Fried Chicken, Fried Fish, and Ramen Noodles – Yum!

We’re in Gyeongju, along with Seoul and Jeju Island, the most visited places in South Korea. And it’s easy to see why. For a thousand years – from 71 BC to 935 AD this was the hot spot of culture, wealth, and power in Korea. The Silla Kings ruled this land – built amazing places, participated in riotous drinking parties – and converted all of South Korea to Buddhism. The resulting flowering of art, music, culture, and design was considered to be outstanding. Unfortunately – only bits and pieces survive to this day.

We cheated and joined a ‘City Bus’ tour of the highlights – primarily the Tumuli Mound Tombs, the Bulguk-sa Buddhist Temple, and to me the absolute highlight – the Seokguram temple in a grotto. Along with at least a thousand school children – all of whom want to say hello to us – we climbed steps, admired the exquisite landscapes, and felt the power of the Buddha in the grotto.

We lucked out at the Paris Baguette – and snagged a bag of 1/2 price day old goodies for lunch, but the highlight of our stay here has been the dinners.

First up was a Ramen Noodle restaurant. Now don’t go all – instant noodle on me – these were fresh noodles in a wonderful broth served with rice, Kimchi (of course), pickles (of course), and a slice of pork belly. In the soup in addition to the noodles was a soft-boiled egg, vegetables, and soy beans. It was awesome. To go with it – we had an order of potato fritters – man do these guys know fritters. These were made with mashed potatoes inside, then dredged in egg and a batter mixture and deep-fried. Oh were they good.

2nd night – we ate at student hangout – cheap prices (Just $6), and absolutely no English. Our meal consisted of two ‘Schnitzel’ Korean Style. Flattened pieces of chicken that were combined with mashed potatoes, then dredged in a yummy batter before again being deep-fried. Unlimited – help yourself – quantities of Kimchi, pickles, rice, and sauce were provided. We watched Korean Baseball – I think the good guys lost, cheered with the crowd – and headed home full.

Tonight we tried a Japanese restaurant – and ordered the best Fish and Chips (but no chips) I’ve ever ever had. We also had a pork Schnitzel – also good – but not quite as amazing as the fish. Again – more kimchi, more pickles, more rice – and lots of sauce.

I have to admit – I’m going to have trouble finding restaurants this consistently excellent at this price range in Montreal.

Signing off (and too full to move)

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller

On the Road to Gyeongju – South Korea

My favorite seat on a bus is in front – I love the 180 degree view you get – and I must admit to watching the bus driver. So imagine my surprise when our bus driver here in South Korea – while driving – washed his hands, the steering wheel, the gear shift, the side window – then put on white gloves in order to eat lunch. That’s new and different.

He also removed the fancy leather shoes he was wearing when he put our luggage on the bus, and is now wearing comfy clean white sneakers. And he has his own set of ear phones. Wonder what channel he listens to while he drives?

I’d been told that buses here are the way to travel – and I have to admit – it’s nice. There’s satelite TV (in Korean – but that is the language here), very comfy seats that recline, clean windows (Montreal – smarten up – it is possible to have clean windows on buses), and curtains.

Leaving Seoul and heading south – we started on an 8 lane highway, driving past a surprisingly beautiful city scape of skyscraper and towering sound barriers interspersed with old-fashioned residential neighborhoods followed by huge apartment complexes. I’m guessing zoning in non-existent.

Eventually the 8 lanes became 4 lanes about an hour out of Seoul – as we steadily head south toward Gyeongjue – our next destination. The highways cuts through hills, and the signs of civilization are everywhere – this is not Vermont, people.

We are passing traditional looking (but new construction) buildings, and modern factories mixed between rice paddies and farms. If you can farm it – you farm it. I even saw vegetables planted between the highway and the fences that mark private property. Everywhere peach trees are in bloom – their flowers a brilliant offset to the freshly churned but not yet planted rice paddies. There are also Ginseng farms – recognizable by the sun shades. I’m definitely going to have to try some Ginseng.

Another observation – the use of sound barriers when the highway goes past residential areas is astonishing. And they are huge – I’d guess 40 to 50 feet above the highway. Some have glass tops, many have become supports for green vines. And there is no graffiti anywhere. This was true in Seoul as well. A surprising change for us North Americans.

Arriving in Gyeongju – we check into our next guest house – a traditional style house off an alley between two motorcycles repair shops. Like most traditional homes – the front gate is plain and unassuming – but when you round the corner into the yard – you discover that there is wooden building with 4 traditional rooms – which means you sleep on the floor.

To enter the room, your shoes come off – you climb up onto a wide wooden porch, unlock your double wide doors, and then slide back rice paper screens to reveal a 10′ by 14′ room. Korean’s heat their floors – so the floor is raised off the ground. But to get to the attached bathroom or kitchen – you must step back down to ground level – about 18″. And there are ‘kitchen’ shoes and ‘bathroom’ shoes to wear in those areas. Traditionally – the floor would be wood – but this is a modern constructions – so the floor is linoleum that looks like wood. Regardless – it’s still shoes off to enter!

Our bedding is simple comforters that we unfold to sleep on – and re-fold in the morning. There is a 27″ flat screen TV – and electric lighting – two welcome modern touches.

The biggest surprise – the pillows are barley stuffed. The intrepid traveller takes both – I’m sticking with my travelling temperpedic’s thank you!

The only other piece of furniture is a small low table with folding legs. Handy for putting stuff on.

And that’s it.

We grab dinner (read about that in another post) and make ourselves comfy. It’s very quiet – and while the floor is hardly soft – I’m so tired that I think I could sleep on anything.

Signing off –

The Soup Lady and her side kick – the Intrepid Traveller.