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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Things to Consider Before Moving to Seoul, South Korea

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I've lived in South Korea for 14 years and almost the last 13 years have been spent in Seoul. I have enjoyed this journey and although I'm not 100% sure yet, I might be leaving at the end of the year. I would like to share what people should look for before they decide on living here. Every place has it's pros and cons and that's what I will do in this blog post. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom. So here we go. I'll start with the negative aspects first and then move onto the positive ones:


1. On weekdays, subway lines can be extremely crowded (especially Lines 2 and 9) during rush hour such as 9:00am, 6:30pm and even at 10:00pm when some people go home late or some people stop hanging out with their friends after dinner and/or drinking.

2. When walking on sidewalks, people don't choose a side. Some people are walking on the left, some people walk in the middle, and some people walk on the right. It's one thing that I still don't understand. I'm sure it's a lot worse in China, but be forewarned.

3. Another point regarding pedestrians. People are unaware of people around them. If they're texting friends on Kakaotalk (a very popular Korean texting app), people walk slow. Sometimes people are in front of you playing a cell phone game and once again, they walk slow. It's not that they're trying to be rude, they just don't care about people around them and are unaware of who's around them.

4. This one is the MOST important.

(a) Before getting an English teaching job at a children's hakwon (academy), you must check whether the school is reputable, they have a good curriculum, AND if the foreign teachers that work there enjoy working there. My first school was brand new and although the job was smoothed out after a few months, I never got paid pension (which is required by law for Americans and Canadian teachers) and the director never backed me up with disciplinary support when students misbehaved. My second academy was a smaller one. I met the native teacher who was on his way out and he seemed to like the job, but all he did was play games with the kids and the kids loved him. Little did I know that I was expected to be the clown teacher with bad curriculum. It was hard to competed with my previous teacher that did nothing but have fun with the students. My third school was in Yangju (2 hours north of Gangnam in Gyeonggido). I worked at my director's academy on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with NO BOOKS and worked at another school in Dongducheon (2.5 hours north of Gangnam) on Tuesday and Thursday with bad books, six classes straight, and no time to prepare my classes. I strongly suggest you to do some research before accepting a job position.

(b) If you want to teach adults, you're in for a bit of competition. If you came to Seoul 10 years ago, you would only need a Bachelor's degree and may get your housing covered. Nowadays, you need either a teaching certificate and/or Master's degree just to get an interview. There are a lot more native English speakers that live in Seoul, so adult academies can be picky. If you want to teach in a university, you will definitely need a Master's degree and preferably in ESL. You won't get an interview without it.

5. If and when you do get a job in a Korean academy, be aware that Koreans communicate differently. Sometimes Koreans will tell you things at the last minute or they can be very indirect. Make sure that you're always on the same page or you'll expect a surprise. Ask questions and be polite. Never assume anything!

6. Be aware that drivers in South Korea are probably the worst drivers among all OECD countries. I see people driving while on cell phones (even backing up while talking on their phones), people driving fast in areas with a high amount of pedestrians, taxi drivers run red lights, people with tinted windows and/or have black cars drive dangerously because they think they own the road, and people sometimes driving the wrong way to make themselves a short cut. The ones that drive the wrong way will turn on their emergency lights to let people know that they're in the wrong, but to allow them to do it anyway (a half apology).

7. There is only one great season in Seoul, if you're like me (a southern California native who loves warm, dry weather). In winter, when the days are nice and warm, the air pollution is bad due to fine dust from China and coal plants in Korea. When it's a very cold day, the days are clear and sunny. In spring, the weather is comfortable, but fine dust blankets the city on many days. Summer is very humid and sticky until the end of August and July is normally monsoon season, so expect a lot of rain. Expect the best weather in September and October when it's beautiful. It starts to get cool in November but it's not too bad yet but the weather has been really cold the last two years in December in January. Expect temperatures to dip to -15C or -4F at its worst. But it's not the temperature that makes it the worst, it's the wind! It's very windy during a Seoul winter compared to Shanghai or Tokyo.

8. (a) If you're a Korean-American, Korean-Canadian or even Asian, some older people might assume that you're Korean and will speak Korean to you. If you're among a group of white people and you're the only Asian, the restaurant employee will speak Korean to you first expecting that you will understand. This is funny at first but can get annoying if you've been here a long time. I'm not Asian, but know this from speaking to various Asian friends from abroad. (b) If you're black, people may still treat you differently and either not want to sit with you on the subway or not want to work out with you at the gym. This is a sad reality. However, I've known some black friends that had a great time in Seoul, but the ones that told me they had good experiences tended to be female.

9. Although Korean women are very attractive, the ones in Seoul can be very high maintenance especially if they speak English. It's easy to date one, but hard to get married to one. They might have high expectations especially if they speak English well. Since there are many English teachers in Seoul, you won't stand out so much. If you're a professor, that's one step above that. And if you work in a company, they might think more highly of you. Status and appearance count a lot here but there are nice girls here. However, the prettier they are, the riskier it is. Thankfully I married a sweet, Christian, Korean-Chinese woman that doesn't care about shallow things like that.

10. Don't expect to live in a large apartment if you don't have a lot of money. If you want to teach kids, they will provide you with an apartment but it will be small. If you want to teach adults, they will provide you with a deposit (if you're single), but you will have to pay the rent. If you want a nice apartment, that means you'll pay at least $1,000 per month in rent plus utilities minimum.

Now that may seem like a lot of negative aspects, but I have a lot of positive things to say about this amazing city. Please weigh them out yourself and also get to know people that live here and get some other points-of-view. Now the awesome aspects of Seoul...


1. Seoul is a safe city. Yes, women should always be careful no matter what city they live in, but a woman would feel a lot safer walking home at midnight in Seoul compared to L.A. or Chicago in a New York minute. Crime is very low and if there is any crime at night, it's due to a drunk guy getting into an altercation with his friend.

2. The public transportation is beyond amazing. You can from the airport to the center of Seoul at a relatively cheap price. You can get from the center of Seoul to the countryside for another inexpensive subway fare. You can also take a high speed train to Busan in 3 hours. Seoul even beats Tokyo when it comes to easy access to public transportation. It's honestly the best in the world.

3. Seoul has a variety of foreign restaurants from American, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Ethiopian, Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Turkish, etc. If you get tired of Korean food, there are plenty of other options. But it can be expensive, so beware of that.

4. Compared to Japan and China, people are much more willing to speak English especially if you need directions. People are very willing and helpful to non-Koreans that are lost. Overall I find Koreans very kind to "foreigners" that are in need of help, so you won't have any issues there.

5. Seoul has many things to do. You can see various palaces, visit various parks, see different types of museums, go hiking in many mountains that are near subway lines, three places with large aquariums,  check out old buildings and compare them with the new ones, etc. You can also see performances such as Nanta or Jump, which have been popular for many years. You can check out the tallest building in the country (Lotte Tower), which has an amazing view of the city. I've been here for a long time and still haven't seen everything.

6. Despite Seoul being a very modern city, there are still 15 traditional markets in Seoul: See the list here. My favorites are Namdaemun (for cheap goods) and Gwangjang Market (for cheap and delicious food).

7. Seoul has the second largest movie theater screen in the world located in Youngdeungpo inside Times Square Mall. It's 103 feet by 42.7 feet. The largest screen is located in Suzhou, China.

8. If you love coffee, Seoul is the place. In 2005, the cafe boom started and now you can enjoy cafes with various themes to them. For example, do you like animal cafes? There's a cat cafe, bird cafe, raccoon cafe, bird cafe, sheep cafe, dog cafe, comic book cafe, book cafe, travel cafe, camera cafe, cereal cafe, pitch black cafe, jazz cafe, etc. When I first came to Korea, people said that coffee wasn't healthy and that I should drink tea. My, how times have changed!

9. Korean food is great here. I love grilled meat and I think Seoul does this the best. You can get grilled pork (samgyeopsal), chicken (dakgalbi) or beef (bulgogi) and enjoy a wonderful experience here. If you want something simple, you can go to a cheap Korean restaurant and get very good food (soup, stew, fried rice, etc.) for a reasonable price.

10. If you're into nightlife, Seoul is the place to be. There are many clubs or bars with various themes to them. The atmosphere fits all different walks of life. If you're young and crazy, you can go to Hongdae or Itaewon. If you're into jazz clubs, you can go to Apgujeong or Sinsa, and if you want a quiet evening with friends, just get away from the most popular subway stations and you'll find a cafe with a lot less people.

So there's my list. Feel free to do some research yourself. Seoul is a fun place to be and it might totally fit what you're looking for. You might think it is, stay one year, and decide to stay for just one year. You can be like me and many of my friends who think they're only here for a year, but spend 1/3 of their life here!

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What's Your Identity? (A Viewpoint from a Christian)

Human nature is very interesting. We always try to label each other or put labels on ourselves. We label each other based on gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, nationality, hometown, etc.

In Western culture, when people want to get to know you, after asking you your name, people immediately ask "Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" To answer this personally, "My name is Scott. I'm from Los Angeles and I teach English in South Korea." Based on what I just told you, people may make very assumptions about me and put me in one of their categories.

In South Korea, age, job, and family background come into play. If you went to Seoul National University, you must be very smart. If you didn't, you were one of those that didn't try hard enough. If you live with your family and have brothers and sisters, you're normal. If you don't get along with your family, then your company or the blind date that you're on might think there's something wrong with you.

When I talk to fellow expatriates who live abroad, nationality, and location is huge in how we label ourselves. Sometimes if I hear that if we're getting a British teacher, I have this hope in my mind: "I hope the teacher has the sense of humor of Mr. Bean and not too serious like Hugh Laurie." Of if I hear that we're getting an American teacher, I might think to myself, "I hope she's not from New York City. That person might be too over-the-top and obnoxious for me to handle. Lord, let that person be from the west coast because we'll be able to get along better."

My wife is from Yanji, China. She's very specific in the way that she labels herself. She's ethnically Korean, but was born and raised in Northeast China, not too far from North Korea. She is not Chinese. She's not Korean. She's Korean-Chinese. She even distinguishes between how Chinese people, Korean people, and Korean-Chinese people make dumplings. And to her credit, all three of them are very different from each other.

Christians label themselves based on denominations, which is unfortunate. My coworker asked me which church I went to. I said it was non-denominational. She looked at me funny and wondered why there wasn't a denomination attached to it. She was probably thinking "Are you Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Lutheran, or do you just use the umbrella term Protestant?"

A friend from church is an adopted Korean. He was born in Korea but his mother gave him up as a baby. He has American parents but came to Korea to find his roots. Although he never found his birth mother, he's still thankful that he has loving parents.

On the other hand, people struggle with their sexual identity. We have so many letters associated with someone's sexual identity that we're up to 10 letters now: LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual). In case you don't know what some of these mean, asexual means no sexual feelings whatsoever. Any ally is someone that is heterosexual but supports the LGBT social movements. People that are pansexual say that gender and sex don't determine their sexual attraction towards someone.

To take it even further, some people claim themselves as non-binary or gender queer. They don't think of themselves as either male or female. People want to claim science when they discuss abortion or climate change but ignore it when talking about sex.

Finally to take it even one step further, you can be a woman that identifies as a cat (See video here) or a man that identifies as a filipino woman (See video here).

The world says "as long as you aren't hurting anyone, be what you want to be." And yes, maybe no one else is hurt on this Earth is hurt by what you want to be. But people that are non-Christians forget that they are hurting someone most important: God, the author of creation. The Lord has numbered every hair on our head (Luke 12:7) and he knew us before we were even born (Jeremiah 1:5). If we receive Jesus, we are immediately children of God (John 1:12). We were created male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27). There is no accident and God does not want us to change who we were made to be.

And to Christians, it doesn't matter where you come from, how much money you make, what kind of family you have, and how important you are to society. The only thing that matters is Jesus. Don't get sucked into the world's standards of where you think you should be (Colossians 3:1-3). Nothing matters but the blood of Jesus. Without Jesus, we would be doomed anyway. Let's remember our identity in Christ and tell others how special He is. Everyone is worthy to receive grace (a free gift) and no one needs to work for it.

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mainland Venice, Italy (Part 2- Palazzo Ducale)


A month ago I promised to continue telling you about my trip on Mainland Venice, Italy with my wife. Since there are so many pictures, I'll have to save this blog post for various pictures of our next site: Palazzo Ducale.

(Continued from Mainland Venice, Italy Part 1) We headed to Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace in English) and we were quite amazed by the interiors and the long stairways to get from floor to floor. The most amazing thing that stuck out in my mind was the view of the Grand Canal (particularly San Giorgio Maggiore Island) from one of the windows . You'll see this in my pictures later.

The structure of the Palazzo Ducale is made up of three large blocks, incorporating previous constructions. It has been refurbished countless times due to structural failures, new building installations, infiltrations, and restructuring of ornamental trappings.

Here's the configuration of the site according to the Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia website: The wing towards St. Mark's Basin (Basilica San Marco), is the oldest, built from 1340 and onwards. The wing towards St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) was built in its present from from 1424 onwards. The canal-side wing housing the Doge's apartments and many government offices, dates from the Renaissance, and was built between 1483 and 1565.

This was the palace of the Doge of Venice during the late 14th Century. You can see the Venetian Gothic arches of the exterior, which was quite fascinating and it faces the Grand Canal on the Piazzetta Marco. Now onto the pictures:

This is your typical amazing Italian ceiling.
My wife with Mars and Neptune at the top of the stairway.
You can see St. Mark's Basin to the right.
The artistry between the walls and ceilings astounded me.
A view from one of Venetian apartments from one of the windows
A view of the Grand Canal from Palazzo Ducale
A view of San Giorgio Maggiore Island from Palazzo Ducale
The most stunning room
This place is one of the many must-sees on the mainland of Venice. You'll see beautiful paintings on the walls, ceilings, and get some different perspectives of the surroundings (the courtyard, the Grand Canal, and Venetian homes) as you look out of the windows. If you happen to make it here, take your time and enjoy every intricacy of this venue.

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

TV Viewing While Living Abroad in South Korea

There is one hobby that I haven't really done a lot of since I left the United States to move to South Korea in 2003: watching TV. Before I got married, my landlord gave me an old TV and I could only watch basic TV channels. However, since it was all in Korean, I didn't watch it that much and I usually spent more time on Facebook or using YouTube for entertainment.

When I got married, my wife didn't want to get a TV, although she still watches her Korean dramas on her phone. She also doesn't want our future children to watch TV because she thinks it isn't good for them. More on that later.

For myself, I didn't really protest my wife not wanting a TV since the only thing that I watch is baseball which I can see on the MLB.TV website or basketball games which are on streaming sites. I always felt like watching season after season of various TV shows was a waste of time. Some of my coworkers could use their whole Saturdays to watch Game of Thrones or various other options on Netflix.  Early last year I got on the Netflix bandwagon and tried to watch the Korean version. But I didn't watch it that often and the Korean one had very few options, so I canceled my subscription.

I have continuously used YouTube to watch an old 80's TV show with my wife that I loved (Three's Company) as a kid. She likes that show just as much as I did and still do, but apparently some people are not allowed to post the shows on the site due to copyright issues, so half of the shows got deleted by YouTube. I also enjoy watching Judge Judy and subscribers post recent programs on there. Subscribers get kicked off if they post the shows and the shows YouTube takes the new shows down before new subscribers pop up and post more shows. It's kind of like a torrent site. You get rid of one user but another one pops up the next day. Although my wife and I still watch Three's Company on YouTube, I felt that I needed Netflix just in case both of those programs are completely off YouTube for entertainment. Therefore, I re-subscribed to Netflix a couple of months ago for more options.

So what's my verdict on Netflix? Netflix is okay for movies. The selection isn't great but I have been able to watch Hoosiers, Serendipity, It's a Wonderful Life and Scent of a Woman (four of my favorite movies) with my wife. She enjoyed all of them and she got more of a sense of what kind of movies I love. However, I've seen most of the "newer" movies on Korean Netflix.

Netflix is good for documentaries, but I find a lot of the documentaries like the media these days. They're mainly shown for shock value. On the other hand, they're still pretty interesting to watch. Life Below Zero shows how people live in Alaska and this has been by far the best documentary. It's realistic, sometimes a bit scary, but the most educational one that I've seen. There's the People vs. O.J. Simpson, which is okay but I watched a couple of episodes and stopped. I don't need to rehash this story since it would only frustrate me that O.J. is out on the streets and he really should be. I've watched the 72 Most Dangerous Places to Live, which is very educational, but obviously negative and depressing at the same time. I tried checking out one episode of Dexter and found it disturbing that people would want to watch a criminal devise creative schemes to kill people. People talked about Black Mirror so I saw two episodes and found it to be complete garbage. The first episode is about the British princess being kidnapped and in order for her to get freedom, the kidnapper wants the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig on live television. The ending of episode shows some of that. The second episode is about the future and how people are exercising at the gym to get merit points while on a treadmill. If they get 15,000 merit points, they can appear on a TV show similar to American Idol. Well, one girl got 15,000 points and she showed off her singing skills. And, after singing her song, the three judges said she was pretty good. However, if she wanted to stand out from the rest, she would have to show her breasts or do something tho show her sexy side. Even though they didn't show her raising her shirt, it was implied that she did because she became famous in the next scene.

But it's not all bad. There is one show that do I recommend: House of Cards. Sadly and ironically, Kevin Spacey (a very great actor), among many other male actors, has been accused of sexual harassment, which took some of the excitement out of watching that show. House is very dramatic, but has some sad elements. It seems that every show has a patient that is close to dying. Stranger Things is a bit weird but interesting. I'm still not sure if I like it that much due to its very dark nature of a small town of Indiana battling a creature from the Upside Down world and its promotion of teens having sex. It's not generally my TV genre to watch, but I'm trying to give it a chance. Bates Motel is a bit creepy but on the same lines as Stranger Things: It's dramatic, violent, and leaves you feeling like you wasted time on nothing.

Getting back to documentaries, I watched one excellent one about the Holocaust but then after watching it, Netflix recommended me FIVE more Holocaust documentaries. Really? Do we really need to have that many documentaries about something so depressing and heartbreaking? To find a show that isn't so dark or so negative is hard to find. Maybe Crown will do that trick. Who knows? All I know is that I now agree with my wife that I don't want to get a TV because my kids don't need to be directly exposed to so much garbage out there. Although I'm not a Baby Boomer, I truly believe that TV is definitely the "boob tube".

Scott Worden (The L.A/Seoul Guy)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sermon: "Remember" by Edward Chun (December 31, 2017)

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

In Deuteronomy, we have the new generation of Israellites about to enter the Promised Land. The last generation didn't make it. At 120 years old, Moses preaches to the new generation although, he won't make it in. However, before he dies, he preaches a crucial lesson: You shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes out of the Lord. It's a matter of life and death.

The Lord's words are life but failing to follow Him leads to death. There's no life without God and God doesn't want you to die (Ezekiel 33:11). Jesus says in John that the thief wants us to die, not Him. The Israelites lived in the wilderness for 40 years. God taught this same lesson for that long and God humbled them by leading them to the wilderness. The wilderness is dangerous, uncomfortable, lacks water, and has a shortage of food. They literally have to rely on God for everything.

God also tests them (vs. 2). When God tests us, it's not because he's going to be surprised by how we act. He tests us to see if we'll obey Him. Only when things get hard do we find out where our faith is. When God tests us, he shows us how much pride and sin that we have. Even our best effort isn't good enough. They are filthy rags. God knows that we need grace and mercy, which is why he provided manna to His people.

Maybe you were in the wilderness in 2017 or you're still there. Let me encourage you with these three things: 1) God is leading you. He has not left you and has not forsaken you. He's with you. He's the good shepherd and leads you in the paths of righteousness. 2) Maybe the Lord is humbling you to show certain areas where you're not submitting to Him. He wants to show those things that are killing you. 3) God absolutely loves you. You're not in the wilderness because he hates you. He could be disciplining you (vs. 5). He disciplines the ones he loves.

God gave Jesus His Son. Without Jesus, none of us could follow every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Israel had the same problem. Over and over they sinned and didn't submit. Many died, were disciplined, and then exiled from the Promised Land.

Our rebellious hearts kept us from the Father. Yet God sent his Son who was the only one who lived a perfect, spotless life. He breaks the power of sin by putting our sins on the cross. God gave us a new heart by putting the Holy Spirit in us. As we enter 2018, let's remember that man lives by every word that comes out from the mouth of God. We have grace and the gift of salvation that Jesus gave us.

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

ESL: The Most Unique English Names Chosen by Korean Students

One of the joys of teaching English in South Korea is meeting a lot of unique and interesting people and among meeting those people, you also meet some students that introduce themselves with some very unique and/or creative English names.

Last week, I was discussing with my co-worker Nikki Rialp about these names and she was naming them left and right. Although I could think of a few names,  she gets most of the credit as I have compiled a list of some of the funniest and most unique English names that adult students have chosen at our academy.

We'll start off with some fairly normal ones and get more unique as we go along.

#18: BJ. Now I had a friend named B.J. from kindergarten through 8th grade, so this isn't too weird for me. Two female teacher co-workers grin every time they hear this name, so it's sad to say that this name is no longer proper to use. It now has too much of a sexual connotation behind it.

#17: Newton. This student chose this name because Isaac Newton is one of his role models and all of us teachers think he chose it because it makes him sound smart. Fair enough, but the name sounds a bit nerdy actually.

#16: Bruce (as in Bruce Wayne) because he couldn't use Batman.

#15: Romeo. We had to warn this student to not use this if he goes abroad. Women will think he's a womanizer or playboy.

#14: Roosevelt. He's a very nice older male student that enjoys coming to our academy to study English but doesn't study hard at all and doesn't come too often. When he IS there, he seems to have a fun time. He chose the name Roosevelt probably after F.D.R.

#13: Metallica. This student is pretty cool and very laid back. He chose this name after his famous rock band.

#12: Excellent. Since this guy only comes once a week on Saturdays, I'm more inclined to name him "Okay". Haha!

#11: Nemo. However, this student pronounced it "NAY-MO". Um, yeah, we don't get it either.

#10: Freddie. First the student said he liked the name after hearing a Gangnam Center teacher have it. Then it reminded him of the character from Nightmare on Elm Street (Freddie Kruger) and that cemented his choice. In Nikki's words, "So he named himself after a fictional, supernatural, undead serial killer....greeaatttt."

#9: Petunia. The girl said the name sounded pretty after watching Harry Potter.

#8: Bo Geum: This is more of a Korean name but since her last name is Park (sounds like Bak in Korean), she wanted to her name to sound like bokkeum-bap, which is fried rice in Korean. Hmm, interesting.

#7: Yangban----> Jon Snow. First this man in his 40s chose Yangban because it represented Korean royalty during the Choseon Dynasty. Then he later changed it to Jon Snow after watching The Game of Thrones. You gotta give the guy credit for creativity!

#6: Annabelle. The student thought this was a pretty name until watching the horror movie. She quickly changed her name after that.

#5: Lotus. This single middle aged man said that his ex-girlfriend from 15 years ago had the name Lotus as her email ID. We thought he should change his name, but he said that all of his close friends refer to him as Lotus. This is a funny name but it's a bit sad as well.

#4: Heren. This girl tried to be unique. She had seen the name Helen many times, so she thought she would change the L to R. Well, it's a bit ridiculous because she still thought it would be okay to pronounce it like Helen, but to have it spelled Heren. Teachers told her that people would pronounce it with the R sound, so she didn't change it, it would sound weird. At first, she was going to change the name, but kept it anyway out of stubbornness.

#3: Vege. The girl named herself this and had it pronounced like Veggie. We don't know why.

#2: Scolra. We have no idea why this female student chose this name.

#1: Xpaino. This is probably the weirdest name we could remember and we have no clue why this guy chose this name.

If you teach English abroad and you have some weird names to share, please write a comment. I would love to hear some more unique, funny, weird, and/or creative names!!

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mainland Venice, Italy (Part 1)

Before you travel to a certain place, you always have some sort of expectation before you go there. When I was young, my grandma had traveled there and said it was dirty and unfriendly. I had seen many movies showing gondolas and how romantic it was. But after what my grandma had told me, I thought that maybe the hype was overblown.

My wife and I wanted to go to Rome because of its interesting history towards Christianity (from Christianity being banned and Christians being persecuted to Constantine making it the only religion in Rome in 331 AD). And since my wife and I were going to go to Italy, we decided that we needed to see Venice for ourselves. We wanted to see if the scenery was as romantic and majestic that all of the travel programs had portrayed it to be. Thankfully, when we got there, it matched our expectations and then some. Venice is a special place and I'll show you my favorite spots in my pictures.

Since we saw so many things just on the mainland of Venice alone, I'm going to make this a two-part series on Mainland Venice. We'll start with Part 1 of our day in Mainland Venice...

My wife and I took a water taxi on the Grand Canal to Ponte de Rialto (Rialto Bridge), which is the oldest of the four bridges along the Grand Canal. From the bridge, we got a great view of the canal!

After we got off, we noticed how many tourists were there, so we did some exploring We were impressed just by the atmosphere alone and we found smaller canals within the buildings that were just as advertised. They were picturesque, very Italian, and had a Byzantine design!

A smaller canal
Here's another look at one of the smaller canals...

People actually live here!
And we couldn't go without getting a gondola shot! A group got together and enjoyed their time. If you want the gondolier to sing, you need to pay extra. Gondola rides are expensive to say the least. They'r'e 80 euros for the first 40 minutes. If you want an extra 20 minutes, it will cost you 40 more euros. After 7:00pm, the price climbs to 100 euros for 40 minutes and 50 euros for 20-minute increments. Although it was tempting, my wife and I didn't feel that tempted to pay that amount.

Not as romantic but cheaper with more people!
Tourists in the next picture are relaxing by the edge and just enjoying the atmosphere... From the lights, to the narrow passageways, to the gondolas, to the 12th Century architecture. It's a haven for photographers...

We walked to Piazza San Marco and came across Basilica di San Marco or St. Mark's Basilica. It is most famous cathedral in Venice and has been the city's cathedral since 1807. It has Italo-Byzantine architecture based on its gold ground mosaics representing Venetian wealth and power. It's also known as the Chiesa d' Oro or the Church of Gold, which is its nickname and has been since the 11th Century.

Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's Basilica)
Basilica di San Marco at Piazza San Marco

I didn't realize that I couldn't take pictures inside, but I did get one shot of the interior before getting scolded.

In Piazza Marco itself, there were pigeons everywhere as you can see from this picture...

But then again, you can't blame them. People were feeding them left and right. Due to that, they were pretty tame and brave. They were on people's arms and heads just trying to get some food. You can see a little girl feeding them up and close....

Soon after that, we walked to the edge of the canal and I got a great picture of my wife with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore (south of the main island group) in the background.....

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore (named after St. George) had a monastery built by Benedictine monk Giovanni Morosini in 982. It's best known for The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which was begun by Palladio in 1566. When Venice fell in 1812, the monastery was almost destroyed and the island became a free port and a new harbor. Today it's the headquarters of the Cini Foundation Arts Centre and the Teatro Verde open air theater.
San Giorgio Maggiore Island in the background
And while we were looking at San Giorgio, we saw a couple that just got married get off a gondola. How romantic!

We stopped to have a snack outside at one of these tables (see picture below) before we finished off our day in Venice...

We stopped off at two more places but I'll save that for Part 2 since I have many more pictures and details to share about those places. Be ready for "Mainland Venice, Italy (Part 2)" coming soon!

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)