The Last of the Winter Garden Night Illuminations- The Herb Island Lighting Festival

Herb Island Lighting Festival-8

About a month ago towards the end of March 2014, I had my final opportunity to visit a winter garden night illumination. They are among my favorite winter activities in Korea. There is just something magical about being out in the cold, dark winter night surrounded by millions of bright lights. It really does feel like a fairy land in another world.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-1

Herb Island Lighting Festival-3

Herb Island Lighting Festival-2

This particular garden was north of Seoul, even north of Dongduchon, which is getting fairly close to the Demilitarized Zone (at least as the crow flies). I elected to go with a tour group to the Herb Island Lighting Festival. I had looked at the possibility of visiting the garden independently, but the last bus left Herb Island only shortly after dark, and would not give me the opportunity to really enjoy the winter lighting.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-6

Herb Island Lighting Festival-10

So off I went with the tour group. The bus ride itself was only a little over an hour. However the line to get into the parking lot was so long, it added an extra 45 minutes to getting to the garden. We arrived as the sun was setting, but still had to wait for complete darkness set in.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-11

Herb Island Lighting Festival-12

The garden was effectively divided into two sections. The farther one out was more of an open field with rows of lights, along with tunnels of lights. There was also plenty of Christmas decorations, which was an interesting sight in the middle of March. The crowds started growing after it was completely dark and it required some maneuvering to get pictures without too many people in them.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-17

Herb Island Lighting Festival-14

Since I was with a tour group, I had a limited amount of time to enjoy the garden. Granted two hours is a lot of time to take pictures, but it is not always enough time to just sit and take it all in.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-16

The other part of the garden was more of the sunken garden filled with even more lights. This garden was a bit more elaborate and there were numerous trees with colored cherry blossom lights.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-4

Herb Island Lighting Festival-5

Other parts of the garden were nets in a wide variety of colored lights covering the winter shrubs. I enjoyed the sunken garden part a bit more, because the decorations really did feel like a magical world, and reminded me the most of the Morning Calm Arboretum I visited the previous year.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-7

Herb Island Lighting Festival-9

It may not have been enough time to just sit back and spending hours pretending to be in the world of Avatar, but it was still plenty enjoyable to see the gorgeous, colored light gardens and send out winter in a proper fashion.

Herb Island Lighting Festival-13


Everland Snow and Romantic Illumination Festival

Everland Romantic Illumination castle fountain wide view

There are a couple things I love about winter. I love the cold weather, the clear days when I can feel the winter chill and see the cool tint of the full winter sun. Even though I don’t get the opportunity all that often, I love snow tubing. When I was a kid I used to ski on occasion, but I don’t do that now, and I never learned to snowboard. However, sledding/snow tubing is a lot of fun, and I like speeding down the mountain in a rubber tube. Korea does have its ski resorts, but I’ve never been THAT motivated to go deep into the mountains to get my sledding fix.

Everland Romantic Illumination castle close view

However at some of the Seoul amusement parks, they set up small sledding parks for fun. It’s nothing like black diamond sled runs or anything like that, but it allows you to get your winter play fix conveniently. I chose to go to Everland, which is the same amusement park I went to for my Halloween jollies back in the fall. Everland was a good choice, because they simultaneously had their Snow Festival and their Romantic Illumination Festival. And since night illuminations are another thing I love about winter, I couldn’t pass it up.

Everland Romantic Illumination garden panorama

I had the opportunity to go to Everland on a Monday, which proved to be a very fortuitous choice. I figured there wouldn’t be THAT many people there, because most people would be at work or school. I was definitely right, because compared to what I’ve seen on the weekend, the park was practically deserted. Most of the rides were open (though not their biggest thrill rides, because it was winter), but I was only there for two reasons: to sled as much as possible, and to enjoy night illuminations after darkness fell.

Everland Romantic Illumination garden wide view

There were three sledding runs available: the Snow Buster for little kids only, the Jungfrau a gentler sled run, and the Eiger, which is for older kids/adults. Yes, there were height requirements to go sledding here, and attendants actually had a measuring stick to ensure little kids were tall enough. The sled runs are very straightforward. You get towed up to the top of the hill in your tube, and then you slide down, turn in your tube, get in line to get another one, and do it again. The only difference between the Jungfrau and the Eiger sled runs, is that the Eiger is a bit steeper and longer, so you get more speed and the thrill is a bit greater.

Everland Jungfrau sled run

Everland Jungfrau sled runs

I did a few runs on the Jungfrau just to warm up. This sled run had more people, because it was easier and little kids could ride it. I have a feeling that the line to get a tube and up the hill on the weekend can get rather long, but since this was a Monday, it only took about 10-15 minutes to wait.

Everland Eiger rope tow

Everland Eiger sled run

Afterward, I moved up the hill to the Eiger sled run, where I could get much more speed. This was where the sparse attendance really paid off. Basically there was no line to get a tube. It took longer to be towed to the top, than to get an inner tube. I was able to be towed up to the top, slide down, and immediately get a new tube to go back up again. I took advantage of all this to just continually do sled runs until I got too hungry.

After dinner, the sun was setting, so it was just a matter of time before it got dark enough to really enjoy the night illuminations at their gardens. Since it is the middle of winter, there were no actual flowers in the garden, and all the delicate plants were wrapped in thick straw to protect them from the weather. This was a good opportunity to take some beautiful low light pictures. I particularly enjoyed all the different gardens around Seoul that offer night illuminations during the winter. It may be very cold at night, but it just adds to the beauty of the setting.

Everland Romantic Illumination colorful reed garden

Everland Romantic Illumination fairytale carriage

The illuminated gardens offered up a castle fountain, a fairy tale carriage, wide variety of trees, faux marble columns, and the like. Because it was a weekday, the park closed earlier than it does on weekends, but it was more than enough time to see everything and take it all in. And since it was a weekday, I didn’t have to fight hordes of people to take pictures.

Everland Romantic Illumination columns

Everland Romantic Illumination framed columns

I recently started working with the manual settings on my DSLR, because I’m taking a digital photography class to improve my skills. Up until now, I’ve only used the automatic settings on my camera, but this trip was a good opportunity to try the manual settings to experiment with ISO, shutter speed and f/stop.

Everland Romantic Illumination blue fountain

Everland Romantic Illumination blue hedges

I decided to take pictures on my night landscape setting and then experiment with manual settings to see the difference. Since this was a low light setting, it was critically important that manual settings allowed for the camera to capture enough light. This was my first go at it, and it was OKAY. I quickly discovered that using an ISO setting of 800 with my other manual settings wasn’t getting the job done, so I bumped it up to ISO 3200. I knew this wasn’t ideal, because the higher the ISO setting, the more grain in the picture. I ended up adjusting the f/stop down as low as my camera lens would allow (f3.8), which certainly did have a noticeable positive difference.

Everland Romantic Illumination silver tree

Everland Romantic Illumination music decorations

I didn’t realize my biggest mistake until later when I was able to examine the settings on my pictures taken with the night landscape setting and compare them to what I had for my manual setting pictures. I knew that my ISO was higher than desirable, but I had the f/stop correct. However, I was WAAAY off with the selected shutter speed. I had my camera set for 1/125, which is way too fast for a low light setting. My night landscape setting photos had a shutter speed of 1/8, which is much slower to allow more light in.

Everland Romantic Illumination garden

Everland Romantic Illumination colorful arch

So the day was a productive one. I got all my snow tubing jollies out of my system. I got to enjoy the delightful night illuminations that make me feel that I was walking in a winter fantasy land. And it was a good opportunity to learn more about what my camera is capable of, and what I need to do to take beautiful night photos.

Everland Romantic Illumination colorful reeds and columns

Autumn at Night- Kyoto Temple Night Illuminations

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple title pictureDuring the height of the autumn season, Kyoto opens up some of its temples and gardens to night illuminations. They also happen in the spring, but I didn’t know about them when I was there the last time. But this time, I did my research before my trip to maximize my autumn foliage viewing, and learned about all the different temples open at night. Sadly for me, some of the largest temple complexes didn’t open until after I left Kyoto. But there were more than one temple I was able to enjoy.

Kyoto Night Shorein Temple lake reflection

Kyoto Night Shorein Temple lakeMy first night in Kyoto I visited two temples: the Shorenin Temple and the Kodaiji Temple. They are located in eastern Kyoto and roughly a 10/15 minute walk from each other. It’s always interesting to visit Japanese temples, because you are required to take your shoes off. But thankfully all the temples provide you with a convenient plastic bag to carry your shoes with you. These temples also have illuminated gardens of trees.

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple lighted yard

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple red treeKyoto hadn’t reached peak foliage during my visit, so there was still plenty of green leaves on the trees, but you could see oranges and reds as well.

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple colored foliageShorenin Temple also has an illuminated bamboo forest.

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple bamboo forestI visited Kodaiji Temple during my last trip and it was interesting to have a new perspective on it, with it being at night and in the autumn.  I was quite entranced with the images of reflections of the trees on still ponds.

Kyoto Night Kodaiji Temple pool reflection

Kyoto Night Kodaiji Temple orange reflection poolMy favorite part of Kodaiji Temple was the illuminated sand garden.

Kyoto Night Kodaiji Temple illuminated sandsThe second night I went to Eikando Temple. The temple is also located in eastern Kyoto and it’s about a 10 minute walk from Nanzenji Temple, so you can easily fit both temples into the same visit. I wasn’t able to visit Nanzenji at night, because the temple gardens weren’t open for night business until later in November. That is another reason why to schedule any Kyoto autumn visits for late November.

Kyoto Night Eikando foliage with moonThis is the entrance way to the temple. I went there right when it opened at 1730.

Kyoto Night Eikando temple entranceI went early figuring I would catch the temple, and then go enjoy dinner. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who had that thought. There was a 20 minute wait to get into the temple. The line ran smoothly, though it meant there were hordes of people on site enjoying the illuminations. When I left the temple, there was no line or anything. So if you go to temple night visits, go later in the evening. Most of the temple night illuminations stay open between 2030-2130, so there is plenty of time each night to visit the temples.

Kyoto Night Eikando Temple pool reflectionsThat is another thing about a Kyoto autumn visit. You won’t be the only one with the same brilliant idea, so just be prepared to enjoy your visit along with thousands of others. But you get good at elbowing people out of the way so you can take your picture.

Kyoto Night Eikando reflection poolEikando is particularly good for enjoying night reflections of different colored trees on bodies of water.

Kyoto Night Eikando Temple main lakeLike every other temple in Kyoto, it hadn’t hit peak foliage. But there were definitely brilliant patches of red leaves.

Kyoto Night Eikando red trees

Kyoto Night Eikando red foliageEikando is supposed to be especially beautiful during autumn peak foliage, during both day and night. Definitely don’t miss it.

Kyoto Night Eikando Temple bridge