10 things to see in Havana.

When visiting Cuba, it’s important to remember that the best things to see and do are more than often free. Unless you speak Spanish, museums and the like are going to be boring so here are my top 10 things to see (and do) in Havana;

Salsa: Everywhere you go, no matter what time of the day, you’ll hear the great music and see people dancing. It’s the happiest music and after a while you’ll find yourself unconsciously dancing along with it. Salsa lessons are available in the city if you’re a complete beginner.

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Take a ride in a vintage car. The image that most people associate with Cuba are the vintage cars. They literally are EVERYWHERE. Most serve as taxis so it’s very easy to arrange. Be careful though. ALWAYS negotiate the price in advance. Also, if the weather agrees, consider an open top car and tour around the city.

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See cigars being rolled.  Everyone seems to be smoking cigars in Cuba. Drop into to the Cigar “museum” (I use that term loosely because it was really just a guy rolling cigars) and watch the guy rolling them before heading upstairs to the cigar store.

Eat at a private restaurant. Some restaurants in Cuba are state owned and others are privately owned. The private ones have the best, most delicious food you’ve ever eaten.

Sit back and enjoy a mojito. Mojitos are literally the thing to drink in Cuba. In a bar, close to closing time, we asked for beers to be told that the only drink we would be served were mojitos. They wouldn’t even serve water after a certain time. Bizarre but true.

Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time in Havana so  why not visit his old haunts including the Ambos Mundos Hotel, Floridita Bar and his house.

Walk the streets and take in the architecture. The architecture in Havana is amazing. Get lost and wander the streets taking in the variety of influences. Havana is relatively safe but be careful of beggars who engage you in conversation and won’t let you go without a donation.

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Walk the Malecon. The Malecon is an area by the sea where Cubans hang out at night. It makes for a great walk but be careful of the waves which were dumping water a block away while we were there.

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Drink coffee in the National Hotel. The National Hotel is an impressive building which boasts stunning views of the sea. Explore the gardens and enjoy a cup of coffee at the cinema cafe.

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 Go to the beach. Just a few kilometers from Havana are some great beaches. With crystal clear water, this makes for the perfect, relaxing day out.

Burns Night 2015

A few months ago I was asked to give the reply from the lassies at Burns night. Dinner in the Hyatt was mentioned so naturally I agreed. It was as easy as it sounded to write the reply but I did my best.

For those night familiar, Burns night is an annual, international celebration of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. Poems are recited, songs are sung and general craic is had.In Seoul, we celebrated the night in the Hyatt Hotel.  We had a piper, Garret,  and the whisky was flowing so it was all very Scottish.

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A group of my friends came along and it was nice to be able to dress up and go out!

 

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In my research for the speech, I found Burns to be an interesting character. He fathered 12 children by 4 different women. He was so fascinated by women that he had couldn’t choose just one and had several relationships with different women. He credits the ladies with his abilities as a poet. He wrote some beautiful poetry, my favourite being;

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!

 

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We were treated to an amazing address to the Haggis. I’ve seen this done 3 times now, but this was the first time I’ve seen a woman do it. She nailed it  and I think it added a bit of flavour to the Haggis!

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That was followed by some recitations and song singing.

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Eventually, it was battle of the sexes as the Toast to the lassies and Reply from the lassies were made. In the toast to the lassies, Scott had everyone in stitches as he quoted some amazing dating tips from koreadatingtips.com. Check out this link http://www.korea-dating-tips.com/how-to-talk-to-girls.html Super funny stuff.

After all the speeches it was off home. Great event made better by the people who were there.

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Top 5 things to see on Jeju Island.

Jeju is the perfect weekend get away if you’re looking for a break from the main land. Just a 50 minute flight from Gimpo, return tickets can be bought for as little as 100,000 won.

I’ve just returned from my fifth trip to the island and have compiled my top 5 list of things to see on the island.

 

1. Seongsan Ilchulbong- Otherwise known as “Sunrise Peak”, this peak is located on the east side of the island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is said to have risen about 100,000 years ago after a volcanic eruption.

The entry fee is a mere 2,000won.  The climb to the top depends on how fit you are. It generally takes about 40 minutes. It’s not that difficult and there are little look out points along the way.

The view from the top is spectacular. It is also recommended to do the sunrise here.

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At the bottom, you can take the steps down to the sea. You can get a boat ride around the coast for 10,000 won.

You can also see the Haenyeo here. Haenyeo are the diving women of Jeju. For many years, these women have dived into the ocean in search of clams, abalone or seaweed. They are a very unique part of the Jeju island. You may be lucky enough to see them out diving in other parts of the island but twice a day, they do a show at the bottom of Seongsan Ilchulbong.

 

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2. Hallasan– You cannot visit Jeju without visiting Hallasan. Hallasan is a vocano and the highest mountain in South Korea. It has five hiking trails of different lengths and which one you choose depends on your interest in hiking. My mum and I chose a super easy 1.2 km trail (off the Eorimok Trail) which was difficult enough but the view from the top was spectacular. wpid-20140926_145512_pano.jpg

 

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3. Waterfalls- Jeju is full of waterfalls. They are everywhere. I’ve visited a few and my favourite are probably Cheonjeyeon beside the Botanic Gardens. In this are you can see three waterfalls. It is a nice walk from one to another and you cross the Seonimgyo bridge as you go. This bridge has seven nymphs on the side.

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4. The Beach

Jeju during the summer season makes it worth visiting the beach. There are several around the island.  The one we liked best was Jungmun Saekdal beach. There are other things to see in that area so it is definately worth a few hours to visit.

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5. Yongduam and the coast road.

Just a few kilometres from the airport is an attraction calle dYongduam. It is a rock shaped like a Dragon Head. It is a nice thing to see (although it doesn’t exactly look like a dragon). Then hit the coast road for the next 8 kilometres to see the beautiful coast of Jeju. There are several things to do along the way.

 

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And a bonus………THE MYSTERY ROAD!!!!!!

Everyone loves a good mystery road. We found it on the drive around the coast ot maybe the drive on the way to sunrise peak. Anyway, we found it. There is a point in the road when you put your car in neutral and although the road looks to be a downhill, the car will mysteriously go uphill. WordPress wouldn’t let me upload it straight here so I uploaded to Facebook and here’s a link;

 

That’s all for now folks! Add your comments and questions below!!

 

 

 

 

 

Ilsan Lake Park

Ilsan is undoubtedly becoming a very popular place. Recent construction has seen the arrival of One Mount, MVL, Aqua Planet and lots of new apartments to deal with the increased population. It’s just a short drive from Seoul and it’s a really fun city with lots to offer.

One of my favourite things to do in Ilsan is a trip to Lake Park.  Lake Park covers a HUGE area, over 900,000 square metres and boasts the largest artificial lake in Asia.

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These days, I go to the park to run. The track around the perimeter covers approximately 4.9km and it’s so wonderful to see the assortment of walkers, cyclists, runners, skateboarders out and about exercising. The walking trail is longer at about 8.9km. There is also a basketball court and a game area.

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If you’re not that into exercising, fear not. There are a tonne of things to do in the park. It’s the ideal venue for a picnic and a get together with your friends. It has lots of open spaces for people to sit and enjoy. I’ve gone with my friends a few times and the atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon is perfect. It’s peaceful and relaxed and you can spend the afternoon people watching is you wish.

It’s a great place to bring your family. There are lots of things for children to see and so.

 

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You can easily get lost in the park. Even a gentle walk will bring you to pagodas, gardens, the cactus centre, the mini zoo, there is such a variety of things to do here, you can never get bored!

At the weekend, you are bound to find live entertainment in the park. There always seems to be a band or singers performing and entertaining the crowd.

A few tv dramas have been filmed here also, the best known probably been Star’s Lover.

 

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The musical fountain is also here. You can enjoy a performance several times during the day.

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Really close to the park is One Mount and Aqua Planet. One Mount has both a water park and a snow park as well as shopping so together, this could be the perfect get away from Seoul!

 

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Directions: Jeongbalsan Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 1 or 2.
Walk along Jungangro-1261 beon-gil Street or Jungangro-1275 beon-gil Street for 10min.

For those with a car, there is a car parking fee. It is 300 won for the first 30 minutes and an additional 100 won for every 10 minutes after that.

Tips for surviving your first year in Korea

Two of my friends are getting ready to come to Korea. They asked me to write a blog on how to survive your first year here. It’s been a while since it was my first year so I took to Facebook to ask my friends. I was astonished at the replies I got back. There are so many things that nobody tells you before you come here. Hopefully we can sort some of that in this blog.

1. Language: Although English is widely taught and spoken by some people here, you should learn Hangeul. You simply won’t survive without it. And the best thing is that so many words are the same in English and Korean, you just need to be able to read out the Korean to understand.  You can learn your letters and a few basic words before you arrive. Although it looks super complicated, you can learn your letters in a number of hours. Here are some useful websites;

http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/

http://rki.kbs.co.kr/learn_korean/lessons/e_index.htm 

2. Culture: Know what’s expected of you in the workplace, when you visit someone, greeting people etc. A simple Google search will provide plenty of articles to read on this issue.

3. Supermarkets: The good news is that there are small supermarkets everywhere but for the bigger things there are two big supermarkets Emart and Homeplus (in Korean). You can buy everything from clothes to household items in these two places.

A tip is to buy with your card. I don’t know the ins and outs with this but it’s preferred to avoid the taxman.

Other tips from my friends include;

“You need to get stickers on your fruit on veg bag before you go to the register” (talking about loose items)

“Know the seasonal fruit and vegtables”

3. Transport: The bus, subway and train system here are excellent.

Subway;To make it easier for you, it’s a good idea to download the jihachul app so you can navigate the subway. system. You can figure out running time and waiting times for subways on this app. And yes, it’s in English.

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For those not living in Seoul, remember that the subway finishes well before midnight so if you live outside the city and you stay out, you should consider alternative transport home.

There is a jingle at transfer stations and end of line stations.

A Tmoney card is the name of the transport card in the Seoul and surrounding area. You can buy them for a few thousand won in most 7-11 and convenience stores. Then use the machines at the subway systems to load them with money or at a convenience store. The average cost of a journey can be calculated approximately using the jihachul app.

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Buses: There are different colour buses depending on where their destination is. Here is a site that explains just about everything transport related, http://www.kias.re.kr/sub06/sub06_06.jsp

You can also download the Seoul Bus app. Unfortunately, it’s in Korean but if you know the bus number you can check where on the route the bus actually is.

You can use your T Money card on the buses also or pay in small cash or coins.

Taxis; Taxis are EVERYWHERE. The regular ones are silver or orange. The should have a meter and the drivers information visible.

The black ones are more expensive. Supposedly they are more luxurious.

In Seoul, you can use your T Money card or a bank card to pay for the fare. You can also get a receipt. Outside of Seoul depending on the place, you can’t use a T Money card. You should have some cash to pay for the journey.

Here’s a nice little article on the whole thing, http://www.visitseoul.net/en/article/article.do?_method=view&m=0004007002011&p=07&art_id=39543&lang=en

4. Banks 

Everyone wants a bank account straight away because they come loaded with money. It’s always preferable to wait until you get an Alien Registration Card to do this. The main banks in Korea are;

Nong Hyup

Shinan

KB*B

KEB

Woori Bank

Some schools make you open an account in a particular banl to avoid transfer fees etc.

Banks are opened from 9-4 Monday to Friday. The exception are the expat banks like KEB who have branches open on Sundays for certain hours.  You should consider this if you have a 9-5 job.

At least 2 of these banks have excellent expat services (KEB and Shinan). You can set up internet banking and download an app on your phone to check your balance etc.

Most banks have someone that speaks English especially the ones with expat services so don’t fear going in alone to set it up.

KEB also have an account called an Easy One that will lodge money straight to your overseas account.

* I should note that other banks potentially offer the same service but I have my account with KEB. You should bring all the details of your home account for registration.

Bank Transfers; You can transfer money from your account to another Korean account  by using either online banking or going to a bank machine. It’s very easy and the machine has English language so you can’t go wrong.

Paying your billshttps://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/pay-your-bills-at-the-bank-machine-in-korea/

Insurance: Should you need car insurance, travel insurance, health insurance etc, you can contact the Samsung Insurance rep who can speak with you in English. You can reach him at byung625@gmail.com and his name is Byung. I have my car insurance with him and travel insurance and it’s always great value and he speaks perfect English.

5. Apartments; Apartments here are generally a one room or two room for single people. Unless you really luck out in which case you’ll have a few rooms.

You will have a washing machine and  heating to navigate in Korean but fear not, I already have blogs done on how to use them.

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-a-korean-washing-machine/

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-the-heating-in-a-korean-apartment/

6.Rubbish disposal; This is a tricky one. Every place and every housing complex has a different system. If you live in a huge housing complex, they have one day a week where everyone leaves out their rubbish. This rubbish is separated by recycling, food and other.

If you live in a random apartment this is how it usually works;

1. Go to the supermarket or local shop and buy the rubbish bags. The yellow ones are for food rubbish. The bigger ones (blue in my area) are for general waste. Then I also have recycling. I leave recycling out in a box or a paper bag.

2. Look on the street for other rubbish that is waiting to be picked up. Leave your rubbish here and it’ll get collected.

If you have a bigger item like a chair that you want to get rid of you can either 1) Leave it out and let someone else take it and use it or 2) Go to the supermarket and get a sticker for it. Put the sticker on it and leave it outside with your rubbish.

7. Post Office: The postal system here is extremely efficient and safe. If you wish to send something in country then just put the senders details on the top left corner and the receivers details in the middle. Then send it either the quick way or the regular way. It’s pretty cheap.

If you want to send something home, there are two options 1. Land 2. Air.

Land will take between 3-6 months to reach it’s destination. It’s cheaper than sending it by air and it’s good to send home clothes and other items that you don’t want but are in no great rush for.

Air takes only 7 or so days to get to the destination. It’s the fastest way to send things home.

The Korea Post website is in English so you can go ahead and check the rates and fees etc…..http://www.koreapost.go.kr/eng/sub/subpage.jsp?contId=e1010601

The post office is open from 9am-6pm .

8. Alien Registration Card

Your alien registration card is the card you get when you become officially registered with immigration. You will need this card for the following;

  1. Visit to the hospital
  2. Visit to the dentist
  3. If you’re stopped by the police
  4. Entering and leaving the country
  5. Opening a bank account
  6. Making a loyalty card
  7. Getting a phone contract

It’s so important. If you lose your ARC you must immediately report it missing with the police and then go to immigration and apply for another.

9. Expat websites and finding groups

There are some seriously useful websites out there for expats. I’ll list a few here;

http://seoul.angloinfo.com/

http://www.korea4expats.com/

http://www.iherb.com/

http://global.gmarket.co.kr/Home/Main

http://english.11st.co.kr/html/en/main.html

http://www.thearrivalstore.com/

For the teachers among us……

http://www.waygook.org/index.php?wwwRedirect

For the Irish;

http://iak.co.kr/

http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/

https://sites.google.com/site/busangaa/home

https://www.facebook.com/daegu.fianna.3

Also USE FACEBOOK! So many areas have their own Facebook pages. In my area we have Geumchon Crew, Ilsan have their own page and so on. You get the drift. Google it or Facebook it and you’re bound to find some groups.

10. Random tips;

You have the option on taking over a phone contract from someone who is already here. Keep that in mind before going off and starting one of your own.

Olive Young sells lots of foreign brand cosmetics.

Don’t open your gas valve all the way. Open it just enough so the meter turns otherwise you’ll have a big bill.

Bring a huge towel with you.

Go to cineinkorea to find out what movies are showing in a theatre near you.

Just go with the flow if you have no idea what’s happening.

You can call the tourist information people on 021330 if you need some help.

In the deep winter, don’t leave your heating completely off if you leave for over a week. If your pipes freeze and burst, your entire floor will have to be taken up and replaced. No one wants that………..

Never trust the green light when crossing the street. Pedestrian crossings are out in the stupidest of places so always look left when crossing and don’t take the chance if it’s a bus approaching.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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*If you want to add something to this list, leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ordering from iHerb

What is iHerb?

iHerb is a website that sells health related products. For example, vitamins, supplements, groceries and so on. Here is a link to the site http://www.iherb.com/.

Why order with iHerb?

I’ve heard my American friends rave about this website and how great it is. You can find some products on the site that you might not find easily in Korea and because it’s an American site, they have brands that we would be familiar with.  The website is in English so that’s always a plus and ordering is very easy.

Do they ship to South Korea?

Yes. They ship to over 150 countries and South Korea is among those countries.

Personal Experience.

Recently, I’ve started to eat Quinoa and through the recommendation of a friend, ordered it from iHerb. In total my oder was 2 packets of Quinoa, 2 packets of Chickpeas and some vitamins. A pretty small order which came to $28.81  in total. Shipping to South Korea cost $4.00. I placed the order on June 1st and chose Korea Direct post. Estimated delivery time was between June 23rd and June 26th.

I was notified that it had been shipped a day later and was notified again when it reached Incheon. I expected it a day or two later since I live only an hour from Incheon. However, after a week there was so sign of the package. Getting a little worried, I emailed i Herb. The following day, I got a phone call from customs to say that the package had been held until I gave my A.R.C. number. After it was sorted the lady said to wait another 2-3 working days for delivery.

I received it yesterday, June 16th so well before the estimated delivery date. The products were exactly as described and it had been packaged really well.

Apart from it taking two weeks to get to me (my friends have had theirs delivered in 4 or 5 days), I would recommend the website and I’ll definitely be using it again.