Monday 31 March 2014

Missionaries in the mountains

We decided on another hike today, this time at the Geumjeong Mountain Fortress.
We got off the subway at the bottom of the mountain, and were planning on having a coffee and breakfast before setting off. We walked all around but nothing was written in English, and non of the restaurants had anything in them that we recognised, or fancied eating.
In the end we found a little corner shop selling ice creams, so that was our breakfast, and we bought a packet of biscuits to share for lunch.
On the way to the cable car a friendly Korean said hello and asked if we were missionaries. Weird question, we thought.
Our walk from the top of the cable car was along the route of a giant walled fortress - it was good, but not quite like the Great Wall of China, although the stylised map that we picked up gave that impression.
As usual, we passed loads of immaculately dressed Koreans, all very friendly, and who seem unable step outside without full hiking kit, hat and walking poles.
At the very highest point was a rocky outcrop, which was a great photo opportunity, and then we walked down towards a village.
Walking up towards us was a Korean guy, who was loudly singing 'Glory, glory hallelujah', and as we got further down we heard it from loudspeakers.
We passed a sign in English saying 'Caanan Moral Retreat', and saw a large group of people standing in a circle, so we sidled quickly past them, just in case they tried to convert us.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Traffic safety prayer pagoda

Completely by chance today, we stumbled across the Traffic safety prayer pagoda. It had a large tyre in front of it and people were stopping to say a few words.
It was quite apt really, as we seem to have spent almost the whole day on public transport, so it was nice if something was looking out for us.
Unfortunately, I have to report, that the things that we spent so much time travelling to were not really worth the time and effort that we took.
Firstly we caught a subway train and then walked along a stream that runs through the centre of Busan. It was raining, but there were lots of people out enjoying the fresh air and cherry blossom, and it was very pleasant.
After this it started to go a bit downhill, as we caught another train, then had to wait for a bus, which took ages to get through the traffic to a seaside temple.
It was packed solid with people shuffling around really slowly, so we decided to give it a miss and view it from a distance instead.
It didn't look very exciting but bizarrely, there was a young couple on the rocks performing what looked like a tango (without music) while a film crew videoed them.
They were very good and it helped brighten up my photo, which otherwise was looking very grey.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Rainy afternoon in Busan

What do you do on a wet afternoon in Korea?  My recommendation would be to spend a couple of hours in the Trick Eye Museum.
I was joined by a little Korean girl at the Van Goch picture who wanted her photo taken with me, and I don't really know what to say about all of the others.

Friday 28 March 2014

Taejongdae lighthouse

Arrived in Busan (southern Korea) this afternoon, and caught a bus to the Taejongdae area.
It was mild and sunny and there were dozens of tour buses filling the car park.
We walked along amongst the excitable and cheerful occupants of buses 55, 56 and 60. They were all wearing stickers with their number on and were supposed to be following their leaders who were waving large numbered signs, but they all seemed to have got jumbled up.
We left them to explore a pebble beach while we got an ice cream and carried on to the lighthouse.
Of course, we climbed up to the top, and then down on to the rocks. We found a rare English sign that said that the shoe sized hollows all around us were dinosaur footprints.
I don't know if it was a local legend, or even if it was true, but there was loads of them, so at one time it might have been the dinosaur equivalent of Piccadilly Circus.
Hope they enjoyed the view as it was pretty impressive.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Cycling around Gyeonju Historical area

It was a lovely sunny day today, so we decided to hire a couple of bicycles.  Unfortunately, the seats wouldn't go high enough so we spent the day with our knees too near to our chins, but looking around, it seemed that most of the other cyclists did as well.
We cycled 40k, so didn't do too badly, and saw lots of pagodas, temples and I joined in with the queen's banquet on the bank of Lake Bomunho.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Hiking at Mount Namsan

One of the most popular leisure activities in Korea is hiking, and we thought we would give it a go. The Koreans all look as if they have stepped out of the pages of an expensive outdoor equipment catalogue, so we were quite under dressed for the occasion.
We caught a bus to Mount Namsan, picked up a map from the information office and set off. All of the routes were carefully marked, although often only in Korean, and the paths were beautifully maintained.
We bumped into lots of other hikers, mostly in large groups who were all really friendly.
I have learned two words in Korean, one of them - annyeung haseyo - which means hello, was put to good use today as I got to use it constantly. As soon as I said it the whole group would yell it back to us and it would chorus with us along our route.
We got to the top with a bit of effort and chose to go back down along an intermediate trail, as it looked less steep than the advanced route.
After a few minutes we were surprised to find that the route got really difficult with signs in English that said 'slippery', and then another that said 'falling', which was right next to a long vertical drop.
Then we climbed around a rock and found a huge rock with a knotted rope attached to a tree that we had to use to abseil down to the next level. I went first and found out why most abseilers don't take their handbag with them - it only leaves one hand free to hold on to the rope.
Daz was standing at the top telling me to look up and wave, but I was getting stressed as there were no foot holds and I had to lean backwards and 'walk' down the cliff. He soon changed his tune when he had to do it himself, and he had two hands free.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Royal Tombs

Right next to our motel are the Daereungwon Royal Tombs - in fact it is all we can see from our window as one of the mounds is taller than our motel.
There are 23 mounds each containing a king (I think), who was buried there.
At the moment they are still brown, and look much more like 'chocolate hills' than the original Chocolate Hills that we saw a couple of weeks ago in the Philippines.
We then stopped for lunch, and the number of dishes that it arrived in got a bit out of hand. It was also a bit of a mystery how to eat it. I got a large bowl of hot water with dark green veg floating in it. It didn't seem to be soup and I didn't know whether to rescue the veg and put it in the rice dish, or dunk things in it. In the end I ignored it as I didn't like it at all.
We both got large chunks of pickled something that I quite liked. It was a bit overwhelming eating them on their own (a bit similar to strong whole pickled onions) but I didn't know what else to do with them.
A jug of cold water arrived with tea bags floating in it that tasted like a similar, watered down version of the drink Darren bought yesterday for the bus ride. After a couple of minutes of eating the pickles and hot sauces I couldn't taste the water anyway, so it didn't really matter.
The staff kept appearing in the distance and smiling at us, so we are guessing that they were all coming to see what we were doing to their lovely food.
As Darren said 'it was more of an experience than a pleasure'.
Pizza would be easier, but also a cop out.

Monday 24 March 2014

Anapji Pond, Gyeongju

Today we caught a bus to the south east side of Korea to a town called Gyeongju.  We had a bit of a problem at the bus station as there are many places in Korea that start with Gyeong and sound very similar. We kept saying how we thought it was supposed to sound to the information lady, who kept repeating it back in a puzzled way.
Eventually I got my map out and showed her where we wanted to go. She looked really surprised and said 'ah Gyeongju', which to my untrained ear sounded just like we had said it to her, but obviously not.
It turns out that we had bought tickets for a luxury bus with lovely spacious reclining seats and footrests. We were not quite so lucky with food for the journey as we couldn't recognise anything edible in the bus station, so in the end I bought a packet of crisps that appeared to be sugar flavour, and Darren bought the most horrible tasting drink in the whole world. Never mind, you can't get lucky every time.
We know very little about Gyeongju so far, as we arrived late in the afternoon, but TripAdvisor said that we must go to Anapji Pond in the dark, so we did.
It was beautifully lit, although again to the untrained eye, quite similar to the Palaces in Seoul.
The trees were pretty spectacular though.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Getting a bit carried away with the photos today, but it is so brilliant that I can't help myself.
Gyeongbokgung is another palace, but this time with theatrically dressed guards at the gate. Every hour they change, and it is an interesting performance involving flag bearers, drummers and a guy with a tiny bell, who follows the captain around dinging it carefully.
We spent a couple of hours as part of a tour group following our guide, (pic 4), as she told us loads of facts and appeared to float around like a hovercraft in her floor length costume.

Magic stream

Today we discovered Cheonggyecheon stream in central Seoul.
It is magic because it starts suddenly and mysteriously at a beautiful waterfall near the City Hall.  It flows for 8.4k down a beautiful man made waterway, right through the middle of the city, and ends up at the Hangang river.
All along it are stepping stones, little areas to sit, speakers and lights, and thousands of people enjoying themselves.
The stream was created in 2005 on the route of an ancient river that was buried in concrete pipes during the industrialisation of Seoul. Water is now piped from the main river to the start of the stream, and its flow is regulated to ensure it always looks perfect.
It was a major undertaking involving over 20 bridges, and it cost a fortune, but apparently, is now well loved by the Koreans.

Ps, we had a problem with the cold weather a couple of days ago, so we solved it by buying two lovely puffa coats at an end of season knock down price.
Pps, We now have a nice new problem - it is much warmer now so it is a bit too hot to wear them.
Ppps, don't think I will need to wear socks and sandals tomorrow.

Saturday 22 March 2014

War Memorial and Museum

We spent most of the afternoon yesterday at the War Museum, and went back today as there was still loads left to see.
There is a huge statue outside the front of the museum, and then surrounding it are massive displays of aeroplanes, tanks, helicopters, boats and rockets. Most date from the Korean War (1950-1953) although there are more modern examples too.
Once inside the Museum everywhere is completely immaculate and it explains what happened during the Korean War.
The section that we toured today covered the help that South Korea received from foreign countries and the UN, who helped to push the Communists back over the border.
It was extremely respectful and moving, and showed how grateful the Korean people were. It also highlighted how the country was devastated by the war, and how it has rebuilt itself over the past 50 years.
On the way in today we came across a martial arts demonstration to K-pop music, so sat in the sunshine enjoying the show.

Friday 21 March 2014

Changdeokgung Palace

We woke up to bright sunshine this morning, which was very welcome as it meant that the temperature reached 10 degrees Celsius. It is amazing how quickly we have adapted to the change. Instead of getting up early to avoid the heat of the day, we waited for the sun to get higher in the sky before venturing out. We then walked on the sunny side of the street, rather than keeping to the shade. (Four layers of clothes helped too.)
It seemed a good day for sightseeing and as Seoul has five royal palaces we thought that we would start with one of them.
Changdeokgung is a very well preserved palace, with an enormous secret garden. It was originally built between 1405 and 1412 although most of it has been destroyed and rebuilt since then.
It was home to the royal family for five centuries and the kings had lots of rules to show that they were superior to everyone else. For example, all of the buildings had three doors, a large one in the middle that could only be used by the royal family, and smaller ones on either side that were used by the rest of the court, and which were always so low that users had to stoop to get through them - pic 1.
The garden was lovely, with lots of pavilions where the king could sit and enjoy the views. The trees are still bare of leaves, but buds are appearing everywhere, so Spring is on the way.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Seoul - first impressions

Very first impression of Korea - wow it's cold here!
We had an epic overnight journey, from the hot steamy tropics to the almost freezing north.
The temperature change is shown most noticeably with the clothing choices of the locals.  Gone are the flip flops, bare chested men and bright, skimpily dressed ladies - here almost everyone is bundled up in very dark or black clothes, and quite a few look as if they are extras in the Korean equivalent of 'The Godfather'.
We caught a train from the airport to our hotel which is in a great area called Insadong. A half hour walk around the local area was a real surprise, as there is very little traffic, lots of cute shops and restaurants and interesting sights.
I think I am going to like it here, although I could do with some thermal undies, wooly hat, gloves and scarf!
Ps, very fancy toilet in our en-suite that has an extremely hot heated seat that we don't know how to turn off, and a control panel with lots of scary looking buttons on it.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Bohol to Seoul

We are leaving the Philippines today and heading for South Korea.
This is a six stage journey, and the first was to catch a tricycle to the ferry.  Our driver was obviously very proud of his vehicle, and we crammed ourselves in to the sidecar with a view through the widescreen.
Next we got on to a very modern and speedy ferry that took us up the coast and in to Cebu City port.
We then shared a taxi with a lively and chatty Italian girl to the airport.
We are now waiting for our first flight, (to Manila) and we have withdrawn too many pesos, so we are having a civilised glass of wine. The menu says it is French, but there is a touch of a home made taste about it, which is fine by me.
Once we get to Manila we have a 2.45 am flight to Seoul, so we should be arriving at our hotel at about 9am tomorrow morning.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Bohol earthquake and typhoon

In October 2013 an earthquake devastated Bohol and destroyed or damaged many buildings, bridges, and churches. A few weeks later the typhoon hit the island and made the situation even worse.
The island is getting back on its feet, but the churches are in a terrible state.
We visited two, at the first the belltower had turned into a pile of rocks, although the main congregation area was intact, but covered in rubble and with holes in the roof.
The second church, at Loboc, had completely collapsed and looked beyond repair.
A large concrete bridge next to it was intact over the water, but the ramps up to it were badly damaged. A wooden staircase had been created for pedestrians to walk over and construction workers were attempting to demolish part of the large concrete bridge with hammers and chisels.
There was no modern machinery and the work was painfully slow - I imagine that without extra help it will take years to complete.
We also went to a tourist attraction called the Chocolate Hills, I think because in the dry season the hills turn brown, and maybe look like a box of Milk Tray.
I am not sure we saw it at its chocolate coloured best, but we could not get around to the most dramatic view. The viewing platform and building that used to be there collapsed during the earthquake so is now a fenced off pile of rubble.