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Published: September 13th 2013
Beautiful flowers in front of the Cheomseongdae.Gyeongju / South Korea - Rich history and kind people
Cheomseongdae was an astronomical observatory in Gyeongju. It dates to the 7th century, to the kingdom of Silla (where Gyeongju was the capital of).
Finally I flew to South Korea, where I had more spare time (fortunately) - although it was still part of a business trip. First of all: flying with Air Korea was AMAZING! Very friendly staff, and an spacious aircraft. Even in the economy class you had a LOT of space, due to the large spacing to the seats in front of you, and the fact, that you had a complete row of seats for yourself. Perfect =) ... I landed in Ulsan (more about that "special" city later). The first challange was to find a bus to Gyeongju
, with no Korean language skills a hard task, so I missed the first Interbus and had to wait 1h in the sun. Now I can imagine why some people are walking around with umbrellas even when it is not raining, I did the same myself in that situation. Finally, after waving very enthuasiatically to the bus driver, I got the right bus. Now, big question: how does the ticketing work? I wanted to pay the driver, but he pointed to the seats and I thought ok, sit down. One station further he
Seongdong Market in Gyeongju
Here you can buy your daily food. Even squids.
stopped and wanted me to leave the bus? I did not understand what he meant, but one nice Korean lady gave me the hint (of course only with gestures) to buy a ticket outside in a very small newspaper booth. Ok, done, the trip can continue. Once I arrived in Gyeongju, at the bus station (finally I figured out at which station I had to leave the bus), I went inside and wanted to get information about the busses to the Bomun Lake area. It was a bit of an obstacle that I did not speak Korean and no-one spoke English. I went to the counter at the very right, asked for tickets, the answer: no English, and a gesture pointing to the counter next to it on the left. Ok, same procedure, same answer, and a gesture pointing to the counter next to it on the left. Mmmh, now I was at the very left counter. And, what happened? Same answer, no counter next to it on the left. So a saw a gesture pointing to a small building outside with the words "tourist information". There I finally got information about the busses and some Korean words, but unfortunately
Flying to South Korea: Air Korea - Amazing
Friendly staff, spacious aircraft. By the way, everyone has already boarded when this picture was taken.
I left my map with these information in the bus, goofy me...
The evening I spent with exploring the surroundings, meaning the Bomun lake
. The path next to the lake lead me to a so called "Food Village". Quite some restaurants and food shops... Now there were still 2 days to spend until the conference started - remember, I was on a business trip 😉. This time it was easier to take the bus since I remembered where to go, and stopped close to the main station. The first thing I saw was the Seongdong Market
, where you can find cooked and uncooked food, and a lot of other stuff. A good place to buy ingredients for your meals. Then down the street there were a lot of little shops, some sold these old kind of rotary dial telephones, and some fruits and vegetables were sold by some ladies who sat right next to the street. After I realized I was lost without a map, I decided to go back the way I came from. At the main station there was a visitor information, and I got a new map 😊
I planned to visit Cheomseongdae (astronomical observatory),
but when I spotted the beautiful lotus flower park
I changed plans. First I was not sure whether one can enter the field. Did I look puzzled? Maybe this was the reason why an older lady approached me. Her old, noisy radio played Korean music, so first I was not sure what to expect. But she just gesticulated with her hands to show me that I can enter... In the field, the lotus flowers were lovely, but there were soooooooooooo many photographers, and I mean photographers with pro-equipment, always looking for that "one" perfect shot...After I exited the field, an old Korean man asked me, in broken English, where I come from, and if I was Canadian. Well, no, I told him I am from Germany. And the typical reaction was (also from other people who asked me the same question): "Ahhhh, Gerrrmannny." Mhh, I am not quite sure how to interpret the reaction. On the way back there was Cheomseongdae, an old astronomical observatory
in Gyeongju (7th century) which was build during the time of the Kingdom of Silla. With the beautiful flower fields in front of it it was the perfect place for a photo. Afterwards I proceeded
to the Dongbu historic side, the royal tomb of King Naemul and the Sunghyejeon shrine. Man, it was really hot outside these days. An older woman therefore animated me to rest and offered a seat. Walking around makes me hunnnnngry, so I went back downtown along the little alleys. Finally I went into a kind of coffee house. Both hosts approached me and tried to figure out what I wanted to have to drink or eat. Since I did not speak Korean, and the hosts did not speak English, the communication was a bit "difficult" but finally not impossible. I asked for soup, and they offered me coffee. We gave it another try, and the offered me icecream. Communication, works 😉 Okay, I had to change my strategy. So I pointed at my belly and made a noise which sounded like tummy rumbles, and said "no coffee, no icecream". Somehow, the word "soup" came up. Yes, of course, soup! 2000 Won. I will take it! Finally I got some kind of soup, in a coffee cup, it was warm, but it rather looked like porridge, and it was unexpectedly sweet. But hey, it tasted well and helped to stave off
the hunger. In one corner of the coffee house the men played Go. They were very concentrated, but I was allowed to take pictures. Afterwards, the landlady asked the same as the older gentleman in the lotus flower field: "Canada???". Again, I replied: "No, but I've been there.". Her reaction: "Ah." :D Finally, she taught me how to say goodbye: "An-nyeong hee gye se yo" and a formal bow. I repeated and she was delighted =) After leaving I went back to the Bomun lake area. While I took some pictures a running man passed by. From my backside he noticed I was not Korean. He was very proud to talk in English to me and started the conversation with the words: "A beautiful sunny day". He told me that he tries to improve his English language skills, and I asked him where he works/ comes from. He replied: "In the Commodore Hotel". Ok, now it was pretty clear why he wore his work dress. He was so friendly and seemed so happy =) The dawn came and I spent the evening watching some Korean game shows on TV. Über-colorfull, quite like a comic or a bit like Takeshi's Castle...
The next day was a hiking day - I planned to go to Mt. Namsan
since it was a very cultural place (just as the historical sites of Gyeongju). But before the hiking part, I went to another hotel to withdraw some money from my credit card. At the ATM, I chose the language "English" and the option "International Card". Nontheless, the menu was in Korean and on top it stated "PIN wrong" 😞 The problem was, I had no cash left, and the other ATM in the area did not accept my card. So I went to the front but the staff could not help. They called the concierge and he called the Samsung security person. After 15 minutes, he arrived. The Samsung guy, however, called the central office, the ATM panel turned around 180° around its central axis, and the guy typed something into the control panel. Just 45 minutes later the problem was solved and the ATM worked with foreign cards. Funny, that nobody had experienced this problem before. Provided with cash I catched the bus to the foothill of Mount Namsan. First of all, I felt slightly underdressed when I saw the other people in
there sporty clothes, and myself only in some T-Shirt, shorts, and running shoes. The first part was relatively flat, the last part steeper. The way was lined with Buddha sculptures, and Buddha stone paintings (ca. 80 caved reliefs and 60 stone pagodas). Most of them dated back to the time between 7th and 10th century, a part of the Silla time. Some tombs of Silla rulers can also be found, e.g. at the "foothill"(?). As the ones directly in Gyeongju, these ones where like big grassy hills. By the way, the Mt. Namsan area is on the list of the UNESCO world heritage. The peak is 494 m high, and has a special photo point with a "camera-stand" (aja, modern technologic age). A lot of the hikers took their time to have a picknick. On my way back down I heard a voice out of the forrest, I looked there and saw a family and the father waved at me. I did not understand, so I went there. Again, the communication was hard, me-no Korean, the kind family-no English. They were so kind! They offered me very delicious food, and found it funny, how I fought with the small chopsticks
:D Also, the father offered me some kind of beer (with over 10 percent alcohol?!). I politely rejected, and he made a funny gesture like a squid in the water
(meaning you get tipsy :D ). Again, a big thanks to this very kind family for that interesting experience! To show my family the beauty of Mount Namsan I went to the visitor information at the foothill and asked to buy postcards. But the lady replied, "no money", and gave a package of 10 postcards to me. I cannot put into words how much kindness I experienced in this little city!
The conference, by the way, also offered interesting cultural and touristic experiences. First of all, during one of the conference breaks when I sat next to the Bomun lake, a lady wanted me to take a picture of her. As reward, she took pictures of me sitting next to the lake, and it worked like this: sit here, stand there, the sun over here is too bright =D In the evening, we went to the play "MISO II" (first time played in Gyeongju) - it represented the history of Gyeongju, namely the time of the Silla kingdom. The
touristic part included a trip to the Bulguksa Temple (Temple of the Buddha land)
- the current temple was built under king Gyeongdeok by his prime minister Kim Dae-seong (or the construction began), and was completed in the year 774. The last step in the long history was the reconstruction from 1969 to 1973, where it obtained its present look. Afterwards, up the hill, we visited Seokguram Grotto
, which is also a part of the Bulguksa temple complex on Mt. Tohamsan, 750 meters above the sea level. It also dates back to the 750ths, Silla time. The grotto itself encloses a 3.5m high Buddha - probably the historic Buddha at the moment of enlightenment. It sits on a 1,34m tall lotus pedestal. The grotto is small and very crowded during peak times, so you are basically just pushed through 😞 In front of it, on a little lower level, there were colorfull paper lanterns with cards (wish cards). The next station of the trip was Cheonmachong - the heavenly horse tomb
- in Gyeongju. A lot of those Tumuli - tombs - can be found in Gyeongju. The tomb was open to visitors - the goverment opened this tomb in
1973. They reconstructed the interiour for the visitors. At another evening, they conference hosts organized a dinner and a side program, i.e. little games like throwing arrows into a bucket. Of course, I totally failed 😉 😉 😉 But one of the conference staff had mercy and gave a little present to me 😊 Moreover, during one conference session, another staff member came to me and gave me a little box with the words "A small present for you" =) Ulsan / South Korea - What is that, the red light district?
After the week in Gyeongju I went to Seoul, and since my flight was very early at the next day, I had to spend one night in Ulsan. Stupidly, in some kind of weird love motel, arghh. It was booked because it was close to the train station... I felt quite unconfortable to enter the thing through a dark back entrance, where "cards of the girls" where lying on the floor. The front desk was a little window in the wall on the first floor. The guy from the "front desk" staff was even puzzled that I wanted to stay the whole night. In the rooms
there was a "welcome package" that contained condoms, handkerchiefs and what else. Not to forget, the door to my room did not make a very safe impression and the staff was quite sketchy. It made me feel so uncomfortable. So I packed my backpack with all valuables I carried wih me and tried to stay as long outside as possible... The night was short enough, the AC did not work properly so it was very humid and hot in the room, noise from other rooms, the steady fear the someone will enter the door - it resulted in only 2 hours of sleep. I did not even dare to use the bed sheets, I rather wrapped myself into my huge towel. Moreover, I felt like being watched. It was not very helpfull to see some CCTV pictures of sleeping people on screens in the front desk "room". Very, very, very weird... I left as early as possible, sleepy, but I wanted just to get away! Then, the busses did not come! Each one delayed, so I was waiting and hoping but no busses. Ok, taxi it is. The taxi driver was nice, I even got a free bottle of water
😊 I made it to the airport in time. Seoul / South Korea - The big modern city versus Palaces and Martial arts
Eventually, I arrived in Seoul. By metro I went into the city, and then I was lost 😞 My map was by far too rough to find the guest house! So I asked the police man in a police station for help, if he could tell me the way. But, instead of telling me (was probably too hard to explain, with those narrow streets), he called a police patrol car
, which brought me to the Hanok guest house 😊 So kind! A trip to Changyeonggung palace
was the first taste of Seoul, the underground shopping mall in the metro station the second, and Mount Namsan (the other one)
the third. Very lucky: on the very time when I was up the hill there was a martial arts
show. Very nice and artistic! It takes place every day (except Mondays) from 3pm to 4pm. The next day I got up very early and went with the guest house hosts a part of the fortress walk
with nice views of another part of the city. So, although
I only had an afternoon in Seoul, a saw quite some sights and places... One funny thing happened on my way to the airport: in the subway an older man approached me and sat down next to me. It seemed that a European was very exotic for him, and he wanted to know so many things! And, since he did not speak English, he asked me to wait. Then he took his smartphone, opened a translator app and typed in his questions. The app read the sentences in English or German, sometimes it sounded a bit awkward so I tried not to laugh ^^ I spoke my answers to the microphone of the cell, and the app re-translated. It was so strange and so much fun at the same time. And he was happy ^^ That was the happy part, here comes the more annoying one: I had to change trains in Seoul station, and although I planned enough time for the way to the airport, I faced some troubles. Thanks to helpful staff members it was easy to find the way from the metro to the Arex train. But than, my Arex ticket did not work, although I tried
several times. I was desperate. So I called the train stations visitor information where nobody was able to help me. It was kind of hopeless. Afterwards, I went to the Arex Express booth - nearly crying I told them the story of my ticket. They told me to go downstairs and ring at the gates which led to the Arex train. I followed their instructions and finally - thanks to staff members opening the gate manually - it worked and I was on the last part of my way to the airport. Once the airplane was boarded, we spent around 1,5 hours in the airplane at the airport, because the airplane was not allowed to take off (there were too many airplanes in the chinese air space?!). When the plane was finally in the air - the captain avoided the Chinese air space as much as it was possible. Interestingly, even the on-board internet did not work over China. One last thought about South Korea
One thought about the food: it was delicious! I expecially liked the one where you mixed everything - rise, egg, vegetables, ..., which were served in different bowls (Bibimbap). I also loved the
Lotus Flower Photographer
There were a lot of guys taking pictures of the lotus flowers.
small packed Sushi-rolls, not Korean, of course, but a very good value for the money. The noodle-cups, on the other hand, were not very appealing, but I also do not like them back home, so...
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog 😊 Enjoy travelling!
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