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.


caff said...

So you are shortly leaving the hills and dales of Korea for the US and Christine returns to Germany. It has been an interesting journey with Christine and we'll miss her antics and her colourful slant on things. It has been a good journey with her. I wish you a good journey to US and Christine every best wish at the end of her journey :-)

aoiffe said...

Wow I wish I hadn't talked to the boys about your posting - they have given me the third degree. Phil says what do you mean by urban area, cos Jacsonville in USA takes over an hour and a half to drive from one side to the other, and then James said that Mumbai has the most people per square mile. Thank goodness Naomi is only questioning me about Christines thighs...