Its a hard slog toughing out winter in small town Korea. With temperatures plummeting often below zero, it just isn’t always the sought-after-dream one might have of life in a sleepy village.
For us the cold was really starting to take its toll on us seeing as we’ve now done back-to-back winters (yes, we know, our own dumb fault!). Our thermals had worn down to mere threads due to overuse and our gas bills were climbing steadily towards New Zealand prices due to the ever constant need to have our ondol warming our little toes. Our food expenditure was growing with the need to have an ‘outer layer’ just to keep warm. Yes, that’s our excuse for eating…
Just when we thought we couldn’t take another freezing day BANG it was warm. No gentle creeping in of a sultry spring but more like someone had decided the season was due to change and flicked a switch. Back home, weather patterns are extremely unpredictable, forecasters usually about fifty percent accurate and seasons want to come and go slowly and as and when they feel like it. Korea, however, has the amazing feature of steady weather with incredibly accurate forecasting. They will even tell you the percentage chance of rain, often 0%, and always be right on the money.
But we digress – with the sudden change of temperature came the stuff of any Asiaphile’s dreams…the eruption of masses of blossoms dramatically changing the bleak, grey landscape to something powerfully evoking thoughts of falling into Memoirs of a Geisha (sorry, couldn’t think of a Korean equivalent but you get the drift!).
Deoksin up until recently had appeared a slightly grim, grubby little town of concrete streets lined with rubbish and looming apartment blocks with slight relief from a river that flows along its south-western extremity. Now it looks kinda the same but with the addition of glorious blooms of delicate blossoms – the sight of which really do lift the soul.
Deoksin is rather transformed with its comparatively small smattering of trees so we couldn’t quite imagine what the areas in Korea that are actually famous for their blossoms would be like. In this vein, we headed off this weekend to Gyeongju to see what all the fuss is about up there…
We headed off bright and early on Saturday morning to catch the requisite bus/train combo to get ourselves there. For some reason, this particular day on the train all the youth of Ulsan (or so it seemed) wanted to practice their English on us and take photos.
Arriving in Gyeongju in good spirits we made the decision to head straight over to the Bomun Lake area, a different area that we hadn’t explored the last time we were there but reported to be a pretty good cherry blossom spotting vicinity. Even as the bus wound its way from Downtown over to the lake we could tell we were in for something special – lining both sides of the road were rows of trees thick and full of blossom. Breath-taking.
With the help of some more lovely English speakers we met en route, we hopped off the bus, took a quick photo with them and headed down towards the lake. Words kind of fail us at this point so we’ll just regale you with pictures…
After enjoying a coffee overlooking the lake and blossoms, and a wonderful walk around the promenade we decided we just could NOT resist hiring a swan boat and going for a pedal around a small section of cordoned-off lake.
Always up for more swan action, we upgraded from our two person model to the full sight-seeing swan which did an incredible half-hour sightseeing tour around the whole lake.
Disembarking from the large swan, we continued on a loop around the lake taking in the sights and sounds of people enjoying spring. Everywhere we looked, people were taking photos, picnic-ing, relaxing, taking photos, even having a jam. We discovered sculptures and buildings, women in traditional attire and more…blossom!
Randomly, we wandered into the grounds of the Hilton Hotel and discovered fully-toqued chefs cooking up a storm. Enquiries led us to discover they were grilling chunks of juicy pork belly and marinated chicken. We were sold…and presented with a beautiful plate of tender, exquisite meat, salad together with a couple of drinks!
Life doesn’t get too much better than BBQ meat and beer (or Coke) in the sun, beside a lake, surrounded by blossoms…jealous yet?!
Sated, happy and full of renewed energy we set off to further explore the area.There were kids everywhere driving little bikes and cars. The coolest idea was the remote control kids car. At least you know they won’t crash.
In the course of our travels, we stumbled upon the Culinary School of Korea! Forever being guided by our love of food, we went in for a nosey.Seeing as both the culinary school restaurant and our bellies were already full we declined the set lunch and mosied through the halls. A highlight was definitely the toilets!!! Haha. After dodging packed public loos all day and dirty squat toilets finding lavatories like these were an absolute delight. They were clean, smelled good and even had a personal book in every cubicle. Now that’s service!
One of the coolest parts of our day happened when we were wandering through the blossoms trees near a big beautiful building. As the wind blew blossoms fell like snow. It was surreal and beautiful…photos don’t really do it justice!
By this stage, we’d been on the go for about 10 hours and were starting to fade from a combination of too much sun, masses of walking and cycling and just general excitement from all our discoveries. Too much ooo-ing and ah-ing can take it out of ya!
We headed back to the downtown area, determined to find a particular restaurant we’d read about. H-J’s hand-drawn map got us there in the end but we definitely covered a lot of ground on the way. Not a problem though, as in the fading light we were afforded more glorious of cherry blossoms as well as the ancient Cheomseongdae observatory.
Dinner was an epic 쌈밥 ssambap (literally meaning ‘wrapped rice’ – its basically a meal where you get a bunch of different things that you wrap in leafy vegetables) feast.
Full, exhausted but utterly thrilled with what turned out to be an amazing day, we took one last night time blossom photo and headed on our journey back to the village with sun-burned faces and happy memories.