Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Gunpowder GardensThe Gunpowder Gardens by Jason Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is one of those great books which I like to categorize as ‘History of Things’. Through tracing the history of a thing, in this case, Tea, we unravel many more stories en-route. Tea is something that has always been central to my life, it never answers back and it’s always there for me in a crisis. I think this book is an essential read to anyone who consumes tea on a regular basis. It provides fun anecdotes all the way through and the author ‘Jason Goodwin’ is a great companion on the adventure of tea.



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Ibn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far NorthIbn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North by Ahmad ibn Fadlān
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very objective account of an embassy sent from the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to instruct the (Volga)Bulgars in matters of Islam. The journey takes in some of the most noteable tribes of the 11th century north of the Caspian and Black seas. He travels well into Russia which was in its infancy. He also travels across the Tundra to visit other semi nomadic tribes.

The account is very detailed and doesn’t belittle or pour scorn upon other races – common at the time. It was fascinating to read about the Viking burial and some of their customs which seem so alien both today, and even more so back then.

The introduction is a welcome account of the traveller, although not much is known about him. There are also several accounts from the Arab world about the various peoples of Europe. I feel like these collection eventually became Geography as we know it.

I’d recommend this to those who enjoy Herodotus and the Travels of Ibn Battutah.

They say that life is a journey and not a destination, but sometimes when you are travelling it’s nice to have some kind of a destination. This is especially true in Korean cities which are mostly late 20th century places with lots of concrete apartment complexes, outlet malls and out of control commercial signs. Le Corbusier would probably love the Korean metropoles – they are machines for living in. It seems that some new ideas do take off very quickly in Korea.

There has been a trend for out of town complexes like Art Towns, Book towns and conference centres. Many of them probably looked better on paper than in real life. In their enthusiasm, some planners and architects forget that gardeners need to weed between the cracks of concrete, window cleaners need to clean the sheer 100 metre glass windows and retailers actually need to rent out the commercial units. Without those basics the drawing board utopias can quickly end up looking like the sets of poorly conceived sci-fi shows. The concrete and steel rarely sit well in their surroundings if they are not maintained and more importantly – used.

With all this in mind I was very skeptical about going to an out of town coffee ‘factory’ on the outskirts, the very hem of the skirt in this case. The place in question is the Coffee Factory of the Terarosa firm. It is the biggest domestic Coffee company in Korea and has a family owned, kind to farmers kind of feel. I have been to a few branches in Korea and found that it has a strong brand identity and is a welcome change from the other run of the mill places. Run of the mill in this case is the usual concrete urban interior with bookless bookshelves and a really expensive coffee roasting machine – which you can SEE!

After decrypting the bus timetable outside Gangneung Bus Terminal, I decided to take a taxi. It was a great decision which I failed to make on the return journey. The factory is right at the edge of town, the car park is spitting distance from the ring road, if you can spit quite far. The taxi pulled up round the back of the complex and it felt like I was entering another World. To enhance the feeling, a south american looking chap crossed my path decked out in earthy tones and an apron. In contrast to the distopian feel of many new buildings in Korea it felt quite positive. The natural landscape seemed to fit around the impressively big structures. I had to cross a kind of mini Indiana Jones bridge to get to the main edifice(s). The scale of the buildings was impressive but not overwhelming. It felt like there had been an apocalypse but it was a really really long time ago and people had just forgotten about everything apart from coffee and bread. It reminded me of the excellent film version of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Kind of a sixties version of what the future might be like. If I go again I will definitely wear a turtleneck.

Despite fitting in reasonably well with the vegetable gardens and general rural vibe, the Terarosa Factory is something of an oasis in an otherwise typically provincial and unremarkable setting. Even the visiting ajummas (middle aged Korean women) were dressed in more earthy and dare I say tasteful clothes than usual. One of the most impressive things about Korea which I have never adjusted to is the brightly coloured leisurewear of the older citizens. But in this post industrial concrete bunker of hipness, everyone seemed very at home, almost camouflaged. Maybe the architecture and design was playing tricks on me.  Maybe they have a dress code. Anyway, it was quite a contrast to the mornings I’ve spent hiking where the older citizens look pretty tropical.

I won’t go on much more because I’m no coffee expert. However, the coffee tasted like coffee and the bread tasted like bread. Actually, the croissant was the best I’ve had outside France. The staff seemed very kind and professional, not to mention busy. If you do choose to visit this place, try to go on a quiet day because various coach tours come and go, so it’s pretty busy. I hope the pictures capture what is a very special place.

Further Information:

https://www.terarosa.com/

Gangwon-do, Gangneung, Gujeong-myeon, 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

강원도 강릉시 구정면 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

 

Have you heard of Jumunjin? No, neither had I until I went there. I’m always slightly wary of giving away information on less obvious places, but as the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang approaches it’s definitely worth knowing about.

Juminjin is a small beach suburb of the bigger city called Gangneung on Korea’s East Coast. Gangneung is famous for beaches and coffee and is also the venue for the indoor winter sports for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. You can reach Jumunjin  in about 20 mins from down town Gangneung and it’s only a short hop through the mountains to the outdoor alpine events in Pyeongchang County.

The town of Jumunjin is a simple fishing place with a great backdrop of the Seorak mountains. If you are familiar with the East Coast of Korea it’s like a mini Sokcho, which is no bad thing; Sokcho is one of my favourites! The best thing about Jumunjin is that it’s compact which means you can see  interesting places within a 10 minute walk of your hotel. There is the usual mixture of Korean style motels and some bigger resort type places near the beach. However, if you are an international traveller with international standards the best bet seems to be a recently renovated property ‘The Winners Hotel’. This place is set back from the seafront but it’s got a view over the single story fish places in front. it has easy access to the restaurants, coffee shops and some of the places offering boat tours. The hotel feels brand new and it has been finished in a boutique kind of way with tasteful furniture and pieces of contemporary art. Aside from the fixtures and fittings the absolute best thing about staying here is the view over the sea. It’s well worth waking up early to take in the sunrise on a clear day. The balconies are pretty large so you can sit out and enjoy a coffee whilst watching the squid boats come in.

 

Walk along the front if it’s not too windy, but if the wind does come in you can retreat back to the main fish market – parallel to the port area. I’m always happy to look around fish markets because where there is a fish market there are inevitably great restaurants. The main draw of Juminjin is the quality of crabs, there are endless tanks with the imperial crabs grappling over the sides. Having tried the crabs on previous visits to the East Coast I opted for something more economical, and surprisingly, something I hadn’t tried before – Mussels with Rice or ‘Honghapbap’. Not only was this meal amazing, the side dishes were plentiful and pretty tasty. I was astounded that the set menu I ordered also had a full mackerel as well.

 

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The photographs below show the restaurant which is just next to the fish market. You cannot miss the fish market because there is a giant whale guarding the entrance.

Despite waking up with the after effects of soju, the early morning wind freshened me up.  A big surprise for me in this small place was that above the fish market there is a quirky coffee theme park. This includes something for everyone. I actually just wanted to get a coffee but the brunches are really good, and if that wasn’t enough I even want through the trick eye gallery. These are getting commonplace in Korea but they are still fun and they bequeath you a load of novelty photos which lighten the mood for the serious travellers like myself! My favourite was playing pool inside a Van Gogh masterpiece – Dr Gache was looking on to make sure I wasn’t cheating. The coffee was high quality as they have their own roasting machine which you can see up close.

If you are considering getting away from the hoards of tourists either for winter sports or summer beaches then this little place comes recommended. I would also think about stopping here on an East Coast scenic tour. Gangneung is not a large city but it’s quite spread out, with this in mind it was very convenient to have everything on the doorstep of the hotel.

Further information:

Getting to Gangneung and Jumunjin:

At the time of writing the high-speed train has not yet been completed. It is possible by train but it takes a long time and you would have to change in Wonju.

By bus: The easiest terminal is Dong Seoul which has services to both Gangneung and Juminjin. It takes about 2h50 and costs W15,000 to Gangneung

Winners Hotel – Google Maps

The Hotel has recently been converted so it may still be listed as a motel. It’s walkable from the small intercity bus terminal. Head for the seafront and fish market area, the entrance is through a small opposite the boat tours.

Visit Korea Website – Jumunjin Beach

Gangneung Tourism (English Language)

 

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