Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yeoju : Wonju : Chungju : Suanbo

One of the biggest benefits of extending my contract an extra month was that I was going to get an extra holiday. And, it's one of the best Korean holidays, too: Chuseok. This is basically Korean Thanksgiving. They get 3 days of the week off, plus the weekend, so a total of 5 days off of work! To see what I did during Chuseok last year, refer here. Otherwise, keep reading.
Wednesday: Basically, this was my get-stuff-done-day. I woke up extremely early, earlier than I do on work days. Unfortunately, this isn't that hard to do, since I go to work at 1pm, and I usually wake up around 9-something am.

Anyway, I swapped some furniture with Meghan, cleaned out my closet some more, got my big suitcase out of hiding, I mean storage, and began trying to get serious about getting organized. It was more-or-less successful. After a while of doing that, I took a little rest.

Romeo's friends from America were in town, so they were off doing boy-things. I went to dinner with some co-workers in Noksapyeong. We went to Bonny's Pizza (delicious), and then to Phillies to the basement. The main floor of the sports bar was crazy packed, but downstairs there were literally 3 people, including the bartender. We got a drink and began playing some darts. I wasn't as terrible as I expected! I headed home around 10:30pm, and got in around an hour later (holiday subway schedule is terrible!)

Romeo and I started to plan our next few days. We had been saying for more than a month that during Chuseok, we were going to go on a big bike ride together. He went on one last year, so we decided it would be great weather and a chance to see the countryside one last time before leaving Korea. So, around midnight on Wednesday (Thursday, technically), we planned our trip.

Thursday: We headed out to catch the subway around 7:40am. Really, we had intended to leave earlier than that, but decided we'd prefer some more sleep. So we took left at about 7:40, and peddled our butts off to Gunja station. We were really hauling you-know-what, and at one point I paused at a crosswalk, but Romeo (much more accustomed to riding on the roads), blew past me. After the car passed, I furiously peddled to catch up. Romeo went through another intersection and I saw him motion for me to stop, not to cross. Well, I was flying and thank goodness I had cat-like reflexes. I squeezed the breaks and my bike literally skidded to a stop as the cars began moving. It was mildly terrifying. Although it wasn't technically a close call, since I wasn't actually almost hit by a car, it was adrenaline pumping.

After the cars passed, we picked the pace back up and got to the station at 8:01am. The train was scheduled to leave at 8:03am. We picked up our bikes and ran down the stairs. As soon as my foot hit the bottom step onto the train platform, the train rolled up. We jumped on and finally got a moment to catch our breath. What a start to the trip! (We could have taken the next train, but with transfers, it would have put us in around 45 minutes later than the first one.)

Once we got to Yangpyeong Station, we got all our things arranged on the bikes (aka: Romeo got the pack arranged on his bike. I was spared the hassle of carrying a bag thanks to his chivalry.) I had gotten some chain grease on my leg when I picked up my bike and while he was getting ready, I went to the bathroom to attempt to scrub off the black marks.

We finally hit the road and actually backtracked initially so that I could get a stamp in my bike passport. When we got that, we turned around and started on our real path. We were going from Yangpyeong to Chungju... or, that was the plan at least.

The path wasn't the best paved, and there were a few inclines that had me panting. After around 6 miles, I had to take a small breather. It was really pretty scenery though! We were going along the path next to the Han River. There were lots of families walking together along the path, children playing, etc. I saw the biggest sunflowers I've ever seen in my life (no photo unfortunately). Including the stalks, they were at least 8' tall. (Honestly, that might be an exaggeration. I didn't get close enough to really measure. But they looked tall!)

... Wait, I just googled that. Sunflowers are commonly between 5'-12'... so I guess 8' is possible and really nothing special. Well, whatever. They were cool to me!!

Anyway, back to the path. Eventually we got to a small mountain. Romeo called it a mountain, so I'm going with "mountain." It could have been a hill, I'm not sure. We decided to walk up it rather than struggle peddling up. It was a nice walk and helped me regain some strength. On the walk up, we saw a lot of beautiful nature.

At one point, I became fascinated by a gorgeous butterfly working on some flowers. It was massive, and the pattern on it was the most beautiful I've seen. It was like cream and black, but classy, not boring. It was so big! I stood there and watched it work on a couple of flowers for a good 3 minutes before continuing walking.

I should have stayed a little longer, because my next sight of nature was much more disturbing. As I was telling Romeo about the beautiful butterfly, he spotted another one up ahead, only it was a deep blue. Also beautiful. By the time we got up to where it was, we saw it was suspended in a spider's web. Romeo's first reaction was "Should we save it?"

I debated a second too long, because after that we saw the other side of the butterfly. An enormous yellow and black spider was already going to work on it. Honestly, I don't even want to really recount what I saw. Romeo says I am exaggerating, but watching the butterfly get literally eaten by a huge repulsive spider was one of the worst things I've watched in my life. I regret standing there in horror and letting my eyes continue to watch. One of those things I wish I could unsee. Such a beautiful creature devoured by a disgusting (not to mention creepy as hell) arachnid. I am getting shivers now just thinking about it. We agreed not to take any photos of it, out of respect for the butterfly. (We're a little weird...). I said, "I don't need a photo. I think I'll remember that scene in my head for years..." And I don't think that is an exaggeration...

Moving on! I know you don't want to read about that just as much as I don't want to relive it. So, let's keep going. After that, we reached the top of the mountain and had a little water, then enjoyed the coasting down the other side. I finally felt comfortable enough that I didn't have to ride my breaks the entire way down, but rather let the speed and wind take me away. It was exhilarating!

We road on some more miles, then came to a big bridge that was built just for bikes and pedestrians. It was way cooler looking than it's automobile counterpart. We took a break at the 7-Eleven on the other side of the bridge. I had an ice-cream and enjoyed the breeze. After getting another stamp in my passport, we continued on. We had gone around 8 miles by then.

We biked another few miles, and came to a part of the path that was pretty deserted. We took a rest at a covered area with some benches. We sat on the ground (the benches were in the sunlight), and I think we both fell asleep for a little bit. It was a nice little nap. We hopped back on our bikes feeling more rejuvenated, and began passing many of the cyclists who had passed us during our nap. We went through some interesting terrain, over bridges that zigzagged through creeks and rockbeds and full-fledged rivers. It was really beautiful. After yet another stamp in the passport (feeling like a rockstar at this point: 3 in a row!), we were about 2 miles away from Yeoju. Starving and wiped out (not a lot of sleep and some rough terrain for me), we decided to call it a day when we got into the town.

As it was actually Chuseok day, the town was pretty empty. We rode around a little bit and after almost giving up on finding any barbeque, we turned the corner and found a samgyupsal restaurant. We staggered in and ordered. I almost fell asleep, but in my defense the seating was on the ground, and how could I sit down without laying down after around 20 hard miles on the bike? We devoured the meal, giving many thanks (it was Chuseok, after all!).  This was around 4pm.

After that we headed to a motel and, luckily, the first one was a reasonable rate and pretty good rooms. They were clean, decently decorated, with a big flatscreen TV. I almost fell into the bed. However, I decided to take a shower first. But, apparently we were the only guests at that time, because the entire building's hot water was turned off. Romeo had to go search for someone to turn it on, but no one could figure it out! We had to wait for the proprietor to return from the store, almost an hour later.

Finally, we got the hot water situation figured out, I got clean, and layed down for a nap. After a little rest, we walked around the town and got a coffee. We returned to the hotel around 7:45pm, and I think I was asleep by 8. I was completely exhausted!!

Friday: After sleeping in quite a bit, we packed up and headed out. As we were collecting our bikes, two other cyclists came out of the motel and we got to chatting. One guy was American (I think), the other was clearly Irish: accent, redheaded, and freckled. They told us about the terrain we were facing between here and Chungju, and it was daunting. They also mentioned about parking their bikes at the base of one of the mountains along the path and running up it to prepare for a marathon. Um, these fools were fierce. If they thought the path we were facing was rough, it was safe to assume I would die in the attempt. They also ran an ultra-marathon (100km) around Jeju Island recently. You know, no big deal...

We parted ways, and Romeo and I decided over a sugary breakfast at Paris Baguette in town that we should probably not attempt the mountainous path we had originally planned. Instead, we decided to visit King Sejong's tomb, which was conveniently located about 2 miles away from where we were at presently. We headed that way and after a pretty easy ride, we arrived at the area. It was a whopping 500W to enter (about $0.50).

I couldn't keep my eyes open for the camera because the sun was SO BRIGHT!
It was a pretty interesting place. We got to see a lot of inventions from Sejong's era. Also, a massive statue dedicated to the man, who invented the Hangul language. After wandering around the grounds there for a while, we headed back into town to the bus terminal.

We decided to head to an area called Suanbo. It was famous for having natural hot springs. It is a bit of a resort town, small but popular. At the bus terminal, we determined that we were going to have to take a total of 3 buses to get there. It was unforunate, but necessary. So we embarked on a long day of bus-riding. First was Yeoju --> Wonju, which was totally out of the way. After fighting with the undercarriage of the bus to get our bikes in there, with no help from the bus driver, we took off.

Wonju ended up being a little more populated than Yeoju, boasting a Krispy Kreme at the bus station (yes, I indulged...). We hung around there about an hour and a half, long enough to get some lunch (cheap ramen at a shop where we got yelled at in Korean for asking for cheese ramen. woops!). We headed out of there and went Wonju --> Chungju. Which is not to be confused with Cheongju. The pronunciation difference between the two is so slight. Romeo had to say the name to the ticket lady, I couldn't ever get the two straight. Silly Korea...

The sunset viewed from the moving bus. It was so beautiful!
Once we got to Chungju, we immediately got tickets on a bus to Suanbo, leaving 15 minutes later. It worked out well time-wise. The bikes fit quite well in this bus, actually, so when we jumped off at Suanbo, which didn't even have a bus terminal, we slid the bikes out with ease. We arrived atound 6:30pm. Then began the motel shopping. We went to around a dozen motels, pricing and evaluating the rooms. We played the stupid foreigner card until we were allowed to see a room in each place. Good thing, too, because most of the rooms were terrible.

Finally, we decided to pay a little more than we had originally planned (about 30,000W each) for a decent hotel. Luckily, it boasted an in-room hot springs tub (which was just a bathtub that apparently filled with hot springs water, but for all I know was just regular tap water). It was actually quite a large room, and was comfortable enough. We settled in a bit, then immediately went out for some dinner.

The area is known for pheasant and rabbit dishes. We decided to try to find an affordable option featuring one of those two. Turns out they're all about 50,000W or more, and are only served in shabu style, meaning boiled broth with veggies and meat. Neither of us were in the mood for that kind of meal; we needed something of substance! We settled on some hanwoo beef, which is apparently fantastic Korean beef. And, turns out, it was pretty amazing! We got two servings, as well as the usual sides, and a couple of beers. It was delicious! After dinner, we grabbed another beer from the CU (convenience store) in town, then headed in for the night.

Saturday: We slept in quite leisurely, then had a less-than-satisfying breakfast at the other convenience store in town, 7-Eleven. When we attempted to find the bus terminal (which I previously stated in this blog did not exist), we found out, surprise surprise, it didn't exist! Luckily, we went back to the area we had gotten dropped off at the night before and found out we could buy a ticket straight back to Seoul for about 12,000W. (When we called the tourist help-hotline, we were told we would have to go back to Chungju first, then get a bus to Seoul). It was a little over 2 hours back to Seoul, and I slept most of that. Unfortunately, some loud foreigners (maybe Filipino?) who reeked of smoke got on the bus about halfway there and stunk up the place... Grrr!

When we got in, we went and met up with one of Romeo's friends from America who is recently living in Jeju. We also met with some other Korean guys that had some mutual friends with Romeo. And, kind of a big deal here, one of them is a Korean actor! No, I don't know what shows he was on, and while Romeo told me his name, I don't remember, and I guess it's probably good not to call him out since he seems to prefer to fly under the radar (Yeah, no big deal!) :P

Finally, we got back to our area around 6pm. I was pretty tired, and didn't do much the rest of the evening.

Sunday: Again, not much exciting. I cleaned a lot, organized the room some more, and started to officially FREAK OUT that I have exactly one week until I am LEAVING KOREA! And, that freaking out has not really stopped. I have SO MUCH to do in SO LITTLE time!!!!!


Okay, instead of thinking more on this subject, I am going to go actually DO some of those things... so until next time, goodnight!

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