Dienstag, 31. März 2015

Short Trip to Gyeongju and Busan

This weekend we went for the southeast of Korea and had a glimpse of Gyeongju and Busan for a day. Gyeongju as one of the city with the most cultural sightseeing spots and Busan as the buzzing harbor/beach city. Both was great and both cities are worth a stay for more days.
Arriving in Gyeongju we headed for the Bulkuksa (Temple) first to stay flexible for the sightseeing spots in the city center. We took the KTX (fast train – you should book in advance) to Singyeongju and out of luck got the 700 bus which passed the city center and went directly to the Bulkuksa. Fortunately we met a Korean mom with her daughter that wanted to go to the temple as well.
The temple was great with all the beautiful magnolia trees blossoming and the old but colorful buildings creating a relaxing atmosphere. Infront of the temple there was a well for everyone with healthy water and inside several Buddhas for prayer or contemplation. There was a place for stone piling and a writing on roof bricks to make a wish as well.


We skipped the Seokguram Grotto, as the bus only runs every hour (at XX:40) from the temple to the Grotto. It is definitely an option to discover some parts of Korea by car (like the coastline and Gyeongju with the other historical cities) or you could rent a motor scooter for the long distance spots like the temple and the grotto. But as we are not that adept in going with the motor scooter, we sticked to the bus.
Being back in the city we rented a bicycle for just 7.000 Won. As we started for some tombs a little outside of the center we had to discover that the “most bicycle friendly” in Korea did not anticipate Germans. After around two kilometers we met a huge street without any possibility to pass alive and therefore headed back to the center and for the most important spots: the Daereungwon tombs, the Cheomseongdae Observatory and the Anapji Pond.

The tombs reminded me of small chocolate hills. Around the park there were over 20 little peaks and one tomb you could actually visit with the Silla Kings Crown and a replica of the contents of a tomb. It was great that the magnolia trees started blossoming that gave the park a truly romantic view – and the Koreans know how to enjoy romantic views. Ending our tour we saw a huge commotion of photographers and even more to come. There has to be great sunset picture spot there, but we could not find out why it was that special on that day :) But thinking about where they were standing, it could be this one.  
Passing the street from Daereungwon to the Cheomseongdae Observatory families enjoyed picknick, kite flying and cycling in the park. The Cheomseongdae itself was smaller as expected but invited us for pictures like with the pending tower in Pisa (which was semi successful :D).

The Anapji Pond was just over the street and beautiful in the low sunshine of late afternoon. I can imagine how the kings enjoyed the view and atmosphere there. For us it was time to say Goodbye to Gyeongju and Hello to Busan. We brought back our bikes and boarded the bus to Busan (absolutely just in time). It is really great that you can use your recharchable public transportation card in every city even if every city has her own layout for the card – and you can pay for every transportation not just the subway, but the bus and even the cabs. So we just jumped on the subway in Busan which brought us from the Express Bus Terminal to heart of Nampo and our hotel (and if we would have known the Bus from Gyeongju to Busan would have accepted our card, too).

As the Busan Tower was just five minutes away from our hotel, we checked it out for the night view. The view was much clearer than in Seoul the last days and so the bridges glowed in different lights and the much lower houses were glistening. The park infront of the tower was a little nicer but of course the entertainment program and the love tokens were a bit better in Seoul.
Now we just needed a balanced Korean dinner for a good sleep. We decided on kind of omelet (rotti) with cheese, bbq sticks, sweet Korean pancakes and soft ice for dessert.

Sunday started with a walk to the famous Jagalchi fish market. Of course we were too late for the real bargaining but there were still enough stalls open and almost convincing me in sashimi. But as I would have to get one whole fish at least and for me alone, that was too much for breakfast. I doubt we found the official way up, but the view from the top of the market building over the harbor was amazing again.

With little time on our watch we headed for the city tour bus again (be sure you bring your KTX ticket from the day – we missed 20% discount as we left it in the backpack at the hotel). The bus took as along the coastline and gave as a good overview, but unfortunately there were no headphones like in Seoul and the whole explanations were in Korean. From the open top, we savored the arriving spring time, the sun, the blossoming trees and blue sky.
Following a recommendation from a friend we got off at Haeundae Beach, strolled a long the sand, got some strawberry cake and drink and headed for Dalmaji Road. For another time the Koreans showed their fondness for romantic. A wooden banister and blossoming cherry trees fringed the walkway up the hill. Half way up we took the side road through a pine forest and a nice view of the coastline (be sure you have some time for the detour).  

It was late afternoon but we thought we could have a quick visit to Taejongdae for the sunset. As we arrived we had to realize that you can not see any of the coastline from the entrance of the park. As we walked some time already, we decided to take the small tour bus. After struggling with the ticket lady, we found out that it takes around 25 minutes – ok definitely too far to walk with our little time we had left before our KTX back to Seoul. What she did not tell, was that we were not the first in lines, we had to wait for another 20 minutes until our turn. But ok, still in time, if we just hop of the bus, take some pictures and take the next one back. Starting with the tour we passed the first scenic spot after one curve (we could have walked that!), you could see the orange sun prettily setting over the white cliffs. That was a beautiful glance, but we wanted to go to the famous perspective of the lighthouse. Getting there after another 10-15 minutes, the lighthouse was several meters beyond and the view was just to the open sea… The clock was ticking so we decided to take the next bus. I am still a little sad about the view, the idea was perfect, but the timing and setting was not so ideal ;-) If you have little time, it is ok to go there, but just walk down to the first view point – you can not miss it. The best is to save up 2 hours so you can walk around the different view points and down to the lighthouse. If you decide to see the sunrise, which is said to be spectacular, be sure you have I would say at least 30 minutes for a strong walk to the lighthouse and start your course the other way around. It was a blessing in disguise that I have not decided to wake up for the sunrise, I would have probably missed it.

Freitag, 27. März 2015

Views over the city

Our weekend was subtitled view over the city. Giving the fact that we wanted to walk less we headed for the Namsan right from the morning. Bus #03 took us just infront of our hotel in Itaewon to the top of the hill in 20 minutes. No need for the cable car.
From the bus stop to the foot of the tower were just a few steps of hiking. All around the area were lookouts so you could enjoy the view over the city, if it is not too hazy. But in any case you can enjoy the best, as unblocked view from the observation platform inside of the tower. (We later met a weird American woman stepping out of, asking for someone who speaks English and asking us is it really worth going up the tower? Because of the view? I had a good view from the airplane already…)

But before going up the N Seoul Tower, we explored the surroundings. You could take pictures with people in traditional dresses, Joyce finally found the mascot of Seoul Haechi and of course there were uncountable possibilities for couples to hang around and show their bond. The whole couple thing is huge in Korea. We saw many couples in partnerlook (same shirt or shoes), a lot of holding hands, several holidays for couples (Christmas is a holiday for couples less for the family in Korea, when we arrived on the 14th of March they celebrated White Day, on month after Valentine’s Day boys now give the girls white chocolate, flowers etc.) and the love letters at Ssamzigil Market. Now the area around the N Seoul Tower is full of the known padlocks. Trees made of padlocks, handrails full of padlocks and lover’s oaths. On top you can sit on lovers benches, benches which halfs are inclined to each other so people glide towards each other when sitting down.

A good deal anyway was the two people ticket that adds to soft drinks and a huge bucket of popcorn to the entrance for the tower for just 2.000 Won. After a quick tourist picture and just seconds in the elevator we got off at the observation deck. They should clean their windows someday but anyway the view was great. We had to wait a little for the smog to disperse so we could see at least the outskirts of Seoul. If you go down one floor, you do not just get signs for the different suburbs but little markings for the city wall and the temples.

After our easy stop at the N Seoul Tower we headed for more action to Dongdaemun. This weekend the Seoul Fashion Week took place at the exhibition center there. And all the fashion addicts gathered there, school girls looking for their idols, wannabes, newcomer models looking for their discovery, fashion blogger, photographer, fashion designer and their muses – and a few tourists as well. You could sit on the wall an just look at the excitement and crazy fashion statements for hours.  


 To end the day relaxed we headed for the Olympic Stadium and the parks that were built for the Olympic Games 1988. Around 300 steps lead you up to Haneul Park (Park of Heaven), which gives you another great view over the Han River and the City. You can see from the mountains on the west over the Stadium, the far away Namsan and N Seoul Tower to the parts south of the Han River. Until now this was the most tranquil place I found in the city – a must see if you want to come down for a while. There were only a few people and if you like there is a metal structure which you can climb on. This and the neighbor park are great for the sunset, but I have to admit I was freezing so I headed back for my last stop – dinner in Sangsu.

As a station on Line 6 you do not have to change trains to get to Hongdae, the buzzling students quarter around the Hongik University, just walk north from Sangsu station. There you can find a vast selection on low priced restaurants, Korean BBQ as well as some international restaurants, bars, clubs, Noraebang (Korean karaoke rooms), boutiques with diverse styles and good prices and a arts market on the weekend. Following the tipp of my German colleague Katharina, I tried the waffle with ice cream for unbeatable 1.000 Won (less than 1 Euro) from the Ajumma at the playground. All in all you will not find a lot of food stalls but I had some grilled meat that evening, too. And when we came back during the week they sold Korean pancakes (sweet and salty) and a whole fried squid around the main road.

Sonntag, 22. März 2015

Touring the City (Lotte Everywhere, Riverside, Cheonggyecheon and Myeong Dong)

After our strenuous hike we tried to start Saturday easily. Giving Jamsil a peak which is famous for its huge indoor and outdoor amusement park Lotte World. Lotte is another one of the Korean huge, omnipresent companies (chaebols like Samsung, LG and Hyundai). Most people start to notice the Lotte department stores with different branches and cinemas, then maybe you notice that there is food branded with Lotte and a fastfood chain named Lotteria. But more over you can find Lotte hotels, a building company, an insurance company, an chemical company and even a baseball team named Lotte Giants. (And if you wonder, according to the myth, the founder liked the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.)

After a coffee break at the lake around Lotte World we decided to go on a on an off bus around the city. It took us 45 minutes to get to the other side of downtown Seoul and missed the bus for seconds. Sometimes the punctuality of the Koreans and especially the Korean Transportation System is a little uncanny. The underground is so punctual the app runs without wifi and without any variance. But even the transport that is dependent on the traffic can keep with that. When we took the last tour bus an hour later he ended his tour just in time after exactly 90 minutes and through the dense traffic.  
The panoramic tour took us up to Namsan park the hill in the middle of Seoul, back to the Han River and along the riverside park which was packed with people and tents but missing some greenery. I hope that will flourish within the next weeks. Back in town we passed the buzzing district around the Hongik University and ended at the Gwanghwamun Station. 


As the sun disappeared slowly we headed for the near Cheonggyecheon. As a creek from the Han River, it almost starts just above Myeong Dong one of the active shopping districts but runs for over 8 kilometers. Lined with trees you can stroll along the waterside, starting with a waterfall, a lucky well, stone steps and bridges to change sides, music and laser shows. And tiny as they were we found some blossoms slowly coming out. 

 Being so near we could not help as going for the Myeong Dong and float with the choice of food (chicken and seafood pancake) and fashion (bold styles and cuts). It is definitely worth a visit – especially in the vibrant evening.