YongPyong Resort – A Winter Wonderland

Last weekend my friend Sonja and I headed to Phoenix Park and Yongpyong resort for a mini vacation. It was so good to get away for a few days and the scenery up in the mountains was spectacular.

We spent all day saturday hitting the slopes in Phoenix Park ski resort which has a great variety of slopes to suit all levels. Everything was so easily accesible even the laziest skier in the world could not complain!

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You could literally ski straight down any slope and into a Dunkin Donuts, Coffee shop or Apres Ski bar. The ski rental place was less than 5 minutes walk from the chair lifts and there is even a youth hostel overlooking the slopes.

As we went as part of a WinK tour group, we got amazing discounts on both ski rental and lift passes. The full day including skis, jacket and pants and lift pass was only 50,000 won (about 30 euro) which you really can’t beat. Even though it was very busy and there were groups of school kids and students everywhere, the queues remained pretty short throughout the day which I was very impressed by.

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After a long days skiing on only about 2-3 hours sleep we were absolutely shattered come 6pm. Luckily all we had to do was sit on a bus and relax as we headed to our hostel which is part of the YongPyong ski resort. Following quick showers and naps, a big group of us all headed out for a delicious pork BBQ dinner.

Another relatively late night of bowling, arcade games, socializing and making new friends meant come 8am Sunday morning nothing (not even giant chocolate muffins and hot tea) were getting me out of bed. Maybe it was a waste, maybe it could be considered laziness, but in a move to help my aching muscles and tired body recover, I opted out of skiing at YongPyong and decided the spa and waterpark was more to my liking.

Again thanks to WinK we got an amazing discount price, and only ended up paying 10,000 won to enter. What we discovered inside…and more specifically outside…meant we knew within seconds we had made the right decision!
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Outside the waterpark, was an assortment of hot tubs full of various colored, scented and therapeutic water. Oh, and thanks to the fact that it’s winter, all surrounded in snow!

Sitting in rose scented jacuzzi with the sun shining brightly while taking in the breathtaking, snow covered surroundings was an incredible experience. We literally sat outside, dashing through the snow from pool to pool, for about 2 hours. In fact we were enjoying ourselves so much we failed to realise how sunburned our faces were becoming. Small price to pay for a little taste of paradise in the mountains!

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Lost in Latvia!

This is a travel article I wrote that was published in Backpacker Europe Magazine about….6 years ago! 

Have you ever been ice-skating at 5am? Have you ever dunked your head into a frozen Baltic river when the temperature is -19° Celsius? Have you ever tasted the diverse and unfamiliar food that is Latvian cuisine? Well, we have!

Contrary to people’s pre-conceived ideas about Eastern Europe, it must be said that Latvia truly is a hidden treasure. When the idea of a class trip to Latvia first arose, many of my classmates had reservations and cast forth images of cold winters, soviet bunkers and poverty. However, after a little research and a lot of persuasion on my behalf, a group of 22 jetted off in anticipation of arriving in a winter wonderland.

Following the directions given to us (pre-departure) by the very hospitable Frank, we arrived safely in our hostel. We were welcomed whole-heartedly with free beers for one and all. After settling into our cosy dorms overlooking the snow-covered Deguava River, we were ready to make tracks and discover Riga. We were not disappointed.

Soon after setting off, we stumbled upon an ice rink where we only had to pay the equivalent of 50 cent for one hour’s ice skating. After an hour full of fun and frolics (in my case much of this time was spent on my backside), hunger set in. We ventured en masse through the old town, along narrow and winding streets, past beautiful buildings, before descending upon ‘Lido’ – a buffet style restaurant specialising in a Latvian fayre. Suddenly decades melted away, and the wait staff appeared, all dressed in traditional Latvian costume.

After paying the total owing per head (a grand total of less than €3 per person!), we strolled along to a Local Latvian club, where Frank’s hostel staff had pre-arranged free entry for the entire gang. With vodka and cocktails flowing like water into the early hours of the morning, it has to be said that what we remember of our first night in Riga was unforgettable!

At around 4am, one bright spark suggested that we go ice-skating by the light of the silvery moon. This newfound hobby, it appears, was to become a nightly ritual for the duration of our stay. For four nights in a row, the night was never over until we had strutted our stuff on the ice rink! Even then the Latvian nights were not complete. A lively ménage of travellers in our 24-hour hostel bar kept the place buzzing, exchanging stories and experiences until sunrise.

Our second day in the Latvian capital saw us exploring its bustling open-air market, and local landmarks. The Church tower permitted celestial views of Riga and beyond from on high. The Museum of the occupation of Latvia was an eye opener. While there some classmates experienced the once in a lifetime opportunity of shooting loaded AK47s from a real soviet bunker – something never to be forgotten!

That night our first destination of choice was The Skyline Bar on the 27th floor of Hotel Latvia. Ascending floor by floor in an elevator taken directly from Willy Wonkas’ chocolate factory, views were spectacular. Later we set off for what had been described as one of the biggest and most happening clubs in the Baltic states-Club Essential!

There were so many rooms and dance floors within this amazing labyrinth of tunes that I was lost within minutes. There was music for all tastes and space for the entire world to dance, or so it seemed. After boogying until closing time (6am), we went for a refreshing round of the ice rink. 

Returning home well after 9am, we decided it was a ‘do or die situation’. We decided to salvage the day ahead. summoning up any remaining energy we set off for the mountains an hour from Riga. Sigulda was our destination of choice – renowned for its bobsleigh tracks.

The quaint town was a huge contrast to Riga. Suddenly we were in a winter wonderland and there were Christmas decorations everywhere we looked. Falling snowflakes persuaded us to purchase bum boards in a local super market and venture into a nearby forest for some fun in the snow. As it got darker, our sense of adventure heightened and we flew down hillsides like the children that we used to be!

Our trip to Latvia was unforgettable. Old Riga is a beautiful place but in order to experience the full picture, a trip to the countryside is a must. Almost a year has passed since our trip and not a day has passed without one of us reminiscing, about the true hidden treasure that is Latvia.

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Time Lapse Photography

This was my first attempt at time-lapse photography on my Gopro. I set the camera to take a photo every 2 seconds, edited them on iMovie to playback in high speed, added some pretty music and VOILA!  

Lesson learned? Take more photos!! Oh and clouds are freaking cool! :)

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Snap Happy Sunday

Just some snaps I took over the weekend before all the beautiful ice and snow melted away.

Let  me know what you think as this whole photography malarky is new enough to me!

Enjoy! 

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Eleven Cities Ice Skating Tour

Having only been in The Netherlands a week everything is totally new and interesting.  At first I loved exploring the streets in the warm evening sun, walking over the canals and becoming mesmerized by the sheer number of bicycles in one city!!! Now, with night temperatures dropping to -14 and below, I have something else to me mesmerized by…ICE-SKATING! Unlike the lame miniature and over-priced, fake ice-rinks we have in Ireland, in Holland it is all natural!

I spent the weekend wandering through Noordersplantsoen Park, walking across the frozen lakes as locals of all ages skating around me in circles and young kids climbed any hill they could find and rode their sleds down into the frozen lake! A pretty amazing sight.

Children Sledding across a Frozen Lake in Groningen

Dogs can have fun in the snow too.... ahem...

 

This all seemed very impressive until the sight I saw today when walking home form college… The main canals that surround the city that are home to tall ships, house boats and the odd broken bicycle were no longer peacefully undisturbed, but brave souls were crawling down the canal walls, onto the ice and cautiously walking into the middle of the canal on top of the ice.

Within 20 minutes there were people everywhere walking on top of the canal and then out of nowhere people started speeding past them on skates, skating their way around the city! Was craziness…might be brave enough tomorrow to walk on water myself!

Ice Skating and Sledding on the Frozen Lake

Bare trees in the Snow at sunset

With all the canals and lakes frozen over, everyone is starting to talk about “Elfstedentocht”, an almost mythical skating event that hasn’t taken place in over 15 years! Elfstedentocht (or “Eleven cities tour” in English) is the longest and largest race of its kind and involves 1000’s of skaters speed skating over 200 km across canals, ditches and lakes and through the 11 cities of Friesland in Northern Holland. The race is unique as it can only happen when the weather conditions are perfect and the ice is over 15cm thick across the whole course. 

Talk of Elfstedentocht is reaching fever pitch at the moment with temperature dropping to -14 at night, perfect weather for creating thick ice, horrible weather for everything else!! Our lecturer even told us that she will broadcast the skating during our lecture if we have a class on the day the event takes place. Fingers crosses that this legendary event gets to take place in the next few weeks…watch this space for updates!!

They broke a hole in the ice for the Geese to swim in

Snow all over the Frozen canals

 

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