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Peru: March, 2016

"Something hidden.  Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges --
 Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and wating for you. Go!"
The Explorer, by Rudyard Kipling

I decided on Machu Picchu for Spring Break this year! Super excited to head to Peru, I was understandably worried when I arrived in Lima in the wee hours of Monday morning and learned that all fights to Cusco had been canceled the day before due to a plane malfunction on the runway there.  Luckily, after a few tense hours, the runway was cleared and I arrived in Cusco before noon.

From Cusco I took a shared taxi up to Ollentaytambo (13 soles/$4) and got checked in to my very quaint hotel, the Sumac Chaska (50 soles/$15 per night). Ollenta is about 60 km from Cusco, and in the 15th century was a royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti (whose name meant “Cataclysm”), and later the stronghold of Manco Inca Yupanqui- the only site where the Incas did in fact defeat the Spanish in battle. Next to the city is an area of terraced farming that the Incas used to create microclimates in which to raise different crops. The city of Ollenta itself is still based upon the original Inca layout and includes cobblestone streets and walled alleys, with beautiful hostels and restaurants hidden behind them.

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Terraced fields of Ollentaytambo

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Hitchhiker? Inca? Not sure.

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Getting ready for Dia del Agua Festival

 

 

(Un)fortunately Ollenta is a bit rustic, and the internet was not working throughout the entire Urabamba valley, which caused problems trying to get a train ticket to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu).  In addition, the number of people who had had flights cancelled the day before, who were all trying to move their train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets to a date later in the week, combined with the fact that it was Semana Santa (Easter Week), which all Peruvians had off- made the train station a madhouse.  After visiting the station three times, and still resulting in no train ticket, I decided to go the alternate route: a four hour bus ride, and a 9 mile hike. For those wishing to go, a train ticket from Ollenta to Aguas is between $68-90, or the bus costs 40 soles ($13).

The bus ride was beautiful but scary, with high speeds and winding mountain roads, and soon enough the bus dropped us off at the Hydroelectric station, and we were told to walk along the train tracks until we saw the town.  Pretty simple directions, so I put on my ipod and listened to a podcast (Serial- wow, so riveting!) as I walked along.  Almost three hours later, I saw the tiny tourist town of Aguas Calientes (it did not exist at all in 1911 when Hiram Bingham “discovered” Machu Picchu but had begun to spring up by his last visit in 1916).  A lot has changed in 100 years- old Hiram would be shocked if he could visit now.  I found my hotel (Rio Dorado, and paid extra for a room with hot water- 114 soles, or $35). I walked around town, found some dinner (alpaca!), and went to bed early, eager to wake up early and get to Machu Picchu.

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That was a scary bridge

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Follow the Tracks for 9 miles….

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At last, Aguas Calientes

 

You can walk from Aguas Calientes straight up a mountain to Machu Picchu (free) or you can take a switchback bus route, starting from 5:30 am ($12).  I chose the bus.  25 minutes later, I was at the gates of Machu Picchu, which open at 6 am.  Upon entering, you have the choice to go up or down.  Having been advised to go up first, I did, and was rewarded with the early morning view of all of Machu Picchu, another royal estate of Pachacuti,  below me.  Very few tourists were there that early in the morning, it was foggy and misty, and it was just gorgeous.  Until the sun rose fully at 8 am, it was quite cool, easy to get around, and as Ben and Jo would say,  not too many “bloody tourists messing up  my photos!”. After 8 am it began to warm up and by ten am it was hot.  I decided not to hire a guide, as I had just finished an excellent book on the subject of the Incas, Hiram Bingham, and Machu Picchu (Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams), and I felt I pretty much had the gist.

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Deah at Machu Picchu

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An alpaca, hopefully not the one I had for dinner that night

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Machu Picchu

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Three Windows Temple

 

I didn’t want to leave but eventually it got pretty hot and I was running out of water, so I decided to head back down to Aguas Calientes.  I spent another night there, and then luckily scored a train ticket to Hydroelectrica ($25), thus sparing myself the three hour walk.  After the bus ride back to Ollenta, I was happy to grab some dinner, a Happy Hour two for one Pisco Sour special, and go to bed.

After a shared taxi ride back to Cusco (15 soles/$4), I found my hotel just off the Plaza des Armas in the centro historico (the very peaceful Triunfo Hotel, across the street from Cusco Cathedral, built from 1559-1654). Being Good Friday, there were lovely services in all of the churches nearby (8 churches, by my count) and at dusk, a procession of the “Santo Sepulcro”, involving a statue of Jesus in a glass coffin, a crown of thorns, and a statue of the mourning Virgin Mary. Close to this part of the city is Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy woman”), the fort built by Tupac Inca and later used as a defense by Manco Inca against the Spanish (okay, technically, the fortress was built by a preceding culture, and the Inca simply fortified it and enlarged it). The huge stones (the largest weighs between 130-200 tons) used to create Sacsayhuaman are immense, and nowhere else in the Americas is there stonework that is more precise (all without the use of mortar or the wheel).

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Plaza des Armas

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Cusco Cathedral

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Good Friday Processional

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Inca Stonework

 

Also in Cusco I visited the Inka Museum (15 soles), and learned more about the history of the area, both before, during, and after the Inca Empire.

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Pre-Inca vase

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One of Bingham’s original photos

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Quipu

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Mummies

 

A short Inca history lesson: Pachacuti  Yupanqui (his name meant “Cataclysm”) was the ruler of the Incas from 1438-1471, and he built the royal estates of Coricancha, Machu Picchu, Pisac, and Ollentaytambo. When an Inca ruler died, one son received his estates, while his other son received his title, and had to build new estates.  Pachacuti’s son Tupac Inca (“Inca” meant “noble”)  ruled next, from 1471-1493, and built the estates of Chinchero and Choquequirao.  Tupac’s son Huayna Capac  (“Capac” meant “ruler”) ruled from 1493-1527, and built Quespiwanka and Tombebamba. When he died the Inca empire stretched from Ecuador to Bolivia, and when the Spanish encountered the Inca near Quito in 1531, the Inca empire was still fractured from a civil war between  Huayna Capac’s sons Atahualpa and Huascar (who lost). The conquistador Pizarro invited Atahualpa to a ceremonial dinner, and when Atahualpa attended with only 5,000 unarmed men, Pizarro took the initiative to slaughter them all in under an hour (no losses to the Spanish).  Pizarro kept Atahualpa alive, and was promised a treasure of a room of gold, and two of silver.  Incas scoured the empire and stripped their temples of the precious metals, but after delivery, Pizarro killed Atahualpa anyway (1532). His younger brother, Tupac Hualpa, was a puppet ruler for the Spanish, and later their younger brother Manco Inca Yupanqui staged a last rebellion against the Spanish, engaging them in geurilla warfare and evading them for 36 years.  Manco Inca Yupanqui’s sister/wife was brutally murdered by the Spanish in the main Cusco square when he rebelled against the Spanish.  Manco Inca is generally regarded as the last true Inca ruler (1536-1572), although as several members of the Inca royal family did inter-marry with the Spanish nobility, the Inca line did live on for many years after the Spanish conquest.

After a day of walking around the historic district, and sitting on the restaurant balconies along Plaza des Armas watching the processions, it was time for bed, and my three flights that would get me back home the next day.

 

 

Barcelona and Andorra: December 2015

Upon realizing I hadn’t left the US for six months (the longest I’ve ever gone without using my passport), I knew we had to decide on Christmas break plans and buy some plane tickets.  We decided on Barcelona, because we figured they would have a mild December climate, and Andorra, only three hours away by bus.

Barcelona was a great temperature and there was no end of things to do.  We started off with a free Sandeman’s walking tour through the Gothic and El Born quarters.  It was a good overview of some Catalonian history and the sights there- the cathedral, Roman ruins, Jewish synagogues, the Spanish civil war.  We stayed on for their Modernisme/Gaudi tour and had a really good explanation of buildings such as Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, and Casa Lleo-Morera in the Eixample district, and of course the Sagrada Familia(outside only).  We stayed on with our group for the Tapas Tour, which wasn’t all that great, but we actually had fun chatting with the people we had been around all day and got to try three new tapas bars, so it wasn’t a total loss!

We stayed in a hotel on Las Ramblas, just yards away from Placa Catalonya, and our room overlooked the walled-in garden of a neighboring hotel.  There were no street traffic noises and it was very pleasant to be able to sleep with our balcony doors open and hear the bells toll the hour.

The following day we took the train out to Montserrat.  We purchased the combination ticket from Plaza Espanya, which got us the train ride out there, the cable car to the monastery, a short video about the place, and then rides on the two funiculars to various points on the mountain. It was a calm clear day and a lovely temperature; really great for walking.  There was so much beauty inside the church and the statue of the black-faced Madonna, La Moreneta.

 

 

 

On Christmas day, we reserved tickets for Sagrada Familia and used our T-10 metro pass (ten rides for ten euros, a great deal!).  Seeing the inside of the church was amazing.  The stain glass windows, the columns, the soaring heights… everything.  What a beautiful place.  And to think of what it will look like in 2026, when it is scheduled for completion!  Not done with Gaudi yet, we headed up the hill to Park Guell, to see some more of his architectural beauty.

The next day we went to Sants Estacion and took the Direct Bus to Andorra. We stayed in Andorra la Vella, which took three hours by bus (25 Euro).  Aside from skiing or hiking, there’s not much to do in Andorra besides duty free shop, so we decided that would be a perfect evening to take in the new Star Wars movie.  We also enjoyed some smoked salmon and a bottle of 2 Euro wine that night, specially chosen because it was named after our friend Chantal.  Not bad for 2 euro!

On Sunday, after walking around the old district of Andorra- a very quaint little area of cobblestone streets and 16th century buildings- we took the bus back to Barcelona.  This time we stayed in the Sants/Tarragona area, in a very nice hotel, but one that unfortunately had a lot of traffic noise, so we had to sleep with the windows shut.  We had a great meal that night at a restaurant on top of Arenas- some amazing eggplant starters and then a great bistecca.

We spent the next day walking all around the Montjuic area- from the Magic Fountain, up to the really beautiful National Art of Catalonia building, and then around the back of that to the site of the 1992 Olympics.  Really nice sports stadiums and practice spaces there.  And a botanic garden, a teleferique, and a castle.  It was nice to spend the day outside and we didn’t even need our coats.  On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at a Peruvian place to eat that was fantastic, and then met my friend Rydah for drinks.  I had worked with her in Sudan and the last time I had seen her was in December 2011, at a party on Chantal’s rooftop celebrating my graduation from my Library Sciences degree.  Rydah travels about as much as Chris and I do, so it was nice to hear all about her time in West Africa working on an art project there in the fall, and her month in Spain in December.

Our last day, Tuesday, we spent again on Montjuic, visiting the Poble Espanyol (The Spanish Village).  It’s a little Epcot-style village built for the 1929 world exhibition, showing 117 buildings that reflect the regions of Spain.  Although a little touristy with the dozens of shops and restaurants, I really liked looking at the architectural styles of Catalonia, Andalusia, Basque, Aragon, Castile, and Extremadura. There are lots of artisan workshops, so we were able to watch blacksmiths, glassblowers, leatherworkers, and bronzeworkers made their crafts. The museum there also houses a collection of over 300 paintings, including Dali, Picasso, Miro, and Barcelo. Outside, near a replica of the monastery of St Miguel, there’s a lovely sculpture garden.  So all in all, a pretty fun place to spend the day.

And then our time in Spain was over, and we were heading back to the US.  Although I’ve flown from Europe to the US several times, it was the first time I’d ever seen Greenland- definitely not green. That might be another place on our list to visit, but definitely not in the winter!

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Philadelphia: Thanksgiving 2015

We were looking for somewhere fairly close for Thanksgiving this year, so we settled on Philadelphia, as it’s only three hours by car away from where we live.  We left the DC area on Wednesday morning, and arrived in Philly a little after noon.  First on our list was to see the Ben Franklin museum, and the printing office next door, and the first post office.  After finding parking (a bit of a challenge in that city), we hopped out of the car and visited the site of Franklin’s old home, and learned a lot about him in the museum dedicated to his personal belongings and his writings.  Next door at the printing press, two National Parks workers demonstrated the use of the movable printing press, and showed us copies of the Constitution printed on cotton paper.

Later, we drove to the other side of town and located our hotel, the Club Quarters.  A very nice place and -bonus- m&ms and espressos on check in.  Always appreciated.  After using our Yelp app to see what was around, we centered in on a dinner of Philly cheesesteaks at Steve’s Prince of Steaks, which were certainly delicious.  We walked around a bit and looked at the neighborhood, including the German Christmasmart and the ice rink at the Town Hall nearby. We watched Rocky (the first one!) that night to get a feel for Philadelphia, 1976 style.

The next morning was Thanksgiving, so we got up to see the parade- the oldest in the nation!  On the way, we stopped by the train depot to see the really beautiful statue inside dedicated to all the train workers who fought in WWII.  Then we walked over the the Museum of Art and watched the parade.  We made sure to get snaps of the “Rocky steps” and the Rocky statue (paid for by Sylvester Stallone).

As the parade was wrapping up, we headed back over to the historic part of town, passing by the Rodin museum on the way, unfortunately closed for Thanksgiving.  Chinatown was open, with lots of people and families of all ethnicities enjoying shopping and eating in that area.  We kept walking (we walked 11 miles that day! Glad I had my Fitbit on!), and wound up back at the Constitution Center, and lined up to see the Liberty Bell.  Next up was Independence Hall, open for tours, and then the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the American Revolution.  Chris, being Chris, made us walk over the bridge from Philadelphia to where we were technically in New Jersey.  Then we walked back to Philadelphia and visited the Betsy Ross house.

Our hotel gave us some ideas for Thanksgiving dinner that night, and we wound up visiting Devil’s Alley, where we had an amazing three-course meal with drinks.  It was all fantastic.  I had turkey, he had ham, and the sides were delicious.  We were so stuffed we had to save our dessert for the next day.

On Friday we visited the Eastern State Penitentiary. A true use of the word “penitence”, the E.S.P. was a model for the isolationary model of prisons that came into prominence around the world in the 1800s.  Prisoners never came into contact with another prisoner the entire time they were in there.  They were given one small cell with a bed, a table, a toilet, and a Bible, and one small exercise yard they could use one hour a day.  That’s it.  Luckily, sentences tended to be a bit shorter then.  The audio tour was narrated by Steve Buscemi and was really good, and free with admission.

At noon we left to drive back to DC, as I had to catch a quick flight to Texas.  I had two surprise birthday parties to attend for friends turning 40 this week.  They were both surprised to see me and I’m so glad I got to spend some time with each.

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Chicago: November 2015

I was invited to Chicago for a conference for my library work, so Chris and I decided to head up a couple of days early and sightsee the Windy City.  We arrived on Saturday around noon, and after checking into our super-awesome hotel (upgraded to a suite, thank you!), we dropped our bags and went out for a tour of the town.  We headed for the river, where we bought tickets for a river architecture cruise.  For 90 minutes, we cruised up and down the north and south branches of the Chicago River, and were treated to a fabulous lecture about the architectural styles and pricetags of the buildings.  We were also treated to some toasty hot chocolate with butterscotch schnapps.  The weather was cool but not too cold, but the hot chocolate was still delicious.

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After the cruise, we walked around Chicago, sighting such sights as the Millennium Park, the Bean, Grant Park, and the Navy Pier.  We had dinner on the Pier (Chicago hot dogs) and after returning to our hotel, went up to their 29th floor rooftop bar for some drinks and a wonderful night view of the skyline.

On Sunday we walked over to Al’s Beef, enjoyed their lunchtime offerings, and headed up town to the Chicago History Museum, at the edge of Lincoln Park.  The Chicago History Museum is a nicely done museum detailing the history of the city, and we bought groupon tickets for half price, so bonus!  An afternoon’s entertainment for $7.  I enjoyed learning about how the river’s course was reversed; the historic fire; segregation and integration; Capone, and other segments of Chicago’s history.  They have a nice lounge there called “Chicago Authored” which profiled some of Chicago’s prolific authors, including Hemingway, Sandra Cisneros, Veronica Roth, Michael Crichton, and Carl Sandburg. Before we knew it, it was time to leave the museum and meet up with my conference group for a dinner at Original Gino’s, where I had the Best.Deep.Dish.Pizza.Ever.  I wanted to eat more but I had to stop at two pieces, because there was no more room in my stomach for more pizza.

On Monday I had to go to my conference, and Chris continued exploring the city.  He visited the Adler Planetarium and the Art Institute of Chicago, and then together we visited the Willis (Sears) Tower, and looked out over four states from the tallest building in the western hemisphere.  104 stories! Wow!  Glad we got to see that one.

After a quick Mexican dinner (surprisingly good, and with excellent margaritas), it was time to pack up, head to bed, and watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A Chicago classic.

Cuba: 2005/2015

Ten years ago, a certain someone went to Cuba, but never posted the pictures.  And this week, another certain someone very close to the first certain someone went to Cuba, and took more pictures.  And here they are:

Cuba 2005

Habana Viejo

Habana Viejo

Riding Around Havana in Style

Riding Around Havana in Style

Hemingway's House

Hemingway’s House

Eastern Cuba

Eastern Cuba

Trinidad

Trinidad

Enjoying the Delights of Havana

Enjoying the Delights of Havana  

Cuba 2015: 

Exploring  Havana

Exploring Havana

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Japan: May 21- June 17, 2015

There is so much to see and do in Japan, so it’s a good thing we had almost four weeks to spend there! We bought a Japan Rail 21 day pass, allowing us unlimited train rides around four of Japan’s islands. And we took major advantage of it.

The first night we were here, we walked up to a ramen counter and sat down. The conversation went like this:

Owner: “Hai!”.  Meaning, “Yes, please order, I am busy”.

Deah: “Hiiiiii….”.  As in, “Hellllooooo!”.

Chris: Dies laughing.

That was in Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, (after a ferry ride from South Korea). We sampled the local ramen specialty, saw some old style shrines and temples, and visited a Mongolian Invasion museum and a robot museum (opposite ends of the spectrum!). And then we took a train to Nagasaki, to see two sites: the “Battleship Island”, an old coal mine island that has been abandoned since 1974 (and is the evil lair in 007 Skyfall), and the Nagasaki Peace Park, ground zero for the atomic bomb. What a moving place, especially with the tens of thousands of folded origami cranes, homage to a young girl named Sadako who died after the bombings. From there, we went to Beppu, a hot springs town, to visit the seven different “hells”, or hot springs, as well as get buried in volcanic sand and stay at a traditional ryokan (Japanese style room with futons and tatami mats).

Fukuoka

 

Nagasaki

Beppu

Then we were ready to move on to Honshu. We stopped in Hiroshima, and then Himeji, to visit the White Egret castle, one of the remaining 12 originals from the shogun period. This is where Chris accidentally bought a whole plate of cartilage and liver yakitori.  I declined. We also went to the island of Myojima to see the floating Tori shrine- really beautiful. And then we made our way to Kobe, to stay with my college friend Kirsten, and go to sake factories, sing karaoke, and try some Kobe (Wagyu) beef! So good, it melts in your mouth, literally.  I was so sad when that last piece was eaten. From Kobe, we also took a day trip to Mt. Koya to visit a very old Buddhist cemetery, which was set in a lovely cypress forest atop a mountain.

Around Kobe

From Kobe, we went to Kyoto. We skulked around the Gion area long enough to spot some geishas, and we visited the imperial palace and the Golden Pavilion (a bit overrated). We went to the really beautiful bamboo forest at Arashiyama, and took a quick commuter train to see the fushimi-Inari shrine, which is three kilometers of gorgeous vermillion tori gates, lined up one after another, up a mountain. Just beautiful.

Around Kyoto

Skipping Tokyo for the time being, we took the super fast Shinkansen trains past Mt Fuji, past Tokyo, and over to our third island, Hokkaido.  We spent the weekend at another onsen/ryokan (Japanese style room with a hot springs bathing room) at a lakeside village called Toyako. The tiny town featured a lake, a volcano, a national park for hiking, and nightly fireworks. Also tame deer! It was very relaxing, and got us ready for our time in Tokyo.

 

Lake Toya

Then, to Tokyo, the biggest city in the world! Although I have to say, that with  everyone using public transportation, the streets are not as crowded as I thought. We went to watch a sumo wrestling practice, and went to the Palace Grounds (actually you can’t see much).  At night, we went up to the 48th floor observation deck of the government building, and also to the 52nd floor bar of the Hyatt hotel (that was in the movie Lost in Translation)- what a view! Chris got up early and went to the fish market tuna auction (I slept in).  The Edo-Tokyo History Museum was a really good history of the city since the 1700’s.

Tokyo

Last stop was Osaka. On the way, we went to the home of Hattori Honzo, now a ninja museum and demonstration. Very fun- the whole town has ninja mannequins on top of buses, underneath benches, in the corners of shops.  Then we had one more Wagyu beef dinner- so, so good. We went to the ramen museum, where we learned all about Momofuko Ando, the inventor, and we even got to make our own cup and customized noodle and toppings. Too fun.  We saw a few more sites around Osaka, such as the Osaka castle and Tennoji  Park, and then were ready to prepare for our flight home.

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South Korea: May 9-21, 2015

On May 9, we flew from China to Seoul, South Korea.  We spent the next week in Seoul, visiting various sites such as the Jongmyo Shrine,  the old city walls, the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul Tower, and a couple different history museums. 

Another day, we had lunch and walked around the area called Itaewon, full of servicemen and restaurants from all over the world.  After lunch, we spent the rest of the day at the Korean War Museum, comparing their version of the war with the version we saw in North Korea.

I caught a cold and stayed home the next day, while Chris visited the DMZ.


At the end of the week, we spent a day out in Incheon, visiting the lovely Central Park there, and having dinner with our friend Maluschka, who we had not seen in nine years.

After Seoul, we headed to the east coast, for the express purpose of visiting the Haesindang Penis Park.  The park is full of statues, benches, sculptures, and artwork, all in the shape of penises.  The story goes that a young maiden drowned off the coast of this fishing village, and after that no fish could be caught.  One day a fisherman exposed his penis to to the sea, and the fish rose to the surface. And so the villagers concluded that the ghost of the maiden was unhappy and could only be appeased by penises.  And so here you go.

From the east coast, we took a bus to the south and the city of Busan.  We did a little sightseeing there,  picked up our Japan rail passes and ferry tickets, and tried some Korean street food, such as mandu (dumplings) and pajeon (chive pancakes). 

On our last day, we visited the Lotte Department store- 13 floors, including an aquatic show, a four-level cinema, a gym, petting zoo, and a sky terrace offering amazing views of the city.  Kind of a weird way to spend an afternoon, but fun.

And now….. We are headed by hydrofoil jet to Japan, our last stop on this trip.