Gyeongju, Korea - June 25, 2015
Just got here this afternoon after a dry ride (can't believe it... no rain yet!) and have only had a walk around, but I think this is my favorite place yet in Korea. Old capital of the Silla Kingdom, so lots of tombs and stuff. Also, lots of older style buildings. Anyway, not much to report since I haven' done much so I thought I'd try adding some pictures so far. Lots of dud shots I see as my lens apparently has been quite foggy with the humidity. Way beyond moody.... just poor.
Layover day here tomorrow to see some treasures then a blast up the coast. It really is supposed to be raining by tomorrow night and all day Friday.
Small change of plans due to the weather. The rains finally came, in buckets last night. Cool, and the air smells clear for once. This was the day I was going to head up the east coast to Donghae and the ferry terminal, but the forecast in Donghae is for rain all day, expecting 55mm, 2 inches. So that's a lot of rain. But as the ferry leaves on Sunday, I should be able to leave here tomorrow morning instead (Saturday) and still make it into Donghae sometime that day. Plenty early I hope. I haven't paid for my ferry booking yet, but hopefully they will still hold my reservation.
So Gyeongju is my favorite place so far in Korea. The guide book says that very few visitors to Korea ever venture outside Seoul, and when they do, it is generally to here. I think that must be true because until getting here, I had not seen one westerner since leaving Seoul. And there are lots here. But this used to be the HQ for the Shilla Dynasty, the victors who became the unifier of the Three Kingdoms in the mid-600's. These were the guys who wiped out the Bekje of Gongju fame. So the place is loaded with tombs, treasures and Buddhist shrines and temples. All pretty fascinating. I have to say that going to the National Museum here reaggravated my latent gold fever. I love that stuff. The place is still undergoing active archeological explorations, most of the good stuff not being discovered until the 70's. Amazing.
So I am staying at a Hanok-style guesthouse. Traditional Korean style with the sliding paper doors and screens. No furniture to speak of, just a single low table. No bed. This place is new construction and run by Jonathan and his wife. This is their first season of operation. Great location, right along old walls of one of the major tomb mound sites. Great place to walk around. Anyway, Jonathan speaks perfect English, having spent some time doing business in the Shuswap, just an hour east of where we live in BC. We've had great conversations about life in general. He's a frustrated bike traveller himself, but his wife worries about the danger. I told him that like flying, much of the risk was manageable, and later I heard him telling his wife and friends in Korean what I had said. He was pretty convincing I think.
A couple of Norwegian guys showed up yesterday as well and so we all had a bit of a get together. Jonathan and his wife are doing a little matchmaking for a woman who is staying here long-term and last night was the first meeting between this woman and the candidate. So we all horned in as this was only "first meeting". Anyway, the evening reminded me of the hotel get-together we had in Budapest, but not so much alcohol, no barfing and no hangover. Just a little homemade beer and some tea-tasting afterwards. They asked me what kind of music I liked and so we brought up and listened to a little Leo Kottke. They universally hated it I think. Jonathan said that he himself was starting guitar lessons. After struggling for a while, I'm sure he will come to appreciate Kottke's genius!
So the no-bed thing is an adjustment. I like hard beds in general, but a blanket on the concrete and linoleum floor is a little tough. I've noticed in walking around here in the early morning that many older people are out in the parks doing their stretches an callisthenics. Working out the kinks from having slept on the hard floor all night no doubt. The first night I dug out my air mattress, but it scooted uncontrollably across the floor all night. Last night I just went cold turkey. Actually, I think it's not having a chair my back misses more. Traditional Korea is not for those with chronic lower back pain.
So with the extra day, I will do some laundry and reorganize. I will eventually have to repack, leaving only on the bike the things I will not need on the 24-hour ferry ride or for two or three days in Vladivostok while the bike is in customs hold. Also, I might revisit the museum today. Yesterday morning, before going there, I had been checking and recharging all my camera batteries. When I got to the museum, my camera wouldn't turn on. Yup. All the batteries were back at the guesthouse. That was dumb.
So if I don't get another dispatch out from Donghae, I should have some time in Vladivostok. I might see if can post the Korean route to the website then as well. Looking forward to V. I hear it is a nice city too. Russia's jewel of the east and all that.