Tuesday 18 July 2023

Home again

Once I arrived home , it almost felt like my visit to South Korea was just a dream!  Funny how quickly the excitement of being on holiday, disipates once back in familar surroundings.  Though the suntanned patches on my feet remain, just as a reminder of being recently in the summer!

Leaving Korea was relatively painfree!  I rode over to the front of the airport, where there were trolleys lined up outside.  Thankfully there weren't any issues getting Hennie into her travelling bag and my cargo bag packed.  Hennie is a tough all-steel touring bike and has handled travel in a plastic bag before.  I definitely wouldn't suggest doing this with a carbon-framed bike!

For 5000kwn ($5approx), the trolley with Hennie, cargo bag and trunk bag was safely stored at the Han Jan express for about 5 hours, leaving me free to wander around.  There was plenty of seating and a couple of eateries, donuts, coffee, sandwiches plus a couple of restaurants I didn't bother checking out.  At 5pm I collected the trolley and was soon checking in.  Then there was still a few hours of sitting around before the 9pm flight was boarded and away we went.

Like Izmo, I can't sleep on planes.  There was about 30mins of really bumpy flight over the tropics before safely arriving at the Sydney Airport.  After a bit of a shamozzle with luggage and transfer, we were soon flying back to Brisbane.  Karina met me at the airport and soon we were zooming back to our island home to a wonderful welcome from Roxy and Laddie.  

Time to reflect on my visit to this relatively unknown country.

The countryside was different than I imagined.  I had thought there would be a similar landscape to Japan, as these two countries are so close.  The lack of bamboo growing in the forests amazed me  and there seemed to be almost a lack of diversity in the forests.  Farming practices were similar with rice paddies being common.  Vegetable market gardens were flourishing, with corn, chilli/capsicum and beans/legumes being the most common plants, as well as heaps of different and unknown "greens".  The shade cloth structures were something I hadn't seen before and I think they were covering ginseng plants, but that's a guess.  

There were also quite large orchards of peaches and apricots, their growing fruits covered with little yellow sleeves, probably to protect them from the many sparrows and other birds.  The amount of flowers, especially holly-hocks, growing along the vegetables gardens and along the bike paths was always a joy to see.  

But the lack of cultural buildings was something that amazed me.  Maybe during the 1950's war a lot of their cultural history may have been destroyed.  Now buddhism has been pushed aside for the more popular Christianity, as most small villages had a christian church, while temples were few.  Perhaps I should have read up the history of the 1950's war.  It did feel the re-creations of past fortresses were more as tourist attractions, therefore lacking the feeling of history.  But I had stayed away from much of the 'historical' places in Seoul, as they did sound like tourist traps!

However, I thoroughly enjoyed cycling through the countryside, just experiencing the views and peace and quiet.  Apart from the very busy bike paths leaving Seoul on the weekend, there were very few other cyclists out on the path, as summer is known to be very hot and it does coincide with their heavy rain season.  And all of that was true!  Several days were extreme-heat days, but only one day I was drenched in heavy rain.  The constant warnings of flooding and landslips, made me cancel the last 5 days of cycling and head back to Seoul by bus, something I regret, but probably was wise.

Now back home again, I am seeing reports of flooding and landslips and sadly loss of life, in the regions I was cycling through.  Several sections would now be under raging flood waters.  I think of the flood dyke that I rode along, which was washed away, causing that underpass in Cheongju to be horribly flooded causing deaths...  It seemed so high and safe, but obviously not so.  There would be a lot of market gardens destroyed as many utilised the flat land alongside the major rivers, maybe had done so for many years.  

Now I feel I know a tiny amount about another country, its culture and is geography.  It is a very small country about the fifth the size of Queensland, with double the population of Australia.  No wonder there are hundreds of apartment towers!  The small country towns I rode through were maybe a little shabby, but they were all driving large cars, mainly SUVs and 4WDs.  The air quality around Seoul was poor, the blue haze never lifted, causing my eyes to feels irritated.  The lack of signs of renewable energy with solar panels few and far between and where I cycled, no sign of wind power.  However, there were several weirs, so I guess that hydro is a major source of energy.   

My total kms for the 2 weeks cycling were 630km.  I had expected to do another 200km at least, cycling back to the airport along the west coast.  So am still a tad miffed about that...  but this tour was generally a fun trip, though let's not forget the hassles of finding accommodation in the smaller towns. 

Apartment towers not far from Seoul

Han River

Shady bike path along the Han River

Shady bike path along the Han River
Leaving Chungju

Farmlands alongside the river

After the rain near Cheongju

Riding along the flood dykes

Riding along the flood dykes alongside the Geum River

The mighty Geum River, even then before the flooding

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Sunshiny day

 Mist/fog gone and apart from the usual smog haze, things were almost back to normal.

After breakfast, Hennie and I went for a little ride.  First to the airport, because on Qantas website, it says there are bike boxes available at airports.  I thought I would book one for tomorrow, but I do have Hennie's plastic bag just in case.

I was quite surprised how accessible the airport is for cyclists, so I rode up to the first entrance, locked Hennie out of the way, and entered the building.  

Eventually I tracked down the area the Qantas check-in counter is, with some help from voluteers and went to the Information desk.  The helpful young lady wasn't sure if there were any Qantas staff around, but gave me a rather detailed mud map to find their office.  She warned me, it might not be open and it might not be easy to find!  

So off I went with map in hand and true, it was not easy to find, amongst a rabbit warren of corridors and tiny offices for all the world's airlines.  I found the door, but it was closed and locked!  sigh... anyways I had tried...

So... back to Hennie!  that took me another 30mins, wandering around trying to find the door I came in.  But eventually we were united and as the weather was right, we went for a spin!

Head wind!  the first day of any wind of any sort and of course its a head wind!  but not very strong and actually made cycling just that much cooler as it was already starting to heat up again.

We were heading for the south end of Jung-gu, along a beachfront.  I thought an ice-cream on the beach sounded like a plan, but also I needed to find a petrol station, where I might be able to give Hennie a good washing down.

The bike path was easy to find again and easy to ride and I spotted a SK petrol station, so we rolled into it.  A massive doberman pinscher stood in the doorway, unrestrained and demanded I go no further... so I didn't!

A bloke poked his head out, and when I asked if I could use a water hose to clean my bike, he just shook his head.  Are you sure?  No water...  

so on we went...  Just around the corner in front of a hotel, I spotted a tap with a short hose, probably to water the plants out the front.  No one was around to ask, so I just propped Hennie on her stand and turned on the tap and blasted off some of the dirt from the past 3 weeks.  It'll do, I shall finish it off back in my room...

Around another corner was a bakery - yay!  winning, so an Iced Americano and an apricot danish was perfect for morning tea.  I also bought a stubby of Bundaberg Tropical Mango drink for later!

The Koreans don't do the beach thing like us Aussies do...  There was actually no access to the actual sandy beach that I could find.  There were several cafes and a Seafood restaurant, which seemed to have seating on decks, so we pedalled on for a bit.  Down a narrow street, I noticed some exposed benches, but at least they were open to the sea.

The tide was out, so it was bit like Cairns foreshore - muddy :)  A few seagulls were arguing about something, otherwise nothing much was happening.  

I finished the coffee and danish and consulted Maps.Me.  There was a couple of bridges linking one very small island to the mainland, then another quite high and dramatic looking bridge bouncing onto the next island.  Wonder if they are bike accessible?

so off we went.  The first one had a bike/pedestrian separated path, so we rolled easily over that.  There didn't appear to be any way of getting off the pathway as it led right onto the much steeper and longer bridge, so we kept going.  I was sure I would have to walk the last bit, but these past weeks have put some strength into my legs and slowly we ground up over the tiny island and up onto the high bridge.  

If only the air quality was so much clearer, it would be such a good view from that bridge looking out into the Yellow Sea!  Still, the wind was pretty strong up there and the up-draught was trying to lift off my helmet!  I had to stop and tighten it.  I was also a tad worried it would blow my glasses off, but no dramas occurred.  

We easily rolled down onto the next island and into a shabby little fishing village.  The road ahead was now tilting up rather sharply and the urge to go forward dimished rather rapidly.  Besides, I have things I have to do today before departure back to Australia tomorrow, so we turned back, over the high bridge and the low bridge and back to our digs.  

Laundry to be done - thank you washing machine!  and now need to get all my gear ready for the flight home tomorrow.  I need to be out of here by 11am, but my flight is not till 9pm.  Check-in probably open 2-3 hours prior to that, so there'll be a bit of filling in time tomorrow.  And of course, Hennie needs to be securely packed, hoping for no major damage to her sturdy frame once we get home.  No worries!

Dreary damp day

 Weather forecast said rain... and the streets did look a little wet, but visibility was probably only 500m - almost a total white out.  Was it mist, fog or smog?  I went for a stroll and discounted the mist theory as it didn't feel damp, so not sure how to describe it!

But it didn't really matter!  I had planned to just zone out a tad today and get stuff in order for departure day on Thursday.  I went back to the coffee shop with free wifi, bought an esspresso and a waffle, drowned in maple syrup for breakfast, then came back to the room to chill out.

On Maps.Me there was a Paradise Shopping centre on the next block, so Great!  I thought to do some shopping for the kids as I have neglected this so far and time is running out!

So over I went.  Wow! pretty impressive buildings, there's supposed to be an Art Space also within, so in I go!  Again Wow!  what a huge empty space!  a couple people strolling around looking lost, including myself.  Most of the shop spaces were empty and closed.  There was one shop selling teddy bears, nothing really unusual there.  There was a ladies dress shop, but not for me.  There were a couple of gelato 'wagons' both unmanned.  The only other shops that were open were cafes and restaurants - with barely a patron or two!

Now, is this space empty because of Covid and downturn in international travellers, or was it some marketing magical dream that is basically a total flop?  I suspect the latter.  Its a bit over a km from the actual arrivals/departure section of the airport and although there's a Best Western and some other fancy hotel nearby, doesn't mean their visitors are going to want to shop when they're either going or coming back from Seoul...

The only Art Space I found, had a replica statue of some Italian dude (I guessed) and some other modern installations, numbering about 4 or 5 pieces.  

So back to my room.  Where I spent the rest of the day, sorting photos etc and generally doing nothing.

By the end of the day, the fog had lifted and I could see an occasional aeroplane arriving and departing and there was even a low mountain rain in the distance.  

so a non-excitement sorta day!

Tuesday 4 July 2023

Another hot ride - to the Airport

My time in South Korea is nearing its end.  Its been a bit of magical mystery tour over the past 20 days, sometimes knowing where I am going, other times, absolutely no clue!  Sounds like my usual cycling holidays.

Today, I had to find my way back to the Ara Bike way, find a safe way to cross one of the many bridges (most aren't friendly to bikes) to get back to the south side of the Ara River and onto the ferry to take me back to the Airport

We arrived at the bridge which had a lift to the top, but it didn't look in very good condition.  But just as I was about to push the button, the door sprang open and a cyclist emerged.  OK it works, so in we went, pressed 2, crossed fingers and slowly we ascended.  I was happy when the door opened and we were indeed, on the bridge.  Just short ride, we were at the other side of the river and again, the lift worked and deposited us onto the south side. 

I began to remember sections that I had ridden on, back on that first day on mainland South Korea.  Yep, there was the place I had the flat tyre, safely passed and on until the end of the path.  There was a sign saying to the Incheon Airport, so we turned left and headed into the scary maze of Incheon city.

Coming from this direction proved to be much easier than starting near the ferry end.  I had hoped to ride this way in the beginning, but had gotten lost first up.  I had a small break at an e Mart (corner store and cafe - not an electrical shop as I first thought!) and after a bit of a dodgey detour around some roadworks, we arrived at the ferry terminal, in time to see the ferry backing out to sea.

Ah well...  It was hot and humid, with not a breath of moving air.  I found a shady spot to wait.  There was a lady selling slushies, so I went and bought a strawberry one.  After a couple of brain freeze moments, it began to warm up and become drinkable!

An hour later, there was some action and I bought a ticket for me and Hennie (3,500kw = $4) and soon the ferry arrived, quickly unloaded a couple of cars, then we were heading down the steep ramp to get on board.

I had been befriended by a gentleman, who could speak quite good English.  He was a local of Jung-gu, which is the proper name for the island that Incheon airport is on.  I think he was associated with the Museum on the island, as he had brochures in English, which he gave to me.  Apparently, his family have lived on the island for 8 generations and were salt farmers.  I had seen a couple of salt pans on my 1st day, leaving the island.  When they decided to build the airport, they demolished a small town, built high-rise apartment blocks for the locals, and dimished the size of his family's salt mines.  He had worked with his father as a young man.  He was a bit younger than me, but he didn't seem too bitter about, more philosphical...  that's progress I guess.  Anyways, it was interesting to get a glimpse of the history of the island.  

While we were waiting for the ferry, he went and bought himself an iced coffee from the same lady I bought the slushie from.  He came back with 2!  Apparently the lady had made one for me too - free!  A coffee at 2pm is not usually best for me, but a free one!  anytime!  I think it actually helped make it all the way to my bed for the night!

After leaving the ferry, I rode past the Museum and was going to go inside, but unfortunately, it was closed on Monday.

So onwards we rode.  There was about 15kms to ride to the airport and the bike path started out quite shady.  It was so humid and in the low 30's and although cyclists love a day without wind, a gentle headwind would have been welcome!  

The bike path ran right along the edge of the sea, but a 1.5m wall blocked any cooling sea breezes anyways.  I stopped at a couple of the mud flats, but couldn't spy any unusual waders or water birds, just egrets, herons, sea gulls - big and small and a few cormorants bobbing around in the sea.

I had to stop a couple of times, just to lay down in the shade and cool off, before heading ever onwards.  The last 10km were on a dead straight, concrete pathway with absolutely no shade at all.  So hot and exhausting and I was running out of water, so I was really pleased to turn onto the road towards the hotel.  

I was a tad nervous about my accommodation for the next 3 nights.  After booking it on-line, I recieved a text saying, due to Covid, they no longer have staff in situ. They gave me the room number, password for the keypad and said just enter by front door, go to the 7th floor in the lift, and you'll be fine!  Unfortunately, there was a No-cancellation policy on this booking, otherwise I would have looked for somewhere else.

So i was mightily relieved, when I easily found the correct building.  I parked Hennie outside and went inside and up to the 7th floor.  Found my room, entered the key code and the door unlocked!  Massive relief!

I think there are a lot of young people living in this building, maybe working at the airport and shopping area.  The room was quite large, tho bathroom, quite small even tho it has a washing machine tucked into a corner!  A full sized fridge, microwave, sink and 2-burner hot plate seemed to suggest this.  However, there were no crockery, cutlery or saucepans, so not that useful for a quick visitor.  

I had noted that there were several bikes inside the building, so I went down and collected Hennie and squeezed her into the lift and up we came.  Into the room too, well, there was no one to say I could or couldn't!

First thing is to let the family know, I've arrived.  The WiFi connection I was given wasn't showing up.  Heaps of secured sites but none that were anything like what I needed...  sigh...  I went downstairs and yes, there was no-one around.  I asked one lady if there was free wifi around, but she just shook her head and rushed onwards.  I went into the e-mart and the young guy said there was free wifi at the coffee shop, so went there and yep, she showed me the password, so I was at least able to msg the kids.

After a long shower, I felt a whole lot better at trying to sort out the wifi problem.  I haven't needed to make any phone calls on this trip until now and amazingly their ph number worked!   (think it was a Freecall #).  I got onto a young guy with pretty poor english and of course, my non-existent Korean! but he tried to give me another site, but our communication wasn't working.  He gave me another ph number, but of course, that one didn't work.  When I called him back, he must have called this other number also so on a two-way call with a girl with much better English, we were making progress.  She said she would call me back...  of course, that also didn't work, but then she sent an email, which I managed to see, after logging into another un-secured wifi...  So after a whole lot of kafuffle, I was given another wifi addy, which actually worked and yay!  secure wifi connection, so all is right in the world again...  how did we survive for this long without wifi!!

It had been a long day - I had a couple slices of bread and some cherry tomatoes left, so with the help of the remaining peanut butter and nutella, that was tea for the night.  a bit of TV, a travel show, but an early night was in order...  Good Night!

pics of the day - uploaded in reverse order for some reason!

Sunday 2 July 2023

Chris' Magical Mystery Tour

 By now you will have realised that this hasn't been a foodie's trip, or a guide to shopping for cosmetics in Seoul!!  there are so many other sites, which will offer tips and photos of things to see and do in Seoul.  Cross me off the list, if this is what you were looking for!

Food for vegetarians in Seoul, especially those that can't eat hot chilli spicy food is almost non-existent!  TV shows on food are all about red meat, chicken, pork and seafood... however, I don't think I have lost weight and am thankful for the good buffet breakfast that is included at this hotel - L'art Hotel... Gimpo, recommended by me!

Today, the plan was to go for a ride - not into the city, but along this peninsular.  I thought there might be a bike path along the Han.  But no... this end of the river is very neglected and when I eventually found my way onto the road, I could see that there were quite a few cyclists out and about and wow! there was even a blue line.  Looking good...

We were purling along nicely, but then I saw a coffee van, so pulled over as it was that time.  Thought I'd better do the favourite here - Iced Americano - ie iced black coffee...  I did notice that there were several rather large Harley Davidsons parked here and as I waited for my coffee I realised that I had stopped at a bikie hang out!  they all smiled and gave me the thumbs up, so no worries...  though other cyclists hurried past!

We headed off and just down the road was the end of the blue line and here all the cyclists were hanging out at their coffee van...  But that's OK!  I'm not really a lycra lass, so I pedalled onwards.  

although we were only 8km from the busy cosmopolitan centre where the hotel is, it was really rural here.  Veggie gardens were everywhere and as usual every thing was flourishing.  There were several blocks where there were trucks and some cars, parked along the roadside...  No drivers snoozing, just vehicles parked.  It reminded me of the parking problem at Redland Bay!

By now the smaller street I was riding along, was right next to a busy highway, so that was pretty boring, so I turned left and continued on my merry way.  Its kinda fun just to be pootling along.  Nothing much to see, other than the market gardens and as always, very tall apartment blocks.  I came to an area where there was a very nice walking path, but the sign said no cyclists...  so we rode on a bit.

Around a corner and now we are in a bustling city street, lined with shops of all sorts and sizes, including eateries and as it was around lunch time, I stopped at a bakery and bought an egg and lettuce sandwish and an apple danish.  There was a rather shady park, so we stopped there for lunch.  I then noticed a building saying University and by looking around, I suddenly noticed all these young kids hanging out.  OK, that made sense.

Maps.Me was opened to try and find out where I was.  Up ahead was a green patch, with a hill and it looked like a path went through that.  So what a nice idea.  

The path was covered by a thickly woven hessian mat, so nice to walk on.  I have seen them in many areas here and really like them.  The track tilted upwards and as it was too narrow to ride (and too steep) I easily pushed Hennie along - so light without those panniers!

There was even a short flight of stairs, with a dirt path on the side, which we easily managed.  Nice benches at the top, so we took a rest and did a little bird watching.  There's a thrush I keep seeing, but I have no idea of its name...  but it has a really varied call... Nice!

With the help of Maps.Me we eventually managed to roll down to the Ara cycle path where I will be riding tomorrow on my way back to Incheon.  There was a fair amount of noise, drums beating and singing to be heard.  I had stumbled onto a small performance of folk dancing again.  Fabulous!  The performers were all of a very mature age, but it was so good to see their costumes and watch their performance.  There were several men carrying a brightly decorated shrine.  These are quite heavy made of solid timber and brightly painted with colourful designs.  Two women carried a much smaller shrine at the front of procession and behind the large shrine there were old women wailing.  Behind them were mostly women, but some men, carrying bright flags.  So colourful and so not a tourist performance - I was the only westerner there!  so much more authentic than the general tourist traps!

As it was on the cycling path, several cyclist had also stopped, though many had kept rolling along.  Once the shrine was set down, then the dances began.  There was definitely a gardening theme, with one dance about digging the ground, the next, planting the seed and the final one was about threshing the rice.  When it ended, I headed off back towards the hotel.

Pretty happy to have stumbled on this performance on my mystery tour.  I think it was near the bridge that I hope to cross tomorrow and by the look of it, there's a lift to take a cyclist up to the bridge and hopefully, the lift on the other side is working...  could be a tad fraught!  

So here are some pics of my mystery tour, where I clocked up about 35km, an easy pedal on an unloaded Hennie.  She is getting a tad tired of all this touring... The brake cables need to be tightened as does the stand.  Think its nearly time to go home!

Tourist fail in Seoul

 Yep, you guessed it!  the big smoke wore me down again.  Being a country girl, I have really enjoyed cycling through the countryside of South Korea.  Its been interesting to see the different crops being farmed, the wild forests and the lazy rivers.

But once I am in a buzzling metropolis, Cranky Chris is never far away.  I had been told that the Dongdaemun Area had a lot of textile shops and it was covered and I had this vision of what I have seen and love in Japan.  But to get there, I had to either catch several buses or go down into the subway system.  Am not a fan of subways!  do not understand how they work and everytime I've been sucked down the deepest elevators, I am inwardly screaming to get out into the open air again.  But be brave!

Was extremely surprised that I had managed to buy a ticket to Dongdaemun, so scanned it and through the gate I go.  But there's no one to ask what line I should be on, its all electronic and staff are not required.  I wondered around and eventually realised that I had either came into the wrong station or something...  Then I tried to get out!  but the turnstile said I have already used my ticket and I can't go thru these gates.  Oh well, I just stepped over them and went outside again.  No staff there to tell me not too!  Not a good start.  

Then I saw a bus stop with people lined up on it.  Surely it would take me into Seoul, so then I could work out how to get to the next step.  First bus driver wouldn't take cash, so when the next one drove up, a kind young man, with good English, asked me if I was lost!  Yes! again.  He was catching the next bus and helped me buy a ticket for it and away we went.  After a little while the guy asked me where I was going, but he said I need to get off at the next stop and go on the subway!  Wah!  Duly told, soon back in the subway again!  again I managed to buy a ticket (they're a bit over $3 each) and thankfully there was an info box and a real man inside.  He pointed to Line 5 and away we went.  I checked a guide of the stations on the wall and counted 9 stops, took a photo and hopped on the next train!  progress!  after 9 stops I realised that I hadn't counted all the little stops in between, and as the screen in the carriage wasn't working I wasn't sure if I had gone past my stop or not.  I asked the young girl next to me, who said I needed to go back the other way.  sigh!  

But once off at the next station, I checked the map of the lines and realised she was wrong and there were still about 4 more stops to go.  So back on the next train, which had a perfectly working screen with the next station announced each time.  

So here I am in Dongdaemun and off I stroll in general direction of market.  Eventually found my way into one of the doorways and was in this huge complex of tiny booths, each looking like they were selling the same puffy fabric to make doonas out of.  I wandered up and down the tiny alley ways, being amazed at the duplication of the stalls and wondered how anyone could make any money there... so many of the booths were also closed, whether for lunch or for the day.  I found a couple of pieces of patchwork fabric and a couple of other things, because after coming all this way, I had to buy something.  

After over 3kms of walking (remember, I'm a cyclist and don't go so well at walking!) I had enough and when I got outside again, I realised I was back near a subway station, about 2 stops back from where I had got off!  Sweet!  Feeling confident, I checked first where I wanted to return to - thanks Maps.Me - and fronted up at the ticket machine.  I fed the required bills into it, but it kept spitting them out...  Again, saved by a stranger, who asked me if I had a card...  I had kept the card from earlier, so he took it, fed it into another machine, came back and gave me a coin and told me to try again!  I entered in my details, fed the 3 x 1000kwn into the machine and it spat out another card...  I still do not understand!  Again - many thanks...  Then I went looking for Line 5 - it was purple.  But the only signs for Line 5 were exit signs.  Sooooo frustrating.  Eventually I asked a cleaner and she called over another guy dashing past, he glanced at my ticket, said to catch next train for one stop, change and go to the Line 5 there!  Seriously!!  how does one know to do that? 

So eventually, I did return back to the hotel...  blisters on my feet and a whole lot of angst and why why why do I come to large cities.  One more day here, before heading off to Incheon Island to the airport.  I'll have a couple of days to cruise around on the island before heading to the airport.  Hoping that will all go smoothly, though....  stay tuned.

In all the kaffuffle of today, I didn't even take out my camera!  so later that evening, I went for a stroll, found a Daiso next door!!!  bought some cleaning products to get Hennie back to acceptable customs standards, even found some cornchips and a fanta, took a couple of street scenes and that's it for a pretty unproductive day...  cities!!!