Chinese New Year in Taipei {part one}

Living in Korea has allowed an interesting perk of celebrating New Year’s not once, but twice. Seollal is Korea’s New Year’s Day and generally falls just about a month past the traditional date of January first.  This means that right after our Christmas and New Year’s break we get an extra long weekend, perfect for a nearby getaway. Last year some friends from home and I ventured to Tokyo. This year however I was more excited to try to experience the holiday in China as Lunar New Year is Chinese New Year as well.

BBM KOREA | Taipei, Taiwan | Chiang Kai-shek Memorial HallThe weekend started off with a great flight from Korea to Taiwan and an easy bus ride from the airport to the hostel that my friend and I would be staying at for the weekend. After arriving in the center of town we ventured off for a quick dinner and explored our new surroundings into the evening. Something that Taiwan and Hong Kong seemed to have in common was the meeting of modern industrialization and traditional culture. We would be walking through beautiful cityscapes and then suddenly meet a gorgeous temple decorated with hundreds of red paper lanterns for the holidays. The blending of old and new is always amazing.

On our first full day we wanted to visit Liberty Square and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I’d seen photos of the alluring white and blue structures, but this place was so much more beautiful in person. Large buildings on each side of the impeccably landscaped courtyard behind the a gorgeous blue and white entrance gate. We spent over an hour soaking in the setting and the 70 degree weather in January.

BBM KOREA | Taipei, TaiwanOnce we had our fill of the square we decided it was time for lunch. Something we weren’t expecting about traveling during the main weekend of the Lunar New Year was that most of the city had gone back to their hometowns to be with their family. This meant that the city was unimaginably peaceful, but it also meant that a lot of storefronts and restaurants were closed for the week. Luckily for us we found an incredible restaurant tucked away on a little side street that served absolutely delicious dim sum.

We unapologetically over-ordered and overindulged before deciding to walk off our lunch by climbing Elephant Mountain.  It was a relatively gentle hike set right inside of the city and offering unmatched views of Taipei. After a busy morning it was nice to relax for a bit at the top and appreciate where we were for a minute.

BBM KOREA | Taipei, Taiwan | Elephant MountainAs the evening of day two was approaching we wanted to explore one of the markets that we’d researched. A lovely taxi driver dropped us off at Raohe Night Market which was supposed to be where any locals were likely to be on New Year’s. In theme with the weekend, we were surprised to see just how calm the market was. Nonetheless, we did a bit of shopping and grabbed some street food as we started to find our way to the subway to head home.

Upon exiting the market there were some flashes of lights that we couldn’t ignore and decided to walk towards. As we made our way down the street the illumination became brighter and brighter. We started to see colored lanterns and hear festive music. Unbeknownst to us we had stumbled right into the Lunar New Year celebrations that I’d been desperate to find. This is where everyone was celebrating with their families.

We walked under the seemingly endless strings of brightly colored paper lanterns, past the gigantic lantern roosters, and right towards an immense ornately decorated gold temple.

Temples have become one of my favorite places to visit when traveling to new countries. They offer such an interesting glimpse into the culture and are so different from my experiences growing up. That said, this temple was like nothing I’d encountered in the past. It was as if everyone had gone to that exact temple at the same time to celebrate the New Year. Hundreds of people chaotically filled the three-story building performing their rituals and making their offerings, yet naturally flowing through the various rooms one after another. It felt like being in a different world and is something I’m so grateful to have experienced.

BBM KOREA | Taipei, Taiwan | Raohe Street Night MarketAs we exited the temple we found ourselves moving with the crowd into the main strip of the Raohe Night Market. We crawled along with the thousands of other visitors slowly taking in all of the shops and stalls along the market until we found a crêpe stand that we couldn’t pass up. We hopped out of the shuffle where we were handed our strawberry Nutella crepes and reluctantly decided it was time to head back home for the night. in preparation for the following day.

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                                             #bbmtravelstaipei

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Monday Motivation

BBM KOREA | Motivation Monday

BBM KOREA | Monday Motivation

Leave it to Oprah to give the most inspirational quote to start the week.
– Create the grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.-

What a great reminder to dream a little bigger and work towards goals that seem just out of reach. This week is about grander thinking.

Here’s to a productive week.
Happy Monday!

Busan Getaway

BBM KOREA | Busan, South Korea | Gamcheon Culture VillageAs a peninsula, Korea has countless beachside towns and cities that offer the perfect escape from the busier areas of Seoul and Incheon. One of my favorites is the city of Busan. Busan is just a quick three hour train ride away and offers the opportunity for the perfect weekend getaway. It still has all of the conveniences of city life with countless cozy cafés and western restaurants, however, it sits right along a beautiful coastline housing various beaches to relax.

In addition to the coastal vibes, there are also cultural attractions that bring people to this part of the country. One of the areas on the top of the list for many is the beautiful Gamcheon Cultural Village. Gamcheon is a picturesque little setting of hundreds of brightly painted homes complete with small alleyways to explore and countless painted murals to admire.

After grabbing brunch at a local restaurant, some friends and I decided to make our way up to the village for an adventure and the ultimate Busan photo-op. We bused up the curving mountain until we reached the top and could admire the spectacular view. Throughout the village there are dozens of roadside stops offering coffee, ice cream, snacks on a stick, and just about anything else you could imagine. Even a small boutique specializing in socks. We took hours to wind our way through myriad of alleyways; stopping to take pictures of the view and artwork along the way.

BBM KOREA | Busan, South Korea | Gamcheon Culture VillageThis sweet village offers such a juxtaposition to the traditional setting of Korea which is, for the most part, filled with tall office and apartment buildings and generally follows a gray color scheme with hints of green roofs.  We couldn’t have been happier to experience this pop of color for a weekend and explore an entirely new part of the city we love in the country that has been home for nearly two years.

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#bbmkorea

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A Long Weekend in Hong Kong {Days Two and Three}

BBM KOREA | Hong Kong | After our busy first day in Hong Kong we were excited to continue exploring. Day two started out with a search for a pineapple bun, something our research told us was a must eat for breakfast. It’s essentially a crispy bun with a huge slab of warm butter in the middle. We supplemented our bun with some scrambled eggs and coffee for energy before heading out to Victoria Peak.

Upon our arrival to the cable car that would take us up the mountain to the peak we noticed that the weaving line seemed to extend for a mile and was filled with people anxiously awaiting their turn to get to the top. Though we felt some reservations about going through with our plan for the day, we decided to stick it out and wait in line. In hindsight I’m really glad we did. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and the view from the lookout really is spectacular with the lush green of the mountain meeting the cityscape which is divided by the harbor. We decided to take our time and soak in the views for as along as possible before heading back down.

After Victoria Peak our goal was to find the Man Mo Temple in Central. We strolled through the streets of Hong Kong appreciating all of the shops and restaurants along the way. We were in no particular hurry to get to the temple. When we did arrive, we realized that it was under construction, though this didn’t stop us from taking a peek inside.

The Man Mo Temple was beautiful. Spiraled incense hung from the ceiling and hundreds of gold lanterns with red fringe filled the tiny space. I’ll say it time and time again, I never get tired of visiting temples.

Following our visit to the temple we took to the streets once more just wandering and enjoying the sights before stumbling upon antique street. Otherwise known as my happy place. I could have spent the whole day there scouring through every store in search of the perfect item to take home. After an hour I found a cute pair of gold vintage sunglasses and called it a day.  On our way back to the ferry we treated ourselves to a scoop of ice cream which couldn’t be ignored.

BBM KOREA | Hong Kong | Antique Street

Day three would be short as we had an evening flight back to Korea, but we had one more market that we wanted to visit. We took the morning to wander a part of the city we hadn’t been to yet, visited the last market on our list, and found our way to the airport.

It was a quick trip, but it opened my eyes to a new city that I fell in love with and absolutely cannot wait to go back  to.

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#bbmtravelshongkong

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Monday Motivation

BBM KOREA | Motivation Monday

 

This week’s motivation comes from one of the best. Waking up on Saturday morning to a message from a friend that Shania had released a new song was already a fantastic start to the weekend, but this song has been keeping me going for days.  While the story of the song is a sorrowful tale of love, the message it shares about taking the bad and turning it to good is one that resonates with almost anyone.

There is so much to love about the single, however it’s the repeated line, and title, “life’s about to get good” that I can’t stop singing along to. With the weeks of my life here in Korea dwindling there has been a lot of thinking to do about what will come next. While the prospects of what the future holds are exciting, it’s also overwhelming to think of what will happen when this life I’ve cultivated here on the other side of the world is over. That simple line though has me smiling as a great reminder that indeed, “life’s about to get good”.  Enjoy!

Here’s to a productive week.
Happy Monday!

A Long Weekend in Hong Kong {Day One}

BBM KOREA | Hong Kong | Tian Tan BuddhaA three-day weekend in Korea called for a quick getaway across the East China Sea where we landed in Honk Kong.  It only took about 24 hours for this country to captivate my mind and soul. Hong Kong is the ultimate combination of eastern culture and western convenience. It reminded me of being in New York, but then we would simply turn a corner and be in the middle of a night market. I was hooked.

In planning for the trip I managed to talk my friend into taking a 4 am flight which had us at the airport around 2 am in a completely deserted terminal. After a few hours in the air we landed in Hong Kong around 7 in the morning and started our day with an unbelievable bowl of soup and dim sum.

Once we had eaten breakfast we were on our way to find a bus to get to the Tian Tan Buddha. The Tian Tan Buddha is an immense bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni that sits atop a lush mountain on Lantau Island.

BBM KOREA | Hong Kong | Tian Tan BuddhaA cable car took us to the top of the mountain where we walked along a shop and restaurant lined street on our way to the stairway up to the Buddha which is where we discovered the Po Lin Monastery also sits atop the mountain. We wandered our way to the Buddha and slowly made it up 268 stairs to the top where we stayed for nearly an hour soaking in the view from the peak of the mountain and snapping countless photos of the Buddha and the surrounding statues.

 

After making our way back down the seemingly countless stairs, we followed the scent of incense which led us straight to the Po Lin Monastery. The monastery is made up of a series of gorgeous brightly colored buildings each serving different purposes. The gateway housed statues of deities and guards, while another building held the main temple which was elaborately decorated with high ceilings and beautiful paintings.

Perhaps the most incredible was the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas hidden just behind another building. We walked into the doorway and were welcomed by an outstanding room of gold with a focal point of five large shining Buddha statues surrounded by smaller figures and all under the most incredibly detailed painted ceiling in the same colors that flowed through the rest of the monastery. As difficult as it was, we respected the multitude of signs asking not to take photographs of the room, although looking back I’m wondering if taking just one would have hurt.

As we were leaving the monetary and on our way to head back down the mountain we were greeted by one of the mountain’s main inhabitants. A large brown cow wandering the grounds by himself seemingly hungry as he took special interest in the visitors with food.

. . .

BBM KOREA | Hong Kong | Temple Street Night MarketOnce we were back at sea level we took a long yet relaxing train ride to the Tsim Sha Tsui part of Hong Kong which would be home for the long weekend. We spent the rest of the day sightseeing and exploring the city until late into the night. We ended our day at the famous Temple Street Night Market which lived up to all of the reviews of good shopping and great street food.

The first day in Hong Kong was wonderful and by the end of the night I was obsessed with this little pocket of the world excited for what the next two days had in store.

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#bbmtravelshongkong

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Monday Motivation

BBM KOREA | Motivation Monday

BBM KOREA |  Monday Motivation

A few wise words to start the week.
-Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. – Buddha –

What a great reminder that each day is a new day to be your best and work your hardest. It can be so easy to reflect on the past or spend too much time planing what lies ahead. Sometimes it’s important to just focus on the here and now and accomplishing your goals for the day.

Here’s to a productive week.
Happy Monday!

Ganghwado Island

BBM KOREA | Ganghwado, South Korea | Goryeosan MountainEvery few weekends or so I find myself wanting to get away from bustling streets of Seoul and Incheon and explore new parts of Korea. That said, the recent start of the warm summer months has really amped-up those feelings and has had me reminiscing of past getaways. One of my favorites from last spring was the day trip some friends and I took to Ganghwado Island in search of azaleas on Goryeosan Mountain.

As per usual the day started off well enough catching our first bus for the two-hour journey to the island. We made it in time to grab a quick lunch catch a second local bus, which was when things got a bit more interesting.

Expecting a long bus ride, we unintentionally missed our stop which unbeknownst to us was announced in Korean just a few minutes into the trip. Twenty minutes or so later we found ourselves  taking a scenic tour of the island. Bus number one took us along the northern most part of the coast line which just happens to share a thin river’s border with North Korea. As we looked outside the bus’s windows just beyond the barbed wire fences and across the water was indeed N. Korea. Though taking tours of the border are quite common via the DMZ, somberly being flagged through military check points, passing by bulky soldiers holding guns the size of some of my students, and  setting eyes on that part of the world in general was surreal, eerie, and beyond unexpected.

lostOnce we had made it further inward on the island we realized we were definitely lost and actually traveling away from our destination. At that point, we decided to hop off the bus and trust our luck to catch another bus returning in the direction of the mountain we were so desperate to find. Forty-five minutes, two peeled oranges, one snack sized bag of peanut M&Ms, and a few pictures later we managed to hail a lone taxi that seemed destined to pick us up. After a brief drive we were dropped at an azalea festival which we wandered for a bit before starting our hike up Goryeosan Mountain.

About half way up the mountain we came across a Buddhist temple and a tea shop. We stopped for a cup of tea and some snacks before exploring around the temple and eventually making our way back to the hiking trail.

BBM KOREA | Ganghwado, South Korea | Goryeosan MountainFinally reaching the peak late in the afternoon we were able to take in the sun and the spectacular views of the island. Being from the midwest where even a good sledding hill is rare, seeing the lush mountains that cover Korea is always a breathtaking experience.

Though this was a brief day trip, it was nice to get out of the city for a bit and take in a little bit of natural scenery.

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#bbmkorea

Monday Motivation

BBM KOREA | Motivation Monday

BBM KOREA | Incheon, South Korea | Monday Motivation

Getting up and out on a Monday morning is certainly not always easy. While a song or a quote can offer a bit of inspiration, occasionally the cozy bed covers just pull us right back in. Coffee is a necessity each morning, but more and more I find myself looking forward to starting the day in a little café.

One thing I will truly miss about living in Korea is the plethora of individually owned coffee shops throughout the country. While chains are frequent, even more so are distinct and sweet cafés owned by locals. Something about the idea of sitting in a charming coffee shop offers an incentive for getting right to work. I find myself happy to spend a quiet Monday morning or Saturday afternoon in a shop writing and researching online while sipping on an iced Americano. Particularly if that café doubles as a flower shop.

Here’s to a productive week.
Happy Monday!

36 Hours in Kyoto

BBM KOREA | Kyoto, Japan | Maruyama ParkAnyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with cherry blossoms and have been since I was very young. I remember visiting my grandmother’s house growing up and staring out the window into her backyard each spring  admiring the beauty of the blossoming trees in bursts of pink and white wishing they could stay that way all year round.

Korea has some incredible cherry blossoms, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of living so close to Japan during this magical time of year. Luckily for me I have some friends who were willing to take a quick weekend to indulge in a bit of Japanese culture.

We left early Saturday morning and arrived in Kyoto in the afternoon. After a quick bowl of ramen and some caffeine we were ready to take on the rain and start exploring.

BBM KOREA | Kyoto, Japan | Maruyama Park
The three of us walked from our charming Airbnb through the streets of Kyoto to Maruyama Park. Along the way we found a temple and a small river covered by the sakura which allowed absolutely picture perfect photo opportunities. Once arriving at the park we took our time to wander the winding pathways soaking in all of the blooms including this unbelievable centerpiece of the park.

After a few hours in the rain we decided to hunker down in a little wine café. Not the most traditional of choices, but it’s hard to turn down an evening of wine and cheese.

BBM KOREA | Kyoto, Japan | Fushimi Inari ShrineThe following day we went straight to Nishiki Market to pick up some souvenirs and a little breakfast, and then we were on our way to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. While the shrine didn’t have many cherry blossoms it was definitely a priority of the weekend.

I’d seen tons photos of the shrine prior to our visit, however I was completely unaware of how huge this site is. I had imagined there being just a few rows of the incredible orange gates, but it turned out that there were miles of them. The shrine spans over acres of land going up and down a mountain in a hike that can take hours if you choose to walk the entire way. We spent about a two hours exploring before having to leave to make our flight back to Korea and work Monday morning.

Though it was a short trip, it was so worth it to see the blossoms and the culture of Japan in spring.

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#bbmtravelskyoto