Friday, 26 April 2013

An Exceptional Adventure

The gardens at the Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju
It was an invitation from good friends that took us to Korea. Their son was getting married in Seoul and we were invited to the wedding. We'd known the groom since he was a toddler, his bride-to-be was a delight and so we knew we had to be there. We arrived in Seoul ten days before the ceremony with only a couple of rail passes, an ancient guidebook and a vague idea of what we might do and see for a week outside the capital. Our hosts took us from the airport to Seoul station. They seemed a little nervous about how we were going to manage for the next ten days - after all, we spoke no Korean, had no accommodation booked and no clear idea of where we were going. But HH and I have always loved that kind of adventure - like wayfarers of old - setting out with little more than a map, a phrasebook and a glad heart. And we both have a strong belief in the kindness of strangers!
From the first Korea proved to be the very best kind of surprise. Astonishingly beautiful and for more green than we had imagined, over the next few days we moved from the city to the mountains to the coast with extraordinary ease. The trains were fantastic: punctual, fast (298km per hour at top speed), clean, quiet and well-serviced with food and drink. We soon found that not many people spoke English but our mime skills (!) quickly came into play and I discovered that Korean is a much, much easier language to read and speak that Chinese or Thai. Plus, it's amazing how you can get by on about half a dozen phrases: Hello, How are you? How much? Thank you, It's delicious and It's beautiful!

That afternoon we arrived in Gyeongju - capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty which lasted 1000 years from 57 BC – 935 AD. A modern city with a stunning legacy of ancient tumuli (huge grass-covered burial mounds) temples, preserved villages and unearthed treasure, that it is known as 'the museum without walls'. We stayed in a Hanok - a traditional Korean inn - with a spoon for a door key (seriously!) and a mat on the floor for sleeping. It was great fun and it put us right in the heart of the ancient part of town.
We spent the next few days exploring the many fascinating sites and had the good fortune to meet a charming couple who included us on a trip to Yangdong, a world-heritage village just north of the city. On the trip the four of us were royally hosted by a delightful Korean family (the kindness of strangers again) who told us many fascinating things about their country and culture. 
The first couple of days set the tone for the rest of our Korean adventure!

Locking the door to your room Korean-style
The remains of our first meal in Korea. It was delicious and one of those unexpected, quite-by-chance we-picked-just-the-right-place-to-eat restaurants that don't look like much from the outside and no one speaks English and you have no idea what they're serving you but the food is amazing. We ate everything and experienced myriad new flavours and taste sensations that made the meal unforgettable.

1 comment:

  1. Jenny! I'm so glad I found your post about Korea. You're right about only needing a few phrases - it's hard to knuckle down and learn the language when everyone's English is so much better than my Korean. Not to mention how easy it is to point and grunt. Gyeongju sounds like something to check out, I'll add it to the list! All the best, - Heather