Saturday, July 08, 2006



Walking off the train into Gyeongju is like stepping through a portal. Both time and space are transformed and opened. The air is hushed, the sky is open, and there is a big fat green horizon all around. This was quite a contrast from the present day capitol of Seoul. Especially after spending a night in Itaewon, which is a seedy bar district famous for indian food and something know locally as "hooker hill". Gyeongju is the old Capitol of Korea and was the ruling seat of a unified Korea. Nowadays it is called the museum without walls as the city has seemingly integrated itself around dozens of historical outdoor sights.

We walked about 15 minutes from the train to our hotel which was quite nice compared to room we rented in Itaewon. It was late afternoon, so we relaxed for awhile and then taxied to some ruins and then walked back through a royal cemetary and past an ancient observatory.

The next day was full of adventure and intrigue. We rented bicycles from a shop across the road from the hotel and headed south of the city. There are clearly marked bicycle routes that run around the southern end of the city where most of the cultural sites can be found.

The ride out was really interesting as both sides of the road were lined withrice paddies and farmers wading knee deep and harvesting the rice by hand. It was very surreal, right out of movie. As we kept stopping to take pictures, I had this image of Korean family pulling their rental car over on the side of some rural Iowa road and taking pictures of some overall-clad, John Deer potato farmer. Our main destination was Bulguksa Temple which was about 22km from our hotel. It was a hard ride but definitely worth it. The temple is huge, it was built in the 9th century and burned down by Japanese invaders in the 14th century. It has since been restored and is one of the finest examples of traditional Korean architecture.

After wandering around and a few exciting rounds of hide and seek, we took off and headed back towards the city. It was mostly down hill and much easier than the way out. It was a great trip and definitely worthwhile for anyone.


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