iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus

Did you know I went to Cyprus? And I barely even told you about it, shame on me. Almost a year later, I’m going to make this up to you. While I was in Cyprus, I wandered through the ancient ruins of Salamis (I just probably put those pictures up, too…) and spent lots of time with some family friends that live on the island. They introduced my mom and I to a gorgeous castle on a mountainside: St. Hilarian Kalesi. I can’t help but say the word “hilarious!” immediately following mention of the castle’s name. I dare you to try it and not do it ten times in a row.

Some history (thanks Wikipedia): the castle began as a hermitage site and then a church during the 10th century, and finally it became a castle. Once it was a castle, you know how castles with excellent lookout points go… people fight over them, over and over. Some 500 years later, people starting taking it apart to reduce the upkeep of the building. I presume the ceiling was about to fall in and they figured it was easier to just pull out the ceiling and give everyone winter coats than build a new one. Jerks.

In order to get to the castle (located in Northern, Turkish Cyprus), you need to drive there and past several military installations and soldiers. If they’re doing training in the mountains, you may have to choose another day to head up to the castle. If they’re not, you’ll probably have the entire place to yourself, except for the random Brit that seems to show up at all those deserted European sights, alone. Uncanny.

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When you get there, they’ll probably be a castle-residing stray dog that’s both super friendly and desperately in need of a bath.
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Looking up, it’s amazing to see arches that (hopefully) won’t fall on your head as you walk through.
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No, no, I’m not climbing rock formations at the top of a really tall and sheer cliff.
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But at the top of unsafe climbing await breathtaking views of the island.
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Oh boy, these people even had interior design skills. Look at those stripes!
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If you get stuck at the bottom with fear, or only climb half, you can still enjoy the view of that top section instead of actually going there.
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Or you can climb, don’t worry, there are safety railings!
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Sheering cliffs, coastline and a panoramic view? Yes, please and thank you.
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A gorgeous old watchtower that was just a little out of reach for my hiking skills.
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The building blending in with the mountain makes it simultaneously beautiful and confusing. Am I on the mountain now or still in the castle? Hmm…
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It’s best to climb immediately next to “danger” signs and live voltage.
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Because it’s prettier at the top of those rocks.
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The view is definitely breathtaking.
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I feel like a princess with really long, braided hair is missing from this photo.
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Goodbye, it’s been terrifying and fun!

Looking back, I really wish I would have bought a DSLR camera already, my iPhone does zero justice. I guess I’ll have to return! And to anyone thinking of visiting the Turkish side of Cyprus, it’s highly recommended and although Wikipedia describes it as “illegal and internationally-unrecognised”, I can assure you it’s also quite safe.

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Photoessay: Blue Skies of Germany

My vacation in Germany lasted 13 days total, and I expected it to rain at least once. No one can hope for clear, blue skies for two straight weeks, right? Well, I was treated to day after day of exactly the opposite of dreary weather. Occasional clouds framed by a bright, clear, beautiful blue sky rolled above me. Every day was dry and gorgeous, until finally at 9pm, the night before my flight back to Korea, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. And it was one of those rare, strong but beautiful thunderstorms.

So while practicing the deceptively difficult field of architectural photography, I kept finding myself taking the same photograph, just different. And they were all gorgeous, because of those bright blue skies behind the subject at hand. Looking through my pictures, I was blown away by how many gorgeous skies made their way into my documentation. So if you’re having a rough, rainy day, maybe you can use these photographs to take you back to sunnier times. They definitely do that for me.

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Potsdam, Germany
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Munich, Germany
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Berlin, Germany
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Munich, Germany
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Berlin, Germany
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Munich, Germany
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Potsdam, Germany
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Munich, Germany
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Munich, Germany
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Munich, Germany
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The infamous Glockenspiel.
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Munich, Germany
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Berlin, Germany
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Berlin, Germany
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Munich, Germany

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Rural Korea: 6 Things to Do, See and Experience

A shot from my backyard in rural Korea.
A shot from my backyard in rural Korea.

It’s true: not many Westerners think of vacationing in Korea at all. And it’s even more true that those who do come to Korea spend the majority of their time in Seoul. As for short excursions out of the city, famous temples and mountain hiking tend to be the way they go. Rural Korea? Why would anyone go there?

I want to change that.

Continue reading Rural Korea: 6 Things to Do, See and Experience

Photoessay: Cherry Blossoms in Korea

In Korea, this past month, it was an important time of year: cherry blossom tree blooming time! Japan may be most famous for cherry blossom trees, but Korea definitely doesn’t disappoint. Because the trees only stay flowered for a few weeks, if you’re lucky and it doesn’t rain, it’s important to pay attention and not miss it.

So, one weekend in April, I researched the cherry blossom tree festival in Seoul and made solid plans to go. I didn’t want to miss out!

I woke up early, packed my bags and camera and headed out to Seoul. Two hours and some wandering around later, I found the park and festival. Imagine my disappointment (with myself) when I forgot to pack the battery for the fancy camera. Even more disappointing, though? The trees were barely blooming! What?! And it was still crowded… go figure, Seoul. Continue reading Photoessay: Cherry Blossoms in Korea

Photoessay: Reconstructed Village Near Chunguisa

Every so often, the education office in my area organizes a little outing for the English teachers. This outing was a particularly nice one; we stopped at the Chunguisa Buddhist Shrine, visited this traditional village and then headed over to Sudeoksa Temple.

Korea is full of reconstructed traditional villages and many of them are quite beautiful, with blooming trees, streams and flowers. This particular one is located between Dangjin and Yesan, across the street from the Chunguisa Buddhist Shrine.

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Mini Photoessay: Sudeoksa Temple Village

The little villages outside of famous temples are sometimes serious tourist hubs, in stark contrast to the zen-like feeling just a few miles up the road. This particular village sits at the foot of Sudeoksa Temple (수덕사), snuggled against Deoksung Mountain (덕숭산).

I went to Sudeoksa Temple for a temple stay as well; see the written post about that or alternatively check out the photoessay.

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The machine’s three bars rotate around each other, stretching the ginseng candy out until it’s ready to eat.
A shop selling weird things to eat or cook with.
A shop selling weird things to eat or cook with.
Any wooden souvenir your heart could desire can be purchased here.
Any wooden souvenir your heart could desire can be purchased here.
A rice snack vendor, where 5-10 grains of rice are steamed, flattened and somehow magically turn into these warm, crispy rice cakes.
A rice snack vendor, where 5-10 grains of rice are steamed, flattened and somehow magically turn into these warm, crispy rice cakes.

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Mini Photoessay: Chunguisa Buddhist Shrine

Edit: I finally figured out the name and got some information about this building. It’s a Buddhist shrine and is named Chunguisa.

Occasionally, the foreigners from my town will go on a short day trip sponsored by the office of education. This lovely Buddhist Shrine, named Chunguisa (충의사), was one of those stop offs on the day trip. My group stopped here on the way to Sudeoksa, a Buddhist temple in the area.

[Mini Photoessay: Sudeoksa Temple Village // Photoessay: Sudeoksa Temple Stay // My Legs Are Sore, But That Was Awesome: Sudeoksa Temple Stay]

I love the pale yellow colors they used on this building. It’s built in the same style as Buddhist temples, but while photographing it, I forgot to listen to what anyone was saying and completely missed all of the information about it, including its name. Thank goodness for my impeccable googling and research skills, or we’d never know it was called Chunguisa and I’d have been forced to call it “that yellow Buddhist… place”. (By the way, you can find all the information about Chunguisa here, on the Visit Korea website.)

Next time I’ll have to try to listen and take pictures. Challenge accepted.

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Buddhist temples and buildings in Korea always have their names written in Chinese characters. Not so helpful for anyone that can’t read Chinese!

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I love those soft curves. Gorgeous architecture.

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Somehow, the building and the trees around it just fit together. It’s as if the building could have just grown out of the ground, too, and then been painted. Well done, Korea.

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Photoessay: Gongju + Daejeon Weekend Getaway

The warm weather is really making me happy again. This past weekend, Saturday’s weather was perfect and beautiful. Sunday was markedly chillier, but still bright and sunny. It was the perfect weekend to make a short trip: Gongju + Daejeon. If you’re in travel range and have a free weekend, visiting cities like this can be really refreshing and I definitely recommend it. Here’s what I saw:

1. Gongsanseong Fortress (공주 공산성) – it was actually my second time there, so I opted out of the 2.5km walk around the outer wall. This time, though, I got to try out my hand at archery and really enjoyed it. Continue reading Photoessay: Gongju + Daejeon Weekend Getaway

An Accidental Visit to the Princes’ Islands

When life gives you passage on the wrong ferry, look out the window and enjoy the ride.
When life gives you passage on the wrong ferry, look out the window and enjoy the ride.

My mom and I had been talking about visiting the Asian side of Istanbul for the entirety of our trip. We’d seen it shortly, on a guided tour, and we’d taken a bunch of ferries here and there, although not by ourselves. We woke up on a Saturday, a beautiful day, and had our plans in hand, literally, in the form of my Frommer’s day-by-day book: an Üsküdar walking tour.

Continue reading An Accidental Visit to the Princes’ Islands