With half of my Intagram feed going to Japan to marvel at the sakura blossom or to admire the red colors of the autumn, I am happily keeping South Korea – with equally gorgeous cherry time and fall colors – to myself. For me, mass tourism takes the magic of the places away (think Santorini flooded by several hundred of ferry hoppers), – I kind of don’t even want to go to Japan now.
Especially when I have my family still in Korea. Here I am taking on from the previous post on South Korea Daily, to share with you some of my favorite pastimes there, Korea’s less known casual side, and simply the things that make me happy there.
I have been flying to South Korea for 13 years, and yet I wrote only two blog posts about it: one about the racoon cafe in Busan and one about cherry time. To me, this place is something very casual, very homelike, very laid back, – somewhere I always come on holidays and have undivided attention of my parents and a cat (cat’s attention I never get, but that’s life). My packing to South Korea is two pairs of shorts, a swimming suit, three T-shirts, flip flops and gifts to Mus and Dad. (On my way back, I fill the suitcase with Korean cosmetics.) Recently I am not even taking my Canon with me, unless Mom and I are making a sweet detour somewhere else, like we did to Bali, and travelling light with my street camera, Fuji X-T2.
So today I want to show this country like I see and love it: no postcard views of the temples (which are gorgeous, by the way), no ultimate Instagram material of the cherry blossom.
October is an exciting time for me at work. I start new projects, bring up new topics to the discussion on Digital Innovation, and even introduce a couple of new full-bred solutions. I fly for weeks straight (actually, I am set to fly through the entire month), and put all my energy into my job. Then comes a weekend. During the week, I am looking forward to it as a time when I can finally switch gears and create, read, do sports. I somehow picture it as 48h charged up with useful and exciting activities for which I can’t set time aside during the week. And then, on Saturday/ Sunday I spend most of the time in my pjs, watching series, ordering food and doing rare bicycle gigs around the city, mostly to go to the movies. (I do read books though.)
I now I think it it’s okay. I used to feel sorry for these unused stretches of creative time, but then I got to a point in my life when I understood the value of planned downtime (hello, “How to Have a Good Day” by Caroline Webb). This time around, I am embracing my racoon weekend personality, swiping the dust from my August photos (made with Fuji, by the way, my go-around-the-city camera, instead of my Canon 5DIV), to spread some more love for South Korea, the country of my eternal vacations.
This post captures my visit to a racoon cafe in Busan, South Korea. Today Korea – a small country with no natural resources and a landscape made up by 70% of mountains – is one of the world’s leading economies. I have been coming there for 13 years by now, and could witness their economic ascent. I gave a lot of thought about what made Korea what it is now, and being humble and eager to learn is one part of it. Take Apple vs Samsung battle. Some years ago, Apple used to be the number 1 phone in Korea, the high earner’s trade mark and a sign of (be)longing to the Western sophisticated civilization. Most of what Samsung did these days was to mirror Apple’s design and functions, first to a very modest success. With years, Samsung caught up with Apple, offered their own progressive techs, and now very few people in Korea still have an Apple device. Samsung there is all the rage now (despite the fact that Apple offers a very appealing price level in Korea).
The same about animal cafes. Koreans have been excited about cat cafes, even launched a few dog cafes (where dogs are wandering and playing around, not what you could have thought), and now introduced a racoon cafe.
This Monday marks the beginning of the last full-blown week of summer. Next Friday autumn officially kicks in. (Can you believe?!) It was a great summer for me. I was blessed with a chance to swim in the waters of Greece, Tunis, Adriatic Sea (Croatia and Montenegro) and, just a few weeks ago, at the feet of the Korean peninsula, in the strait of the Pacific Ocean between the Sea of Eastern China and the Japanese Sea. Idly laying on the beach, listening to the music of the waves, playing with sand and breathing in, greedily, the salty breeze, I was contemplating the ranking. Mediterranean Sea, to me, will always be the best. And the bingo on available flights, amazing food, scenery of all kinds and – relatively, depending on the island! – relatively sane prices is Greece.
Here goes to this summer paradise – #travelhacks to Kithyra. Most can be applied to pretty much any other Greek island with understandable exception of Mykonos and Santorini.
One of these days, I sent Sophie a work-related email and got her (all-related) auto-reply. “I am OOF enjoying the Greek islands”, it says. Right, the Greek islands.
Kythira is the opposite of Mykonos: lavish green instead of sunburnt yellow, solemn and empty instead of busy and packed, rural instead of commercialized. (It is also about one third price of its well-known contender, which is worthy of consideration in the middle of summer). I love Mykonos too, it is just a very different kind of holiday: festive and trendy instead of quiet and authentic. The only common point between the two is the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean will always be the best sea in the world for me. And I keep on thinking, all the world known islands on this sea: Mykonos, Sardinia, Santorini and Ibiza, of course, used to be like Kythira some fifty years ago. Pure, savage and empty, open only to the eyes of people who wanted to wander into the unknown looking for beauty.
Diakofti beach, the one with the only 4 star hotel on the island, Kythira Golden Resort, is the Côte d’Azur of the island. Is it primarily famous for its white sandy shores, the only beach of this kind on Kythira. The ship, sank according to the hotel owner, by the drunk Russians and now the famous landmark of the island, is a pleasant sight. Diakofti is also known as the best family destination, so we admired it for a moment and kept on driving.
Here is a sacred map of the islands’ treasures. I kept it because there is no chance of getting a better one on the island (or maybe even another one). Given to us (as you can see by a subtle product placement) by the same lady at the same hotel, it has all of Kythira’s beaches: the stony and hidden Chalkos, the lively and touristic (if the word touristic is applicable to Kythira at all) Kapsali. There is Firi Ammos (two of them, actually) with its secret lake Kaki Lagada and Kaladi with its 150 stairs. And Avlemonas, with gorgeous and unusually deep waters, surprisingly cold in early June.
I would keep the map, too, if I were you: it also has the island’s best restaurants on it.
– Pigeon, where should we go this May? – I was jumping with excitement anticipating our annual trip with Sofia the way a small black car jumps on MyTaxi app when an order is confirmed. (I remember one friend asking us: “But why, why do you call each other pigeon?” The world might never understand best friends but together, best friends will understand the world.) – How about Malta? I have never been.
– I have been, I would go again… What about Spain? Check out the top beaches I sent you.
– Spain, mmm… – Somehow I have never connected with Spain. I love Barcelona – but then we already went there together, – had a good time at Tenerife (more than a decade ago, running away from November in Finland), and was absolutely not impressed by Madrid. And Madeira. – Or we can go to Montenegro. You know, because when else would we have an opportunity to travel there on an exploratory mission, and who else would sign up for it?
– Or I can take you somewhere romantic, where the green dissolves in the blue, a place with gorgeous beaches, nature, waterfalls and serenity. And the Greek food, of course. Like Kythira.
A few weeks later we were boarding what turned out to be a very small plane (with barely any luggage head space, a note to a savvy traveler) to Kythira, a tiny island a short flight away from Athens.