Today we took little bee to Strasburg, PA to ride Thomas the tank engine.
After spending a few days in Paris, we decided to get out of the city and booked a tour to visit the Normandy D-Day beaches, museum, and American cemetery. The tour was very informative, yet a rather emotional adventure for the both of us.
Landings on the beaches of Normandy took place over 80km of coastline that are divided into the five separate spots of attack. The beaches each named after the local men that fought on them. American forces landed on Omaha and Utah, British troops landed on Sword and Gold and Canadian forces took Juno beach. I thought it was a neat little part of history learning the reasonings behind the names of the beaches.
The weather was perfect that day! The sun was shining and the wind and sea gave off a gentle calming breeze. I remember walking along the coastline among the wild flowers thinking to myself just how beautiful this place was, how serene the countryside was, and how that very beauty of the surroundings made it quite difficult to imagine or comprehend the acts of war that occurred on the very steps we were talking. However seeing the bullet holes in the ceiling of a remaining bunker at Point du Hoc was evidence enough to quickly snap you back to reality and make realize just where you were.
Paris truly is a walking city. It’s incredibly convenient and very easy to get navigate on foot, or public transportation…well….Unless your iPhone compass gets messed up due to a magnet on your phone case and leads you 5 miles in the wrong direction. Oopsie…. Did that really happen? If you see the Mr. Casually ask him how his 5 mile excursion For his wife to grab some salt went. The below is a screen shot that shows you the spike in steps that we took while in Paris. It was really awesome to see our progress once we got back to Korea just how far we covered on our entire trip.
To give our legs a bit of break we did purchase 48 hour hop-on hop-off bus passes through the Big Bus tour company. I know, I know, our friends teased us a bit and gave us some wise cracks on our age, lol we hear you! The hotel helped us arrange the purchase, the closest stop was very convenient to our hotel as well. It actually worked out quite nice because the day we decided to use it, the morning and early afternoon it rained. We liked that there were free headphones to take and grab and plug into and listen to the audio as it provided a guided tour through Paris. This gave us more background and history on different buildings, monuments, etc. We also enjoyed the fact that it was a great way to explore Paris and enjoy the unrestricted views of architectural beauty from the upper deck. We captured some awesome photos and video this way.
There is also a Big Bus Tours – Interactive City Guide App. The app has maps for various other countries and tours that you might decide to do in the future as well. Super user-friendly too!
We hopped off the bus and took the underground tunnel up to the Arc de Triomphe. the Arc stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the “Place de l’Étoile”, and is located at the western end of the ever popular Champs-Élysées shopping district. We caution not to be that guy that tries to jet across the heavily traffic congested roundabout, there are NO crosswalks. To give some perspective, 12 roads converge here and there is a lot of horns blowing. There are two entrances and exits you can use to directly access to the Arc in the center.
A bit of history we learned about Arc de Triomphe was that it was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon to recognize French soldiers, unfortunately Napoleon never had the opportunity to marvel at it because he died before it was completed.
The Arc de Triomphe is just a magnificent structure. Travel photos and magazines just do not do the monument any justice when showcasing the size. Standing there in person we felt like ants! We just couldn’t get over the size of this monument! It depicts and represents not only history of fallen soldiers and wars, but pure elegance, incredible beauty, and just outstanding design, symmetry and detail.
We purchased our two tickets for a small fee and ascended over 280 round steps up the inside of the monument to the very top. There is an option to take an elevator if need be. Many travelers provide reviews and say that this is a must do and see when visiting Paris and we absolutely agree. Once we stepped outside we were swept away with the 360 degree birds eye view of the city of Paris. Stunning! After seeing the views from high above in the bell towers of Notre Dame de Paris, I thought how could there be any better views left for us? Much to my surprise and delight the views were just as moving and breathtaking.
YELP reviews on Arc de Triomphe HERE
More information on Arc de Triomphe HERE
More information on booking tickets for the Big Bus HERE
Woo-hoo!! Our Paris multi-day video is finally live thanks to Mr. B!
Location: All over Paris, France
Click on 4k resolution to view this amazing city in Super HD. It is worth the download wait we promise! Feel free to let us know what you think.
A photo montage from some of our favorite pics.
Location: All over Paris, France
Click on 4k resolution
I was pretty excited for the evening of day three because I knew that it consisted of sipping on something refreshing while taking in some the best panoramic night views of the city and Petronas Towers. Again, using my trusty, “36 Hours Travel Guide”, we headed off to the SkyBar. The Skybar is located in Traders Hotel on the 33rd floor and is a “Top 10 Must Do in KL Attractions”.The bar is open from 10am -1am (3am on weekends), weekdays are much more low-key.
Skybar is an open pavilion with swimming pool by day and a cool, sleek, sophisticated bar by night. One travel tip that I did take from my guide was to call ahead for reservations of the couches located right next to the huge windows that align the Skybar. Why? Just look at the views below. I really wouldn’t want you to miss out on the opportunity to have a clear shot. The dress code is smart casual, also known as genius casual for Mr. B (inside joke).
I asked our waiter if people ever go for a swim in the evening and was told that yes people do indeed swim in the evening, however never quite plan on that swim. Word to the wise, watch your step as you sip on those drinks. Luckily we three didn’t see any or plan on partaking in one of those unplanned swims.
Our intention was just to grab one drink, relax and take in the views before heading off to dinner. Well we got there and were memorized by the view and ordered mojitos that were oh so smooth…Yep, this place really Harry Pottered us right on into more drinks and a pre-dinner appetizer. Well played Skybar, well-played.
Now that we got to see the towers at night, I couldn’t wait to see them up close during the day!
Could you handle that gorgeous views with a refreshing cocktail in hand?
Traders Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
50088 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur
+60 3-2332 9888
Rebecca was up and out the door this morning at 6:00AM to catch the metro down to City Hall in Seoul. Today is the DMZ tour and it takes approximately one hour and ten minutes to go from our metro station to the City Hall station. What a trooper! She woke up with a very runny nose and stuffy head. It might be allergies, it might be just a plain old case of the Korean crud, either way I knew it was going to be a pretty rough day for her.
Mr. B and I both had to finish out the work-week today. We were both delighted that Rebecca could go tour the DMZ and get a feel for the hope that exists for North Korea and South Korea to reunify. Rebecca said that the tour guide was a riot and reminded her of a little gangster when she used certain phrases or exhibited certain expressions. She thought to herself while on the tour that Id get a kick out of it. She knows me so well, I’m sure that I totally would have!
Once we were all back home in the evening, We wanted to hear how the tour was. Rebecca said it was good however the visibility was much like that of looking at North Korea on a google map. Eeek! That bad?! Yes, the sky was rather gloomy all day and it definitely would have affects on the South Korea DMZ observatory. That mother nature can really be a Debbie downer sometimes…All and all, Rebecca and I both are grateful, we know it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity experience.
Rebecca’s symptoms were definitely peaking in the evening and she was in dire need of some antihistamine or decongestant. We took care of her, many thanks to Mr. B, sometimes I am not sure what id do without this man folks, what a godsend. We hung out for a bit allowing the medication to sooth Rebecca’s system. About twenty or thirty minutes later she was actually starting to dry up a bit. She commented on how nice it was not to have to blow her nose every few seconds.
The semi re-charged Rebecca bravely blurted that she could handle going for dinner when we were ready. Dinner, dinner? Did someone mention dinner? Mr. B’s ears were certainly perked at this point. All week Mr. B knew that Friday night dinner plans meant D-I-N-O-M-E-A-T-S,those words were magical to Mr. B. and he was up and about and ready to go in no time. Uh-oh Rebecca…hope you are ready for this place.
We like to go to Dino Meats occasionally. Okay, okay, using the word occasionally very loosely here. This is a restaurant that is very popular because of the copious amounts of meat that you can consume. You hand select every cut and type of meat that you personally will grill and eat right at your own table. You must take off your shoes before entering and you must sit on the floor. We enjoy seeing the reaction of people who go for the first time because of all the key items listed above such as the floor seating, all you can eat meat, grilling at your table, and removal of shoes. It’s fun!
So how does one eat like a dinosaur? What a splendid question! I think we should ask Rebecca about that one…
Mmmm Hmmm… we indoctrinated Rebecca right away. We let Rebecca hand select the first round of meats. We then proceeded to provide her with a gigantic lettuce leaf and let her go to town. Mr. B said she had to eat it the Korea way. The Korean way, she asked? Yes, prior to consumption, you take whatever slice of the cooked meat you like and place it on the lettuce, with some cooked rice, or any combination of the vegetable such as the sliced garlic, kimchi, mushrooms, bean sprouts, or grilled onions. The final step, roll everything up in the leaf, and shove the entire thing in your mouth. It sounds easy right? I swear, it’s some form of mastering food art.
What a champ! She did it! Enjoyed it too! We giggled about how the first time Mr. B and I had to eat the meal this way we were trying to be all proper and have manners. Trying to perhaps tackle the leaf with some scientific approach and tear it in half, this way it would be smaller bites and smaller portions. WHOAAAAA!!! That wasn’t flying with our accompanying friends. When you are in a Korean “beef and leaf” restaurant in Korea, all the years you were drilled not to shove your mouth so full with food goes right out the window.
Bellies stuffed to the gills we went home.
Early rise this morning. I made an appointment at the hair salon in Seoul for Rebecca and myself. I was in desperate need of a trim and highlights…I know, complete shocker these sun kissed blonde highlights are chemically engineered.
I was really eager to introduce the sweet girl that cuts my hair. I knew Rebecca would really enjoy her. Rebecca got a pedicure and picked out the cutest color pink to boot.
We took the subway down to the appointment. I knew it would be fun for Rebecca to experience public transportation in South Korea. Super convenient and super easy to use. Basically all your main areas are located along the subway line. Rebecca commented and said she couldn’t get over how clean the train and subway was compared to the DC metro. It really is rather clean and well kept after.
After the hustle to get to our hair appointment, we we’re able to enjoy not being against the clock. Take our time. Stroll. Ha-ha! Well as much strolling that my long legs will allow, they are rather long.
We walked around the Insadong area. Rebecca picked up some ceramic duck chopstick holders for a gift. We also poked in and peaked around some of the little shops.
Rebecca got to try out egg bread too!
I knew I want to let Rebecca try a Korean summer treat. Pat bing su. Rebecca tried egg bread and some other little vendor finds. Eventually after I drug her all over Insadong, we found a quaint second floor tea room serving pat bing su. Rebecca loved it! We both loved getting to sit down, chat, and catch our second wind. God bless her heart! I’m so thankful to have such an amazing bestfriend!
After out Pat bing su we walked around a bit more and decided to continue on to our next destination.
The Next stop was the Gyeongbokgung Palace. We stopped off at a Dunkin Donuts to grab a drink and of course see the crazy koreanized donuts. Take for instance the glutinous rice stick. I know doesn’t sound very appetizing, folks you don’t know what you are missing out on.
At the Palace we took an English guided tour. Again, it never gets old to me. I learn something new each time I revisit a place. We had a great time wondering all over the palace grounds.
We snapped some photos. It’s just incredible how the mountains and trees surround the back of the palace backdrop and the front is tall skyscrapers and the hustle of Seoul city life. It’s truly a place were you can see the old meeting the brand new.
After wondering through the Palace grounds we decided to head towards the subway and mosey home.
Once we arrive home we had to tackle one of the most important questions ever…WHATS FOR DINNER?! HAHA! We had endless amounts of our Korean meal from the night before…or we could go grab a bite elsewhere. We decided to go out. CHICKEN! Grilled Chicken!
Once home we FINALLY remembered to bust out the surprise for Rebecca’s birthday. A nice cool treat from Korean Baskin Robbins!
We all woke up around 8ish-9ish this morning. We didn’t have a real plan in place. We wanted to keep the decisions of what to do up to Rebecca and how she was feeling. Mr. B whipped up some south western egg whites and I cut up a nice fresh Korean watermelon for breakfast.
Eventually we formulated a plan to see all the marketplaces in Seoul. We got everything together and were out the door around 11:30 with the GPS set to direct us to Seoul.
Please disregard the worst farmers tan ever that I’m sporting in my photos. Come on folks, I’m trusting you now!
We hit Namdaemun Market, Dongdaemun Market, Myeongdong, Cheonggyecheon Stream, and walked down the center of Seoul as the sun went down outside of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
We spent the afternoon lunching on street vendor food, shopping, exploring a bit, snapping photos, and soaking up the sunlight. The weather was gorgeous, we traipsed our little butts about 8 miles around the city.
As the sun went down, Rebecca said the city started to really take on a different vibe. We agreed, we love Seoul during the day, but really love Seoul light up shining brightly at night too.
Even after being here for over a year, we still get the same feelings of excitement while wondering around Seoul. Needless to say we were all thoroughly enchanted.
We ended our Seoul Backpack Bees tour in Itaewon over a delightful Thai dinner. We never ate at the restaurant, My Thai, it turned out to be rather delicious! We ordered pineapple fried rice, a spicy Thai noodle dish, and pad thai with shrimp.
It was getting late, we still had to drive home, we were all pretty exhausted. An hour and a half later we arrived home at midnight and all decided to retire to bed.
We Bee’s woke up bright and early to catch the bus to South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, also known as the DMZ. Our families and close friends know that we are located very close to the DMZ. To put things into perspective if you were to make a direct straight line from where we live to the DMZ we are only about 15 miles away. Yes, we know we just made our parents and grandparents cringe.
Our trip itinerary was as follows:
-Departure (Passport and Attire Check) There is requirements to what you can and cannot wear.
-Start for DMZ Destination (Freedom Highway)
-Pass through Unification Bridge (Passport Check), Arrive at JSA Camp Bonifas.
-Slides show security brief provided on JSA
-Tour JSA (Freedom House – Conference Room – Sentry Post No.3 – Bridge of No Return
– Dora Observatory
– DMZ 3rd Tunnel
For those of you who really do know much about the DMZ or the significance of it we will provide you with the basic overview of the things we took away from the tour.
The DMZ is a strip of land that is 4km wide and 248km long. This strip of land is what divides South Korea from North Korea. This border is no joke! There was such a nervous energy on the trip because of the security briefing you attend, the high fences topped with barbed wire, tons of observation towers, the antitank and minefield to the left and right of the highways, armed soldiers, and the cameras and microphones monitoring you from both sides as you tour.
Once we made it through the unification bridge we arrived at JSA Camp Bonifas. We were told what we could and could not bring from the bus before entering into the orientation in the auditorium in Camp Bonifas. The facility received its name after an American soldier killed by North Koreans in an “ax incident” over the cutting of a tree. Google hatchet incident or Operation Paul Bunyan for background information. We were required to sign a release advising us that, if anything happens to us on the tour, it’s our responsibility….eek!….
After the brief we got to go inside one of the actual main conference buildings. This is where official meetings are still sometimes held today. Once inside of the building we were intrigued that the room was very simple with almost a classroom style feel to it. There were large wooden tables and chairs. The tables had live microphones sitting in the middle of them. We were told that both sides were monitoring everything we said within this room. We were told not to touch anything within this room and this also included the two guards standing in a taekwondo stance at both sides of the room. Within this single room you can literally cross over from South Korea to North Korea. You could just see and feel how the entire group was thinking the same things and how this experience was so surreal
While we were inside the building we were told and got to see that two of the ROK soldiers stand half-concealed by the building that we were in. This allows the soldier to signal if they see anything going on within the North Korean side.
Once we were back outside we could see North Korean soldiers peering through binoculars watching our tour group as we stood on the steps standing only inches away from the North Korean side.
After we left the conference building we were loaded up onto a different bus from the one that we originally came on. While on the bus the guiding Soldier told us that there are only two villages in the DMZ. These villages are near the city of Panmunjom. On the south side the village is Daeseong and on the north side the village is Giljeong.
Daeseong is a government-subsidized village that has an elementary school, church, and is tax-free. The government pays the villagers about $82,000 dollars to harvest crops year round. The homes are modern and have technologies such as the Internet. We were told that right now 230 residents live within the village and have to follow a curfew of 11pm. When these villages want farm their crops they must have a soldier escort. We were blown away by this but got to see a famer first hand with two soldiers guarding him work near by.
The only way to live within this village is if you are a woman who marries into it or have an ancestor that lived or lives within it. We thought this was rather interesting.
We asked what the village does when the child reaches an age where they are above elementary level. We were told that the villager’s family can choose where to send the child to school and are basically exempt from the rule of staying so many day/nights within the village while that child is attending school. We also learned that there were currently about 20 some students and there were just as many teachers to the student ratio –wow-. When one of the students graduates from school the surrounding ROK Army Soldiers, nearby town Mayor and government officials attends the graduation and makes a big deal about it with a celebration. The child ends up with so many gifts that they have to have two trucks bring the gifts back to the village for the graduating child.
On the north side the village of Giljeong is rather different. This village was actually constructed years ago and was basically empty and used as propaganda up until the past few years. Recently the village has had some activity with North Koreans living within it.
On the tour we stopped off at one of the observation towers where we could see from a distance the Giljeong village. The village has a 160m high Eiffel tower structure flying a huge North Korean flag weighing about 660 pounds. We were able to take some pictures to show you all but the wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to extend the flag out.
The tour included getting to see the bridge of no return. This bridge leads into North Korea and obviously has no return. Near this bridge is where the “ax incident” occurred and there is a memorial plaque in remembrance.
After touring around Camp Bonifas we got back on our original bus and went for lunch. We had our option of bulgogi or bibimbap. Most of us within our group choose bibimbap. The dish and sides were delicious and really inexpensive!
After lunch we were back on the bus and heading to the Dora Observatory and the DMZ 3rd Tunnel. We were not really impressed with the Dora Obsevatory as the observatory section was being worked on and we couldn’t access it. Hence we could only peer out the huge glass windows with our own eyes to see North Korea in the distance. We decided that we would have to go back and give it another shot to make a final opinion of the place.
The last stop on the tour was the DMZ 3rd tunnel. Right off the bat the tour guide will warn you that this is quite a hike and will take time to see. We knew what we were getting into because of friends who have already experienced the tour. We wanted to experience it because we never knew if we would ever get a chance to again.
There are four tunnels crossing the DMZ that have been dug by North Korea leading to Seoul. They say that there are around sixteen tunnels estimated in total. These tunnels have been discovered only within the past few years, 1974 to be exact. North Korea tried to cover up the tunnels by saying that they were for mining and painted the walls black to have the appearance of anthracite. Of course no coal was ever found in these tunnels.
The 3rd tunnel that we toured is incredibly sloped the entire way down. The tunnel signs read that the tunnel is 1,700 yd long and about 490 ft below ground. They did not allow cameras in the tunnel. However, we snapped a few pictures from outside of the building of the tunnel start.
You are required to wear a helmet if you go into the tunnel. We laughed because if anything did happen when you were down in the tunnel this flimsy plastic helmet was not going to protect you from anything. We quickly realized that the helmet served the purpose of protecting your head when you have to walk crouched over through the low and uneven tunnel ceiling. Poor Hector wacked his head a few times and when we were laughing we ended up whacking ours.
On the way back up from being in the tunnel the air feels heavy when you are making your way back up. We knew were in trouble when we saw Koreans stopping along the way back up to take a break because these are the people who hike tall mountains on the weekends for fun and walk as a major mode of getting around.
There is a trolley that will take you down the tunnel and back up if you call and reserve ahead of time with the exact number of people within your group. To get to the ending point you will still have to walk and crouch over at points.
In the end we are left with thinking that we never imagined in our lives we would be at the DMZ standing freely between two countries still at war. South Korea desperately wishes for unity between the two countries so that long lost family members can be reunited again and live in peace. …. We wonder if that will ever be in our lifetime? Who knows, maybe someday?
After an awesome weekend in Songtan we headed home, unpacked, relaxed for about an hour and decided to get back out on the road and drive around without a plan or place in mind. We invited our friends and they gladly accepted to join us.
We drove throughout various country roads and ended up at Beomryunsa Temple 범륜사(절). The temple is located at the edge of Mt. Gamak a well known mountain in Paju-si. Information on this temple was extremely hard to find. We had to search for a few hours and use Google® Earth to fly around a bit to see where the pictures were taken. Our iphone’s® geotag didn’t work so well and was quite a bit off. Once we found the location on Google® Earth there was a place marker for a temple, the information is listed below:
Directions: South Korea Gyeonggi-do Paju-si Jeokseong-myeon Seolma-ri 산21-1
As we are driving around the countryside we noticed that we were the only non-Koreans in the area; information (in English) is extremely hard to find on the temple and after researching we learned that the Beomryunsa Temple, which dated far back to the Shilla Dynasty and was rebuilt in 1970. There was also the Bittul Tombstone (also called Seolinguibi), which leaned to one side. We are still trying to find more information on the temple and if anyone has more please send us an email.
Hope you have a great but safe holiday weekend.