Sunday, 20 September 2009

Day 849 - San Francisco (USA)

Sunday morning arrived all too quickly but it turned out to be a very long day, literally.

As we sat at breakfast Christine asked “Do you think the taxi will turn up on time to take us to the airport?”, a timely question, the driver had just turned up at reception 15 minutes early. Sunday is a good day to travel as there is little traffic on the roads. The estimated 70-120 minute journey took just 45. That turned out to be a God send, we were pushed for time in the end. Having weighed baggage and rearranged things so that nothing was over the weight limit, we checked in one after the other, no problems. At least no problems, until we tried to go through security as they wouldn’t let Christine go through with her saddle in hand baggage as apparently it is a dangerous weapon. I couldn’t really argue with that, if the saddle isn’t positioned correctly you can soon get a very sore arse, though I was surprised that security realised the problem too. We had to dash back to check in to try and get it checked in as normal baggage. It did cost a few dollars, though only half as much as they originally wanted as we argued we had been under the weight limit. Back we went and over to the boarding gates on a little train. Thankfully our gates were just 2 apart and departure times just 15 minutes apart. We had little time to get emotional about going our separate ways after 7 ½ months together through Southern Australia, New Zealand, Japan and finally Korea. We hugged and shed a few tears, the just minutes later my finally memory of Christine was as she turned and waved vigorously, a big smile on her face. I am sure we will meet again some day, probably on a walk somewhere, at least then I will have to shed baggage weight so she will no longer be able to joke about my 40kgs of ’crap’.

My flight left at about 13:15 on 13th September. As we taxied I watched Christine’s Aeroflot aircraft take off with just one plane between us, she soon disappeared into the clouds. My flight was a short one to Beijing, then a longer one to San Francisco. After around 13hrs of flying and passing through the night we landed at SF at 13:05 on 13th September having crossed the International Dateline. I always seem to pick the slow line at immigration, which probably meant he was a bit more thorough than the others, he certainly was in my case as he sent me to secondary immigration for further questioning. I was grilled on all sorts, where I had been, where was I going, “Give me a detailed itinerary of your plans in USA”. That was a tricky one, I couldn’t really answer truthfully “I dunno, I haven’t decided yet” probably wouldn’t help my cause. More question followed, “what’s your job?”, “who do you work for?”. “I am not working at the moment, I have been travelling for 2 years” never goes down well. “So you are unemployed. Did you lose your job in the global recession?” “How much money are you carrying?” was another one, to which my answer of “Sod all really” didn’t go down too well either. “So you are cycling are you, which route” he asked. “Probably through the southern states to Florida, then up the east coast to New York” I replied. “So you will fly from Florida?”, “No, no, by bike”. “How long will it take?”, “Dunno, but hopefully no more than the 6 months that I am asking for” . I was in need of a little help, then it arrived unexpectedly with a voice from behind me “Mr Harwood, do you have a bike? It is waiting at carousel 5 for you”. It was probably pure coincidence but following that I was very quickly given the 6 months entry permit I was after. I was escorted to my bike, everybody else had long since gone. Flying with a bike seems to be getting more and more difficult.

Having arrived at 13:15 and finally put the bike back together I departed the airport at 16:30. Within just a few kilometres I was feeling that immigration had done a crap job, they shouldn’t have let me in, I had already broken the law 3 times. Firstly I couldn’t seem to get away from the airport without using a freeway where bikes are not welcome and no cyclist would wish to be anyway, then when I did get off I found myself in an industrial area, empty being Sunday. The traffic lights couldn’t sense the bike, I had to jump red a number of times. Then I whizzed down the hill breaking the 25mph speed limit. Heading into San Francisco wasn’t easy for me. Information at the airport was so different to Korea and Japan where they were so helpful, here the woman seemed very put out that I should ask her a question, it WAS Sunday after all. So I had one map of downtown which I never used, 4 street names I needed to look for in Berkeley and a mental picture of the place and the Bay Bridge to take me across to Berkeley. Apart from the industrial area where I did a couple of laps it all went remarkably well, though would have been a nightmare in a non English speaking country. For the first time in over 2 years I am behind UK time, by 8 hours. It felt very strange, as I looked at the time my little brain was telling me it was 6pm yesterday…hang on, that can’t be right! I found my way to the bridge but it doesn’t cater for bikes, they all go on BART, the underground, so once again I was taking 40kg of crap gingerly down flights of steps. Once underground I latched onto another couple of cyclists who knew what they were doing. They even had to show me how to buy a ticket. In Seoul it was so easy, but here there seemed to be no way of buying a ticket cheaper than $15 for the $4 journey, even the locals struggled to help me. So having been relieved to $15 we went the rest of the way down with a lift. Lots of bikes use BART, bikes were in every carriage, nobody batted an eyelid. We passed through the station of MacArthur, later that evening I was to see the same name again and it turned out to be the same MacArthur we had learned so much about in South Korea, the general that masterminded the Incheon landing during the Korean War. My two cycling friends even got off at the same stop as me, I thanked them, and as it was getting dark I cycled off in the rain. Despite everybody telling me how dry California is, I was greeted with a very wet evening. I was after Santa Fe Ave, nobody knew exactly where it was but they did mention the other roads on my list of 4 and before long I was knocking on the front door of Dan and Wendy, I was Couch Surfing again. I had landed on my feet, they made me very welcome straight away, I even have a bedroom and bathroom to myself, none of this couch stuff. I was glad to arrive, the end of a very long day. Jet lag never normally bothers me, but I couldn’t sleep at all, I spent most of the night reading or pottering about, then had another go at sleeping. I eventually went to sleep at about 4am then woke at about 9:30 feeling totally knackered. Such is life.

So what can I tell you about San Francisco? Firstly I can tell you that my fist impressions turned out to be totally correct….it is a city. It’s a city I have always wanted to visit, so many of the places are recognisable from pictures I have seen and programmes on the television, some were totally new. I checked out Fisherman’s Wharf, I was looking for pier No.39. All the others leading to it looked perfectly normal, boats were docked at some, others were lined with restaurants, but No.39 was different. The wharf is famous for its sea lions, hundreds of them, crammed on, sleeping together in such a mass that occasionally one would fall off. I made the trip across Golden Gate Bridge, a classic sight if ever there was one. It reminded me of the Severn Bridge, though tourists come flocking here, hundreds on hired bikes, even more on foot. I rode across the far side and viewed it from the cliffs above before it disappeared in fog. By the time I was back over the other side it was beautifully clear again, ain’t that typical! I have always wanted to see the bridge, but I was a bit disappointed with it, to me it always seemed so fantastic, it was supposed to be much better than the Severn Bridge. The hills of San Francisco were even more impressive than I expected. From the map you can’t tell where they are, the whole city is laid out on a grid system, the roads continue straight no matter how steep it gets, and it does get steep. The only flat bits around are the little squares of road that form the centre of the crossroads. If you live here you know how to do a proper hill start in the car. They were great streets to wander around each street being different and inviting. There are nice churches too, Grace Cathedral being a kaleidoscope of stained glass. And now for a little story, a very little one this one. Years ago, when I was a kid, I can remember doing a jigsaw of some old houses with the city beyond. I always loved the picture, though at that age I didn’t really care for where it was. I don’t know when, but I found out it was in San Francisco, whilst here I just had to visit it. It didn’t get a mention in the guide book I have just bought, so I made another trip to the book shop and I found a picture of the place and the name of the street. I paid a visit (photo), I still love the scene, in fact it is my favourite photo of all the pictures I have taken here, still exactly the same as I remember from the jigsaw years ago. I visited it twice, I was blessed with great weather on both occasions, and I left very happy both times. Across the bay linked by the 5 mile Bay Bridge is Berkeley, home of the University, just a short hop from San Francisco. Dan took me for a trip around in the car, the place is just as hilly, though once over the crest of the hill the place is a wilderness, you are a world away from the city wandering through the hills and Redwood forest, then back at the hill crest you can look across the bay to the city beyond, hard to believe that it so close. I have quickly grown very fond of San Francisco and the bay area, I think I will be hard pushed to find a city in the US that I like better.

And what about the city’s people? The place is very diverse, I still had the ability to ask for directions and get a shrug of the shoulders and the answer of “No English”. There are people here from all over the world and so many from Mexico that you even see signs in Spanish. Life of the streets is exactly how I had imagined it with street talk that is English that seems to make no sense to me, though I have seen an alarming amount of people that seem to be talking to themselves, perhaps nobody else understands them either.

Unlike Britain, the US doesn’t feel the same need to go metric. I am back in a land of miles, a place where people have no clue what you mean if you talk in metres and millimetres. There are even road signs for hazards ’500 ft ahead’. They weigh in pounds and ounces, but have no idea about stones, you body weight is talked about as, say, 150 pounds. Everything in the shops are measured in pounds, I am finding it all a bit confusing at the moment.

It seems quite a cycle and pedestrian friendly place to me. Bikes are allowed on BART and all buses have bike racks on the front. On most streets junctions there are crossing points for pedestrians and no given right of way for vehicles. So pedestrians go first, but vehicles slow down almost to a stop anyway to check for other cars. This is all well and good and very safe for pedestrians, that is until I get on my bike. I still haven’t quite adjusted to it, I forget and wonder why people step out right in front of me….don’t they understand, I will mow ‘em down!

Dan and Wendy have been great and reminded me just why I loved Couch Surfing so much in Australia. They have made their home my home, their friends my friends. The took me out to a sort of ‘house nightclub’ where a live group played to a small audience of about 40 or 50 sat around and lounging of sofas. Dan has shown me around in the car and even taken me to a gym for the first time in my life. It made me realise just how useless my arms are, I shan’t go again!

So what happens now? Well shortly I set off on the final leg of my journey, at least right now I assume it is the final leg, you can never tell what might happen. The final destination is New York. I have mixed feelings about the journey, it feels the same as when I was about to set out across Australia from Darwin, the USA is a big place, but at the same time it only feels a very short time before I return home. I am sure some wonderful experiences are ahead of me, I look forward to them with relish, though I am not looking forward to the winter.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Day 842 - Time in Seoul

With a few days to look around Seuol we did our best to see some of the main sights and some of the more diverse sight too.

The first stop was a short metro ride out to Gyeingbokgong Palace. Seoul has 5 palaces, we weren’t intending to visit them all, but this one was a good introduction. We timed our arrival well, we had a little time to see the changing of the guards (photo) before being taken on a guided tour. Our guide was excellent. She really showed an interest in everything about the palace and gave me the impression that she was more of an historian than just a guide. The place was massive. As we entered I told Christine that it reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing, but it seems I wasn’t the only one to think that, our guide told us that the Japanese also thought the same thing as they arrive to burn the place down. Style and colour wise it was all very similar to the temples we have visited, it just differed greatly in use. Afterwards a short walk took us past the Ministry of Unification, now someone has a tough job there, and onto a Christian church that would have looked more in place in Italy than in the centre of Seoul. We ate at a nice little restaurant before heading into a supermarket to buy dessert of ice cream. A voice from behind said “Hello, remember me?” Amazingly it was the Japanese cyclist we had met as we were going into Hiroshima. At the time he had told us he was heading home, but it seems he didn’t stay there too long, either that or he took a wrong turning.

We checked out the Martyrs Memorial, renovated and reopened just a few days ago. This is where the Koreans dried to snuff out Christianity by killing all the Christians. Across the road was the Missionaries Cemetery, one stone reading “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey”. An art museum was next, the Leeum Samsung Museum, the most expensive art museum in town. It was better for the building and the way it displayed things rather than the objects themselves.

After a day of no palaces we checked out the Changdeokgang Palace, another guided tour but oh so different. Our guide was about as boring as you could wish to be, it rubbed off on the people she was showing around. I was just thinking “These palaces are all the same, I am not sure I can stomach another” when Christine chipped in with “This is soooo boring, I don’t think we should visit any more palaces”. They are massive places and very impressive, but here you can get “palaced out”. We called in at Seodamun Prison. Christine loves her history, so being idle I will copy odd bit from her blog:

I have done so much interesting sightseeing lately that I cannot spare you another lesson in Korean history - it is just too fascinating.

Chapter 1: It is all the Japanese's fault or Seodamun Prison in Seoul: Korea became a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and a colony in 1910 and the Japanese who had only very recently been "awakened" themselves by the Americans modernized Korea within years. Modern textile, steel and chemical industries emerged along with new railroads, highways and ports. By 1940 the Japanese owned 40% of the land and there were 700,000 Japanese living and working in Korea. This modernization left Korea much more developed in 1945 than for example Vietnam under the French, but Korea had to pay a high price for that: Japan tried to destroy the Korean sense of national identity. Koreans were forced to change their names and not speak Korean. Millions of Koreans were used as "mobile human fodder" for the Japanese doing forced labour in Japanese mines or forced into prostitution as "comfort women" for Japanese soldiers in WW II. Any resistance was brutally suppressed and this is where the Seodamun Prison comes in. The Japanese built this prison in the early 1900s and it was soon filled to the brim with male and female Korean resistance fighters who were brutally tortured and executed. The prison has been restored with a lot of effort and after visiting it I could understand very well why the Koreans still dislike the Japanese. Koreans love life-size models in their museums and therefore this prison is full of torture exhibits with a lot of fake blood and piercing screams - definitely not for the faint of heart....

Back to me: We headed for the Coex Mall, just a mall really but inside it was an unusual museum the likes of which are unlikely to be found outside Korea. This was a Kimchi Museum. It pickled stuff, mainly cabbage with fish juice….hmmm, delicious! The Koreans love it and it is very unusual not to have a small pile of it served with every meal, breakfast included. In case you hadn’t had enough during meals, you even got to sample more of the stuff on the way through.

I think the highlight for both of us was the day trip to the DMZ. This is the Demilitarized zone, and covers the length of the border between the north and the south, stretching 2kms each side making it 4km wide. Over to Christine:

Chapter 4: The daily war at the border or the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone): A definite highlight of our travels in Korea was a trip to the DMZ. The way these tours are conducted are very telling. First of all only foreigners are allowed into the DMZ itself. You have to take a tour and even have to obey a dress code: No jeans, sandals, provocative T-shirts and no 'Gangster look'. You even have to change buses to get into the JSA (Joint Security Area) itself, which is shared by Southerners, Northerners and the peacekeeping nations. In the DMZ the war goes on a little bit every day giving the whole area an eerie feeling. We were told not to communicate at all with the Northern soldiers, even if they show us a middle finger.... The Southerners all wear sunglasses (so they can avoid direct eye contact if they end up in a staring contest with their neighbours), stand around in a sort of aggressive Taekwando position (looks more frightening) and have ball bearings in their trouser seams (their tingling makes them sound more in number than they actually are). And the Northerners are not short of provocative actions: In 1978 they brutally killed two American soldiers who wanted to prune a tree in the JSA (it was blocking their sight)- with an axe, later known as the axe murder incident. They erected a flag post in their propaganda village close to the border and when the Southerners built an even higher flag post, they responded with an even bigger one. Right now we are at 100 m in the South and 165 m in the North (with a 35 m long flag!). In order to infiltrate or even attack the South they built various tunnels under the border, one of which tourists can visit. When the tunnel was discovered, they claimed it was an old coal mine - but unfortunately this area consists of granite and there is no coal whatsoever. The most 'hilarious' accident however took place pretty recently in the joint conference room in the JSA where you can actually cross 2 meters into North Korea - the room is literally built on the border (photo). On the Southern room side flags of the UN nations participating in the Korean War were displayed until the visit of President Bush. What had happened? During the visit two North Korean soldiers tore down the American and South Korean flag to clean their shoes and blow their nose with it..... Now the South has substituted the flags with plastic plaques...

And back to me: As we rode out on the bus we were given very specific instructions, my favourite of which was “DO NOT take any photographs unless you are told to do so!”….you will enjoy yourself! We swapped buses and were taken to Camp Boniface. There we passed the most dangerous golf course in the world, it had mine fields all around which I guess were put there to stop any disputes on whether your shot is out of bounds or not. The mines have since been removed and the course is still used, though there is only one hole. Once back it fitted in well that we should visit the War Memorial Museum, especially as it was just across the road. Christine:

Chapter 2: The Korean War or the Korean War Memorial Museum: We should have been warned: This museum would be big. But it was not big, it is huge! It took us 3 hours to work our way through learning everything we always wanted to know about the Korean War and did not dare to ask. In fact we learnt more than we ever wanted to know and were totally knackered afterwards. To sum it up this is what happened: After 1945 Korea was divided into a Communist North and Capitalist South with the goal to have joint elections soon . Only that this never happened. By 1949 both the Soviets and the Americans had withdrawn their troops. North Korea's Kim Il Sung launched a surprise attack on South Korea on 25 of June, 1950, when the border was almost unguarded: The South Korean troops had been dispatched to help the farmers during rice planting season... The North Korean army swept over the South and occupied almost the whole Korean peninsula. For the first time in history the UN authorized a military intervention and asked its members for military help which came mostly from the Americans. And this is when General Douglas Mac Arthur enters the world stage again at the tender age of 70. He is extremely successful and turns the war around with his famous Incheon landing. Unfortunately, the Chinese did not like that and entered the war on the North Korean side. For 3 years the war is waging back and forth and Seoul alone changes hands four times. Soon both sides realised that no one could win this war but truce talks took 2 years until an armistice was finally signed in 1953. The South Korean government never signed this armistice as they did not want the war to end without re-unification. After 3 years and 1 one month of war and 4 million people had died, North and South Korea were divided more or less at the same demarcation line as in 1945....

Time was running out for us. I packed Christine off to do a bit more sight seeing whilst I stopped around and just packed. Guess what? There is more from Christine (I am being very lay today!):

The end is near or I am going to have a break

Tomorrow I will fly back (home?) to Germany. I could say "the end is near", but I do not want to look at it like that. Sounds too final and this will not be a final return for me.

I have travelled much longer than I had ever anticipated mostly due to the fact that I have met John and we got sidetracked a lot just having too much fun. I had planned to be back by mid-May and now it will be mid-September. I had never planned to cycle in New Zealand. I wanted to cycle 1 or 2 months in Japan and it turned out to be 3 months. I never even thought of going to Korea. But I had a wonderful time. And I would do the exact same thing again...

In fact I enjoyed it so much that I can't stop it. Also the US$ exchange rate is just too good to be missed - I just have to go to the US again. Probably the Florida Trail and the Arizona Trail will be next and I will fly to Miami around Christmas. So flying back to Germany is not the end of the trip, but just a break. A holiday from a holiday so to speak.

The hardest part is parting from John. For the last 7 months we have been together 24/7 - sometimes arguing, but mostly having a great time. He will fly on to San Francisco to finish his cycle trip around the world. I do hope to meet him again some time - we have a lot of ideas for future trips.

So tomorrow a wonderful chapter of this trip will end, but I am already looking forward to the next one.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Day 839 - Seoul

It was another hot day when we left Jeondongjin, in fact it was hot the whole way to Seoul. The first part rolled nicely along the coast before we waved goodbye to the sea for the last time. We were heading for the large city of Gangneung, when we spotted an apple seller at the road side. There was a huge pile of apples which were then put into large bags, though we just picked out four and asked how much it would be. He just waved his hand nonchalantly, we could have them for nothing. In Gangneung we did little other than stop at the market for lunch and top up our food supplies as we weren’t sure when we would reach another reasonably sized place. Before long we had turned onto the nice quiet route 456 and just a few kilometres further we reached a large museum in the middle of nowhere, so we called in. It contained loads of Buddhist statues and piles of goodies from the Joseon period, around 12th to 18th century. It was never going to be a highlight of Korea, but as we had nothing to visit until we reached Seoul we were glad to have called in. Once we left we were climbing, it was getting latish so we turned off the road, went under a gate and climbed up a steep concrete road to find a nice spot to camp in the woods.

The following morning we were surprised to be disturbed by dogs, a guy was out to take them for a walk. We saw them again at the gate as we left, he had four of them and drove off with two of them in the boot and the boot wide open. We carried on climbing. Near the top was a car pull in and a nice view back down to the coast. There were a couple of guys in national costume, so we made the most of the situation and took some photos, then he made the most of it too by insisting on more photos with Christine’s arm around him. From the top we rode along a bit of a plateau, not particularly high at around 750m, but it must still get pretty cold here in winter as the place was a big ski area including 2 massive ski jumps. We were heading for Woljeongsa Temple in the Odaesan National Park. We stopped for lunch a little before the temple and a look at a map on the wall while we waited for our food. I was a little surprised to see that the road we were taking to the other side of the park wasn’t on it. I asked the guy working there who spoke a little English, if it existed. He assured us it didn’t and gave us the signal for ‘no’ by forming a cross with his forearms, something we would see a number of times during the afternoon as we asked anybody who might have reliable information. The temple itself was impressive. It was made up of a number of small temples, but here each one had monks chanting and banging percussion instruments inside, very atmospheric. We carried on doggedly up the road, it turned to gravel, not a good sign. We still had a long way to go on it and even if we could get through with the bikes it was going to get much steeper, so with Christine’s broken sprocket in mind we decided to play it safe and return, though the return was much faster, all down hill. Camping that night looked pretty desperate. We turned off up another concrete road, but this one turned out to be small farms and fields. We couldn’t decide if it was worth continuing up the climb so tossed a coin to make the decision. The coin told us to stop being a couple of whimps and carry on climbing, though the road soon came to a dead end. We carried on up a grass track, the coin doing us proud by finding us a nice little spot in the woods beside a stream….well done coin.

Every morning seems to start with a climb, so after our descent back to the road we were climbing again. Ahead on the map we could see the Lee Seung Bok Memorial Hall marked, we had absolutely no idea what it was all about but decided to call in. We seemed to be the only ones there, it was more than just a hall, it covered a large area, part of which had fighter jets and tanks. We saw a large memorial with a young lad standing there, a little further on was the house where he had lived as a child, though there was nothing in English, we still had no idea who he was. We guessed he was some military leader, he must have been very special as inside the hall were lots of artefacts from his early life, shoes, school books etc. But we still couldn’t make sense of it as the dates seemed to indicate that something had happened in 1969 that was long after the Korean War. A series of paintings of his life with English captions and a film in Korean revealed to us what it was all about. Lee was born in 1959 and was a good pupil at school where he worked hard and excelled. He had been taught to hate communism, so being a strong minded little lad that is exactly what he did. Then in September 1968 another bunch of North Korean guerrillas had infiltrated South Korea by sea, walked their way through the mountains, then for some reason had entered Lee’s house one evening when all the family were there. They interrogated 9 year old Lee, but he was very stubborn and stated how much he hated the communists. He paid a high price, they cut his mouth open, then slaughtered the rest of his family. His elder brother survived and had enough strength to raise the alarm. Despite the lack of English it was very interesting and gave an insight into the South Koreans way of thinking. We have seen a number of sights now related to conflict with the north, yet they seem to remain determined to strive for unification, in fact in each place we have visited there is always a map of the whole of Korea, the country is never shown as divided. The rest of the Memorial Park was a bit of a mish mash of things, stuffed animals, a classroom which we believe is the one that Lee used to attend, still on its original site, then another building full of folklore artefacts. We ate lunch at the only restaurant we could find near by, a pleasant meal, very spicy as usual, but most notable for being the only restaurant I have ever been in where they have asked me to wash my feet as I was leaving, they even gave us a towel. We had another afternoon of climbing, another 2 passes had to be crossed, the first at 1089m, the second at around 850m, making for a tough day with not many kilometres covered. We had no food for the evening or breakfast when we at last found a little store at the junction of two roads, a very welcome sight. Once we departed the little village I had expected another climb, but joy of joys, it descended into a steep sided valley. A little way down we spotted a lay-by so checked it out for camping and found a great little spot right beside the stream. We were in the tent as soon as it was dark, amazingly the overnight temperatures have plummeted in the last few days making it feel quite autumnal.

The camping spot seemed even better in the morning as we had the unusual start of heading downhill. Another couple of hours cycling and we were back on route from our chosen one using the non existent road through the national park. The riding was much easier than in previous days, it made such progress seem so much faster…what am I saying, it WAS so much faster! We turned onto the 444, we had the road to ourselves, that is until an army vehicle passed us. For some reason my first thought was that there would be 22 vehicles passing us, I was close, 20 came past, labouring up the climb, seeming to find it as hard as we were. We arrived at a small village stopping at the only restaurant. We order a couple of things, we had no idea what, but mine turned out to be blood sausage, nice, but still the same old powerful spices. I am really looking forward to the days when I can finish a meal and my mouth is not stinging. We studied the maps, we had less distance to go than expected, so we took it easy, but being flatter we still ended up going so much further than we had expected, the roads were a delight too. At the end of a stretch on a busy dual carriageway we needed to turn left. The road widened, we had to cross 3 lanes to get into the correct lane. We timed it well, the lights turned red giving us an easier time as the traffic slowed and stopped, or at least it should have done. A bus ploughed straight through the red lights without even thinking of braking, ages after the lights had changed. The police sitting in a car on the other side of the road took no interest at all, though they did wind the window down and wished us good luck. I am not sure if that was for the cycling in general, or if they were telling us that is what we needed if there are buses around. We camped on the top of a ridge with a great view down the valley.

It was Saturday morning, I reminded Christine of the important match that Norwich City had that afternoon, “I know” she said “They are playing Wallypool…oh, hang on, that’s not right, well, it’s Wally something”. I guess that is not too bad for a German woman who has no interest what-so-ever in football, especially teams as low as Norwich City. They would in fact be playing Walsall. Camping on the top of a ridge meant another downhill start, I could get used to this. The morning was much warmer of late, the road was again flatter, it felt great to be alive, still really enjoying the cycling after 2 years, still loving the fresh air, the new views in front of me, the good company and the friendliness of the local people. We had another good morning of cycling, again fast. We stopped in a village for lunch. As we pulled up there were a group of cyclist loading racing bikes into a van. They were a bunch of ’Iron Man’ athletes and delighted to see us, they even showed us the best route into Seoul. We took group photos. One guy was really impressed with Christine’s thighs, I think he wanted to marry her! They had told us that our next section of road was really tough, that turned out to be very accurate information. The road narrowed, it steepened too, horribly steep, the type of steep hill that drains so much energy from you in a very short space of time. The route looked simple on the map, but the single track road had lots of junctions. We found our way to a bigger road, we were heading for Yonghunsa Temple and it seemed that on this Saturday afternoon we weren’t going to be the only ones there. The restaurant lined road came as a bit of a shock when we had expected a little used dead end road leading to the temple. The place was packed. We walked the kilometre to the temple, a quaint little compact affair, very colourful and well maintained. We made our way back through the amusement park, not something that you see at every temple I can assure you.

The following morning saw another downhill start taking us to the main road 6 heading for Seoul, apparently the 2nd largest urban area in the world, 2nd behind Tokyo. We got off the 6 as soon as possible and followed the suggestion from the cyclist we had met the previous day. It turned out to be sound advice, a fair bit longer but such a nice route by the river, hardly any traffic being the longer route. We were told it was a ’famous’ cycling road. I suspect that should have meant popular, and very popular it was too, we saw literally dozens of bikes, mainly racing cyclist out for a Sunday blast. One rider from a group dropped back and handed us an energy bar, very welcome indeed. We stopped for water at a restaurant. It seemed to be the restaurant of the Delia Smith of Korea. There were lots of pictures of the woman being filmed for television and framed newspaper cuttings that looked as though they spanned a few years. I can tell you that they serve wonderful cold water. The quiet roads had to come to an end, they did. They were replaced by 6 and 8 laned roads. The route was also proving to be longer than expected, it was another hot day too. The roads got busier, it wasn’t doing Christine’s nerves any good. On advice we headed for the Olympic Park, it was well signposted and from there we picked up a cycle path that ran alongside the river for about 10km. I hadn’t expected to see cyclists in Seoul, but the cycle path was packed with old and young, fast and slow. It was very well used. Getting onto the bridge that we needed to cross the river was a different matter. First we had to carry on for another kilometre before getting on the road and doubling back, only to find we still couldn’t get onto the bridge. We found a long flight of steps with a narrow ramp for wheeling bikes up, but I can tell you with all the crap I carry it was bloody hard work. It wasn’t over then either, we had to head back down the steep ramps at the other end, then find our way through a couple of busy tunnels…what joy! But at last we had made it our chosen hotel, Christine had done really well. It was something that she had been dreading for weeks, she said she had been scared most of the time and would never have attempted it on a week day, but she had overcome her fear and ridden the whole way in without a single word of complaint.