Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Jeongju to Wando.


George and I decided that we would spend time in Jeju which means pretty throwing out the 7 day conducted tour itinerary. We have to make our way south to the city of Wando where we can catch a car ferry over to Wando. On the way, we stopped in Jeongju to check out the Hanok Village that is located there. It's a popular tourist attraction.

Flashback to the start of our day in Daejeon.  George was once again in search of a Starbucks for breakfast.  How different it is traveling with him than my other travel partners - it would never dawn on any of them to even step foot in a Starbucks let alone 4 times in 4 days!  In his defense, he did find a place on TripAdvisor that was a local breakfast joint but again, we couldn't find the place if our lives depended on it so Starbucks was a fast option.  We arrived pretty much just as the doors opened.  George is an early bird!

Anyway, I  just let George lead the way.  Follow that neon green shirt, I say! :-)





After breakfast, it was time for George to shower up and for us to check out and hit the road.  From the outside, our hotel looked more like a modern art gallery than a hotel.  It was almost 10a when we made our way out of town.


The streets of Daejong were quiet.  Rush hour traffic in Seoul is pretty bad but things seem to be far less congested in the smaller cities.  With Ms. Kimchi at the helm, we quickly made our way of the city and back on the highway towards Jeongju.  We only had about 60 kilometers (37 miles)  to go from one city to the other.  It was a leisurely drive.  Lead foot George tends to be a slower driver in the morning than in the afternoon - especially if he's just downed a quad shot espresso!

Is this Daejeon or Jeongju or Seoul?  Cities are all starting to look the same. 

We had programmed Ms. Kimchi to direct us to the  Jeonju Hanok Village and she accurately led us to the parking lot.  There were quite a few cars in the lot but by no means was it filled.

Before we ventured into the heart of the village, I made George stand for the obligatory "tourist standing before sign" photo.  Remarkably, it's day 3 and he's still not yet complained about  having to pose for me.  My other fellow travelers would not have been so reluctant :-(



We then checked out the map of the village before proceeding.

The village is nestled in the heart of the modern city of Jeongju and is home to around 800 well preserved traditional hanok.

As described in Wikipedia:
"Historically, people have lived here for a long time, estimated at more than 10,000 years ago. At first, people lived around the foot of a mountain. Then, in the Silla kingdom, people moved into the flat land surrounding the area. People in Jeonju city started to construct Jeonju Fortress and many villages formed naturally around the fortress. These villages were the beginning of today's Hanok village. When the village joined in the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905, Japanese merchants came to the fortress, driving local people out of the village. The Hanok Village was created when people gathered together to oppose the Japanese who wanted to destroy the fortress and invade the residential area at this time. Led by the Yangban (the nobility in Joseon Dynasty), reacting against Japanese housing styles and expressing national pride, they started to establish Hanok villages throughout the Pungnam-dong and Gyo-dong districts. Today's Jeonju Hanok Village is one of these."
While a few of the structures date back to the time of the original village, in fact much of what you see today are actually post 1960's reconstructions of what the village probably looked like centuries ago.  Today's Hanok Village homes are equipped with electricity and running water.  The village is also filled with literally dozens of shops and restaurants making it feel like a combination of a living museum and a theme park.


After looking at the map, it was clear that the village was easily walkable and that we couldn't get lost so we just set about wandering.  If need be, I took a picture of the village map for reference purposes. 



We walked along the main streets but I loved peeking down the side alleys as it was more likely that those were the actual homes where residents of the village live as opposed to hanok style buildings housing commercial enterprises.  New construction or not, I though the structures had a unique charm and character to them that is indeed very much worth preserving.  Given how many Korean residents live in high rise apartments these days, this village serves as a wonderful reminder of their rich heritage.



The village is pretty pedestrian only though the occasional motorbike passed us by.  If I lived in the modern city, I would come for a nice bit of retreat from all the steel and concrete and hustle and bustle of the big city.


The village is a popular tourist destination and there are plenty of snack options - from all sorts of different kinds of stuff on a stick to all sorts of bingsu.  One thing for certain, Korean food is not short on variety!




There were plenty of convenience stores.  George has been trying to find some sort of body spray.....I can't figure out exactly what he wants but we've been popping into one convenience store after another to see if they have what he's looking for.  While he's checking his stuff out, I'm eyeing all the food.  I've been oddly fascinated by all the flavored coffee and other drink offerings they have in Korea.  No only can you buy the stuff in a to-go cup but you can also buy it in pouch form.  The stuff is cheap to buy....at least by US standards.  At today's conversion rate, 1000 won is about 85 US cents. 


In 2012, Jeongju received a special UNESCO designation, under the category of UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in recognition of its cuisine. I never knew.  One thing that the city is known for is moju, a variation of makgeolli that is made by boiling the liquor with a variety of different ingredients but the most common are ginger, jujube, ginseng, and cinnamon. The boiling process reduces the alcohol content of around 1.5%.  I don't drink alcohol, even if it's only 1.5% and George was not interested in tasting any.  We've been very reluctant tourists today - I have long declared us lost causes.  Very sad.


George and I just leisurely strolled the cobblestone streets of the village.  We had absolutely no sightseeing agenda in hand. Sometimes, it's just nice to take in the atmosphere of a place and not feel compelled to have to see every historical landmark.

Mixed in among the relatively newly constructed hanok structures are some that date back centuries including Gyeonggijeon, which is the hall where the portrait of Lee Seonggae, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty is enshrined. It was built in 1410 during the reign of King Taejong. Gyeonggijeon is situated within a walled complex. There was an entry and peeking through one of the open gates, we didn't see much that looked interesting so we opted to no go in.  In hindsight, the entry fee wasn't all that much so we should've have gone in.  After all, when will we be back in  Jeongju?


Across the street from the Gyeonggijeon complex was a most surprising looking structure at least it you place it in a traditional Korean hanok village - Jeondong Cathedral.  The cathedral was designed by Victor Louis Poisnel and was constructed between 1908 and 1914.  It is was built in the place where the first Catholic martyr, Yun Ji-chung (1759-1791), died.  The doors were open but we did not venture in. 


The other food item that Jeongju is renown for is bibimbap, a bowl of warm rice topped off with a bunch of ingredients.  To eat it, you just mix all the stuff up.  I'm not a connoisseur of Korean food let along bibimbap so we just picked a place to have some.  We ended up at Hankookwan located at Taejo-ro.



Apparently, I still haven't figured out how to get food to my mouth without it landing on my shirt first :-)

We entered into a very busy restaurant; the place was practically filled but George and I did get seated the moment we walked in.  Thankfully, we got handed a menu with photos but sadly, a lot of the stuff looked the same to our untrained eyes.  I just found a picture I liked and pointed that out to the waiter.


The amazing thing about dining in Korea is how quickly the food comes to your table.  Dishes of banchan were dropped off before we even ordered our bibimbap!


Banchan wise, this was the best I've had so far.  I have no idea what the yellow, jelly cube is on the left but that stuff was delicious. On the other hand, I am not a fan of the Korean egg  panckage.


What to eat next?

How pretty is my bowl of bibimbap?  Chinese traditionally do not do composed rice dishes so this is definitely something new for me.  I had to take a few seconds to admire it before plunging in with my chopsticks and long handled spoon, which by the way, was the perfect utensil to do the mixing with.


Our bibimbap was served in incredibly hot stone bowls which crisped up any bit of rice that touched it.  I had to be careful not to touch the bowl as I used I swirled the ingredients in with the rice.  George is not a fan of the raw egg so I got his quail egg as well.  Too bad for him because the heat of the rice cooked the egg and in turn the egg created a nice sauce to bind all the other stuff together with.  We had both ordered our bibimbap not spicy so neither of ours was topped off with gochujang.  We're both laying off the hot stuff for now.  Not to be crude, but we're both suffering from a bit of what I've nicknamed as *chili butt* which is a nice way of describing the burn to your tail end after you've been eating way too much spicy food.  Use your imagination to fill in the blanks.

It was too large a bowl of food for me so I just focused on eating just the ingredients and the crispy rice.  Looking at other diners, it was incredible to see how may *tiny* Koreans could polish off the entire bowl!

After lunch, we decided it was time to hit the road so we slowly made our way back to the car. 

Cute little kids boarding the bus. Their backpacks are almost as big as they are! :-)

Cute (?) big kid posing for one last photo in Jeongju.

According to Ms. Kimchi, it would be about a 3 hour long drive from Jeongju to Wando, our longest stretch of road so far.  We drove past fields and small towns.  The scenery was unremarkable.  Thankfully, the lively conversation between George and I made the time fly by quickly.







Update October 12, 2016. 
Of course, lead foot George would often ignore Ms. Kimchi's alerts that he was going over the posted speed limit - especially if we were deep into a conversation.  Literally, as he passed under the bridge in the above photo, we got caught by the speed camera.  EuropCar sent me the ticket and added the fine to my credit card. Thankfully, it was less than $30 USD!


It was almost 5p by the time we arrived into Wando which is a seaside port town.  We immediately drove to the ferry terminal to see if we could buy our tickets for the ferry ride to Jeju Island.  I figured we might as well get that task taken care of.

The ferry terminal was pretty empty of people.  Maybe a handful manning the shops and a couple at the ticket counter.

I picked up a ferry schedule and I quickly made a decision on which one we would take one of the Hanil Express car ferries.  My vote was for the Carferry 1 - even though it would be a longer ride, it was a bigger boat and for that reason, I felt we would have a better chance of getting our car on board.  My thinking was that hese boats are not only for tourism but also for commerce so it would be likely we would be sharing space with trucks making deliveries to Jeju Island.  Bigger boat can take more vehicles.

Unfortunately, there was no one behind the Hanil Express counter and with no one around us speaking English, it was difficult to find someone to help us out.  If you're lucky, someone is able to help you just seconds before you reach the edge of frustration to save you from falling over.  Thankfully, we eventually crossed paths with someone who understood the words "Jeju ticket" well enough to instruct us to head up stairs to the Hanil Express office.

There, George who  can be ever so patient when he wants to be was able to get his request across.


He looked over the woman's shoulder to confirm exactly what we wanted - two passenger tickets + one car ticket for the 8a ferry from Wando to Jeju.  When we walked out of the office, we left with nothing in hand.  I was expecting we would have tickets but instead we just had reservations.  We have to buy our tickets tomorrow.


Back in our car, our next task was to find a place to spend the night.  George opened up the TripAdvisor app on his iPhone and offered up some selections.  The first one sounded nice - it was on another part of the mainland that looked to be more in the countryside.  Unfortunately, it would not register on Ms. Kimchi and so we had to pick another option.  That turned out to be the Piano Motel which looked to be located in town, on the waterfront, a few blocks away from the ferry terminal.

And so we made our way to the Wando Motel.  On a rating scale of 1-5 stars, I would give the motel lobby a minus 1.  I stood at a counter window.  On the other side, it looked to be someone's living quarters and in fact, I could spot a woman and a young child eating dinner.  A very friendly man, whom I presumed was the owner, showed up at the counter.  We asked for a room.  He told us it would cost us 40,000 won, a reasonable deal..  He let us check out a couple of rooms before we settled on one.  The other plus was that the motel has its own parking lot.  As George parked our car in the lot, I paid for the room in advance.  In exchange, he handed me two toiletry kits.  I chuckled as I noticed the condom package.  Makes you wonder what compelled the owner to include them.


George and I settled into our not so luxurious, but comfortable and clean room.  As we would soon find out, there are plenty of motels and hotels, lining the street that the Piano is located on so if this place doesn't work out for us, we'll pick another place on our return trip to Wando.  We have to stop here overnight on our way back from Jeju to Seoul.

The view outside our window.

Our room.  Surprisingly, it offers quite a few amenities including our own WiFi hotspot, cable TV (all Korean channels), a mini fridge, microwave,
hot and cold water dispenser, and a gaming station!

George checking out the air conditioner - the most essential room item for both of us!

We're getting accustomed to using the remote control to turn on lights.
Press this one to turn on the bathroom light. I like to try this out when George is inside :-)

We decided to take a pre-dinner stroll.  One step out of the Piano's front door and across the street to the promenade and it was clear that this was a very much a working dock area.  There is absolutely nothing here that would compel to to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy some lovely seaside scenery.  There is no scenery other than fishing boats.


George posing with the Piano Motel in the background.  You can't miss the brightly colored building!


It looked like quite a few of the boats were preparing to leave dock.  I could see men loading up boxes of drinks and foods, presumably for the crew which could be out at sea for several days.


Restaurant wise, there were a few places serving up food but neither us felt comfortable ordering up a seafood meal in any of them.  I know George would not be happy if a plateful of sea snails got delivered to us when we were expecting scallops. :-)

We eventually settled on a small eatery serving up Korean fried chicken.  You can't go wrong with chicken.


Thank God, the menu had photos.  While we munched on a complimentary snack that literally had the texture of what I imagine styrofoam would taste like, we made a selection from the menu.


While we waited for our chicken to arrive, I ogled the built in drink cooler that was at every seat.  How cool (no pun intended) is this?  The thing kept George's beer ice cold the entire time he sipped on it!  We need these in US restaurants!


I had no idea what to expect as far as our chicken was concerned.  We ended up with a plate of wings with an oddly flavored salty, but a tad too sweet, sauce drizzled all over it.  Thankfully, I was still full from our bibimbap lunch and munching on those styrofoamy snacks so just a few wings was enough for me.  I let George had the honor of polishing off the rest the bowl of wings.


The chicken place was less than a 10 minute walk from the Piano.  Even with stops to check out the things swimming around in tanks outside restaurants, we were back in our room in well under a half hour.  Post dinner nights have been very quiet ones for us.  Tonight was no different.  My thoughts are already looking forward to tomorrow.  I don't know what to expect of either the ferry ride or Jeju but whatever the future days hold for us, I'm looking forward to them.

Now....if only the air conditioner can cool down enough for me to sleep....

Goodnight from Wando!