Spring has sprung in Korea! Green things are sprouting like mad in the Bamboo Forest, and people have started peeling off layers of clothing. When I look in the mirror, I feel like I’ve lost weight, even though I haven’t -I’ve just stopped wearing long underwear under my clothes every day. 😀
Cherry blossoms are one of the best things about spring in Korea. Overnight, cities transform into fairy land. It’s gorgeous.
We had heard that Gyeongju (a city about 50km North of Ulsan) was THE place to see cherry blossoms. We looked into hotels and hostels but everything was booked for the weekends when the blossoms were expected. Everything except a hostel with outdoor bathrooms. I didn’t need to see the blossoms that badly.
We decided to go with Adventure Korea (www.adventurekorea.com). At least that way we’d be guaranteed a room with an indoor bathroom! Included in the tour were bike rentals, tourist maps, entry to a famous temple and a buffet lunch. How could we say no?
We caught the bus from Ulsan to Gyeongju at 7:25am. UGH. We should have known something was up when instead of the anticipated crowds, there was only one other person with us on the bus.
We arrived in Gyeongju and discovered a distinct lack of cherry blossoms. Apparently the weather had been colder than usual, so the cherry blossoms were later than normal.
Korea is an extremely well caffeinated country. Normally you can’t swing a cat without hitting at least three cafes. We couldn’t find a coffee shop anywhere.
Finally we saw a sign for coffee and stumbled through the door. I’m pretty sure it was someone’s living room. There was an old and barely legible menu on the wall but clearly customers were few and far between. The surprised waitress served us weak, lukewarm black coffee. Her daughter stared at us the entire time we were there, while her husband smoked and watched a baseball game.
In some ways, it was good there were no cherry blossoms. Chances are, we would have spent the whole day taking pictures of flowers and not looking around Gyeongju.
Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Kingdom (57BC-935 AD). Historical and cultural properties abound, as do UNESCO sites.
Ancient burial mounds are everywhere.
The treats served with the tea were beautiful!
We also tried a Gyeongju specialty – little red bean filled pancakes. YUM!
After an adventure-filled day, we made it back to the hotel. Our sleeping arrangements were Korean-style – thin mats on a hot floor.
No matter. A few tubs of dong dong ju (a rice based alcohol) later, the floor was fabulously cozy.
When we returned to Ulsan the next day, we found cherry blossoms everywhere. Absolutely gorgeous.