CategoriesAccommodationsUncategorized

Inside a “Love Hotel” in South Korea

love hotel
A look inside a room at Busan’s Queen Hotel

The amenities in a South Korea "love hotel" are not what you’ll see at your local Holiday Inn: flashing colored lights over the bed, a higher-than-average number of mirrors, a "personal massager" for sale in the minibar.

If you travel to South Korea, though, you’ll find some good reasons to check into a love hotel. Here’s what you need to know about the "love hotel" experience:

Why They Exist

In South Korea, it’s not unusual for several generations of a family to live together. Sure, that can make for a close-knit family. But it also detracts from privacy. So when couples feel like gettin’ freaky/frisky/funky, they might leave the family at home and check into a love hotel for a night – or even a few hours.

Why They’re Different

love hotel
An outside view of the Queen Motel in Busan

First of all, a love hotel in South Korea is cheap – as much as half the cost of a conventional hotel. And they’re considerably nicer than hostels or guesthouses: You’ll find a generously sized TV, a computer with Internet and very likely a fancy Japanese toilet that can blast a jet of water a good 12 feet. It’s everything people need while they travel – and then some. Also, you’ll enter through a discreet entrance designed to conceal guest’s identities. You’ll pay through a bank teller-like window (and possibly not even make eye contact with the staff) in cash per day. And I’m serious about the in-room amenities. The staff issues a little care package with things like powdered coffee, tea bags, razors, hair ties, bubble bath gel … and condoms.

Why You Might Think Twice

As far as I could tell, most love hotels allow smoking in rooms. That’s a tough smell to get out of the rooms to nonsmokers’ satisfaction. It took a little arm twisting to make sure it was eradicated from our room – or at least enough to pass muster.

love hotel
A typical love hotel amenity kit

How You Can Find One

It seems love hotels don’t really fly their flag on the Internet. There’s a feeling that the people of South Korea consider them ever-so-slightly tawdry (if necessary). But they stick out in the landscape. Just look for a building that’s on the garish side, likely with a word like "Queen" or "Castle" or somesuch in the name: I saw one called the Wow Motel. If you see neon, fringe and jarring colors, you’ve found yourself a love hotel.

 

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CategoriesTravelUncategorized

Aviation Photos – The 161st Air Refueling Wing/Phoenix Sky Harbor

Too big to fit in the frame - a 161st Air Refueling Wing KC-135.

Aviation photographers love any chance to get close to the action. And being on the ground level next to one of the runways at a major airport? Excellent. And if the vantage point is at a military installation? Jackpot!

A few years ago, a work event offered me that chance. The only downside is that I hadn’t yet advanced to using a digital SLR. I took these aviation photos at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, right at the home of the 161st Air Refueling Wing of the Arizona National Guard.

This excursion yielded some great perspectives of the 161st Wing’s KC-135 aircraft. I also grabbed some shots of a 727 and a brightly painted corporate jet. I also got some of the usual 737 sorts of aircraft that are the mainstay of Sky Harbor air traffic – not exactly the sort of thing that excites aviation geeks, I know. But the runway-level perspective turns them into a little something different.

Back from a flight.

My photo friend N. Scott Trimble was also there. I’d love to see what someone with his skills took home from the same place. Of course, with the sheer volume of images a working photographer generates, I expect most of these are long-gone from his hard drives. Then again, he is an aviation geek who might’ve squirreled a few away.

Now that I use a Pentax DSLR, I’d go crazy for another chance at some ground-level aviation photography at Sky Harbor.

The 727 - a blast from the bast.
A cool boulder with malachite - and some little airplane in the background.
The International Jet Dream Chaser takes off.
The tailboom in its upright and locked position.
Two of a kind.
CategoriesAccommodationsUncategorized

Camping adds Natural Flavor to International Travel

Camping makes international travel better. You won't get this experience in a Reykjavik hotel.

I don’t travel without a sleeping bag – and I even prefer to bring my own tent.

Ever since my trip to New Zealand, I’ve tried to work camping into my travel itinerary. That’s where I first discovered that international travel is a good chance to break away from staying in hotels. And New Zealand’s system of hiking huts in its national parks also impressed me. I regretted that I didn’t think to bring a sleeping bag every time I saw a tent off in some quiet spot.

My Kiwi camping revelation made me re-think the possibilities of where to lay my head at night. My next trip was a summertime jaunt to Iceland. I know – it’s not the first place most people would think to camp. But the days I spent camping in Iceland were some of my most memorable experiences. I slept in my tent near the noses of glaciers at Skaftafell, on the shores of Myvatn, even in the remote highlands along the Laugavegur. Hotels in Iceland aren’t exactly cheap, so I was able to save a fistful of króna while getting a little closer to the landscape.

wandering justin myvatn iceland
On the shore of Myvatn at Vogar campground.

For my recent trip to South Korea and Japan, I knew the chances of camping were more remote. Still, my tent and sleeping bag were the first items in my backpack. I didn’t wind up getting a chance to camp, but I was ready for anything.

When I finally get to the UK, my camping gear will go with me. I’ll find some good campsites and be ready for some outdoor fun. Iceland was nearly silent since there’s very little wildlife scampering about – I imagine a forest in Ireland or the UK would be much more alive with the sound of creatures.

Give camping a try on your next trip. You don’t even have to bring your tent. New Zealand, Iceland and the UK all have sites with huts, yurts and other accommodations far more fun than the typical hotel or hostel experience. You’ll save some weight in your backpack and still have a close-to-nature place to sleep.

This post is featured by Pitchup.com. Pitchup.com is your free guide to all types of camping and caravanning in the UK and Ireland – judged Best UK Travel Website of the Year 2011 and Best UK Travel Information Site 2010. With 5,000 campsites and holiday parks (including more than 200 to book), nifty searching and loads of offers, it has never been easier to find and book the perfect site – and rediscover the glee in camping and caravanning.

CategoriesFitness

Gold Canyon Trails in Arizona: First Ride

gold canyon trails
Awesome scenery, great flow, lots of turns – it’s the Gold Canyon singeltrack.

There’s nothing like a new mountain bike trail. Except riding it on the second day of 100-degree-plus heat. Oh, well, one out of two isn’t bad.

But enough about the heat: Let’s talk about a nice gem of a singletrack network in Gold Canyon, which is just east of the Phoenix area. It’s just across the border into Pinal County and butted right up against the awesomeness known as the Superstition Mountains. You can get a lot of the nuts and bolts about the trails – including how to get there – from my article on Examiner.com. You can also find a great map at gilamonsteroutback.com – a rider named Phil did the homework for all us mountain bike sinners whose GPS receivers conk out at inopportune times.

I have plans to chat with Phil about the origins of the Gold Canyon trails. He seems to be a go-to guy when it comes to knowledge about the Gold Canyon trails. And if Phil had a hand in the design and building, I am prepared to give him major props. These mountain bike trails have that flow and groove so elusive to trail builders. Someone has made maximum use of the space, and even brought little chunks of Moab and the North Shore to the fun (see the video at bottom).

The Gold Canyon trails are hard work. You’ll need skill. You’ll need to pay attention. In short, you need to be a REAL mountain biker.

So go check out the dirt from the Examiner.com article, hit gilamonsteroutback.com for a map, go ride the Gold Canyon trails … then recharge yourself at Mountain Brew Coffee afterward.

CategoriesGear

Review: tasc bamboo athletic wear

tasc performance
Kettlebells – a great way to sweat enough to test the tasc Carrollton T.

Bamboo fiber athletic gear is one of my favorite finds of the last year. I ran across the brand then-known as Thriv at my local Sports Authority. I added several bits to my collection before Thriv changed its name to tasc Performance.

I reviewed my original shirts and shorts and tasc performance took notice of my comments. They sent me some of its latest gear (the Blaze LS crew, Carrollton t-shirt and Sideline shorts) for a Wandering Justin review back in February. Here’s what I found:

tasc Bamboo Blaze LS Crew

This is pretty much a long-sleeve version of the short-sleeve relaxed-fit t-shirt from my earlier review. It’s great for the cool winter months, or as a base layer for skiing or other winter sports. The snow was too pathetic this year for me to test it skiing, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t be up for the job. I had no concerns about the fit or the feel based on my previous bamboo athletic gear experience. You can expect it to be comfortable and to wick sweat.

This one is still going strong in the winter of 2020.

Carrollton T

This tasc performance t-shirt is perfect for the warmer months. I ran this shirt through the ringer of CrossFit and kettlebell workouts, and it was a perfect workout shirt. I tested the antimicrobial/anti-odors that’s one of the bamboo selling points: four consecutive workouts in the same shirt, no washing. It only started to smell ready for a wash after the fourth workout … and don’t take my word for it: I used my wife as a smell tester for this review. What a lucky girl! Conclusion: This is a flawless workout t-shirt.

And they last a long time. As I’m updating this in December 2020, both of these shirts are going strong.

Sideline Short

One of my few complaints about my earlier Thriv/tasc gear centered on the shorts. They didn’t have pockets, and they had that annoying built-in underwear. I loved the feel of the fabric, but I felt like the shorts needed to address these two points. Wouldn’t you know it? The latest tasc bamboo shorts have pockets and ditched the mesh underwear. Great!

But there’s one little hiccup: The Sideline shorts reach below my knee. I like my shorts to be a touch more out of the way. I imagine some people must like them longer; maybe tasc can mull the idea of a shorter version, more like its Ace Short. Still, the Sidelines are the first shorts I reach for at workout time.

As if 2020, I wore these shorts so much that they were worn out a few years ago.

Final Thoughts: tasc Bamboo

Here’s what you can conclude from my review: tasc performance has kept things the same where they need to, and made strides to near perfection in others. From the non-performance side, you also get athletic gear made with sustainability in mind. To adapt a phrase from George Costanza, I’d drape myself in tasc bamboo athletic gear if it was socially acceptable.

As of December 2020, I’ve retired two pairs of my tasc undies and one pair of shorts. Everything else is still pretty solid.

tasc Performance could use some Twitter followers. Get over there and find out more!

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CategoriesGearUncategorized

Camera Tips for Low-Light Photos

Long exposures gather the light and show your favorite low-light travel sights for what they are.

Using a camera in low light is a challenge for travelers. You might wind up in places like dense rain forests or – like in my last post – a lava tube deep underground. After I finished the last post, I realized it could also illustrate some good low-light photo tips.

Let’s say you’re headed out for an epic vacation, and all you plan to take is a camera. But you don’t want to miss a shot. Here’s what you need to know.

Pick Your Camera

You don’t need a pro-level digital SLR. But you need a camera with manual controls. You will absolutely need to maintain some sort of control of your shutter speed. I’d also recommend a camera that allows you to select ISO.

Live off the Land

You probably don’t have a tripod, so you’ll have to innovate. Look for a stable place to plop your camera … someplace flat and secure. You’ve just found yourself a “field tripod.”

Pick your spot for a makeshift tripod and make some photo magic,

Set Your Camera Up

The fun start now. Experiment with 5-, 10-, 20- and 30-second exposures. But even before you get there, set your camera so that it delays before opening the shutter. The longer you give yourself, the more time you have to compose yourself in the photo. Or keep it quick – 2.5 seconds or so – if you are just going for landscape. But do use a delay: If you just click the shutter, that can be just enough jiggle to ruin the sharpness of your shot. Hello, accidental and unwelcome blur.

A slow-shutter look at Majanngul Lava Tube

Get Ready for Surprises

You’ll get interesting effects from long exposures. I love the ghostly images of people walking through long exposures, especially against a sharp, focused background.

Stay Energized

Holding the shutter open can sorely tax your battery power. Carry lots of extras.

Don’t be a Flasher

A flash can work wonders used properly in a cave, a canyon or some other dark environment. Pro photographers and their gear and knowledge amaze me. But if you’re traveling, chances are it’s just you and your camera. Your flash will add harsh, unnatural light ot only the foreground of your photo. It will obscure everything behind. And isn’t capturing that cool background the whole point?

CategoriesAdventures

South Korea Destination: Manjanggul Lava Tube

manjanggul
A slow-shutter look at Majanngul Lava Tube

I can wax poetic about a lava tube all day long. There’s just something cool about walking where glowing lava once flowed. When I found out there was a lava tube on Jeju Island in South Korea, I had to go.

The quest to find Manjanggul Lava Tube is why Sarah and I took a city bus out into the countryside of the island known as the Hawaii of South Korea. We hopped off the bus and two miles up a road. We left the sea behind and headed into a forest of shady trees and huge spiders.

And lava tubes. Lots of them, only a few of them fully mapped and likely many left undiscovered.

But we’re headed to one that’s certainly well discovered. Manjanggul is a well-known attraction, judging from the steady flow of traffic along the road. Taxis honk at us, hoping to take us the rest of the way. But we’re walkers – we decline every few moments with what we hope is a polite head-shake and wave.

And we come to the parking lot. We pay an entry fee of less than $2 – a spectacular deal for a 30-minute walk underground.

manjanggul
Another look at Majanggul Lava Tube.

By this time, I’d been in South Korea long enough to expect even a lava tube to be a bit well-developed. As I feared, Manjanggul is a bit too regular, tame and paved to slake my thirst for the shadowy depths of a former volcanic hot spot. It’s certainly nothing like the Ape Cave lava tube in Cougar, Washington.

On the other hand, Manjanggul is grand, with a ceiling that arches high above. So far, researchers have plumbed about 50,000 feet of it. Only about 3,500 feet are open to the public, though.

It’s nice and damp inside Manjanggul, with some nice lighting effects. The flow of traffic never seems to stop, so you won’t experience the solitude that you can in more rugged, remote lava tubes. But the grandeur that earned Manjanggul status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site makes it well worth the trip to South Korea and to Jeju Island. If you’re creative with camera settings, you can also snag some nice photos.

 

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CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Challenge Yourself on a UK Bicycle Holiday

This should make you want to ride the Yorkshire Dales. (Photo by Amber, courtesy of Sykes Cottages)

The English county of Yorkshire is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Locally known as God’s own county, the soaring mountain peaks and sweeping moorlands make Yorkshire one of the greenest places in the UK and the perfect place for a biking holiday. With two national parks and a number of designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you are sure to be enchanted by the rugged Yorkshire landscape. Bicycle enthusiasts will find no shortage of trails and courses to challenge their skills. Champion road racers and daring mountain bikers will find a test of their mettle in Yorkshire.

Way of the Roses

The newest of the UK’s coast-to-coast cycle ways stretches 170 miles across the north of England, from the Irish Sea coast in Lancashire to the North Sea coast in Yorkshire. While peddling your way along this well sign-posted route, you’ll pass through the cities of York and Lancaster and innumerable quaint towns and country villages. The terrain is varied, including traffic-free paths, cycle lanes, and country roads – all of which are part of the National Cycle Network. A reasonably fit biker can complete the route in 3 days, but there are some testing areas of steep hills so you may want to give yourself a little extra time if you’re less experienced. Taking it a little slower will also give you time to explore on foot along the way, and maybe treat yourself to a well-earned tasty treat or two! For accommodations, there are a number of options available to you. Maybe consider one of the many Yorkshire holiday cottages available along the way – a great place to lay your head after a long day of cycling!

Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge

If you seek a bigger challenge, maybe the Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge is for you. Billed as the toughest cyclo-cross event in the UK, this isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll cover 38 miles. … which doesn’t sound so bad. But you’ll climb and descend the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough. You won’t even get to ride the whole distance – 17 miles is on road, 20 miles is unsurfaced road, and 3 to 5 miles is unrideable terrain. The first person to complete the challenge was a 14-year-old school boy in 1959. It took him 6 hours and 45 minutes. Last year’s winner, Nick Craig, completed the route in a staggering 3 hours and 8 minutes, a feat of human endurance few could even dream of accomplishing! This is not an event for an inexperienced rider, and you’ll need the right equipment. But even just visiting the Yorkshire Dales to watch the spectacle would be an experience.

The UK is a great place for a cycling holiday, whether you like to amble down country lanes with a picnic in your basket, or test your endurance and take on an extreme challenge like the Three Peaks. There are many great guiding companies throughout the country who can help you organize a trip or just rent you a bicycle for the day. Either way it’s a great way to see the countryside and will eliminate all the guilt of over-indulging on the local delicacies while on vacation!

This post was written by Amanda, who writes for Sykes Cottages. While she admires the endurance and nerve of those who undertake challenges like the Three Peaks Cyclo-Challenge, you’re more likely to find her peddling along a country path with flowers and foraged berries in her bicycle basket!

WanderingJustin.com thanks Amanda and Sykes Cottages for this great featured introduction to UK bicycle holidays.

CategoriesGearUncategorized

Sharp-Eyed Cyclist Wins Switch Vision Sunglasses Contest

It’s time to announce the winner of the Switch Vision / WanderingJustin.com Stoke Sunglasses giveaway -- read on!

Testing my H-Wall sunglasses at Papago Park.

More than a month ago, I asked WanderingJustin.com readers to tell me about the oddest thing they’ve ever found while hiking or biking. Tell me the best story, I said, and my buddies at Switch Vision will send you a pair of the awesome Switch Stoke sunglasses – just like the ones I wear.

Veteran BMX hero-turned-mountain biker Abel from Queen Creek., Ariz., could’ve won the sunglasses with both of his best trailside finds. The first item? During a ride at San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Abel found a brand-new – with tag! – Dallas Cowboys jersey. But that wasn’t his winning entry.

And I have to say, his winner does shock me. It handily beat such entries as a Bowie knife, a crescent wrench, a pair of Pearl Izumi gloves and a deer carcass.

Abel earned his pair of Switch Vision sunglasses by finding what he describes as a "a pair of what looked to be fetish homemade metal mesh underwear hanging on a bush" in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve near Squaw Peak.

"I passed the underwear and saw them hanging there and was like, ‘What the heck was that?!’ As a curious George I had to stop and investigate," Abel tells me. "Didn’t touch them though cause you never know where they have been. Got a good chuckle out of it and continued my ride."

A slick par of Switch Vision Stoke sunglasses in olive. But Abel showed some boldness and chose Demi Purple. (Photo courtesy of Switch Vision)

Shenanigans involving homemade chainmail chones seem much more likely to happen in Papago Park: Crazy things happen at Papago Park, the famous urban outdoor refuge plunked right in the middle of Phoenix. Just a few years ago, I railed around a corner on my Santa Cruz Superlight and nearly plowed into a bikini-clad model posing on a rock. The scene bewildered me – the photo assistants bouncing sunlight off her, the photographer issuing orders, the disdainful air of the model toward all around her.

But the Phoenix Mountain Preserve? Wow!

Let’s all salute Abel for his find, applaud him for his discretion in leaving the chainmail undies alone, and berate him for not taking a photo (I could’ve used the pattern to make my own).

Speaking of my friends at Switch Vision, they also sent me a pair of their H-WALL sunglasses. This a more sports-oriented, lightweight model than the Stoke glasses that I like so much. So far, I’ve had them out for quite a few mountain bike rides.

The report? The disappear on my face. I forget that they’re even there – except for all the sunlight they block and that nice polarized tint they add to my world. For some reason, their lenses seem to be more sweat-resistant than the lenses on my Stoke sunglasses. They definitely make me look faster -- which only leads to disappoint when people see that I’m not really that fast! But overall, I really like them. If you want a lighter-weight, Euro-fast-looking pair of sunglasses with that awesome Magnetic Lens Interchange System, they are likely perfect for you.

CategoriesTravel

The Phoenix Hipster Travel Guide

Phoenix hipster
Crikey! We’ve got Phoenix hipster scenesters in their natural habitat at Lux. Look at the plaid plumage on that specimen!

Hipsters should keep their trilby-wearing, Indie-loving, PBR-guzzling butts out of Phoenix. There’s nothing for them here, right? Just look at this city: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sad public transit, the dearth of a true creative class. But there’s also a glut of dive bars, indie music venues, thrift shops and espresso bars. Plus you can sound uber-ironic and contrarian by telling your DJ/mixed media artist/php developer buddies back home that you think Phoenix rocks. So maybe a traveling hipster can get something out of Phoenix.

Well, then, let me help you build your itinerary with my Phoenix hipster travel guide. Check out these four places, and you’ll get the real Phoenix hipster experience.

The Clarendon Hotel

If you visit Phoenix, you need a place to stay. Frequent rooftop parties, DJs and modern-retro styling make the Clarendon Hotel a perfect crash pad for visiting hipsters. And it’s a choice location – walking distance from a light rail station -- the preferred hipster mode of transport aside from fixed-gear bikes. Consider this THE choice place to stay in the Phoenix Hipster Travel Guide.

Lux Coffee Bar

A way-too-serious DJ scowling at his Mac laptop like a submarine sonar operator listening for depth charges. A parking lot filled with beat-up cruisers, fixies and Scions. Shouting to be heard over the clamor.

Phoenix hipster travel guide
To get this rare shot of a hipster-free Oasis pool, the management at the Clarendon announced a 2-for-1 oversized sunglasses special in the gift shop. (SOURCE: The Clarendon Hotel via Wikimedia Commons)

This is Lux Coffee Bar. You can find far better espresso in Phoenix. But you can’t find more skinny jeans and awkward facial hair per capita anywhere. The menu has all the usual espresso suspects, plus trendy comfort food items. Finally, Lux has one of the most annoying, ill-functioning-on-all-browsers websites you’ll encounter.

FilmBar Phoenix

Looking for a film that doesn’t rely on explosions? You’re in luck – FilmBar is the place to find the old, the serious, the "so-bad-it’s-good" features that you’ll never see at a mega-movie megaplex. And there’s a genuinely impressive beer list featuring a smattering of Arizona-brewed items -- FilmBar might lose hipster points for not having PBR on the list. But you can’t argue that showing some Ingmar Bergman and French films from the 1950s doesn’t even the score. No Phoenix hipster travel guide is complete without FilmBar.

The Lost Leaf

How hip is The Lost Leaf? It’s website extension is .org, not .com. Odds are, the band booked for the night will have a stand-up bass. It’s no strip mall bar, but a nicely renovated bungalow. That’s hip. There’s also 140 bottled beers, some sake, some wine and even a few non-alcoholic beverages. You may feel out-of-place if you have no odd piercings or tattoos. But you’ll satisfy your people-watching needs, along with the desire for a choice beverage.