Our visit to the island of Miyajima was a soothing contrast to yesterday. The island is replete with Shinto and Buddhist shrines, pagodas and parks, beautiful scenery and a peaceful ambiance. One of the icons of Japan is the torii leading to the Itsukushima Shrine, which we were able to view at high tide.
Miyajima has been considered a holy place for most of Japanese history. In 806 AD, the monk Kōbō Daishi ascended Mt. Misen and established the mountain as an ascetic site for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. As a sacred island, worshippers to the shrine could not land on the island, but were required to enter the temple through the torii – by water, or, at low tide, by foot.
In the main Itsukushima Shrine (1168), we happened upon a Shinto marriage ceremony. It was very quiet, apart from the low chanting of the priest and occasional pipe music.
We climbed up to the Tahoto Pagoda (1523) the five-storey pagoda (1407) and the Senjokaku Hall (1587) (pavilion of a thousand mats). Then, we sampled the local delicacy- manju, and very good espresso (Miyajima Coffee 8.25/10).
Dinner back in Hiroshima Tempura Tenko was noteworthy. The delicate and mouth-watering vegetable and seafood tempura was served individually right from the fryer and cut up and presented in front of us, together with directions as to use salt, lemon juice or miso. Even the squid was exceptionally tender and tasty!
Wildlife note: osprey fishing close to the torii
Food notes: Hiroshima Okonomiyaki – savoury pancake cooked on an iron hot plate with egg , vegetables including cabbage, and noodles with meat or seafood.
It was an emotional day, spent contemplating the horrors experienced by the people of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when, at 8:15 a.m., an atomic bomb was dropped on the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential area. That area is now covered by Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, a beautiful space designed for the purpose of promoting peace and to honour the memory of the 70,000 people who died immediately from the consequences of the intense heat, blast and radiation and a further 70,000 who died later. The names of all the known victims of the bomb are inscribed in the Cenotaph, while the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound contains the ashes of thousands of unclaimed or unidentifiable victims. Radiation led to further suffering of those who survived. About 1 in 10 of the dead were Koreans in Japan “for various reasons”. This phrase used in the Museum actually includes forced labour and so called “comfort women”. Non-Japanese could not obtain medical care after the attack nor assistance for the long term consequences of exposure until 1980.
The Children’s Peace Monument, a statue of a girl with outstretched arms with a folded paper crane rising above her, was poignantly strung with hundreds of tiny origami cranes made by children around the world. The monument was inspired by a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old at the time of the atomic bomb and is dedicated to all of the children who perished because of the bomb. When Sadako developed leukaemia at 11 years of age, she decided to fold 1000 paper cranes. The crane is the symbol of longevity and happiness and Sadako believed if she achieved that target she would recover. Although she folded 1300, she died within eight months. The Peace Flame is set to burn until all of the world’s nuclear weapons have been destroyed.
In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, we watched riveting video testimony of people who had survived, looked at personal items left by those who didn’t – tattered clothing, a child’s melted lunchbox, a wristwatch stopped at 8:15 – and saw exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombings. The museum also documents the development of the atomic bomb and nuclear arms and presents the current status of international efforts to reduce and eliminate the threat of use of such weapons.
The A Bomb Dome is the icon of the devastation. The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, built in 1915, was one of the few buildings to remain somewhat intact. The bomb was detonated 600 m above the Dome close to a T-shaped bridge which was used as the target.
Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Before the bombings, Japan was already developing terms of surrender. People were suffering from the results of fire bombing of major cities with shortages of food and other supplies and evacuation of children to the countryside. In 1946, when the US was occupying Japan, President Truman ordered the establishment of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima, to investigate the after effects of the atomic bomb. A-bomb survivors had high expectations that the Commission would treat their illnesses, but the body only performed examinations and research.
Japanese were again affected when fishers were exposed to radiation from nuclear tests in the Pacific in 1954.
Packing up our bikes for the train to Hiroshima, we decided that Rinko bags are designed for bikes without mudguards or back racks, both of which had to come off for the bikes to fit. We did end up with two reasonable packages that got us past the ticket barrier. There were no trolleys to be found at the station, so we had to do things in relays. We had purchased tickets for the green car as we had read that it has space behind the last seats for oversized luggage, ie, bikes; otherwise we would have had to lug our bike bags and panniers to the rearmost carriage. A guard kindly helped us get our panniers on board and position the bike bags (permission is required for luggage to be placed anywhere but the upper luggage racks). The Shinkansen (bullet) trains are really fast and we were in Hiroshima in just over an hour. Two taxis were needed to get to the hotel, each with one bike and one person!
The view from our room is of the Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome.
The bike bag saga continues! We intend to travel by train from Fukuoka to Hiroshima, where we will begin cycling to Kyoto. In order to take a bicycle on a train in Japan, it must be in a bag to protect the train and other passengers from any grit or grease. According to the blogs, every bike store in Japan sells Rinko bags. That is not strictly true, but we did find a choice at Y’s Cycles. The problem was that we could not read the labels and the staff were unable to communicate with us in English. We managed to find some information on the web and chose what seemed appropriate.
The rest of the day we spent with Rory and Sofia -lunch at the vegetarian cafe, Rota; a stop at the Fukuoka Contemporary Art Gallery, where we met the sculptor Hiromitsu Aramini and saw an exhibition of pieces he had done 20 years ago, modeled on his three children; and visits to the Suikyo Tenmangu and Kushida-jinja Shinto shrines (there was what appeared to be a baptism ceremony going on in the latter) and the Tōchō-ji Buddhist Temple, with its 10.8 metre high 30 tonne wooden Buddha. Although the temple dates back to 806 AD, the Buddha was carved in 1992. We also wandered through the peaceful grounds of the Shōfuku-ji Zen temple.
Dinner was an amazing affair. We had intended to go to the Fish Man, but finding it booked up, we decided to try another izakaya restaurant nearby, Hakata Suzuro. While the term “izakaya” is used to describe a casual tapas bar-type establishment, the dinner we ended up having was much more than tapas. It was a lavish set meal with multiple courses, including tiny shellfish, a meat stew with potatoes, carrots and onions; red snapper sashimi and raw octopus; cooked sea bream in a broth with tender Asian eggplant; various other vegetables; rice; seafood and vegetable tempura (including delicious lotus root), miso soup; smoked eggplant; finishing off with yuzu ice-cream and green tea. Sofia and Lois had a glass of chilled dry Sake, which came overflowing into small wooden boxes. The fact that Rory has some facility in Japanese helped us understand what we were eating (and to avoid the dish containing some sort of animal organs!). As we were leaving, the mother of the family business brought out her husband, the chef, and the son, one of the servers, to say goodbye and pose for photos.
One of the lessons we have learned in cycle touring is that “it’s never over until it’s over!” Often, this means that just when you think you’re getting near the end of a ride and beginning to anticipate that glass of wine or warm/cool shower, another hill suddenly materializes! In this instance, it was in getting ourselves and our bikes from Korea to Japan.
It started well. Our extraordinarily helpful hotel (Best Louis Hamilton) arranged a van taxi to take us to the International Cruise Ship Terminal, where we were booked on the fast (3-hour) walk-on ferry to Fukuoka. The first challenge was in getting to the departure level, one floor up from our drop-off point.The elevator we were waiting by kept arriving full, with many young mothers and babies in strollers coming up from the parking lot heading to a baby exhibition on the top floor. Luckily, we were eventually rescued by a guard who directed us to another less-used elevator. As we joined the queue of people checking in with Beetle ferries, we noticed the staff directing concerned looks at our two bike boxes perched on a trolley. They rushed over to ask what we were carrying and promptly told us we could not take our bikes on the ferry and that we should take another boat! When we protested that our hotel had checked with the company and that, at any rate, there was no other boat going to Fukuoka, they inspected and measured the boxes and asked us to wait, presumably to see how full the boat would be. 1/2 hour later, we were told that we could not board as the boxes were too big. We asked whether we could bring our bikes if they were in bags, but the answer was still no. The bikes were too big!
Plan B was to look at the later overnight ship to Shimonoseki, between Fukuoka and Hiroshima. This would mean bypassing Fukuoka, which we were a bit reluctant to do as we were meeting friends from Vancouver. Lois returned to report that our challenges were increasing – she was told that we could bring our bikes on their ferry but could only “ import” the bikes into Japan if we had a plane ticket to leave the country again! We did not think that this was either correct or feasible.
We decided to try plan C. Paul called Korean Air to book a flight leaving at 5:55 pm. It was now 3:00 and the airport was a 30 minute cab drive away. It was after 3:30 by the time the reservation was completed and neither of us was very calm at this point! Then we had to get back downstairs and try to find a taxi big enough to transport us and the bike boxes to the airport. Unusually, the waiting cab drivers were indifferent and seemed to be amused at our plight. When we suggested that we might take two cabs, this did not seem possible. A call to the Best Louis Hamilton Hotel (they will get an excellent Trip Advisor review!) was in order. 45 minutes later, a van arrived to pick us up.
We arrived at Busan International airport just before 5. We could have kissed the Korean Airlines official, who assured us that we could check our bikes. She also suggested that we could avoid some excess baggage costs by taking Lois’ panniers on as hand luggage and strapping Paul’s larger panniers together to make one checked bag. When we asked whether there were plastic bags to better protect our bikes, she directed us to a baggage packing service one floor up. The three young people at the packing service could not have been more helpful, cheerful and efficient. 30 minutes and a lot of bubble wrap later, we were on our way again downstairs to drop off the boxes and panniers. As we were heading towards the departure gates, we were called into a room where our bike boxes were being x-rayed. They had discovered that Paul had inadvertently left a small compressed air canister in with the bike tools! That was sorted out and the boxes were taped up again. Time was marching on, but luckily the flight was delayed by 15 minutes. So, on through security where a small wrench and Allen key longer than the 10 cm limit (just), were found in Paul’s bar bag! We really did need these tools to reassemble the bikes and said so. It was now 5:45! To our surprise, the security officials called a representative of Korean Airlines who came and inspected the offending articles, removed them and took them away. We were told we would get them back on deplaning! We were shown the envelope and given another baggage claim ticket as we boarded the plane, just in time!
The short flight and immigration in Fukuoka was smooth. While we were waiting for our checked bags, two attendants appeared pushing our bike bags on a trolley together with the envelope with the two tools – service indeed! The Japanese customs agents did search one of Paul’s bags and we had to wait for the bikes to be x-rayed again and then we were thanked for our cooperation and we were in Japan! Once outside, we were able to hire two taxis, one for us and one for the bikes, with no problem. At our hotel we were just going up to our (very tiny) room with bikes and panniers in tow when the receptionist came running after us to say we were bring upgraded to a larger room!
After all this, it was a relief and pleasure to be able to meet Rory and Sofia for a walk through downtown and dinner at a charming Nepalese establishment in
Our stay at Haeundae Beach did not permit any beach time, alas. The first day was rainy, so we spent the time doing laundry and planning ahead. We did have pleasant strolls along the beach front, however. Yesterday, we took the subway into the city to tour the high-end Lotte Department Store and Jagalchi fish market. We recalled the lively atmosphere of the market from when we had visited with Chris, in 2009. There is a an overwhelming abundance and variety of fish and seafood to choose from, all so attractively displayed. The vendors will cook for you to eat on site. We chose fresh grilled pollack, which was served with rice and banchan.
As much as we would have loved to spend more time in the market and shopping, we were preoccupied with acquiring bags to pack up our bikes for the ferry to Japan. With the help of our hotel, we had learned that the overnight ferry onto which we could have ridden our bikes does not start up again until May 30. The available faster boat requires that our bikes be packed as cargo. We searched for Japanese “Rinko” bags, but they do not seem to be available here or would have to be ordered. At the fourth bike store we visited, we were given discarded cardboard bike boxes. We don’t know whether these will be acceptable at the ferry terminal. Standing out on the street, waiting to flag down a cab to take us and the two boxes back to the hotel, Lois was skeptical that anyone would stop. Happily, a helpful taxi driver pulled up, instructed Paul to get in the back seat and then promptly wedged the two boxes in on top of him, much to the amusement of Lois and the driver!
Parkinson’s Disease Note:
Our efforts to contact officials in South Korea to discuss rehabilitation programs and PD were ultimately unsuccessful. Nor have we come across any studies on this aspect of PD.
One study concluded that the the prevalence of PD in South Korea is similar to that of Western countries (Prevalence of Parkinson’s disease in Korea. Seo WK, et al. J Clin Neurosci. 2007). Another study showed that major difficulties experienced by PD patients were physical (67%), psychiatric (60%) but severe difficulties were also experienced socio-economically; 52% in patients and 49% in caregivers, especially among patients in their fifties (58%) and those with their spouse (65%) as caregivers. The topmost need was the need to pay for new treatments for PD (62%), followed by relief of costs for other treatment (38%) and a family support system (31%).
(J Mov Disord 2017; 10(3): 109-115.
Patients and Their Caregivers’ Burdens for Parkinson’s Disease in Korea
Jong SB et al).
Also of note is that in one study, ninety-four (76%) patients in South Korea had used complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). The mean cost of CAM paid by patients (out-of-pocket costs) was 102.3 US Dollars (USD) per month, while medical costs of treatment for PD paid by patients (out-of-pocket costs) averaged 72.8 USD per month. The spectrum of CAM use included oriental medicines (76.6%), traditional food (44.7%), non-prescribed drugs (31.9%), traditional therapies (7.4%), massage (7.4%) and behavioral therapy (7.4%). The author suggested that the results show that a high proportion of Korean PD patients employed CAM, associated with high costs and serious side effects in some patients, although not having access to the complete article it was not possible to get an explanation for this statement (Use of complementary and alternative medicine by Korean patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Kim SR, et al. Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2009).
Yangsan to Busan (31 km by bike and 2 hours on the subway)
It is Buddha’s birthday today, a fitting end to our Korean cycle trip which we began on the anniversary of Paul’s accident in Italy. It has been really good to be back on our bikes on what has been the best cycle route of our trip! Kudos to the South Koreans for creating and maintaining such an impressive cycling infrastructure!
As we pedaled along the estuary of the Nakdong, the path became busier with road cyclists sporting the latest high tech gear, young men zipping by on scooters and segways, local cyclists and walkers, all out enjoying the national holiday. The calm of the countryside receded as we were soon surrounded by motorways, the riverside lined with tightly packed high rise apartments in the outskirts of South Korea’s second city.
We found the final certification centre at the Nakdonggang Estuary Weir. Although the cycle route is known as “Seoul to Busan” the end point of our 576 km ride was km 0! We savored the moment with a few other travellers, although in the busy plaza of the Nakdong River Cultural Centre, it was difficult to know how many, if any, of the other cyclists milling around had been on the cycle route.
While waiting for advice about how best to get through the city of Busan, we looked at an interesting exhibition there about the development of the flood defenses and the path. Though mostly in Korean, we did glean that the investment of 15 trillion KRW (18 billion CAD) had saved more than three times as much in flood damage prevention.
An official at the centre advised us that, as it was a holiday, bikes were allowed on the subway and that we should consider that option to reach our hotel in the Haeundae Beach area, approximately 30 kms. It took a couple of hours travelling, finding elevators and the right tracks and changing lines. Although the carriages were crowded at times, everyone was very polite and accepting of our bicycles and panniers. We met three English teachers on the train, including two from Canada!
On the way to dinner, we walked along the beach and past large sand sculptures, part of the Haeundae Sand Festival. Our meal at the tiny Italian restaurant, Lable, was exceptional. The restaurant is operated by two young Korean chefs, one who had trained in Sydney and Paris and the other in New Zealand.
We will stay in Busan close to the beach for a few days as we plan the next part of our journey.
Our breakfasts have consisted generally of yoghurt, purchased the night before from a mini-mart, instant Quaker Oats and Dorset Meusli, (that we happened to find in Gumi after finally depleting the Terra Breads Granola). As no espresso stops showed up on the route map today, we made espressos with our travelling Wacaco Minipress, a prized gift from our children.
Today’s ride was short and peasant, despite a bit of a headwind. The temperature was perfect. The path stayed close to the river, passing small villages with some traditional style houses, fields of barley and many greenhouses. We were again impressed with the cycling infrastructure, with long sections built out over the water. At one point along one of these sections, we noticed a sign referring to part of an ancient stone roadway still visible on the edge of the cliff. We think it was from the Josean Dynasty, but the Google translation of the sign did not appear reliable. As usual, passing cyclists almost invariably bowed and said hello (kyeseyo) and occasionally yelled out “hwaiting” an encouragement, which is apparently a Konglish misuse of the English word “fighting”. We responded appropriately.
Entering Yangsan, we discovered Blackup Coffee, where we enjoyed a second cup of good espresso (8.0/10). A local soft tofu restaurant near the hotel served us sizzling hot pots of tofu and vegetables, accompanied by rice and side dishes of kimchi and other local vegetables. The chef came out and smiled and thanked us for enjoying what she had prepared for us!
Tomorrow, we will arrive in Busan, the end of the cycle through Korea.
Video: Gimhae Nakdonggang Rail Park. Interesting use of the old bridge!
We were a bit optimistic in assuming that the trail was all “downhill” after the summit at Ihwaryeong Pass. Although we are following the Nakdong downstream, there are places where the path leaves the easy embankments and goes up into the hills. These roads are often extremely steep, forcing us to push our bikes.
When we started out this morning, It was bright and sunny, the path was flat and we were expecting to cycle the 30 kms to Namji for coffee at the Paris Baguette by 10. But, the path soon veered off into the hills again and put paid to that idea. Today, the inclines were long and steep or short and even steeper. When we finally did arrive at the Paris Baguette, we were disappointed to find they had neither tables, nor a proper espresso machine!
The rest of the afternoon was slightly easier, but we were getting tired by the time we got to Hanam-eup.
We should note how indispensable the Naver and KakaoMap apps have been. We got these on Shinyoung’s advice and would have been lost without them. In Korea, Google Maps is next to useless. This evening, using Naver, we found a local restaurant that serves only Chueo-tang -loach soup, a specialty of this region. Made from the fresh water pond loach, the soup is flavoured with chilies, garlic and mint or perilla powder. Served with rice and side dishes, it was delicious.
There were a lot of weekend cyclists on the path from Daegu. With a great tailwind, we sailed along, keeping up a good pace ahead of what appeared to be a local cycling club, all dressed in yellow shirts. We passed each other a few times throughout the morning. When we were asked our ages at the top of one of the two really steep hills, the younger cyclists were impressed! Their oldest member, a 67-year old man, seemed pleased that we three “oldies” were all holding our own! We also met another cyclist who had spent a year at U Vic as a prof.
The path was good although there were a number of steep climbs, the first with an incline of 12%. It appears that a tunnel is being built to replace this part of the trail, but unfortunately, it is not yet complete. The second long climb went below and then through and above a Buddhist Temple. As we struggled up, we could hear the chant of prayers being broadcast. It was calming for a short time!
Earlier, we had also passed the 17thC Dodong Seowon Confucian Academy, one of five built to pay tribute to a particular Confucian scholar of the Joseon Dynasty.
When we stopped for the day, we happened to find another motel catering to cyclists. So again, our bikes had their own locker. As we were told that the few restaurants served only meat dishes, supper was ramen noodles from a small shop, prepared by the proprietor and eaten outside with kimchi, courtesy of the restaurant next door.
Video: near the Buddhist Temple (Paul in the distance)
A 90 minute local bus trip took us from Daegu up into the mountains of Gayasan National Park where the Haeinsa Temple complex is located.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple contains a number of national treasures, including a three-story stone pagoda, a stone lantern, paintings of Buddha and other figures, and the oldest known wooden statutes of Buddha in Korea. But, Haeinsa’s most famous national treasure is the Tripitaka Koreana (the Goryeo Buddhist canon). The Tripitaka, which represents the three divisions of Buddhism: the Sutra (scriptures), Vinaya (laws) and the Abhidharma (treatises), has been preserved on more than 80,000 carved woodblocks, which took 16 years to complete. According to our “Smart Tour Guide” app, it is believed that for the 11 th century Korean Buddhists, “the project of carving the Buddhist scriptures was their only defense to protect their country against a formidable enemy via their spiritual and cultural superiority”.
After the first set was destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1232, a reconstructed set was completed in 1251. From carefully selecting appropriate wood from wild cherry or Korean pear trees, then soaking it in brine and boiling it in salt before drying it, to locating and constructing a sophisticated repository, the techniques involved are complex and the artwork intricate. The woodblocks are housed and preserved in a 15th-century hall which, due to it’s ingenuity, also has UNESCO World Heritage designation. We could see the carved texts through wooden slats in the building.
In September 1951, North Korean soldiers were conducting guerilla warfare in the Haeinsa area. UN forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa but Kim Young Hwan, the leader of the Air Force’s pilots, worried about the loss of the Haeinsa Tripiṭaka Koreana, did not obey the command.
The river path was lovely but it was hot (around 30oC) and humid and we had a headwind, so we we were glad to finish the short ride. We are staying in Daegu for a couple of nights to visit Haein-sa Temple, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana, or Goryeo Buddhist canon, one of the world’s most significant Buddhist sacred texts.
After checking in to the cute February boutique hotel, we took a cab into the city centre to
explore Daegu’s historic herbal medicine market. One long street was filled with traditional medical pharmacies and shops selling a huge variety of plants – roots, bark, leaves and powders – and animal parts, including antlers. We were too late for the Museum of Oriental Medicine, where we would have learned the uses of these products and had an opportunity to participate in hands-on experience programs.
By chance, we happened upon the Mido Tea Shop where we enjoyed cups of ssanghwa-tang, a traditional medicinal beverage made from many types of root, cinnamon and liquorice.
For dinner, after we could not find a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, we stopped at a small Vietnamese restaurant and had shrimp fried rice (the only dish without meat!) and Hanoi beer.
Coffee notes: Cafe de Botton: best espresso in Korea so far 8.5/ 10
The Four Rivers cycle path system is a small part of a massive rivers restoration project began in 2002, to provide « water security, flood control and ecosystem vitality ». We have pedaled many kilometres along extensive flood barriers, past artfully designed weirs, huge tracts of well organized agricultural land, parks and wetlands, underneath motorways and into cities like Gumi, that are home to plants of industrial giants like Samsung and LG and dominated by multiple high rise apartment blocks.
It is hard to imagine that only 65 years ago, this land was devastated. The Korean Peninsula had been under brutal occupation by Japan from 1910 until 1945. Following the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Korea was then occupied and divided by the Allied victors, the US and USSR. During the ensuing Korean War, armies representing north and south ( or east and west) battled their way across this land a number of times, destroying much of the existing infrastructure – roads, bridges, government buildings, including 50% of the houses. Civilian casualties were estimated to be 2.7 million. For those who managed to survive, most were destitute. At the end of the 1950’s, South Korea’s GDP per capita was less than $100. Life expectancy was around 54 years. In one generation, by what is referred to as the Miracle on the Han River, the South Korean economy has grown to become the 11th largest in the world, with a GDP per capita of $39,276. Today, South Koreans can expect to live at least 82 years. An emphasis on access to education has been a critical aspect of South Korea’s success story. In 1945, only 5% of Koreans had post-secondary or equivalent qualifications. By the 1990’s, this number was over 90% for South Koreans.
Over the past two days and evenings, the air was filled with the unnerving and deafening roar of fighter jets. We assumed this was a normal exercise, and not, we hoped, an escalation of tensions on the peninsula. We later read on CBC that North Korea had suspended talks with the South over US and South Korean air combat drills described as a “provocative military ruckus”. From the ground it certainly did not seem like a peaceful exercise!
Today, we met some fellow bike tourists, Lynn and Dave, from Bristol. They have been travelling since last year through Europe, Indonesia and Japan, and are now cycling/camping from Busan to Seoul.
Although the blogs and guide books don’t recommend the industrial city of Gumi, we have found a decent hotel and will take a day off to do laundry and, hopefully, avoid the worst of the thunderstorms forecast.
It was a hot day for cycling (around 31oC). We had hoped to do around 80km today to Gumi, but a wrong turn and the climbing temperature resulted in many stops and sapped energy. At the Sangponggyo Bridge, we joined the Nakdong River, the longest river and longest cycling path in Korea. The path was good but it soon divided and we learned later that we had taken the less good route. This involved a long climb up from the river, which was so steep we couldn’t push our bikes fully loaded, so had to wheel our bikes up and then return for our panniers. We know that we miss a lot not reading Korean and today we felt this more than ever as there may well have been warnings. The detour did, however, offer us really good views of the river and a tour through Gyeongcheondae Terrace Park (meaning “Even heaven was taken aback by its beauty”) with its charming sculptures. We ate our sandwiches in the lovely grounds of the Sangju Museum. When we eventually rejoined the main path, we passed by a 17th C Confucian Academy and through farmlands of newly-seeded rice fields.
We decided to stop near Sangju and look for a pension or motel, not expecting much in the small village. By chance, we found a motel which caters to cyclists. Our bikes have individual lockers for the night! The local restaurant served us delicious seafood noodles which was the non-meat alternative. We did not eat the baby octopus!
Historical note: Mungyeong was the site of a massacre of unarmed people accused of being communist sympathizers. In 2011 the Supreme Court eventually agreed to reparations.
Each time we begin a new cycle trip, we wonder if we are finding it harder then last time, whether our stamina is decreasing. Starting this trip we were particularly conscious of these thoughts, having been off our bikes for a year. Happily, we felt great today, despite two arduous climbs, and confident that we could both put in much longer days again, when necessary.
After coffee at Gloria Jeans and a Facetime chat with the Victoria crew, we stopped to get our cycle route passports stamped at the Suanbo certification centre and then immediately began an ascent towards Ihwaryeong Pass in the Baekdudaegan Mountain Range. The ride involved two long, steep and winding climbs in quick succession, the second one 5km. On the way back down the first hill, we stopped to view the 1000 year-old Wonpung-ri stone relief carvings of Buddhas, on a 12-meter-high boulder-face near the highway.
On the second hill, 2 kms from the top we were passed by a road cyclist, who tried to encourage us by telling us we only had two more kilometres to go! He does this hill up and down every weekend. When we reached the top, the cyclist, Mr. Kwon, greeted us each with a can of peach juice. We had also been passed by a younger couple and soon we were all taking photos together. Then, it was a fast 5 km descent and back on to paths and quiet riverside roads beside village rice fields and orchards into Mungyeong. From here to Busan we will now be gradually descending.
We decided to make it a short day, which was just as well as it rained steadily throughout the ride and for the rest of the day. The Namhangang River Trail ended for us at Tangeumdae Park just outside Chungju. This is where the royal court musician Ureuk of the Silla Kingdom used to play his gayageum (traditional Korean string instrument). Ureuk is recognized as one of the three most celebrated musicians of all time in Korea.
We are now on the Saejae Bicycle Path which will take us over the Ihwaryeong Pass of the Baekdudaegan Mountain Range. We climbed gradually until we reached the hot springs village of Suanbo. Although still apparently popular for its thermal pools and healing waters, the town’s infrastructure appears somewhat dated. We are staying in the Suanbo Hot Spring Land Hotel, which has pools and saunas in its basement. Segregated by gender, no clothes are the norm. It felt good to shed our soggy rain gear and soak our still sore muscles in the 41C waters.
For lunch we again found a tofu restaurant. The number of side dishes (banchan), which even exceeded yesterday’s meal, included what we assumed are the wild mountain vegetables and herbs commonly served in this area. (For carnivores, the region is famous for pheasant and rabbit.) As we relaxed over the meal, the women who were cooking and serving us were preparing tiny shellfish that looked like periwinkles.
The lunches are so filling (or we are not cycling far enough!) that we are not very hungry in the evenings, so dinner again was snacks from our food bag.
We have now been asked three times how old we are. The first was yesterday when a young man at Dumulmeori observed that our cycling is a “happy end of life”. This was a bit disconcerting, but we know what he meant. Today, at the top of a hill after a steep climb, we chatted with a couple of cyclists who appeared to be our age. He, in fact, was 75 and his wife was 72. He told us he has cycled from Seoul to Busan every year for the past 7 years. Again, in the restaurant this evening, the proprietor asked Paul his age when we told him that we were cycling to Busan!
On the way to see Silleuksu Temple this morning, we were cycling on the sidewalk of a narrow street. We were slightly concerned when a Police car stopped next to us and the officer rolled down his window. But, he apparently just wanted to say hello and wished us luck on our trip! We noticed a lot of activity on the way to the temple and saw a sign indicating a World ceramic festival was about to open. Yeoju is known as a major center of contemporary South Korean ceramics, and hosts the World Ceramic Exposition every year.
Silleuksu Temple, on the other hand, was quiet. It is a peaceful and contemplative place, a sacred pilgrimage site overlooking the river. The temple complex dates from the Silla period (57 BC to 934 AD), but was largely refurbished in the 15thC. A 500-year-old aromatic juniper tree and a 600-year-old ginkgo tree stand on the temple grounds.
The cycling was great again, although the route joined the highway more often today and we had more hills. But, the traffic was generally light and the roads good. We passed through agricultural land with many fruit trees, rice fields and crops of various products including garlic, sweet potatoes, corn, beans (or peanuts?).
We stopped in Buron for lunch at the Daori Haesu tofu restaurant where we had a wonderful vegetable-filled meal, with multiple side dishes including quail eggs. The sizzling rice was topped with walnuts, fava beans, persimmon and pumpkin seeds.
This evening, we asked the hotel receptionist to call a taxi so that we could go and eat in Chungju. He soon arrived at the the front of the hotel and drove us himself and also came back to pick us up.
Wildlife notes: Common Cuckoo – seen vocalizing in flight
We were pleased to discover that the Korean chain, the Paris Baguette, is found in most reasonable-sized towns. Breakfast this morning was delicious whole-wheat fruit and nut bread with cream cheese, croissants and decent espresso. Not very Korean but a good start to the day! We did have Korean fare for lunch – a tasty dish of cold buckwheat noodles in a spicy red pepper dressing, with a boiled egg. This dish, “makguksu”, we later read, is the local specialty of Cheonseori Village, near Ipobo Weir, where we happened to go off the path in search of food. Paul was impressed when Lois went up to a military police officer to ask where we might find a “leseutolang” (레스토랑) (restaurant). (Lois only remembered this word, having learned it on the Air Canada Berlitz program, as it sounded to her like “sit down”!)
Before heading off in the morning, we visited Dumulmeori at the confluence of the Bukhanhang (north Han) and Namhangang (south Han). It is a calm and pretty spot with a 400 year old Zelkova tree on the bank. It also appears to be the place for couples’ photos, so we put on the two t-shirts that were gifts from Sunyoung, Shinyoung’s sister, and posed. The writing on the shirts reads “beautiful wife” and “handsome husband”!
It was a great ride again, mostly flat except for a short very steep up and down section and only brief stretches on side roads. We are gradually climbing, however, though it is not very apparent.
The weir at Ipobo is one of three on the Namhangang River which are all of architectural interest. The second at Yeoju, which we crossed, has features designed to look like cheugugi – the first rain gauge invented by King Sejong the Great. We should see the third tomorrow.
At one point, we heard load engine noises and saw between the path and river perhaps 150 armoured tanks (less than 10% of the army’s capacity).This was a bit unnerving, but the soldiers directing the tanks across our path were polite and smiling.
Our hotel (much nicer and cleaner than last night, at 1/2 the price) overlooks the river. On the opposite bank we can see the Silleuksa Temple, which we hope to visit tomorrow morning.
It is one year to the day since we stopped cycling in Italy. It was a real delight to be on our bikes again. After a second coffee, we set off on the bike route alongside the Cheonggyecheon stream. Initially, the traffic was heavy, but soon we were on a dedicated paved bicycle path along the Han River (Hangang). The Hangang cycle path is one of four cycle routes recently constructed on disused railway lines along the major rivers of Korea . These paths will take us nearly all the way to Busan. We purchased a “passport” enroute and there are kiosks on the way where one can stamp the book to prove passage – very organized! Lunch was ramen noodles cooked on an automatic device outside the mini-market. We just followed everyone else’s example!
We booked a pension for the first night – on a small farm; one room with a kitchenette. This particular one is not very impressive. We will try a motel tomorrow!
We first visited Seoul in 2007 and 2009, when our son Chris was teaching English here and later, attending Yonsei University. As Chris was a good tour guide, we arrived this time with some sense of what to expect in this city of 25 million people. Again, we are impressed with the cleanliness, order and efficiency by which this vibrant and bustling metropolis appears to run. Two changes are immediately evident – the results of an emphasis on “greening” the city and a proliferation of coffee shops!
Our hotel (Nine Tree, a Lonely Planet recommendation) was in a great location in the heart of Myeongdong, within walking distance of Insa-dong and Gyeongbokgung palace. We spent some time getting over jet lag, reassembling our bikes and arranging with DHL for our bike bags to be sent to Japan to be retrieved later. The latter activity took some researching and negotiation, as we needed to ensure the bags can be held in Kyoto for several weeks until our arrival.
Saturday was Children’s Day, a national holiday celebrated on May 5. As we walked beside the Han River, we saw hundreds of small tents along the banks where families were picnicking and enjoying the festivities.
The highlight of our arrival in Seoul was meeting Shinyoung’s sister, Sunyoung, and family and re-uniting with their mother, near Osan. Together, we visited the site of the 18th C Joseon Dynasty Yungneung and Geolleung Royal Tombs at Hwaseong. They are a UNESCO World Heritage site, set in a beautiful lush and peaceful forest. Lunch was delicious and classic Korean fare with many fish, meat and vegetable dishes, sauces and condiments. It was a delightful visit.
We also enjoyed spending a couple of hours in the Seoul Museum of Art, our first visit. Of particular interest was an exhibition, “With weft, with Warp”, that uses the media of thread (embroidery, knitting, weaving, needlework) to explore issues relating to women and society and the value placed on “handiwork” traditionally created by women. A number of recent acquisitions of surrealist paintings gave us a glimpse of the pro-democratization movement of the 1980s.
We had expected to meet with someone from the Korean Movement Disorders Society today but our contact, a neurologist, was unavailable at the last moment. As we are keen to start cycling tomorrow, we will try connect with local rehabilitation specialists by phone along the way.