At minimum, it was a whirlwind. It started in Oslo, when my cousin flew in from the States for some Scandinavian gallivanting. Little did we know that meant we would kidnap a Norwegian man and take him with us for our weekend excursion in Stockholm.
As much as I thought I’d mentally prepared myself for the “dark time” of visiting Iceland in December, my body was still puzzled when I looked out the window of the shuttle bus and was met with the pitch black. I triple-checked, but the glowing numbers on my phone informed me it was still half past nine in the morning.
It is rare when a short visit to a country is as memorable as the two layovers I had in Korea in 2012. En route from Hawaii to China, our first layover was twelve hours, during which we were shuttled to the Incheon Airport Transit Hotel, where each member of my four person team was given our own room for some respite from our travels. It was a pleasant stay, one that fully lived up to the “boutique” feel they strive for. But it was on the return journey from Malaysia to Hawaii that I was granted a most delightful visit to the city of Seoul. Nearly a full day to explore was an adventure I readily took on.
A good friend of mine, Benjamin, was teaching English abroad for the year at “Bits English School,” so upon exiting the airport, he met us at baggage claim and we took the train into the Seoul. Ben and I visited the school where he taught, the children taught me to say hello with their precious voices, “an-nyung-ha-se-yo!” (안녕하세요). They were energetic and smiling, even though I was still getting used to the idea that one is obligated to take off their shoes when they entered a home, school, or proper room. They loved holding my hands and walking me from the shoe rack and into their classroom. Children have such a sweetness about them, their contagious joy and friendliness is something I always aim to embody more, among other childlike tendencies.
Unfortunately the day didn’t lend me much time to spend at the school, but Ben had arranged a friend of his to give me a small tour of the city, so we met at a cafe and I wished Ben a farewell. Eivind was a Norwegian friend of his who was also spending some time in Korea. We had an entire day to run around, getting lost in (and at the edges of) the city, trying pastries and catching trains. Just last month Eivind and I saw each other again, this time in Norway, and he laughed about our random afternoon as acquaintances.
Tilting my head as though my posture would allow me more of a glimpse into the recesses of my mind, I told him I was preparing to write this blog entry.
“I remember walking on some train tracks…” I suggested, trying to develop my memory of a part of our afternoon.
“Yeah,” he stated, “We were waiting for the train when it pulled up, the doors on the opposite side of the train opened. The people got out, the doors closed, and then it just pulled away.” We both laughed thinking of how awkward it must have been for two strangers to look at one another and think, “Welp, what now?”
We did make it back to the city center… somehow. Eivind and I met up with the other group I was traveling with and we popped into a delicious restaurant for some authentic Korean BBQ. In the center of our table was a lower section that served as a grill. We ordered a variety of meats and veggies and grilled and laughed and ate away the cold day of adventures.
It’s not every day you are granted such full life experiences, new friends, and lessons learned. Thank goodness for the kind of layovers that give you a full day to journey through a city like I was able to in Seoul. A specific yet indescribable goodness fills my heart when I meet someone from Asian cultures, greet them, and see their approval and pride that I would extend a greeting to them in their language. I already look forward to the next time I can spend some time in the lovely country of South Korea.
Gamsahamnida!! Thank you!!! 고맙습니다!!!
Read more about Thirty by Thirty here…
My sister Raina was vegetarian before she ever convinced my parents it was a suitable way of living. They came from a time where a man ate three square meals of meat and potatoes in various forms, and a woman’s place was in the kitchen preparing it for them. Needless to say, my sister and I are relieved to be a part of a society that recognizes that, by force, such isn’t a suitable way of living. As society evolves, people see thousands of shifts in ideals and hopefully agree that mindsets should continually adjust. Sometimes historical changes are inspiring while other examples exemplify horror. Poland is a place that has seen both traumatic regime and beautiful redemption, and I was lucky enough to visit in 2015…
The sight of the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia & Herzegovina is one that stirs the heart of visitors and locals alike. In 2015 it was selected for one of the Red Bull Cliff Diving Competitions and, as I found myself backpacking without a strict itinerary, I made arrangements to journey there from Dubrovnik. For me, the thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie within still comes out on occasion, typically when towering heights are romanced by deep waters. With my visit spanning a couple of days, I was ecstatic in thinking that, as soon as the crowds cleared out, I would walk along the extraordinary landmark and jump off the bridge myself. After spending one afternoon downstream on some riverbank cliffs, I had a profound shift in my thinking that has affected how I perceive my travels, and the people I meet as a result of those travels. My awakening in Mostar spurred the dilemma I face with understanding my own rite of passage.
If only it was rare for regions of the world to be devastated by war as much as the former Yugoslavia. In the mid-1970s, a young woman by the name of Kamea traveled north from her home on the Dalmatian Coast, to Norway, where she would enroll in Folk School and meet an American girl by the name of Cordee. Their friendship flourished, and following their international student journey, Cordee visited Kamea in Split to meet her family. From there, life would take different directions for each of them. Though they longed to remain friends, they lost track of one another. Then, war ravaged Kamea’s homeland for a decade, from 1991 to 2001.
Milan was the cheapest place for my brother to fly from the US to Europe, and I was on an island in between Italy and Spain, so we rendezvoused at the airport. Twenty-four hours in the city included his first-ever hostel stay, a waltz through it’s fashion-renowned streets in the best outfits a backpacker has, and a stop to admire the Milan Cathedral, or Duomo di Milano. They were some of the more leisurely hours of our time, considering the following three weeks roaming Europe would include unforgettable experiences, nights with little sleep, exhausting our brains trying to speak new languages, and countless times chasing down buses, (the first of which would be three days later).
If ever you long for a seaside escape, keep in mind the hidden gem called the island, Menorca. Surprisingly, all you’ll need is a moped and a map to reach some of the more isolated beaches, where it is more than acceptable to slip off even your bathing suit and into the calming, crystal blue waters.
Long gone are the reverent chants for one church in Haarlem, Netherlands… they have been replaced by the clinking of glasses in Jopenkerk, a beautifully restored church turned modern-brewery. Complete with vibrant aesthetics and intentionally preserved mementos of its sacred past, you can’t visit the outskirts of Amsterdam without stopping in to sample fantastic beers with a front row seat to their entire brewing system.