Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Biking Through Blossoms

This time of year is like nothing no other in Korea. I knew cherry blossoms were a big deal but I had no idea how many there were scattered through the country, and how breathtaking they were. Although cherry blossoms are the most plentiful, there are also a few other trees (I have no idea their names) that make this time of year nothing short of a sensation to witness. Mother nature at her finest.

Last weekend I took a bike trip with some friends down to Gyeongju to see all the blossoms. On Friday evening we headed in to Seoul because our bus was leaving just past 6am on Saturday, not giving us enough time to catch the first subway. We opted for a lavish nights stay in a jimjilbang. Hehehe. Sleep much? I think not. This was my first overnight in a jimjilbang and although I didn't get much shut eye I still enjoyed it and felt very Korean. We basically crashed out on a heated floor, in a large room with about 50 other people, a small pillow and that's it. No mattress, no blanket, and to be honest most of the evening the lights were on, the TV was on, and people were chatting. My biggest issue was the ondol (Korea's under the floor heating system). During the winter it is amazing, but in the jimjilbang, sleeping all night on a hot floor, I was sweating the whole time. I digress..... more to the point, the cherry blossoms.

Saturday morning we had a bright and early start and loaded on a bus headed down to Gyeongju. The weather could not have been more beautiful and as soon as we arrived we picked out our rented metal horses, and off we rode. There were 2 options for bikes, the first being sensible, hearty mountain bikes, and the second was pretty coloured, basket toting, bell ringing, cute little cruisers. My choice was obviously style over function and boy did I pay for it! My more practical counterparts were whizzing up and down hills bumping off the sidewalks and generally having a way better go at it than me, but hey, more importantly, at least I looked good.

We biked for about 20 km on Saturday and it was pretty magnificent. We had a specific route planned but I think we strayed a little and got both lost and found. Most of the roads we went down were lined with blossoms, or winding through parks or overlooking spectacular views. It was amazing. We stopped in a little family run joint for soup to refuel for the afternoon and off we went again. The sky was blue, the air was fresh and everywhere you looked spring was bursting out of it's shell. There were some uphills that made me want to be laying flat back down on the hard jimjilbang floor but other than that it was a great day.

We ended the journey at our guest house and then headed back out for dinner a few hours later. Dinner was basically a Korean/westernized buffet and nothing to write home about. Afterwards we were bussed back to the park and let loose for a night stroll of the area. The park was lovely during the day and it was lit up so nicely in the dark that it added a magical quality to it. There were hoards and hoards of people and the temperatures plummeted so I was frozen, which made it just enough to take the magic part out of it, but still make it a great place to go visit. After an exhausting day of bike riding, dinner and walking we were so tired I  barely had time to complain about my second night sleeping Korean style on a hard floor. Again, I secretly kind of enjoyed it, especially for the slumber party-esque quality of it. In our accommodation we had lots of pillows and blankets and were sharing a room with 4 girls.

Day 2 had us up and ready to go by 7am. Bags were back on the bus and bums were painfully (and strategically) placed back on the bikes. I was soooooo proud to be riding on Sunday. I think the majority of people bailed after Saturday and opted for a leisure day of foot travels. My bottom was really tender, but I trucked on through! We started the day off at Bulguksa Temple, wandered around for a while and then headed back on route with our bikes.

Sunday was smooth sailing. We covered about another 18kms, but the combination of swapping bikes to a sensible one and having a mostly downhill path made for an awesome ride. We off roaded through some paddy fields and made a few more unscheduled pit stops but still managed to be back at the bike shop with lots of time to kill. We grabbed food and headed for the park where all the old royal tomb mounds were and let the day go by.

One of the last stops we made was to pick up some of the traditional barley cakes that Gyeongju is known for. We sampled them in the shops and I grabbed a box full to bring back for my Vice Principal and other teachers (brownie point!). From there we caught a little extra sunshine on an outdoor patio (a rarity in Korea), then met back up at the bike shop, piled in our bus and headed home.

Sunday traffic heading into Seoul is a nightmare so managed to get let off earlier and made out way back to Osan without making the trip into the city which saved us so much time. The only low point of the weekend was bringing a nasty stomach bug home with me. It's my first one in Korea so I shouldn't complain, but Monday and Tuesday were rough!

Anywho, back to the point, Gyeongju was a beautiful city, with such friendly people, and spectacular scenery.  The blossoms in Gyeongju were maybe a little past their fullest point and yet still it was so beautiful to see all these trees in their prime.

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