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Back to the starting point and lots of good byes

In Milwaukee, Glenview, Oak Lawn, Los Angeles

rain 17 °C
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We loved our time at the lake in the cabin and could have spent much more time there. Especially as it was perfect fall weather and the leaves just started to turn colors and it would have been just another week or so for being even more colorful.
Eventually we headed off and drove south into Wisconsin. It was a beautiful drive, passing through colourful forests and alongside of a couple of lakes. As we approached Lake Michigan, the sun was covered by heavy clouds and the interstate was not nearly as nice as the smaller backroads had been.
As we plotted out where to stop along the way, Sam realized that we’d be passing through Milwaukee, the home of Harley Davidson. And anyone who knows Sam a bit, suspects already that we would not pass this perfect opportunity to stop at the Harley Davidson museum.
Upstairs all the history of HD was on display starting with the first motorcycle created in 1903 and subsequent developments including some army versions produced for both world wars and racing bikes that set long distance speed records.

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Max enjoyed the collection of fuel tanks in all different colors, the kids’ corner and the movie scenes featuring Harley Davidsons. That left enough time for Sam to stroll around and take pictures of the rather unusual models on display. Last but not least, all of us got to try out and sit on the newest 2017 models such that we could imagine owning and riding them around the world.

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With the stop in Milwaukee, it got late and dark already as we headed into Glenview, where we had headed off for our big journey in early May. About a mile before parking the van the last time, we almost got into an accident – what a shock, just shortly before arriving.
It was good to be ‘home’ and Janis had dinner waiting for us already. So life was good again.
The next morning, we had to get our van ready for potential buyers to have a look. It was the worst possible weather for cleaning the van. By the time the outsides of the van were shining, Sam was soaking wet from the torrential rain and I was the lucky one to finish the insides of the van. At noon, the first couple of interested people had a look at the van and we spent the afternoon talking with some more interested people on the phone.
After that much effort, we went bowling together with Janis. We had lots of fun and also Max enjoyed his first ever game of bowline. With the special slide for the ball and the bumpers up, Max managed to even come in second place behind Sam.

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The next day we were invited at Carol’s birthday party. After great (and too much!) Mexican food, we could not resist to eat large amounts of angel food cake with chocolate cream and berries – yummy! But eventually we had to leave and say good bye to Carol, Pete and the kids. Let’s hope it’s not too long until we’ll see each other again!
That evening we watched ‘Easy Rider’ – the Harley museum in Milwaukee had inspired us. The popcorn was great, some of the pictures of the American west reminded us of our trip, but overall we were a bit overwhelmed. Crazy times.
Our last full day in the US was pretty much dedicated to packing and getting paperwork sorted. These rather tedious tasks were only interrupted by long walks in the park and excellent lunch. My mom had brought all the ingredients for making my favourite food: plum dumplings (Zwetschgenknödel). As she was unable to find the usual kind of plums we use in the stores, we used what was available and it was great. Thanks, mom!
While we had contemplated five months back that it would be nice to spend another day in Chicago towards the end of our trip, by now our interests had shifted. We enjoyed being around our and Janis’ family and had not the slightest interest in doing any sightseeing.
The next morning, we tried to stay as much outside as possible. We’d be spending anyhow lots of time inside of airports and planes. Janis treated us to Mexican food for lunch – including my favourite refried beans. It was great and once more tempted us to eat much more than needed. Both Sam and I agree, that the last two weeks of our stay in the US, we both gained a bit of weight. It was just too good!
After lunch Janis made already the first tour to the airport and we had to say good bye to my parents. It was great that they had come. And while we (ab-)used the opportunity to get rid of many things we did not need on our further trip anymore, I do feel sorry that they had to take baggage home at the absolute upper limit of what’s allowed.
Until Janis came back for the second trip to the airport with us, we enjoyed one last hour at home. We hugged the van good bye one last time and exchanged hopes with Phil, Sam and Janis that we’d hopefully see each other again before too long. One last wave back and off we went to the airport.
In a certain way this was a déjà vu, going back to the starting point. It felt not too different from going to the airport in Munich those five months ago. Once again, we’d have new adventures, and a new continent waiting for us.
At the airport we were a bit disappointed that American Airlines had recently implemented a practice of not checking bags through whenever flights have not been purchased at the same time. So in retrospect it did not help us to book with them, even though they are affiliated with Air Tahiti Nui in the Oneworld Alliance.
So once we arrived in Los Angeles, we had to retrieve our bags and the car seat, haul them into the next terminal and check them in again. But as we had enough time to do so, this did only represent an inconvenience and no real issue. And we even found a kind employee of Air Tahiti Nui who offered to post our postcards for us (since 9/11 there seem to be no mailboxes at US airports anymore) - written last minute like in every vacation.
We have travelled via plane very often with Max before and visited lots of countries. At practically all airports so far he had been our super joker: we were usually allowed to skip waiting lines and to board first. Not so in the USA: it's first the people who booked first class, then those with senator status, then those with other miles status, then the holder of certain credit cards - you get the message.
As our flight only left LAX at 11:40pm but despite the two-hour time difference vs. Chicago, Max had managed well to stay up as long. But by the time of boarding he was really tired. So it took a bit of convincing to be allowed to board in wave 1 of the non-priority economy passengers instead of wave 2. And it was good that we did that: Max fell asleep pretty much as soon as we had found our seats in the plane and slept until breakfast was served.
One last wave back towards the continent that hosted us so nicely during more than five months and off we go...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:42 Archived in USA Tagged rain airport museum leaving harley birthday van bowling sale bye Comments (1)

The ugly side of traveling: our journey to Western Australia

From Rarotonga via Auckland and Melbourne to Sydney; from Sydney via Perth to Broome

overcast 23 °C
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We were in for a big change: leaving the South Pacific headed towards Western Australia. It was approaching midnight when our taxi picked us up and took us to the airport. We had booked the Sunday Nov 6 flight at 2:35am with Jetstar and were planned to reach Sydney on Nov 7 at 9:10am after a short touchdown in Auckland. This sounds like a very long time, but it’s not. Crossing the dateline towards west, we’d lose a full day. But the actual fights should be manageable. We were at the airport early enough to make sure that we’d for sure get seats. We knew that yesterday’s Jetstar flight to Auckland had been cancelled, as the owners of our house were supposed to be on that flight. Therefore, we were weary that in addition to our flight, there will also be yesterday’s passengers hoping to get a seat.
Our shock was significant when check-in did not work as smoothly as usual. The lady at our check in desk started checking with a colleague first in order to then have a chat with her supervisor. After a couple of minutes, we learned that our flight had in fact been cancelled and our flight was now supposed to leave on Tuesday Nov 9. Even though we had not received a message in that respect, the ground staff was clear that they could not do anything at this stage, but that’s something we’d need to work out directly with Jetstar. We were told that the flight was fully booked and only in the event of several people not turning up for the flight, we might be admitted. So, this meant taking all of our stuff and waiting in the hope of few people turning up for the flight.
We were shocked, but at the same time tried to remain positively minded. Up to now everything on our trip had somehow worked out and this time we hoped that this would be true once more. It’d better be: if we’d be able to fly only on Tuesday, we’d miss our flights to Broome, which had been fairly expensive due to the remote location.
While we played all kinds of scenarios in our mind, more and more people kept turning up at the airport and I got significantly more nervous about our prospects. As it turned out, the ladies behind the desk somehow made it possible for us to check in after all.
They told us that the journey might not be pleasant, but only once we checked the details on our boarding passes, we realized how bad it would be: we’d arrive in Auckland, wait there for 15 hours, fly to Melbourne, stay overnight at the airport there for another 7 hours and then arrive in Sydney about 23 hours later vs. what we had booked.
Already at that stage, Sam asked me not to book Jetstar anymore. He enforced that statement once he saw the leg space in the plane and the lack of any kind of entertainment or in-flight services. Not even water was offered on the five-hour flight to Auckland.
At least Max slept all the way to Auckland. Once there, we realized that there is no Jetstar desk to complain or see if our connection might be improved, nor is there a playground. On the pro side, there was a nice and quiet lounge that allowed us to stretch out and have a good afternoon sleep. And while we slept, Max kept making somersaults.

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Unfortunately, I had not been cautious enough where I put my glasses while sleeping. By the time I woke up, I had to realize that the frame was broken at one side. I could still use them, but they kept hanging there so lopsided that it felt very awkward.
When we finally got to board our plane to Melbourne, we had to realize that our spell of bad luck had not been broken quite yet. It was already a bit strange that when scanning our boarding passes, there was a beep and the Jetstar lady had to somehow override the system to let us in. We were almost the first people on the plane, but when getting there we realized that our seats were already taken.
The head stewardess checked her paperwork and eventually told us that we were not supposed to be on that plane. After some further checks, we were told that we should have taken a direct Qantas flight to Sydney earlier in the afternoon and not this one. It felt like people were mocking us: we would have loved to take a direct flight to Sydney. But we simply did not know and had no way of finding out about it. Still, as the plane still had three empty seats, the ground staff managed to get us admitted on the flight and once everyone had boarded, we were given new boarding passes and were fine to go to our seats.
When arriving in Melbourne around midnight local time, we were not too surprised when our luggage did not turn up on the baggage belt. After all, we had not been supposed to be on that flight, so our baggage was not there either (even though it had been tagged for that flight).
After everything that had happened so far, we found some comfort in black humor. At least, we realized that without big bags in tow, it was much easier to get through Australian customs inspections.
At the Jetstar baggage service desk, Renee was extremely helpful. After listening to our story, she filed the lost baggage claim. She also made sure we were booked on the morning flight to Sydney (which once again we were not on) and checked us in already. She also gave us a stack of food vouchers worth over 50 AUD to at least compensate us a bit for our troubles. So at least, we were sorted.
By the time we were done at the baggage service desk, it was already past 1am and we were supposed to be at security for our next flight around 5:30am. In other words: we had four and a half hours ahead of us. A hotel at the airport would have cost more than 200 AUD and anything further away would have reduced the time at the place such that it was not worth it. So, we’d spend the short night at the airport.
Unfortunately, Melbourne airport does not feature a lounge as nice as the one in Auckland, so we ended up staying on the floor in a dead-end hallway that featured at least carpet flooring. Max slept fine, Sam slept a bit in a chair, but eventually was freezing too much just in his T-Shirt, and I stayed awake. When deciding to stay at the airport, we had factored in that we’d just get our sleeping bags and fleece jackets out of the checked baggage in Melbourne. With the baggage not arriving, this plan did just not work out as intended.

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So, this is how our November 8th, 2016 started. With such a bad start in Australia for us, we figured that at least in the US, things would be going well – after all it was the election day for the 45th president of the USA – Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump.
And also our luck turned a bit: The remainder of our day went as planned. So we took the morning flight from Melbourne to Sydney. We even enjoyed the fact that we were traveling so lightly without any heavy baggage.

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From the airport in Sydney it was just a 15-min taxi drive to our Airbnb place in St. Peters where we should have arrived already the morning before. The place was nice and the comfortable beds were really tempting us. But despite our aggregated lack of sleep from two nights in planes of airports, we were fit enough to head off shopping. After all, we had quite a list of things we needed to get done before heading out to Broome the next morning.
Max had the luxury of being able to borrow a balancing bike and enjoyed the ride to the nearby shopping mall. He was rewarded for his patience and for being so good in adverse situations with a fire brigade set from Lego.
But the most important thing was to get my glasses fixed. Luckily enough, there was an optometrist in the mall carrying the brand of my rimless frames. And contrary to Sam’s experience in the US, this optometrist was not only selling the frames, but also able to assemble glasses or cut new lenses. And I was really lucky: they had on stock almost exactly the part which I needed and fixed that on my glasses within two minutes! Wow – it felt great again having my glasses fully functional again!
And the mall also had everything else we needed: a food court with excellent food. And it was really cheap. But let me make a disclaimer: after five weeks in French Polynesia, the Cook Island and at airports, everything seemed to be extremely cheap in comparison. We also went food shopping at ALDI and just barely resisted stocking up on German Christstollen and other typical Christmas sweets.
Once done with shopping, we had a quiet and relaxing rest of the afternoon, a good shower and nice dinner. And yes, we went to bed really early trying to make up for the lost sleep of the last couple of days.
The next morning, it was time to go to the airport again – not even 24 hours after we had last been there. As we were anyhow at the airport, we used the opportunity to get a status update from baggage services. We were told that our bags had made it already to Melbourne. They’d still need to be custom cleared and should then be sent via Perth to Broome. At that stage, there was no telling, when they’d arrive there though.
After our rather ugly experience with Jetstar, we were thrilled about Virgin Australia. We had nice seats with sufficient leg space, individual entertainment screens with a huge and excellent choice of movies, music and games and there was good food. I watched ‘Bad Moms’ and had so much fun that I recommended Sam to watch it as well.

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In Perth, we used our three hours waiting time to get a bit of exercise. Watching TV at the other terminal, we were shocked to see that Trump was leading Clinton in the race to 270 by 236 to 208 votes. And on the flight to Broome in a Fokker 100 with as much leg space as you’d usually not even get in an exit row, the pilot ended his usual speech with the update that Donald Trump had been elected president of the USA. This is not what we had hoped for. But as usual, my friend Susan had consolation. Back in Perth I had seen her Facebook post, reminding us that despair will not help, but rather accepting the situation and seeing how to make the best of it.
In light of the bad news, we resorted to looking outside and marveling at the nice views of the outback and the Great Sandy Desert.

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Once we arrived, we moved directly to the taxi stands and were taken to our home for the next two nights, the ‘Beaches of Broome’ backpackers in Cable Beach. Soon after arriving there, we received a call that our baggage had arrived in Broome on the Qantas flight. Contrary to what we had been promised, we’d not get the baggage delivered, but would need to pick it up at the airport ourselves. I took a taxi back to the airport where I was able to take over our three big pieces of baggage. Unfortunately, Max’ car seat was missing.
So after checking in our bags on November 6 at 2am in the morning, we finally received most of them on November 9 at 7pm in the evening. Even though this is pretty awful, we were relieved to have the bags in the end.
After all, tropical Broome at the start of the wet season greeted us at 30 °C and all three of us were wearing long pants. Consequently, we were thrilled being able to change into clean shorts and to have luxuries like bathing costumes or toys again.
We were happy with the outlook not having to take any flight for the next two months. Sitting in the outside lounge area at our hostel, enjoying a cold beer (and non-alcoholic ginger beer for Max), suddenly provided us again with a pleasant outlook on life.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:17 Archived in Australia Tagged night flight airport glasses seat luggage lounge cancel awful Comments (1)

On spring break

Seoul

sunny 22 °C
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An arrival time of 5:55 in the morning is never really pleasant. That is even more true when you have not really slept on the plane and when flying east. In other words: it felt rather like 3am in the morning when we headed towards Korean immigration. It was no problem to get our passports stamped and before too long we were in possession of all our belongings again.
We quickly found the airport train and headed towards ‘Digital Media City’ where we were picked up by the manager of our guest house in his Jaguar. Wow – that is a first!
The best news of the day was the fact that our room was already available for us. We were delighted to finally get some sleep and around noon time felt recovered enough to have a look around.
It was excellent weather. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and clear (no comparison to the humid and dusty air we had in Kathmandu) and the temperatures were very pleasant. It felt like a really nice day in European spring – with the obvious difference that people around us did not look European at all and that everything written was illegible to us. Even though we had gotten used to that already in Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal, it continued to intimidate us a bit not being able to figure out where e.g. a bus was going.

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But we were fortunate to get help in our first steps to use public transport: someone from the guesthouse took us to the convenience store to get bus tickets and showed us where to catch the bus to Hongik University.

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In this lively and young neighborhood we explored the pedestrian zones around there until we got hungry and headed for Korean BBQ. It was fun to observe how the food was prepared right in front of our eyes at the table. Eating itself turned out to be a bit of a challenge, as the food was significantly hotter than what we had realized. Still, it was a great experience and once we had gotten over the initial shock in regards to the pungency of flavor, we really liked it.

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After a bit of strolling, we headed home – but not before stopping at a confectionery to get some strawberry cake to take home.
What followed was a perfect evening: We used the Wii with big screen at the guesthouse and while watching Kung Fu Panda on a big TV once Max was in bed, we helped ourselves to the German Benediktiner beer that the guesthouse offered for free (just like soft drinks, round the clock breakfast, instant noodles, etc).

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Our visit of Seoul had been intended as a break from more serious sightseeing in Nepal and in Mongolia. It was the cheapest flight connection between the two countries and we felt like a stopover would do all of us good.
Even though we had no intention to systematically check out all of Seoul’s many sights, we figured that we might as well go to explore a bit. So after a very relaxed and late breakfast, we headed off by bus to Bukchon Village. This area of Seoul is nicely built on sloping hills and features many old traditional Korean houses, called ‘hanoks’. At a tiny eatery, we had soup. This time we were not quite so surprised as the day before to find out that it was almost too hot for our taste buds.

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Exploring the older parts of the village proved to be interesting. In the narrow streets, there were lots of tourists – like us – trying to get the perfect shot of the old houses with the Seoul skyline in the backdrop.

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But there were also lots of local Koreans there. Many of them were dressed in the traditional Korean attire, the ‘hanbok’. We had passed already lots of places that rented hanboks out by the hour and suddenly realized that this must be a very viable business.

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By the end of our tour, Max was so hungry and we were so helpless to come up with local non-spicy food options, that he simply got a portion of French fries at the local McDonalds. Sam and I got ourselves some dumplings called ‘bibigo’ that we prepared ourselves in the kitchen of our guesthouse.
Some Taiwanese guests of the guest house treated us to some excellent fruit: they let us share their crates of strawberries and oranges. Well, the ‘oranges’ were very special: the ‘hallabongs’ are a specialty of Jeju Island. And indeed: they were excellent!
After all of us had survived Nepal without getting a ‘Delhi belly’, Sam’s luck was fading and he spent a sleepless night. Luckily Max and I were not affected. While Sam finally managed to catch up some of his lost sleep on the next day, both of us had a nice day in the guest house. We played, read and did what we enjoyed most. And not very surprisingly: I had no chance to beat Max when playing various Wii games.
That day, the first floor of the guest house was filled with a group of 15-year-old boys who were celebrating a birthday. They had their moms with them who prepared food and did what 15-year-old's do: they played on their mobile phones, they used the computers in the guest house to play and the fought their fights. But no matter what they did: they were extremely loud. Not just as loud as what I would have expected of 15-year-old boys, but significantly louder than that. While this might not be surprising, I did wonder a bit that their moms did not intervene in any way. After all, there were a couple of other guests around as well.
Eventually our Taiwanese neighbor took the initiative to yell at them around 2am at the morning that it’s time to shut up and that others are trying to get some sleep. Talking with her in the morning, she said that such behavior seems to be acceptable in Korea – and she should know being married with a Korean husband for more than 10 years.
We slept very long the next morning – still living on Nepali time 3 ¼ hours behind Korea – but after our quiet day yesterday, headed out again today. Taking the train to Seoul Station was super easy. Contrary to the buses, the trains and subways are signposted and announced in English such that we understood where we have to go. Once more we agreed that Seoul features an excellent and affordable public transport system.
From the station, we walked to Namdaemun Gate, one of the old entry points of the enormous city wall dating back to the 14th century. We had a quick photo stop.

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From there we headed on to Namdaemun Market. We had street food – excellent steamed and fried dumplings. Standing there, we met some very friendly locals who even let us have a try of what they were eating.

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Along the previous city wall, we headed to Namsan Park. There were lots of locals enjoying that warm spring weekend hiking up the hill.

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At the photo view point, they admired the cherry blossoms and took lots of pictures of themselves and the beautiful view of the city. To note: Koreans do not say ‘cheese’ when trying to get a shot of smiling people, they say ‘kimchi’ (which is their version of hot marinated cabbage).

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Once we passed the upper station of the cable car, it got really crowded for the remaining couple of hundred meters to Seoul Tower. Many people seemed to be there to fix their love locks on the many fences foreseen for that purpose.

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We had walked enough for today and decided to take the cable car down the hill. From there it was just a short distance to the next subway station.

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In the bus from Hongik Station to our guest house, we met our Taiwanese neighbor again. She had spent another day shopping and we finally found out why she is spending most of her week in Korea shopping: seemingly Korean cosmetics are renown in Asia for their excellent quality and great value. We were not interested in any shopping efforts and rather concentrated our efforts on the good Korean food and treated ourselves to kimbap (a kind of sushi rolls), Soup and dumplings.
The next day, Sam took a tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), i.e. the area around the border line towards North Korea.

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He was reminded very much of the inner German border which over years had been setup in a very similar way. In today's Germany, not much of that remains, except some remaining watchtowers and a green band in which wildlife and rare plants thrive. Let’s see if this will happen to the Korean DMZ as well at some stage. For sure, the South Koreans are dreaming of a re-unification. The future will show how realistic that is - considering that China probably prefers having North Korea as a buffer towards the South.

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Just like the former German border line, the DMZ also serves as a refuge to rare wildlife and plants, but is fully active. There are mines, the watchtowers are manned and there is a very tense atmosphere – specifically nowadays that Mr. Trump is rattling against the North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Being in the border zone you can listen to loud propaganda played from both sides - trying to convince the respective other side of the benefits of the own system.

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There are even a couple of North Korean infiltration tunnels. One of them is open to the public and can be visited as part of the DMZ tour. Since the tunnels have been discovered, they have been blocked off. And supposedly there are now sensor systems in place to detect any further underground blasts. And there are some remains of the Korea War on display - such one of the last locomotives that moved freely between the two countries.

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In the tour bus, the same thing happened to Sam that happened since he had arrived in Korea: everyone deducted that being ‘Austrian’ means coming from ‘Australia’. But there were also lots of other misconceptions present: his neighbor in the bus suspected that Korea's main export products are rice and ginseng. Seemingly he had forgotten about Korean companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai Motors, Kia cars or the fact that Korean cargo ships dominate the world market.

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That’s probably one of the big frustrations for Koreans: living in the shadow of their better known neighbors China and Japan and despite being the 5th largest export economy of the world being virtually unnoticed internationally. Let’s see if Korea will be able to make use of the upcoming winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang to share some facts about it with the world.
When Sam was back in the afternoon, we took a hike up the hill behind our guest house. Surprisingly enough, we even managed to discover a small playground – the first one since we had arrived in Korea. The lack of playgrounds in Nepal had not surprised us at all, but considering what a well-developed country South Korea is, this came as an unexpected shock.
The trail around the top of the hill was very beautiful. There were nice flowers blooming all over the place and there were hardly any people around. It was an excellent escape from the bustling city around us which we truly enjoyed.

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Our last day of the break we had taken in South Korea, was not very exciting. We had to pack our stuff, had a late breakfast at the guest house, went shopping (thanks, to the staff of the guest house and to Google Translate for the excellent help – otherwise it would be much more difficult to get around without speaking and reading any Korean!) and ended up at Burger King.
In the late afternoon, the manager of the guest house drove us to the airport train in his personal BMW 7 series (which probably cost him more than our year of traveling as a family of three).
As we headed to the check in, we could not resist comparing Incheon airport with its counterpart in Munich. It was very clean, well laid out and perfectly organized. And indeed, in the most recent airport rankings it had ranked #3 just before Munich which landed on place 4.
Korean check in super correct: wants to see tickets out of Mongolia, does not want our sleeping pads next to the backpacks. Good flight.
We recapped that it had been five very pleasant days in Korea – a country that we’d be happy to return to one day (well, if it wasn’t for so many other places we’d still love to explore as well!).

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:54 Archived in South Korea Tagged park airport spring bbq orange dmz wii Comments (0)

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