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Published: October 7th 2016
This cathedral is set in the heart of Seoul. It has symbolized Korean Catholicism for 110 years. This majestic wonder is also the first Gothic cathedral in Korea.
We spent May and June packing and preparing to vacate our apartment in Kaohsiung and leave Taiwan. What a fabulous 3 years we spent living in and learning about a different culture. It rained heavily the last 5 days we were in Kaohsiung and that made moving boxes, closing accounts and ending services a bit of a challenge.
The rain had gotten to us. We were drying our clothes in the apartment, in the closet, with the fan blowing and AC on. We've had enough dinners and alcohol to last awhile. All packing and shipping was done, the apartment is as we found it 3 years earlier, and we headed out the door with Caroline and Mr. Chen hugging us and saying farewell....for now. We were sad to see our scooters go to their new owners, but we know that our good friends Pon, Yeni, and David will enjoy them as much as we did.
On Monday afternoon, June13th, we had a great 2.5 hour flight to Incheon International Airport, Seoul, South Korea
. We collected our luggage and found the AREX train to the subway/metro, which took us to within a block of our hotel in downtown Seoul, South
Korea's best known shopping district: where the streets are lined with department stores and shops that sell brand-name cosmetics, clothes, shoes and accessories.
Korea. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings before we found the Holiday Inn Express just off Euljiro. We checked in, and after dropping our bags off, we headed out into the street and found beer and Korean chicken food near by and enjoyed the lovely 25 degree evening.June 14, Tuesday morning, we headed out to explore Seoul. Because of our centrally located hotel in the Myeong-dong/Euljiro district, we were able to walk to the Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Myeong-dong Cathedral. The Cathedral was a large, brick building with tall stained glass windows. The Myeong-dong / Euljiro area is also one of Korea's best known shopping districts where the streets are lined with department stores and shops that sell brand-name cosmetics, clothes, shoes and accessories. The temperature was perfect for strolling. Beauty is the key in Seoul and shop after shop full of cosmetics and masks lined the streets. We had a lovely walk through the area checking out various types
Currencies of the world
Outside the KEB Plaza there is a display of many of the currencies of the world. For example, the Canadian $5,10,20,50 and even the new $100 bill were depicted correctly.
of clothes, shops and food. With the help of pictures we finally settled on a lunch of clam soup and a spicy pollack dish with kimchi, pickled beansprouts and pickled radish. We needed beer though to cut the spiciness. We strolled back to the hotel for a nap. About 6PM we headed to Inso-dong Street which is a famous walking street that showcases traditional Korean culture. It is filled with antique and book stores, traditional tea houses and many, many craft shops. A light rain began so we headed back to Euljiro Street, found a local bar/restaurant and ate a great chicken meal. On Wednesday morning, we woke early and rushed to finish our buffet breakfast before our 7:40AM pickup. We had booked a DMZ/JSA tour online a few weeks before. The Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land separating North and South Korea. It was established at the end of the Korean War in 1953 and serves as a buffer zone the two countries. The DMZ is 250 kilometres long, 4
DMZ - Demilitarized Zone
This is where we exchanged our voucher for a ticket to get on a bus to the DMZ. This area is where North and South Korean border is observable to the public. There is a propaganda village, factory area, farmland and a bridge connecting the countries.
kilometres wide and consists of a tall barbed wire fence running down the center of open land.
Within the DMZ is a meeting-point between the two nations in the small Joint Security Area near the western end of the zone. Negotiations still take place today. There have been various incidents in and around the DMZ, with military and civilian casualties on both sides. The latest example of hostilities involving injuries occurred on August 4th and 9th respectively when 4 South Korean soldiers stepped on landmines. The last incident was January 3rd, 2016 when South Korean soldiers shot at a North Korean drone near the DMZ.
Our shuttle bus stopped at a few hotels and picked up other people. Then we transferred to the big bus and headed 45 minutes north to the DMZ zone, the demilitarized zone at the border of North and South Korea. Our first stop was at Imjingak Park where we took photos of the Freedom Bridge. This is the bridge which South Koreans crossed when they came back to their mother country from North Korea after the signing of the Armistice Agreement in 1953. About 5 million people visit this place per year now.
A view of North Korea
We are at the top of the Imjingak, Dora Observatory/ tourist platform. In the background is Freedom Bridge. Here is where many cameras were set to photograph the release of balloons carrying propaganda and a small amount of money for the North Koreans.
There were a fair amount of cameras set up on the platform because 'some people' were sending balloons carrying propaganda and a small amount of cash into North Korea.There is still a lot of tension in the area. From there we were taken to the 3rd infiltration tunnel, a 1635m tunnel about 2 meters wide, 2 meters high and averaging 73 meters in depth. The incomplete tunnel was discovered in October 1978 following the detection of an underground explosion in June apparently caused by North Korean tunnellers who had progressed 435 metres under the south side of the DMZ. The tunnel was built so North Korea could send its' troops through and infiltrate South Korea and claim it for communism. We went, by bus, by the propaganda village and factory area (closed as of January 2016 due to tensions between the countries). Here was the closest we could get to see the countryside of North Korea.
From there we went to Dorasan Train Station, the northernmost international station located 700m from the southern boundary line. This train was to open up the TKR (Trans Korean Railroad) to Russia and China in 2002 but it is still just an empty
Notice the barbed wire
The entire divide between North and South Korea is marked with rolls of barbed wire supported by concrete posts.
station. We had a Korean lunch of Bulgogi at a traditional restaurant. After we headed to Panmunjom Centre located in the Joint Security Area or the JSA. What an experience this was! This is where peace talks between the two Koreas are held, and where the line is drawn. We were greeted by an American soldier who briefed us on the protocols regarding visiting Peace House. We could take photos, however we were to avoid eye contact with the North Korean soldiers, not to attempt to communicate or otherwise interact in any way with them. There was a concrete line running between and through the buildings. North Korean soldiers were on guard facing the north, and UN (USA) peacekeepers were facing the south, and they were literally back to back, separated by maybe 10 feet. It was surreal, and there was obviously tension in the air. We entered one of the blue buildings where peace talks are held and observed the tables and microphones, and we were able to actually cross the divide and stand next to the North Korean soldiers. They did not react in any way to our presence and they wore sunglasses to avoid any eye contact.
The great country divide
Here you can observe the divide as seen from the air. There is at least a kilometre of desiccated land on either side of the barbed wire to prevent any contact between the North and South Korean people.
Here is a link to an interesting 5 minute video that precisely describes our experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erXTfmiYZ7k
UN soldiers stood at full 'on guard' the whole time we were present, as we were partially in North Korea and in South Korea. We drove by the guard posts, the 'bridge of no return' and the agricultural village where 162 families live and work 269 days a year within the DMZ. These families live and work their farms without medical facilities, schools, modern shops or services.
We headed back to Seoul and arrived by 4:30. We walked back to our hotel in the light rain and enjoyed seeing the grand hotels and business centres. We rested and had a beer. About 8PM we decided to see if we could find the Rainbow or Banpo Bridge. We were told that this bridge sprayed water from its' sides in time to music and was quite pretty to see, however we were skunked! We waited until 9:10PM before asking a local for help. He told us it was the next bridge 1.5km away. So we caught the train back
3rd - Tunnel
Over the years, North Korea has built many tunnels in an attend to infiltrate south Korea. Discovered in 1978, this was the 3rd tunnel they have found. It is 1635m long, 2 m high, and 2 m wide. An army, fully equipped, could pass through within 1 hour.
to our local street and had baked chicken and beer.June 16 Thursday morning we relaxed, enjoyed our breakfast, called Canada and visited and made arrangements for when we were back on the weekend. Around 11:30AM we headed to the war Memorial in Korea via metro. We entered the back side and had quite a long walk to get to the front as it was a huge building with a lot of military weapons displayed. There were tanks, Gatling type guns, jeeps and armoured vehicles, missiles and rockets, small planes, jets, and even a B52 bomber. What a display! We had never realized how large a B52 bomber was until we climbed the staircase to the window of the cockpit. Small children were climbing in, out and on all of them! There were hundreds of children, military trainees and tourists at this massive museum. We toured the War History Rooms first and discovered that there had been human existence in Korea for over 6000 years with wars breaking out over and over. One
From the platform we observed the North Korean flag and the green space of 'no man's land' which is farmed between the 2 countries.
of the biggest wars was in 612AD. Along the corridor on the front side of the building was a very interesting display. They had a flag of all the countries that supported South Korea and sent troops, and below the flags were listed the names of all those who died fighting for Korean freedom, including the Canadians. We found ourselves scanning through the names looking for some that we may have recognized. There were a few! At 2PM we joined the English Korean War tour. David gave us back ground on how the Korean War began in 1950. He explained that Japan was ending their rule in 1945 and sending their men back to Japan. Russia was helping the north part of Korea while America was helping the south part. After the removal of the armies, the North decided that it should conquer the South and make it communist. Because extensive Russian equipment was available, when North Korea decided to attack the South, they were able to completely conquer most of Korea
A South Korean soldier
We were encouraged to take photographs of the young soldiers guarding the observation area. They looked like they were 12 years old but weren't.
in just 3 months! In Busan province the Koreans, with the help of their 16 allies were able to hold back the North Koreans until the US were able to land troops on Incheon beach in September 1950. From there the South Koreans and the allies recaptured territory all the way to the Chinese border, but were beaten back to the 38 parallel. An armistice was finally signed in 1953, creating the DMZ very near to where the original dividing line had been prior to war breaking out. The South Korean president would not attend the signing. The war had displaced 10,000,000 people and 2,500.000 people lost their lives. The North (25 000 000 population) continues to make attempts to recapture and create one Korea. South Korea's population is 50,250,000. The war has divided this nation into 2 different countries and has pitted brother against brother. Families divided by the DMZ have not seen or communicated with other family members in over 60 years. The monument in front of the War Museum depicts an actual event......brothers fighting against one other finding themselves on the battlefield and embracing......one from the north, the other an officer from the south. SAD!
Soldiers, Half Way Houses and North Korea
United Nations Peacekeepers face South Korea, North Korean soldiers face north. The dividing line runs through the centre of the buildings. We were told we were being watched from the main North Korean building, Panmungak
style="color: font-family: wf_segoe-ui_normal, 'Segoe UI', 'Segoe WP', Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13.333333015441895px;" />You'd think we were out of energy but......We caught the metro and headed to the Namdaemun Market, the largest market in Korea, with countless shops and street stalls. They lined the streets and alleys selling clothes, household items and food. The market is famous for its low prices and hospitality. One man encouraged us to purchase items from his pile of clothing. He was dressed in a ladies bra and dress in order to attract attention to what he was selling. He had the local crowd laughing and cheering him on....but also sifting through his merchandise. We were near the Seoul Tower, standing 236.7 metres tall, so we hiked half way up the mountain, caught the cable car and rode to the top of the tower. It was just starting to get busy with tourists. The smog of the city was mixed with the dusk so our view from the top wasn't great. However as the lights went on
Divide Between the Koreas
The concrete is the divide between North and South Korea. It runs through the centre of the buildings so half is in each country.
it was quite magical to see the teeming city below. We decided to walk back and selected a restaurant that served us great shrimp, paella and the spiciest ramen noodles with dumplings... kimchi and pickled radish. Once again, we needed beer! We strolled to our hotel and called it a night and put our feet up about 11PM.June 17 FridayOk, this was our last day to explore Seoul. Today was palace day. We got to Gyeongbokgung Palace by 11AM, in time for the English speaking tour. We learned that the palace was built in 1395, destroyed in 1592, rebuilt in 1867 but destroyed by the Japanese in 1873. Once rebuilt, they became the Japanese government buildings in 1915 and they stood until they were once again demolished and rebuilt to
North Korean Soldier
We were told not to make eye contact, attempt to communicate, touch or disturb the North Korean soldiers standing at attention in the meeting room straddling the border. Linda IS standing in North Korea.
their original form. Restoration is once again under way beginning in 1990-2010 and continuing today! We watched the changing of the guard, an elaborate ceremony held every day at 2PM. We explored the National Folk Museum of Korea which displays the life of Korean people from the beginning of their existence to now. It explained that family control and life were more important than getting ahead. The costumes and displays demonstrated that our lives were similar as the nation developed. Korea has always been a important trading hub because of its location and this has led to its' tumultuous history.We got to walk near and see the 'Blue House', the official residence of the government of Korea. The Blue House was attacked by North Korea in 1991 in an effort to assassinate the president. North Korean soldiers were able to infiltrate the country and
Odusan Unification Observatory
Here you can view the North Korean Exhibition room and gain an up close look into North Korea.
make their way to Seoul without being detected. We strolled down Gwanghwamun Square in front of the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace. We saw and photographed Admiral Yi Sunshun, the creator of the turtle battleship and King Sejong, also a respected figure in Korean history. We had a seafood /green onion pancake while Maurice got his iPhone camera replaced for only $40. From there we strolled along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, checking the water temperature out with our feet. This 10.84km stream runs through the city and has been designed to be a calming place to get away from the busy city world. After a few hours of R &R we headed to the Banpodaegyo Bridge, one of 27 bridges in Seoul. This is the one with the night show which is called the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain show. Water comes out of jets placed under
Bridge of No Return
This bridge connects the 2 countries. Once crossed you can not return to the other side. It is heavily guarded at all times. We got a drive by.
the road and sprays out creating a rainbow because of the colourful lights. Crowds gather to watch and visit. They have 3 -20 minute shows with English music accompanying the waves of water. What a great idea! We strolled on the colourful Floating Islet (consisting of 3 colourfully lit buildings), then we caught the last fountain show and afterwards walked to the metro. We got a little turned around on the way back and walked an extra few kms. Our legs were getting stronger...in just 5 days.June 18 SaturdayWe're getting good at sleeping in! We were up at 8AM and enjoyed our last buffet breakfast. We said farewell to the Holiday Inn Express. What a great location! We could walk most EVERYWHERE! The metro was the best way to get around. We walked to the Airport Limousine Bus stop which was only 3 minutes away. A few minutes later the bus arrived, and the driver, with his white
The Statue of Brothers
At the War Memorial of Korea, this statue shows a real-life story of how brothers who fought in the Korean War on opposite sides were accidentally reunited on the battlefield. This perfectly depicts the sad reality of the division of Korea.
gloves, got out and placed our luggage in the hold. We enjoyed the view of the countryside on our hour and 15 minute ride to the airport. We were shocked at the amount of pollution and how bad it got from Seoul to Incheon, 41 km away.
We checked in with Air Canada, happy to be flying on the new Dreamliner. The Boeing 787 flies 10%faster and higher, has larger ceiling height, more storage capacity, and pumps more oxygen and humidity throughout the cabin. Maurice particularly, finds it much more comfortable. We marvelled at the amount of Duty Free items other travellers were taking with them. We went online while waiting to board and registered our truck with SGI so we would have something to drive once we landed back in Canada.
Looks like we'll be leaving on time at 3:30PM.
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