Monday, May 29, 2017

Garden of Morning Calm

After yesterday's climb we needed to use muscles today, but not TOO much. Dan was off for Memorial Day so we drove an hour and a half through the mountains to an area near Namyangjusi where Erika had heard good things about the Garden of Morning Calm. It was a lot more hazy today than yesterday, but still beautiful. (I'm sure the fact that it was afternoon instead of morning explains why Simeon and the school children we saw playing in the dry streambed could not be described as "calm.")

The guidebook said to allow an hour. We spent three. Lots of paths to explore. Lots of stairs as well, so it's not exactly stroller friendly, but Simeon was eager to scamper. Dan and Erika brought a walkie-talkie which allows him to feel cool going ahead on his own and be told via radio, "Okay. That's enough. Wait for us."

Dan and I were both taking pictures so Simeon decided he would too. At one point he positioned us on some stairs and took a photo of the four of us.

Lots of wonderful spots for naps or picnics, but Simeon thought they were good places to fly toy airplanes.

With all the flowers, there was always a mountain view if you raised your eyes.

And of course this is Asia.

This water feature (with its overlooking tea shop) was at the end of the furthest path.

The garden is worth multiple visits at different times of year. I would love to see it in the snow with Christmas lights.

Addendum: Hmm. I guess Dan and Erika will not be returning to Garden of Morning Calm on a regular basis. On our way home Simeon began sneezing. By the time we were home he was coughing. Mom noticed the back of his neck was red and was lamenting that she hadn't put sunscreen there--until she realized it was hives. All over his trunk. A bath and benedril helped, but he woke in the night needing more, and the hives are back this morning. Probably the pine nuts grown in the area even though he didn't eat any. We are washing all our clothes and heading for the doctor.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bulamsan Trail

It's memorial Day weekend. Most of Erika's worship team is away so she recruited her dad for the piano. The daughter of one of her team members is "helping out" during the warm up.

We were each given a commemerative coin for Steve's participation. I guess this is something military people collect as souvenirs of their activities. Kinda neat to have one.

Dan's idea of a pleasant Sunday afternoon is a stroll in one of the local parks. The trouble is that Dan's strolls in the park can be quite challenging. This one was no exception.

We took the subway 40 minutes to the end of the line at Danggogue and walked from there. You can get an idea of our destination from the background.

We left Grandpa to wander the Seoul Trail, a contour path that circles the city at the base of the hills, while the rest of us climbed Bulamsan Trail. Steve had plenty of time for a nice ramble and a nap in one of the Korean picnic pavilions. We made plans to meet up at 6. Yeah, right. The nice thing about hiking around Seoul is good cell phone service to send a text to say we'll be "a little late."

Dan's strolls may be taxing, but they give spectacular views.

And we're never far from the city.

Some sections of the trail required ropes, cables or pegs in the rock.

Just when we thought we were going to ice cream stand! (Note Seoul in the background.)

And what a place to enjoy a melon popsicle!

There is our goal--the flag fluttering high above the wooden stairway. Dan and Simeon are waving at us. (Grammie had fallen a bit behind by this point, but she had no intention of giving up this close to the top.)

It was worth the climb.

Simeon was NOT happy about being left behind when Dan decided he couldn't manage the ropes (with several pegs missing in the rock) and the backpack. Erika waits at the top (very relieved that he is not trying to bring Simeon). I had already climbed up and down, so I stayed with Simeon IN the backpack. This was no place for a five-year-old to be wandering around.

They made it!

Of course, what goes up, must come down. My legs were shakey by the end.

The day I climbed the Great Wall of China my phone app said I had done the equivilent of 97 flights of stairs. Today, by the time I get up to bed, it will read 98.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sangil Chukahamnida (Birthday Congratulations)

We returned to South Korea in time for Simeon’s birthday yesterday. He woke up giggling with excitement. "I'm five now!"

At preschool he was greeted by his teachers with a song and bubbles. Actually, I think all the kids got bubbles since it was the last day of school, but Simeon certainly felt cool.

Mom came back later to read Simeon's favorite story, The Book with No Pictures, to the combined classes at their end of the year ice cream party. It is a very silly book and Erika really gets into it. The kids loved it.

I think Simeon's favorite birthday gift was a set of water guns to play with Daddy.

Daddy had also told him that the training wheels would come off when he was five. He is still a little apprehensive, but with his new helmet and Lightning McQueen knee and elbow pads he is well prepared.

Today we had his birthday party at the fire station. It's Memorial Day weekend, so a lot of the kids are away. They got to climb on the firetrucks and have their pictures taken. One of the firemen showed them all his equipment as he got dressed to fight a fire, and the kids watched a fire safety cartoon video while they ate pizza and cake and ice cream.

The other day when Erika and Simeon were in the commissary, Simeon wanted to buy a cake for his party, but his mom reminded him that he wouldn't be able to eat a cake made of wheat.

"That's okay," said Simeon. "The other kids can eat it, and I'll just have ice cream."

We find that sad, but to him it's just life. Erika made a gluten free/egg free cake for him although Simeon ate very little of it. Gluten free baked goods usually contain xanthem gum, which is isn't officially allergic to but almost invariably detects and turns down. One of the dad's has a serious gluten allergy, so he enjoyed the gluten free cake. We sang "Happy Birthday" in English and Korean. "Sangil Chukahamnida!"

I think Simeon will sleep well tonight after all the  excitement.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shanghai, a.k.a. Tomorrowland

We had a long wait at the airport Tuesday afternoon with no place to sit other than restaurants. Eventually we found out that is considered perfectly okay in China. We saw lots of people from our ship since there are only two flights a day to Shanghai—one in the morning and the one we were on in the evening. The flight was delayed an hour. Then we waited a long time on the runway for gate. We didn’t get to our hotel room until after midnight and fell straight to sleep.

I have had tummy problems the last couple days. Yesterday lunch was not included in our tour, and I opted out altogether. Steve got a hamburger at the airport, which bought us a place to sit for quite a while. After the late night, I slept in while Steve went to breakfast. I had a granola bar and tea for breakfast (love the in-room kettles!), but that went through me too. So I decided on a second day of fasting.

In the morning we went to the Shanghai Museum. Gorgeous building!

Lots of beautiful things but mostly arranged in glass cases in dark rooms. In the painting and calligraphy room the lights came up when you stepped near to look. We especially enjoyed the Ming and Qing furniture and the minorities crafts room. 

We only scratched the surface before going to the shopping area outside Yu Gardens. The buildings are several hundred years old. Felt very much like “old China”. Also very crowded and full of gift shops and boutiques. 

We ran into several people from our ship, including out tablemates, Joseph and Josephine. They are Italian-American. He grew up in Italy and has a strong Italian accent. She came to the US as a child and is all New Jersey. We enjoyed their company, but today only greeted, marveled at the “eye-candy” as Josephine called it, and exchanged pictures.

The Yu Gardens were a rich official’s estate that he built for his parents in the 15th c, but his father died before it was complete. Steve complained that our daughters hadn’t built us such a nice house.

I kept thinking what a beautiful place it would be with sunshine.

Our guide, Linda, left us on our own to find lunch in the shopping area. I was tempted by squid on a stick, crab soup filled dumplings, and any number of other things I saw around me, but sadly, thought my digestive track needed the rest and passed them up. Steve was not tempted by such delicacies or by the McDonalds, but found a Starbuck’s.

Going up in a hundred-story building was on the itinerary, but Steve is not enthusiastic about heights and I was feeling drained, so we came back to the hotel for a rest. I slept for 3 hours. I woke refreshed and ready to go out for the evening.

Linda took us to the pedestrian mall on E. Nanjing Road. Think Times Square in NYC.  The driver picked us up and then dropped us at the Bund, the waterfront, for a view of Shanghai on the far side of the river.

Someone had mentioned Shanghai being futuristic. I was certainly thinking Tomorrowland when I took this shot. (The incredible highway we came in on last night twenty stories in the air with ramps that spiraled 720 degrees down to earth felt pretty futuristic as well.)

Our side of the road had the early 20th c buildings of the English and French governments. 

The side of the river in the first picture has all been built in the last 25 years.

After we had had a look, Linda led us back down to the street and called the driver to take us to the boat for an evening cruise, but I wasn’t done walking. “How far is the boat?”

“Far. About a thousand meters.” 

“A thousand meters? That’s half a mile. Can we walk?” So we did. Lovely stroll along the river.

The boat ride was 50 minutes up and back as darkness fell and the lights came on. Awesome.

While Steve was elsewhere, Linda started telling me a story about her family. We got interrupted, but later I asked her to finish. I was very touched that she shared it with me, and I think I was an encouragement to her.

As the cruise came to an end, I wasn’t done drinking in the lights, so Linda gave us directions home. It turns out it was only about a 40 minutes walk. Well, an hour because I kept stopping to take pictures and Steve stopped at McDonalds. I did put an ice cream cone in my stomach and it seems to have done all right.

Our hotel, the Radisson, is the space ship disk down Nanjing Rd. in the center of the picture. Not hard to find our way.

It’s our last night in China. I’m ready to go, but already full of plans for the next trip. I’d love to do the cruise at a drier time of year. The autumn pictures I find on-line are on fire with color. Or find a place for hiking in the area to have a more intimate view of the gorges. I want more time on the wall. And a couple people on the ship mentioned going near the Tibet border. One woman said it was so beautiful that she cried. So hopefully there will be a next time for us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Xiling Gorge

Xiling Gorge is below the dam, unaffected by the change in water level. It was misting and not everyone chose to watch. I had the front deck to myself much of the time. By sitting back under the overhang with my umbrella over my knees I managed to stay dry. Hot tea kept me cozy. All the gorges acted as wind tunnels, hence the dramatic hairdo.

The mountains were less high in Xiling Gorge, and we could see signs of a road, tunnels and houses from time to time.

The road made me think of our first sight of the road to Skagway, Alaska, from the train. We gazed across the valley and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to drive?" A couple years later we did. Today I was having the same, "Wouldn't it be cool" feelings, but driving on our own in China would be a bit more complicated. The idea of exploring the walks and trails around these buildings in the National Park only added to my desire.

The Town of Where-they-work-on-the-dam

In the night we passed through 5 locks to descend the Three Gorges Dam. I heard the screeching of something like a giant screw, but was too out of it to get up and watch. From information the next morning, it takes 3 hours altogether, so obviously it didn’t keep me awake the whole time. Steve had taken a sleeping pill and heard nothing.

Now we are below the dam in the part of the river unaffected by the change in water level. The dam brought lots of jobs to the area and therefore lots of growth, hence the name of the town (which I couldn’t tell you in Chinese.)

This morning was a whole-ship tour of the dam. Our guides led us through a gauntlet of vendors, all saying “maybe later” as they held out T-shirts and maps of China, encouraging us to stop on our return. Then we boarded buses for the short drive to the dam observation area. We passed the lock we had come through the night before.

 A guide explained the plan from a large wall picture before multiple escalators took us to the overlook.

The building in the foreground is the recently opened “elevator” that takes small ships to the top in 45 minutes instead of the 3-hours required for the 5 locks.

I liked this bas relief sculpture representing the electric turbines that function quietly beneath the level of the water. I didn’t bother fighting the crowd to do the 70 extra steps to the platform since I’m quite sure you couldn’t see anything that we couldn’t see from the main overlook.

The dam is truly massive although Itaipu in Brazil is longer. This view is upstream on the reservoir side.

From downstream, the dam is to the left, the locks to the right.

When we left the buses back at the port, we could either run the gauntlet of vendors again or walk along the waterfront. Three guesses as to which we chose.

We still had the bottleneck of re-boarding the ship, but ship's employees keep repeating the phrases “Watch your step,” and “Be careful.” We made it.