Check: Genève / Geneva

After a year of constant travelling around the globe I returned home to Australia in May. There was obviously a bit of adjustment involved due to the change of circumstances, but luckily I only had to wait 3 months until my next holiday was planned.

Having signed up to run a foot race in the Alps in late August I decided to keep my travel plans rather short. My race started and ended in the town of Chamonix, France, but the most convenient airport was Geneva in Switzerland. I arranged my travels to stop for a day to view Geneva, since I had not included it in my week-long journey through Switzerland back in 2011.

I enjoyed a relaxing day walking along the waterfront and through the old city. I climbed to the top of the cathedral tower for views out over the water. It really is a pretty city, and it reminded me of earlier thoughts that I could definitely see myself living in Switzerland. Of course, I have never seen it in winter…

Continue reading Check: Genève / Geneva

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Seoraksan National Park - Panoramic View

Check: Sokcho & Seoraksan

In my travel plans for South Korea I included some modern cities, some history and some nature. Seoraksan National Park was part of the nature component of my travels through the country. The park offers plenty of hiking and hosts the third-highest mountain in the country (the peak of Daecheongbong stands at 1708 m), so I arrived with big plans of summiting that peak.

I stayed just outside the park entrance and in the early morning had a quick breakfast and ran to the gates. I paid my way inside and my first stop was at tourist information for a hiking map. The woman at the counter took out a map, used a marker to cross out 95% of the park’s area, and told me that those areas were closed. The remainder of the park would not open to tourists until the following month, with three places open for visiting, and none of those located more than 3.5 km from the entrance.

With some heavily curtailed plans I decided to start by visiting the top of Ulsan Bawi, a granite cliff that would provide some views down over the park, although at 873 m above sea level it was a fraction of what I had initially planned. There were a lot of domestic tourists, many kitted out with perfectly matched outfits, sturdy-looking shoes and boots, and many carrying hiking poles. There were also plenty of family groups seated at the many food options near the park entrance or shopping at the many souvenir stands. As I continued my climb I passed two locations with additional restaurants, and they were full sit-down restaurants rather than food stands. All of this was located along a hike of roughly 3 km.

Continue reading Check: Sokcho & Seoraksan

Check: Seoul & Surrounds

Walking around Seoul on my first evening I realised that apart from the distinctive Korean characters most of the streets could easily be slotted seamlessly into Tokyo in Japan. Slotted in between spotlessly clean, well-organised main thoroughfares were narrow and often-confusing alleyways. Restaurants were as often located on higher levels as at ground level, and it was nearly impossible to walk a block without locating a coffee shop.

I visited a number of the former royal palaces located through the city, learnt history and explored art in the city’s many free museums, tasted the incredibly-expensive coffee on offer, and sampled some of the delicious food on offer from both restaurants and street vendors.

Suwon, located 48 km outside Seoul, is surrounded by impressive fortifications, contains a reconstructed royal palace and hosts a folk village displaying reconstructed and relocated traditional buildings from across the country. I visited on a day trip from Seoul, catching a martial arts display at the palace, walking most of the 5.7 km long wall, and journeying to the folk village.

Continue reading Check: Seoul & Surrounds

Checklist: South Korea

From Turkey I was planning to finally start completing my trip around the world. I had bounced north and south between Europe and Africa a few times, ensuring anyone following me (either physically or via this blog) would be thoroughly lost or confused, but was otherwise travelling east around the globe.

I needed to decide a stopover point in central or eastern Asia on my way home. I had visited each of the south-east Asian countries that made the most logical stopover points so I started looking at options further to the north and west. In the end I found a well-priced option to fly into Seoul, in the north of South Korea and then to fly out of Busan, located to the country’s south. I would spend 16 days travelling through a country that I knew relatively little about beyond their booming tech and car companies.

South Korea - Itinerary
South Korea – Itinerary

After exploring Seoul and its surrounds I would travel east towards the coast, before making way south towards Busan. I would also make the return journey out to the volcanic island of Jeju from Busan.

Pigeon Valley - Header

Check: Cappadocia

Cappodocia offers a combination of interesting geological features with good hiking opportunities, with rock-hewn churches where Christians have lived since the 4th century.

Staying in the town of Göreme, my sister and I started our first morning in the region by heading to a tour operator to book a trip out to the Ihlara Valley for the following day. It turned out that they couldn’t guarantee they would head out the following day, but there was a tour that had just left. After calling the driver back we shortly found ourself with a fully-booked first day.

We headed out towards the valley, stopping at an underground caravanserai in Gaziemir and the remains of a church at the top of a high cliff above Güzelyurt. Then we continued to the valley and walked for 7 km alongside the Melendiz Stream, periodically climbing away from the stream to view four rock-hewn churches. On the way back we stopped to visit the monastery at Selime and to look out over scenic Pigeon Valley.

Ihlara Valley
Ihlara Valley

We started our second day by visiting the Göreme Open Air Museum, a sight including a number of rock-hewn churches just above the town. From there we set off on a hike through some of the surrounding valleys, to appreciate the unique geological structures up close. We stopped in the nearby town of Çavuşin for lunch before heading back towards Göreme having walked over 20 km for the day.

Continue reading Check: Cappadocia

Pamukkale - Roman Theatre Header

Check: Aegean Turkey

While staying at the running training camp in Iten, Kenya I met a fellow runner, Kevin, who hailed from Turkey. When I asked where in Turkey he was from, he looked at me and responded in a way that indicated that he possibly received the question a lot from people who could not name a Turkish city outside Istanbul. After he explained that he was from a city named Izmir on the Aegean coast I informed him that I had a visit to the city planned just over one month later.

After landing in Izmir in the late afternoon my sister and I met up with Kevin for dinner. While walking to dinner he pointed out his usual running spot so it was no huge surprise when we spotted him the following morning on a nice run through that very park. We then proceeded to walk around Izmir before catching a train to Selçuk.

That afternoon we visited the tourist sights around town since we would be heading out for day trips on the two following days. We walked alongside the Roman aqueduct and enjoyed wandering around the Basilica of St John, but unfortunately the apparently-impressive archaeological museum was closed for renovation.

Continue reading Check: Aegean Turkey

Re-check: Istanbul

I visited Istanbul for a weekend while working in Athens during early 2009. I was accompanied on that trip by an Italian male friend and two Greek female friends. My return trip would be with my sister as we reached Turkey on our overland journey that had started in Paris.

I revisited a number of the sights that I had previously viewed, but I also had the opportunity to visit a couple of places for the first time. The Archaeological Museum within the Gülhane Park was incredibly large, with my sister and I underestimating its size, and having to rush through to see most of it before it closed on the day of our visit. Another real highlight that I hadn’t seen before was the incredible mosaic at the Great Palace Mosaic Museum. As well as enjoying some great dishes including kebabs and many different meze, we drank Turkish coffee and found a great place for baklava.

We also visited major sights including Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace. Additionally we started working our way through the Turkish foods that we wanted to sample.

After our few days in Istanbul we caught a flight to Izmir so that we could explore some of the sights alongside the Aegean Sea.

Check: Veliko Tarnovo

I had travelled to Bulgaria previously in 2009, when I visited a distant cousin of mine who lives in Sofia. I spent time with my cousin and his family (his wife and two children), and we visited sights around Sofia as well as travelling out to Rila Monastery, the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in the country, which is also scenically located in the Rila Mountains.

On this trip my sister and I would be visiting Veliko Tarnovo, a town with signs of human presence dating back to the third millennium BC, and the former capital of the Bulgarian Empire.

We started our sightseeing by visiting the Archaeological Museum, exhibiting displays showing the long inhabitance of the area. Then we climbed up the hill to Tsaverets, a medieval stronghold featuring remains of many buildings as well as a rebuilt cathedral. The most interesting aspect of the cathedral was the interior paintings, which were extremely modern and I am sure must have been controversial.

Continue reading Check: Veliko Tarnovo

Check: Sighișoara & Bucharest

On our journey from Paris through to Istanbul my sister and I left Hungary to enter Romania. We caught an overnight train and awoke early to disembark in the town of Sighișoara. Sighișoara is in Transylvania and is the birthplace of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. He was posthumously nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, and his patronymic name was Dracula, and he was indeed Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his famed novel.

The plan behind our stop wasn’t inspired by the tales of Dracula at all but was to view his birthplace, which is an old walled town built on a hill. We walked up the hill, entered through one of the town gates, passed by the home where Vlad was born, and then wandered through town. We climbed up a covered staircase to reach a church at the top of the hill with an old cemetery and then made our way back down to the central square just as tour groups started to arrive. We then returned to the train station to take an afternoon train to Bucharest.

Continue reading Check: Sighișoara & Bucharest

Lajos Kossuth Square - Parliament Building

Check: Budapest

My first time in Hungary would only feature a brief one-day stop in Budapest.

Arriving in the evening with my sister we set out for some dinner. We had a restaurant selected but arrived on this Monday evening to find it closed. We backtracked and quickly found another interesting-looking restaurant since it was already quite late. We enjoyed a wonderful meal as our first introduction to the city.

Staying overnight in Pest on the east bank, we started our morning with a visit to the central market where we enjoyed a lángos (Hungarian flat bread) with cheese and sour cream for an almost-typical Hungarian breakfast, although unlike the locals we did not accompany ours with alcohol.

Crossing the river to Buda we visited the Matthias Church, looked down at the river and the east bank from the viewpoint at Fisherman’s Bastion, and walked past Buda Castle.

With Hungarian blood on my father’s side, my sister and I share great memories of wonderful food when my grandmother cooked. We decided to enjoy a nice, slow lunch and sat down for a great meal with local wine.

Continue reading Check: Budapest