Monday, September 7, 2009

Gyeongju, Day 1

Map of Korea Another vacation post. (For the record, they're all being tagged I got Seoul after the chorus from the Killers song "All These Things That I've Done" because a) Seoul/Soul puns are even funnier now that I know the correct way to pronounce Seoul and b) I unapologetically love Hot Fuss, even though I know that makes me an emo hipster.) After a week in Seoul, Sarah and I decided to ventured out into the countryside and on Friday (08/01), we left for Gyeongju. If you look at the map, Ansan (where I live) is the blue pen and Gyeongju is the green pen. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Empire, which lasted for nearly a thousand years (from 57 BC - 935 AD). At its height, Gyeongju had nearly a million inhabitants and was the capital of the entire Korean peninsula for 300 years. It's full of tombs and temples and pagodas and lotus ponds. That last one will be important later.

The quick and dirty highlights version is we went to a lotus pond full of beautiful, delicate blossoms...

Anapji Pond

and I fell in. OF COURSE I DID! Was there any other way for that setup to end? If I were a stick figure drawn on the back of an Hello Kitty envelope, it would have looked something like this:

Anapji Pond: The Aftermath

I Twittered about it that night (I'm in ur social network, connectin' with mah peepz), saying Today I fell in a lotus pond. Some days I feel like I really shouldn't be allowed out of the house without proper supervision. Several people responded, saying things like Doesn't Sarah count as proper supervision?, and the answer is no, no she doesn't. Trust me, it's more fun that way.

I originally planned to write about the entire trip to Gyeongju in one post, but that was taking too long to finish, so I'm going to do it day by day. (And also, Step by Step.)

Saturday, August 1st: Sorry, No Train, But How About This Dragon Trolley?
Dongbuk Gangnu @ Hwaseong Fortress

Sarah and I left my apartment around ten and took a bus to Suwon, with plans of catching a train to Gyeongju from there. Suwon, the capital of the province I live in, is only twenty minutes away from me by bus and, as one of the primary suburbs of Seoul, a major transportation hub. We got to the train station by eleven, only to be told there were no tickets to Gyeongju until eleven that night. We decided to try our luck at the bus terminal and got tickets on a bus leaving at 4:40, leaving us five hours to kill in Suwon. We decided to check out the Hwaseong Fortress. Quick history lesson: Hwaswong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between 1794 and 1796 by King Jeongjo to honor his father. The fortress is primarily a wall that surrounds the inner city of Suwon with various gates and outposts along the perimeter.

Hwaseong Trolley

We had a bit of an adventure actually finding the fortress and due to poor directions (we were told to get off HERE, with here being no where near where we wanted to be) and ended up wandering a couple of miles through Suwon, hoping to stumble upon some sort of fortification. We eventually found Paldalmun, the South Gate, and then located the rest of the fortress wall, up a very steep hill. By the time we made it to the top of the fortress, we were hot, sweaty and a bit cross, which is probably why we opted to ride the Dragon Trolley with a bunch of children instead of walking along the fortress. I'm pleased to report that the Dragon Trolley is just as awesome as it looks and I a met a very nice Korean boy who told me all about his favorite comic after a bit of prompting from his dad.

Hwahongmun @ Hwaseong Fortress
Hwahongmun @ Hwaseong Fortress

After the trolley ride, we doubled back to get a closer look at the northern stretch of the fortress. I hiked along the southern stretch when I first moved to Korea, but I didn't make it this far around. The Suwoncheon (Suwon River) runs through the middle of the city. The Hwahongmun is one of the two floodgates that lets the river through. The whole area was very picturesque, with the traditional eves painting and the walls and parapets and children splashing in the river. Less picturesque was this sign:

Korean Street Signs

Careful, drivers. Don't drive off this very obvious embankment into the river. (I laugh, but given how Koreans drive [hint: craaazy], it's a pretty reasonable warning to give.) Given our difficulties finding the fortress and the subsequent trolley ride, we left for the bus station well in advance, only to decide to catch a taxi (screw you, bus!) and arrived at the bus terminal with time to spare. We sampled the different bakeries for an early dinner and left Suwon by 5:00. The bus ride was long. The only two adjacent seats were in the middle of the very back row, which means no arm rests, air vents or seat lights. Not even a window to lean against and gaze out. We spent the first hour of the trip stuck in Seoul traffic and two hours into the trip, the overhead lights on the bus were turned off, meaning we couldn't read. (I may have exclaimed, "Hey!" angrily when the lights went out, earning me several dirty looks from my fellow passengers trying to sleep.) Without an air vent the heat was stifling and the teenage girl I was sitting next to (who did have an air vent) kept pushing her fleece blanket onto my lap.

We arrived in Gyeongju late and found small, curly black hairs all over the floor of our room, but the hostel had held our reservation and after a quick trip to the local grocery store for a mini-broom, we cleaned our room and went to bed. The rest of the photos from Suwon can be found at the bottom of here.

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