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DECEMBER 2006 Trip to Gyeongju and Korean Xmas

Nick's mum and dad came to visit

sunny 3 °C
View Seoul to Gyeongju on Bulls's travel map.

GYEONGJU_D..nd_pots.jpgWe've been warned that Korean winters are very cold and not particularly pleasant. It proved to be quite chilly and miserable on windy days but to be honest the weather didn't seem that bad at all.
The sun kept shining most of the days and December was an exciting month for us as Nick's mum and dad were coming to visit and we were also leaving Seoul for a few days and going down south to check out what else Korea had to offer.
Nick's mum and dad flew over at the beginning of the month and stayed with us for a little over a week. We were all very happy to see them, especially Maja who was looking forward to grandad's stories,gran's songs and even more attention.
We also benefited getting some sweets and mags from England and Xmas presents that wouldn't normally fit in the envelope.

After their jetlag settled and they had a w/e sightseeing with Nick, the following week they had to explore the city on their own as I fell ill and Nick was busy working.
We both felt sorry we couldn't spent more time together but they've managed to see quite a large chunk of the city by themselves and by the end of the week we were all ready for our w/e adventure out of town.

We went to visit Gyeongju -Korea's cultural heartland,so called "museum without walls" and in the past a capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom. We set off early in the morning and travelled there comfortably by bus which took about 5 hours.
It was during this journey that we saw the snow for the first time and also the last time in these quantities although once we got to Gyeongju it all cleared and the weather looked more like autumn then winter.
As we only had 2 days there we planned the visit very carefully to try and see as much as we could without too much of a rush.
Once we arrived in town we checked in to our hotel (our bathroom had a jacuzzi!!!) and without wasting any time we hit the town.Thankfully the wood and stone reminders of Gyeongju's past are easy to find and just about anywhere in town within the walking distance.
At first we visited the hilly burial mounds of ancient kings in royal ground called Tumuli Park and a stone tower located nearby which is known to be the oldest exsistent astrological observatory in Asia.
The royal tombs can be found throughout the town but that was the place with the largest collection of them and of the tomb that had been excavated and it's now open to the public.
Then we made our way to The National Museum of Gyeongju and its surroundings and had an interesting conversation about Buddhism and how it that some refer to it as religion when the others call it a way of life....


The second day we fully dedicated to the Bulguksa- a true gem of Gyeongju ,a head Buddhist temple and a Historic and Scenic Site number 1 in Korea (all sights in Korea have a registration number...to be explained some other time).
We took a taxi from downtown to get to the temple. On the outskirts of Gyeongju,on the slopes of the mountain and hidden amongst the woods it offers an extensive view of the province and its perfect location serves as the best retreat. We spent some time wandering around its famous spots although we felt we were being watched all the time:

On the way to the temple we passed over some beautiful ponds filled with fish and lilies and spanned with stone bridges leading us eventually to the main temple building:

Spot the Golden Buddha through the window in the pillar:

If you can't here is a close up:

Once we checked out the temple we decided to walk to the Seokguram Grotto which according to the guide was located near the temple. Without any further investgations how far it was we followed the sign and strolled up the hill. After some time we realised that the walk has become more like a climb. We didn't mind as it was a beautiful day and views along the way were stunning!We kept on climbing but haven't met many people on the way and if it wasn't for signs showing the distance (total of 4kms as we found out later -doesn't seem much but it was a bit of work keepig Maja going although meeting "Buddha hiding in the cave" kept her motivated!)we could have doubted whether we were following the right track. Once we were getting closer we could see more people gathering in places and then we saw a bus! As the grotto was located high a top Mt. Tohamsan there was another way to get to it then walk. You could take a bus and be there within 10 minutes drive from the Bulguksa Temple -but what's the point of that???
We were happy we've done the walk and once we got to the top not only we had to pay a visit to the Buddha in his grotto but we also had a stunning view of the East Sea (according to Koreans) or The Sea of Japan (according to the Japanese) stretching in front us and behind the trees. Thinking the grotto was located just "by the temple" we did not expect to be on the top of the mountain so we couldn't get over the scenery

Bulguksa_-walking_up.jpg Grotto_-th..the_top.jpg Grotto_-us_on_the_top.jpg
It was awesome and we definetely felt well rewarded for our climbing efforts.Only later we found out that although it was all blue sky and sunny it was also -4 C. Once we delighted our eyes and warmed ourselves with a cup of hot choc and a sweet waffle we took yet another this time short though climb to the grotto.

Unfortunately we could only look at the Buddha for a few minutes and from behind the glass but it just added the flavour to it. The statue was sitting in the granite artificial cave, carved so finely that it appeared almost real. Maja put her lips together in astonisment as if to whistle. I can only imagine looks on our faces as we were all equally impressed!
Here is the picture of the grotto and I borrowed the picture of the Buddha from another site as at the time I respected the request of no photogaphing in the cave!


Once we left the grotto and started making our way down we notice the bus that was just about to leave.
It took us a second to look at one another and silently agree to jump on board.

We were going back to Seoul the same night so it was good to have some spare time in between the bus journeys.

We all really liked our short break away and will plan to do some more of these in the future. I have a feeling Maja might want to go back to Gyeongju to see her prince:Maja_with_.._Prince.jpg
Nick's mum and dad stayed with us for few more days before heading back home and it wasn't just the tourists attractions they've enjoyed. Maja had a few of her "shows" up her sleeve (I'm very proud of the costume I crafted out of old pjs and tights):Maja_circus_show.jpg


Back in Seoul the preparations for Xmas were in full swing and the city was twinkling with lights and festive decorations. It looked like any other city in Europe -there were Xmas trees, presents, Santa's images and Xmas carols anywhere you looked and at first it felt just like being back home in the UK.
Although the spirit of Xmas is well present in Korea, people view and celebrate it somewhat different. Korean background differ from generally Christian West and with 46 percent of people of no religious affiliation and 26 percent that follows Buddhist traditions the Xmas hype seemed suprisingly high. But as we found later only few people regard it as a religious celebration while the rest enjoys it as a day to celebrate the end of the year. Unlike in western countries where if celebrated Xmas is spent in a family circle, here it is a day to be with your boyfriend or girlfriend. I remember reading that while people in the West grow stressed with shopping, preparations and facing other family members (not sure about that though...), Koreans are under pressure to find a date if they do not have one already.As for presents it is not customary to exchange presents on Xmas although boyfriends usually buy presents for girlfriends and vice versa.
As for us - we bought a small Xmas tree, decorated the flat with Xmas cards we've received and some decorations Maja's made at school and at home.We spent Xmas eve at home and had a dinner - sort of Polish Wigilia traditional dishes prepared out of Korean ingredients, opened some pressies and listened to the carols. We also manage to skype our families and have a quick chat.


On Christmas day we went to Lotte World theme park. We started with the ride on the baloon with the view of different attractions the park had on offer:

After that we watched Xmas Parade joined by all the Xmas characters you can only think of. Here are Maja's and my favorites........


.......while these two definetely caught Nick's eye:


During the festive seasons we also went to Grand Park on the city outskirts where Maja had a go at sledging on the artificial snow


and checking whether she enherited a fear of heights while riding and down the Vertical Drop:


December was also a beginning of our skating season. Once we found that the ice rink was 10 mins walk away from our house and the skating session with skates cost less then 50p per as long as your legs allowed you, we were there nearly every day. Maja has learnt how to skate and by the end of the season was doing rounds by herself with the big grin on her face and no falls. Nick has also tried skating once again since his fall when he was 12 and looks like he enjoyed it:


This month we liked:

all of the above +

our new camera

Restaurant Mad about Garlic and its starter dish of full garlic bulbs baked in the oven and dipped in melted cheese-mustn't forget to try it at home (once I have an oven again) -success guaranteed for all garlic lovers out there

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware" Martin Buber

Posted by Bulls 03:05 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel

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