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Gyeongju – Monday

I left my lovely lady first thing on Monday morning (which makes a change, as, usually, she leaves me semi-conscious in bed of a weekday morning (semi-conscious because of sleep, not because she’s done something to me)). I made my way towards Seoul Station. Unfortunately, because this is very similar to my way home – north on the green line, then change to the blue line at Dongdaemun Stadium – I ended up going north when I needed to go south. I got out at the next stop and reversed my path.

This is the first time I’ve used the train in Korea. Buying the tickets turned out to be very easy – the clerk spoke decent English – and navigating the station towards the correct platform was also no problem. In fact, it was easier than in Britain – my ticket wasn’t checked at all, the turnstiles were fixed open. My train was at 9am.

Inside, the KTX train – Korea’s own bullet train – was OK: fairly spacious, but not as nice as the new Virgin rolling stock I’ve used several times in Britain over the last few years. It was very quite once it got going, though. The train left on time, and arrived on time at my transfer stop, Dongdaegu (if that sounds familiar, just scan up the post a bit. ‘Dong’ means ‘east’, ‘dae’ means ‘great’ and ‘mun’ means ‘door’ – ‘Dongdaemun’ therefore refers to the eastern city gate in Seoul. I don’t know what ‘gu’ signifies in the context of ‘Daegu’, but it could be something to do with ‘district’ (I live in Nowon-gu, remember)).

I had half an hour to wait for my second train, which would take me to Gyeongju. Dongdaegu Station was a modern affair with plenty of convenience stores and coffee shops. Gyeongju Station, when I got there at about half twelve, was much more basic: a smallish main hall, with a convenience store in one corner and a tourist information desk in the next corner – these taking up a fair fraction of the room.

I got a map from the desk (and waited next to the first of many ‘real’ international tourists – ie, non-Korean, non-English teacher, non-English-as-a-first-language) and sat down in the waiting room to peruse it. My first step, now I was here, was to secure lodgings. With my medium-sized backpack on my back and my small backpack in my hand I set off walking down the street leading up to the station.

My first – and sustained – impression of the city of Gyeongju (population about 250,000, apparently) wasn’t too favourable. The modern, urban part of it is even more grey and square than many other places that I’ve seen in Korea. It also has billions of cables running overhead along the roads.

cables-outside-le-tango-du-chat

There were lots of shops along the main road – clothes shops, grocery stores, household goods emporiums – but not much in the way of hotels – or international brands, for that matter. I kept walking – in the direction of the bus station, where the map indicated there were hotels. As I neared the terminal, there were indeed a large number of hotels, motels and yeogwan (여관) – this latter being a cheap hotel – I’m not entirely sure of the specific definition.

In the event, I landed up at a yeogwan. I walked in, asked if they had rooms free, and they did, and there I was. It’s pretty decent, actually. It’s ₩30,000 a night, for which you get a double bed, a TV, a bath (!). The TV has CNN – yay! On the downside, there’s no watercooler in the room, but you can use the one in reception. The pillows are also filled with gravel. Well, not gravel, exactly, but small plastic chips. They’re not too uncomfortable, but you have to hit them to make a hollow for your head to rest in.

Once I’d settled in and relaxed with a bit of international news I set off for a walk. My aim was to find a coffee shop. As a creature of habit, a creature who desires the familiar, I was hoping for a Starbucks, a Holly’s, a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or another big chain in Korea. But there aren’t any in Gyeongju. I can’t honestly say this with 100% certainty, but if there is one, I’ve yet to find it. It’s possible the city council doesn’t allow them; I heard from my colleague Su-jeong that tall buildings aren’t allowed here – the tallest are around five storeys (which is pretty tall where I’m from).

I spent a few hours walking around, had a sandwich and a black coffee from a Paris Baguette (of which there are a few, along with Tous les Jours) and headed back towards my hotel. Wherein I needed a wash and a change of top – the weather has been very warm and sunny all week. After a nap I went in search of food – and settled on Mr Pizza. This pizza house has the slogan ‘Love for women’. But it turns out (it was the first time I’d had a Mr Pizza pizza) that their pizzas are very good.

The pizza place was in a Myeongdong-like area of narrow streets and many, many shops. It’s not as tricky as Myeongdong to navigate because all the streets are perfectly straight and either parallel or perpendicular to one another. It’s been a good area to wander round in search of food and coffee. It has several non-well-known coffee shops; right now, for instance, I’m in a nice place called Le Tango Du Chat.

So on the first day, I did no real sightseeing, just general bearings-getting. The second day was different.

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Categories: Travel
  1. 7 May 2009 at 10:56 am

    ugh~ the heat. I dread visiting there in July. Every summer I’m in Seoul I promise myself it will be the last. I wish I had time to hit up Gyeongju! Oh well.

  2. 7 May 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Rachell, you’ll have to let me know when you’re in town so we can hook up and you can meet Habiba. Unfortunately, Paul’s leaving Korea for semi-good in the next month or so. I might be out of the country for a bit, too, actually – things are up in the air at the moment.

    The best thing I find to do with the summer heat is just to ignore it. And use plenty of deodorant.

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