A Day of Beauty at Gangneung

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach golden sunrise

One of my favorite things about travel is experiencing natural beauty in a new place, and enjoying art. My day trip to Gangneung provided the opportunity for both. A couple months ago, my mother came to visit South Korea for the first time, and I wanted to show her a wide variety of Korea. One of her requests was to visit a beach, which was an easy request to fulfill since the country of South Korea is surrounded by the ocean on three sides and there are ample, beautiful beaches all around the country. Since the cold weather was setting in (it was late November when we did this trip), it wasn’t the time of  year to go sunbathing or swimming in the ocean. But often times during cold weather, the sky is clear, and that really can produce some beautiful days with rich colors and bracing coolness.

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach rich golden sunrise

I elected to combine some different tourist options and make a day of it at Gangneung. Gangneung is located on the East Coast of South Korea. The beaches, particularly Jeongdongjin Beach, are a favorite for those of us who like to watch sunrises, and Gangneung hosts a very popular New Year’s Day Sunrise Festival. I went to a Sunrise Festival last year at Maryan-Ri, but I had no plans to be in Korea for NYE 2013/2014. But I figured it would still be a good place to ring in a new day by taking in the sunrise at Jeongdongjin Beach.

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach

Thankfully Korean Rail makes it super easy to head out to Gangneung for a sunrise. There is a night train that departs from Cheongnyangni Station in Seoul around 2300 every night and arrives at Jeongdongjin Beach around 0330. What was even more interesting is that the train was completely sold out and a huge crowd poured out into the nearby town. And when I say it arrives at the beach, I mean that literally. Jeongdongjin Beach holds the Guinness World Record for being the train station located closest to the ocean anywhere in the world. When my mom and I stepped off the train in the cold, early, pre-dawn morning, we could hear the ocean waves lapping softly on the sand, and we could see the ocean around 50 meters from the train station. It is rather cool to step off in the early darkness and be so close to the sea.

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach with moon

We walked around a bit and eventually scored a seat on some of the large beach boulders to have an unobstructed view of  sunrise. It was cold, but we were decently bundled up to stay warm. We could see these lighted lanterns released from farther down the beach and watched them float up and away. Soon, the pre-dawn light started to emerge over the horizon and slowly brighten the sky.

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach pre-dawn light

Pre-dawn was actually fairly long, but eventually the light brightened even more and the sun peeked up from the horizon and greeted us for a new day. The sunrise was absolutely gorgeous as the weather was clear and cloudless, with surprisingly minimal wind.

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach sunrise peek

When the sun rose, I looked around and saw the huge crowd that had formed on the beach to watch the sunrise. I was very surprised at the amount of people on what was a normal November Saturday morning. It wasn’t New Years, or a special holiday. It was just a typical weekend, so I would guess that this is a common occurrence on weekends, particularly when the weather is good.

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach sunrise crowd

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach crowd after sunrise

After watching the sun fully rise, we walked further down the beach to Morae Shigae (Hourglass) Park. This park was first built in late 1999 to ring in the new millennium. The centerpiece of the park is this huge, circular, sand hourglass. There is enough sand in the hourglass to last an entire year, and on New Year’s Day, the hourglass is rotated to start the sand falling anew.

Gangneung Hourglass Park

After a delicious breakfast of street food (steamed mandu and ddeok bokgi), the next stop was Haslla Art World. We took a cab (approximately 10 minutes drive) to the museum and sculpture garden. I have been to a wide variety of galleries around the years, but this gallery had some of the most bizarre (I mean that in a good way) and interesting modern art. The gallery is set up in this modernist building that is also a hotel, and it overlooks the sea.

Gangneung Haslla Art World

Our last stop of the day was at Jumunjin Beach, which is the northernmost beach in Gangneung. This beach was actually a bit of a challenge to find. We elected to save time (but not money) by taking a cab to the beach. However, the cab dropped us off at Sodol Beach, which is around the corner from Jumunjin Beach. After some hunting around, we found the beach.

Gangneung Sodol Beach

There are other beaches in the area, like the closer and more popular Gyeongpo Beach, but the reason I selected Jumunjin Beach was that there was a zip line that stretched across a small stretch of beach and ocean. I love me some zip lining, and figured it would be a nice view and ride. And I’m sure it was, when it was open. I determined that while the towers are still there for zip lining, there is no actual zip lining anymore. I’m not sure if they were just closed for the season (even though the weather was absolutely gorgeous), they were closed due to construction on the beach, or they were out of business entirely.

Gangneung Jumunjin Beach

In any case, Mom and I just walked up and down the soft sand beach and noticed a very interesting sign concerning military operations on the beach.

Gangneung Jumunjin Beach military warning sign

We eventually found our way back to Gangneung city, though it certainly wasn’t quick or easy. I knew there was a bus stop relatively close to Jumunjin Beach, but since we took a taxi to the area, I wasn’t sure where it was located. I was hoping to see a taxi stand, but we ended up walking back toward Gangneung, until eventually we managed to score a cab, because Mom threw herself in front of a taxi to stop it (not quite, but we were getting tired and desperate enough to try it).

Even though we took the train to Gangneung, it was much more convenient to take a bus back. There were buses back to Seoul leaving around every 20 minutes, so soon enough we were plopped into a comfortable bus for a nice nap for the three and a half hour bus ride back to Seoul (Gangnam Express Bus Terminal).

There is a lot to see and do in Gangneung, and you can have a very full day trip doing a wide variety of activities. The biggest draw for the Gangneung area is beauty of the natural variety, particularly beaches and sunrises, but there is also beauty of the human variety (i.e. art).

Gangneung Jeongdongjin Beach warm sunrise

Christchurch Street Art

Christchurch street art-9

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t often pay attention to street art when I visit cities. It’s not that I have an aversion to it or anything; it’s just that I don’t notice it very often.

Christchurch street art-1

But for some reason it stood out for me very much when I visited Christchurch. It’s not that I think that Christchurch is more of a street art haven than places like New York City or London. Maybe because Christchurch is so small that it was all easy to notice. Maybe my eyes were just more open to noticing it all. Maybe it is because wild, colorful street art is such a contrast to Christchurch’s staid, conservative reputation.

Christchurch street art-2

In any case, I very much enjoyed looking at all the art that provided color and interest to the city.

Christchurch street art-7

Christchurch street art-5

Some of the art was more of deliberate, planned outdoor art installations.

Christchurch street art-11

These installations were particularly prominent around Cathedral Square, which reopened in June 2013 and is kind of of the hub of Christchurch’s regeneration. The installations were titled “A Vast, Changing Canvas” and its purpose was to show that “in the city’s altered centre, art, storytelling and the realm of the imagination claim a vital role. Artists Chris Heaphy and Sara Hughes have unleashed colour, pattern and energy to communicate an active sense of possibility.”

Christchurch street art-4

All the street art in Christchurch (both the deliberate and more spontaneous) really did serve to brighten up the city and showcase the possibility of art.

Christchurch street art-6

A Dreamland of Artistic Beauty and Inspiration- Giant’s House in Akaroa

Akaroa Giant's House-9

One of the days of my Christchurch stay was a day trip to the town of Akaroa. I’ve read many good things and other people recommended it. Akaroa is a small town on the shores of Akaroa Harbor, about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch. Akaroa was originally settled by a group of French settlers, who wanted to claim New Zealand for France (they just missed the opportunity, because by the time they arrived, the British had signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave the Maori people the rights and privileges as British subjects in exchange for acknowledging British sovereignty over New Zealand). But Akaroa still retains its French roots in its architecture. Its street signs are still in French, and the French cemetery is actually the first consecrated burial ground in Canterbury (the area including Christchurch).

Akaroa Giant's House-8

Akaroa Giant's House-7

I bet this town is filled with seaside charm when the weather is good and it is sunny out. Unfortunately that was not the day I visited. It was one of the rainiest days of my trip. It was cloudy and drizzly all day, intermixed with torrential downpours of rain.

Akaroa Giant's House-3

The weather however held up enough for my visit to the Giant’s House, which was the highlight of my trip to Akaroa. The Giant’s House history goes all the way to 1880 when it was first built. Apparently the name of the house originates from a story that a little girl looked up at the large house overlooking the valley, and said that a giant must live there.

Akaroa Giant's House-1

It’s current owner is artist Josie Martin, and she is responsible for creating the absolutely gorgeous and whimsical outdoor mosaic sculpture garden. She is a painter, a sculptor and a creator of outdoor art installations.

Akaroa Giant's House-15

Akaroa Giant's House-10

Josie spent years creating the outdoor concrete mosaic art sculptures of all sorts of designs. Some of the sculptures are flowers, animals, or people enjoying the garden. The piano sculpture in particular was inspired.

Akaroa Giant's House-4

I wish the weather was better during my visit, but you can’t do much about that. Thankfully it didn’t rain for MOST (but not all) of my visit to the garden, but I can see how this would be an absolutely delightful way to spend the afternoon.

Akaroa Giant's House-6

The price of admission for an adult is $20 NZ, which is rather pricy, but honestly I felt it was worth it, just because the garden is so unique, creative, beautiful and artistic.

Akaroa Giant's House-12

As a fledgling artist, I particularly found this garden inspiring. It made me want to go home and create my own artistic treasures at home. I’ve experimented with mosaics in the past, and I really did love them. Glass art is a deep passion of mine. Granted, it’s hard to pick a favorite among traditional copper foil stained glass, glass fusion and mosaics. They are all so different, but produce such beautiful creations. But the inspiration wasn’t specifically just about making mosaics, but rather create my own original artwork. So far, I’ve gotten better at creating paintings from the myriad of pictures from my travels, but I still want to create paintings purely from my imagination and design my own stained glass, rather than using patterns from stained glass books.

Akaroa Giant's House-11

Akaroa Giant's House-2

I HIGHLY recommend visiting the Giant’s House if you are in Akaroa. If you are an artist or a gardener yourself, you are likely to find inspiration here. Even if you just love looking at unusual beauty or gardens or art, you should find a lot to love here.

Akaroa Giant's House-13

Akaroa Giant's House-14

Seoul Museum of Art- Tim Burton Exhibit

Tim Burton Exhibit entrance

Last weekend I visited the Tim Burton exhibit at the Seoul Museum of Art. The exhibit itself has been around for a few years, starting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It’s now been on a traveling exhibition, and Seoul is the only stop in Asia. I always liked most of Tim Burton’s movies, so I figured it would be an interesting art exhibition, and was it ever. The exhibit covered artwork he created from his childhood all the way up to his current movies. Artifacts included in the exhibition were childhood paintings, drawings from his movies, models from his movies, and essentially anything that inspired him to create the art and movies he has over the years.

Tim Burton Romeo and Juliet sign

Tim Burton Exhibit 2nd floor

The exhibit was broken up into three areas covering his childhood artwork, his work as an animator for Burbank Studios, and his work as a director and producer of movies that are now deemed “Burtonesque”. It was interesting to see the evolution of his work and the maturation of his creative process. It was also interesting to see what sorts of things inspired him to paint on his own. When he was younger, he seemed to have a real love of freaky clowns, aliens and very large breasted women (but don’t most heterosexual men?)  It struck me just how many different sort of art styles exist out there among all the artists of the world for the past several hundred years. I like to frequent art museums of all genres and eras, but I can’t help but marvel at the more modern forms of expression, particularly the more expressionistic and surrealistic styles of artists like Tim Burton. Artists of the Renaissance, baroque and even Impressionism to a large degree, tried to recreate the world as they saw it, or at least a more representational view of their subjects. But 20th century painting styles and beyond have also incorporated very different styles where artists are not just looking to make art that looks realistic, but capture the strange images in their imagination.

I too like to create art in my spare time, and lately I’ve been getting back into pastel and watercolor pencils to improve my technique. I tend to favor more landscapes and pictures with bright colors. Most of the work I do are from reference photos I take on my travels. So I tend to try and be as reasonably representative as possible when I recreate these images as paintings. That’s the kind of art that comes natural for me to make. But I have to admit to a twinge of jealousy when I see artists like Tim Burton (and others) who create art from their sheer imagination. They aren’t looking to recreate reality exactly, but rather create their own version of reality or bring their imagination to life. I can only imagine what sorts of things go on in these artists’ heads and what drives them to see the world the way they do and create the art they do. I enjoy being being transported into the fantasy worlds they create, and it was very easy to get lost in the different worlds Tim Burton has created over the years through his art and his movies.

As you walk through the exhibit, you get a real feel for what something means when it is called “Burtonesque.”  Tim has several motifs and styles he likes to use in many of his artwork. Examples include stripes and swirls and the strange, almost grotesque shapes of his animated creatures. Particularly with his later, more mature work, it is easy to look at a piece of art and know immediately Tim Burton was the person who created it.

Tim Burton Nightmare Before Christmas paintings

Nightmare Before Christmas drawing

Nightmare Before Christmas series drawings

Tim Burton models

Now, no art museum exhibit would be complete without a visit to the merchandise store, and Tim Burton’s exhibit was no exception. Among the magnets, prints, postcards and the like available for purchase, was the comprehensive Tim Burton art book. And this book doesn’t screw around. I feel you absolutely get your money’s worth with this purchase. It is a huge book, both in size dimensions and number of pages. It includes over 400 pages filled with his artwork over the years. It’s makes a great doorstop :), but more than that, I bought it to sort of serve as inspiration to make future artwork. I can look through all the pages and see what Tim Burton has created over the years through the sheer force of his imagination, and appreciate it whenever I want. I can also use his work to inspire me to further my own artistic abilities. Maybe one day I’ll get to the point where I can create the art that goes through my head rather than just what I see in a photograph in front of me.

Tim Burton merchandise