with daddy for most of the length of the trail. He was too shy to ride on my shoulders ! As soon as we stopped for a bite to eat, he was all over the place, so there was no doubt that it was the walking part that he didn't like. According to Inge the kids love to differentiate themselves from each other. So when Miklos doesn't like to walk, Sophie will walk to the moon and back without complaining. When Sophie wants her apples peeled, Miklos will only eat his apples with the peel and so on. Guess they are trying to find their identities.
Miklos had already learned the Asian photo pose !
Anyway, we had a nice walk among the cattle and the other people enjoying the sunshine (the day turned out to pretty nice and much warmer than the day before).
Wednesday we went in to town together with Inge and the kids. We first toured the Chiang Kei-shek Memorial Hall. This is a huge square and Mausoleum dedicated to the memory of the now not so popular father of the country. I reckon he had seen pictures of the Mao mausoleum in Beijing and didn't want to be outdone! What we first noticed as we turned the corner and came in to the square was not so much the huge traditional-looking buildings as the giant inflatable rubber-man passed out in the middle of the square. To complete the weird experience we found out that below the mausoleum there was a dinosaur exhibition - complete with moving and (Chinese-) speaking specimen. Miklos and Sofie had really been looking forward to seeing the dinosaurs, but it turned out to be all too much for them. The poor kids hadn't counted on the monsters talking back to them! Paula and I had anticipated the situation and so had chosen to see the traditional painting exhibition instead. Wise choice!
Check out the big inflatable man in the background (lying down)
Before we knew that the dinosaurs talked !
After the scary dinosaurs it was time to dig into lunch. We met up with Tamas close to his office and went for fancy Japanese buffet. It was great ! Inge wasn't too impressed - she finds it hard not to compare all food experiences with Beijing 6 years ago ! After having topped up on sashimi (I mean completely topped up!), Paula and I continued on to Taipei 101 while Inge and the kids went home and Tamas back to the office. Taipei 101 was the world's tallest skyscraper at the time we visited it. In the short time that it has taken me to write this page, it has been overtaken by the Burj Dubai (I know it has taken me a while to finish this page, but it still sounds worse than it is - the Burj was inaugurated less than 2 weeks after we visited Taipei 101). The101 stories high building has an observation deck on floor 91 from where you would be able to see pretty far if it wasn't for the famous Asian mist which often envelops the city. We weren't too unlucky - we were able to see the ground and a bit beyond to the south an even all the way to the mountains and beyond to the north! We were also allowed a quick look at the huge wind dampers suspended 91 and 87 (I think). All pretty impressive but I was almost more impressed by the 60km/h elevators !! What a smooth ride !!!
At the viewing platform
The leaning tower of Taipei or optical illusion??
Thursday we went back up the mountain for a quick walk again. We had been planning to go somewhere different, but were put off by the long drive to just about anywhere but the mountain in the back ! What should have been a short walk turned out to be a bit of a climb. Contrary to our first time at this mountain, we now had to descend loads of stairs to get to our destination - a small waterfall. And then we had to climb them afterward to get back to the car ! Guess how Miklos made the trip !?!?! Well buggered by the climb we got in the car and continued over to the other side of the mountain to see some of the open sulfur springs with steaming hot water and foul-smelling air !
In the evening we decorated the X-mas tree according to Danish (or Nielsen-) tradition. See the video below.
As Thursday was X-mas Eve's day we had to celebrate by jumping in the pool ! It was pretty chilly but coming from cold Scandinavia I had to endure. I just thought about how cold it would have been to do this in Denmark or even Korea. Tamas joined me but other than him nobody was crazy enough (I think the kids might have been, but they weren't allowed !). The kids had been looking sooooo much forward to this day. They had been talking and singing about Santa all week (probably longer than that). They even knew how to say Santa in Chinese, on top of the songs they knew about him in French, Danish and English. Clever little buggers !!
The kids' godmother Pamela, her husband Moses, son and his girlfriend joined for the X-mas dinner. We had traditional Hungarian noodles, good wine and company! And when the presents finally appeared under the tree ..... ! Unfortunately Santa arrived and left again while the kids were out on the balcony "playing" with sparklers! Bad luck, but it was soon forgotten ! X-mas had finally arrived !!!
"Santa Claus is coming to town !!!"
Next day we had to return to Korea. It seemed way too soon as we hadn't seen that much of the island, but we had a pretty busy next couple of days, so we had to get a move on. Also - we had come to Taipei to be with our family - not for sightseeing! And we had done exactly what we came for and a bit more!! Great to see that my sister had settled well in their new environment.
Below you can see a slide show of our trip and more !