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!
One of the must-do actitivies in Gyeongju is hiring a bike and cruising the streets. Never ones to miss out on an experience we joined the hoardes and took in some more sights.
We we went off road to avoid the hoardes of pedestrians… then we found a group of random happy clappies dancing and chanting in the woods…
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.
This is Korea at its finest. This was a day that will be remembered by us for ever.
I imagine that those duck boats will be the highlight of your entire time in Korea.
Hahaha it was definitely a highlight of the day.
Wait until the blooms start to fall, it will be like wonderful pink snow!
Hope the weather gets warmer! Cheers!
Agreed the blossoms falling over us like rain was definitely one of the highlights of the day! Its already very, very warm – it seems like summer is going to be extreme! Thanks for reading.
Love the blossoms! I wish I could ride in a swan boat–so jealous! What a perfect springtime adventure and right when your thermals were becoming threadbare. 😉
The swan boats were pretty fun! And the blossoms were incredible…photos don’t really do them justice but its one of those memories that will stick with us long after we leave Korea. Thanks for your comments!
I LOVE gyungju. Such a beautiful place 🙂
It IS gorgeous, eh?! We loved it in winter, we loved in spring…it will be interesting to see what its like each season. And there’s SO much to see that every trip we can explore new things.
Love the blossoms and reading about your adventures teaching in Korea. From one TEFL teacher to a few others, well done on making it through the cold :)!
We’d like to thank our friend ondol for making it all possible, LOL. Thanks for reading!
Fantastic post – love the pictures ! The cherry blossoms look so pretty! Wish I could experience it someday! Thanks so much for sharing!
The blossoms really transform the landscape – its an utterly stunning time of year to be here! In a few weeks though, they’ll all be gone and the landscape will change again…it’ll be interesting to see what the next stage is! Thanks for your comments.
So utterly beautiful! I must admit that Mother Nature sure does spring in style! Loved everything from the (tunnel of love) style baby Swan boats, to the big mama swan boat which powered round the lake. The blossoms, the temples, a proper Korean BBQ and the Hanbok (traditional dresses) all beautiful. I’m such a sticky beak, would love to know whats inside those large earthenware pots too (didn’t know if you’d mentioned that, or if I missed it???) how beautiful were those blossoms too, stunning…
Stunning eh? It was one of those perfect days…
The big pots are Kimchi pots! They are everywhere on the landscape of Korea, outside restaurants, outside train stations, culinary schools (!), peoples homes…a true part of Korea. Kimchi is the pride of Korea and we’ve noticed that when Koreans travel then even take little pouches of Kimchi with them! Its not Korean food without it. We definitely purchasing a little kimchi pot before we leave Korea. Its the ultimate souvenir, we reckon!
Beautiful and you’re too funny. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your comments! We had such a fun day 🙂
Isn’t it amazing how much better you feel the second there is sunshine?? I feel like everything in Korea has been gray and brown, and then all of a sudden, this week there is color and sunshine! I went to Gyeongju in the winter, it looks much prettier in your pictures 🙂
Totally – the industrial, gray pallor was a little depressing there for a while! But now spring has sprung, its a nicer place to be.
We visited Gyeongju in winter also and what we thought was really beautiful then were the burial mounds, all brown and surreal looking. This time they were all covered in bright green grass and looked lot different!
Beautiful- swans and all 🙂
Swans, good food, beautiful blossoms…couldn’t ask for too much more eh?! Such a wonderful day.
Beautiful pictures! Loved them… I don’t get to see too many blossoms in my neighborhood, but I did buy stamps with cherry blossoms on them! They are what the postal worker gave me when I asked for something pretty. Thanks for checking out my post on the Salumeria! If you ever come to NYC I will treat you to some delicious snacks there.
New York is the absolute top city on my haven’t-seen-yet Hit Lit. I already have a mental list of restaurants/cafes/delis that I want to visit, haha. I shall add your offer of delicious snacks to the list! YAY 🙂 Who needs blossoms when you have a Salumeria?!
Love the blossoms – would love to see them en masse like that one day. And those swan boats are truly dinky.
Its pretty incredible when there’s a canopy of thick blossoms hanging over your head 🙂 And we highly recommend the swan boat experience – so much fun!
You were right: I am very, very jealous!! 😀 Gorgeous pictures!
Its still an amazing city even without the blossoms 🙂 And Ulsan looked fairly gorgeous in your photos!
Everything looks better with blossoms! 😀
Gyeongju looks beautiful! My co-teacher keeps telling me I should go and check out all the historic stuff. Now I see why!
Its amazing – and there is seriously so much cool stuff to explore there. We spent a day there in winter looking around the tumuli, with a trip out to Bulguksa and Seokorum grotto and then the day just been in the Bomun Lake area. And there’s still heaps we haven’t seen yet! If you do get the chance , definitely check it out!!!
I’ve had that lettuce wrap stuff before! I called it “lettuce tacos” to myself, secretly.
I never thought that there were cherry blossoms in Korea too! Beeeee-yuitful! How long to they last over there? Ours in Kyushu have already come and gone (lasting only about a week).
That grilled meat and coke looks too good…… 😦 I want~~
Yeah apparently the cherry blossoms were planted by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea last century – gulp – but the Korean’s love ’em too so I guess that bit turned out okay! Same deal here – they erupt is stunning blossoms fairly quickly, are beautiful for a week or so and then POOF its raining blossoms all over the street. Already the landscape around us is in the next phase of being all green and new.
That meat and coke was FABULOUS. Now we’re back in the village where our choices are fairly limited. Suffice to dream of living at the Hilton…
Eeee, another after effect of the Japanese Occupation, eh? :S Well………..every cloud has a silver lining, is the phrase of the day, I suppose?
I want meat and Coke…..i will not be satisfied with spaghetti tonight anymore. ;_; 😛
Definitely a silver lining, haha. Hope your spaghetti is okay!
Am playing catch up today and wow – these are such amazing pictures. What a wonderful experience….and as for that food!
We had such a fun day – its firmly fixed as one of the top days in Korea for us!
This was definitely one of my favourite posts to read – you’re a wonderful storyteller! I love that you guys just go with the flow and jump into whatever activity is happening in front of you 🙂 And omg that meat looks sooo amazing… mmmmmmmmmm…
Meat was goooooooooooooood. Yum. I quite fancy moving into the Gyeongju Hilton…
Great pictures! I really like that swan boat… Thanks for stopping by my blog as well!
The swan boats were a pretty fun attraction! Thanks for visiting!
The best kind of day, really 🙂
What beautiful pictures!
I was especially touched by the one of the solitary lady sitting on the fence looking out at the swan boats with the cherry blossoms hanging above her. That seems like the kind of photo you could enter into some sort of contest!
I love Korea the people are so friendly. Have only seen it in autumn your pics make me want to go again in spring. Thanks for visiting my blog
Spring has definitely been our favourite season here to date! Summer is fast approaching so it will definitely be interesting to see what changes that brings…
It was one of those shots we couldn’t resist taking – she looked so pensive but lovely sitting there!
Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your comment! Your photos of jerk chicken had us drooling…it took us straight back to the Caribbean 🙂
This was AMAZING!! That was seriously the perfect day, oh man! This gives me great inspiration to get our butts back out there to take in the summer beauty AND get ourselves on one of those swan boats. Beautiful pictures and post! 🙂
Its worth being in Korea to experience this. This day was seriously our favourite of all our days there.