A few weeks ago in my class I taught the expression "April showers bring May flowers". The kids understood the meaning however it didn't translate the best as rainy season here is generally in summer - July and August. Unlike the April showers we have at home, spring arrives here just in time to cure you of your winter blues, this is the time to catch the beautiful cherry blossoms [벚꽃]. Literally you need to catch them before their gone, the blossoms tend to bloom during the first few weeks of June (depending on location) and are usually gone within two weeks. I was in luck, my friend Son was planning to stay in Gyeongju for the weekend to explore and invited me to come along. Gyeongju was the capital of South Korea during the Shilla dynasty so there is a ton of history and lots to see there. It was the Friday after our school hike and I didn't really feel like rush to a bus so I decided to instead get up early Saturday and catch the first bus. I slept with ear plus in that night, thanks to the lovely dogs down the block and their incessant barking, which created a bit of a rushed morning after sleeping through the first five minutes of my alarm.
Once in Gyeongju luck was again on my side, Son's co-teacher offered to drive us to Bulguksa temple. This was awesome seeing as the temple would otherwise be a 40 minute bus ride, likely standing and sweating (as we did on the way back. The entrance to the temple is full of cherry blossom trees so we, of course, took a minute for some photos. Bulguksa was originally built in the 8th century during the Silla Kingdom period, and is regarded as a masterpiece of Buddhist art, also named a wold heritage site in 1995. The temple is huge, every time we turned a corner there was another thing to see. The entrance is 33 steps high which corresponds to the 33 steps to enlightenment.
After the temple it was time for lunch, we opted for Jeyuk Bokkeum "spicy pork". This is actually one of my favorite meals here and we have it often for lunch at school. You take the spicy pork/vegetable mixture and put it with a little rice, garlic or whatever other side dishes you get and wrap it up in a lettuce leaf. Yum! After lunch we were set for the next leg of our adventure - Seokguram Grotto (another world heritage site) which as Son told me, is about an hour and a half hike from the temple. We wanted some nature, good weather and scenery so we decided to to the hike as opposed to taking a bus. We didn't see any directions so we just started up the road - bad idea.
After walking up this winding road for approximately an hour it felt like we were getting no where. Seeing no other hikers and only a handful of crazy bikers we decided that we might be on the wrong path the the Grotto. I was pretty sure the road would lead us there but really had no idea how much further it would be. We were joking about hitch hiking (not really sure if that's acceptable or common here) when a car pulled up beside us and asked where we were going. After hearing our destination their only response was "ah get in". Not only were they giving us a ride but as soon as we got in the car they offered us oranges and yogurt - as i'm writing this I realize this could have been the beginning to some crazy Korean horror movie, but no worries they were nice people. In fact, they weren't even going to the Grotto, they just felt bad for us stupid Americans and wanted to give us a ride.
After another 15 - 20 minutes driving we finally arrived, I don't know if I would've made it without them. We weren't even done here, after the entrance you walk for another 750 meter to reach the Grotto where, of course, pictures aren't allowed. By this time it was about 3 o'clock and we were ready to call it a day. We got the bus back down the mountain - side note: Korea is making my motion/car sickness come back with a vengeance. The buses are hot, crowded and manual transmission. I don't think bus drivers here understand the concept of slow acceleration or deceleration. If there's more than a 5 foot gap between them and the next car their going to gun it to catch up and then immediately slam on the brakes - thanks. Not to mention when it's busy you wind up standing in the aisles of the bus, quite the adventure.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.